Originally intent on being solo artists, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn unintentionally found superstardom together in a two-decade career. Soon the two artists will be side by side for all time, as Brooks & Dunn, on a Hall of Fame plaque

By Nancy Kruh
March 18, 2019 08:05 PM
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For two guys who never planned to be a duo, so far Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have done pretty well for themselves — and no better than on Monday when it was announced the legendary act will be entering the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The two artists were present for the announcement, in the Hall of Fame rotunda in Nashville, and they expressed both their delight and their shock at reaching this career pinnacle together.

“Thank you so much for believing in us,” Brooks, 63, told the gathering of about 200 family, friends and industry insiders, “because we didn’t really believe in each other, and that’s the truth.”

Later, sitting with his partner for reporters’ questions, Dunn, 65, reaffirmed, “we did not want to be a duo.” Both he and Brooks chuckled at the candor.

“We started and it just caught on, and we went with it,” Dunn added. “We became a darned duo.”

Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn
Jason Kempin/Getty

In fact, Brooks & Dunn became the most successful country duo of all time by any measure: 60 charted singles, more than 40 top 10 hits, 20 No. 1s, and 12 platinum-selling albums. Their songs include such timeless hits as “My Maria,” “Neon Moon,” “Red Dirt Road” and “Believe.” Their numerous industry awards, including CMA entertainer of the year in 1996, are just as impressive.

And yet on Monday, Brooks also described their success as “weird.” Back in 1990, matchmaking music exec Tim DuBois put the two solo artists together for a songwriting session, which turned into a recording session, which became an album … and before they knew it, they boot-scootin’ boogied their way to superstardom.

All the while, Brooks said, they expected it to fizzle at any moment. “When we’d go backstage after we’d win an award,” he recalled, “we would just go in different directions. We were embarrassed to look at each other. It was like, this is too weird that this is happening.”

This,” he added, referring to the Hall of Fame, “is real frickin’ weird!”

Though Brooks & Dunn officially retired as a duo in 2010, they have been teaming with pal Reba McEntire since 2015 in a residency at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace. (McEntire, in fact, was supposed to announce their induction, but a case of laryngitis that has since turned into a strep infection kept her from her duties, and radio personality Bill Cody filled in.)

The duo also has a new album, Reboot, set for release on April 5; the 12 tracks feature some of their greatest hits in collaboration with an all-star cast of contemporary artists, including Luke Combs, Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley McBryde, Brothers Osborne and Cody Johnson.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum also is preparing to put Brooks & Dunn in another spotlight: An exhibit honoring their career was well in the works before their Hall of Fame election. It will open on Aug. 9.

“The stars and the powers-that-be in the cosmos just kind of line up and things happen,” Dunn said of their new spate of recognition. “I don’t think you could plan some of the stuff that’s going on right now — this whole Hall of Fame thing and the record and the artists we’re working with. I’m not sure how this works, and I thought I did. I thought I had it all figured out and I don’t.”

Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn
Jason Kempin/Getty

Dunn refers to the duo’s partnership as a “marriage,” and both are quick to credit one thing for its longevity.

“I think the biggest thing has probably been having separate buses, don’t you?” he said, nodding to his partner.

“Absolutely!” Brooks agreed. “I wouldn’t suggest that in a regular marriage, but it certainly kept us together.”

For two strong and independent men who intended to succeed primarily as solo artists, they both expressed pride in sharing a Hall of Fame plaque with each other.

“Today,” Dunn said, “is a good day to be a duo.”

“We made a big ol’ mess out there for 20 years and it was a lot of fun,” Brooks said, “and I look back on it with a big ol’ smile on my face. It’s like, I don’t know how the hell that happened, but man, I guess it did or we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

Brooks & Dunn will be formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, in the “modern-era artist” category, at a Nashville ceremony in October.

Ray Stevens, Jerry Bradley, Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks
Jason Kempin/Getty

The 2019 Hall of Fame class also includes Ray Stevens, as the “veterans-era artist,” for his decades-long career as a singer, songwriter, session musician and producer; his hits include “The Streak” and “Everything is Beautiful.”

Recording executive Jerry Bradley is the third member of the 2019 class, to be inducted in the “non-performer” category. Among a lifetime of accomplishments, Bradley produced Wanted! The Outlaws, country’s first platinum-selling album; signed Hall of Fame band Alabama to their first recording contract; and helped Hall of Famers Dolly Parton, Ronnie Milsap and Jerry Reed to pop-crossover success. His father, legendary producer Owen Bradley, and uncle, studio musician Harold Bradley, are also in the Hall of Fame.