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Kix Brooks

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Kix Brooks

Story by Harry Chapman

I first met Kix Brooks as a winning songwriter for Summer Lights in the late 1980s. To thank Channel 5 for its sponsorship and coverage of the festival, Kix and fellow songwriter, Chris Waters came to the station to present them with the handwritten lyrics to “I Can Still Hear the Music of Nashville.”

The making of a musical force
Shortly after that, Tim DuBois of Arista Records paired Kix with another songwriter, Ronnie Dunn, who was not having any luck as a solo artist. That was the birth of Brooks and Dunn. The two singers are now the most honored duo in the history of country music. They have sold more than 30 million records and have more than 23 number-one hits.

When Kix and I sat down for this visit, he had just returned from the ACM Awards in Las Vegas where Brooks and Dunn had just won Vocal Duo of the Year again. I asked if he and Ronnie still get excited when they win awards. Without missing a beat Kix said, “I don’t know if excited is the right word … shocked is probably a better word!”

When Kix and Ronnie first got together, they did not know each other from Adam. In the studio that first time, Kix says they were trying to get a feel for each other, asking themselves, “how does this other guy operate and what kind of person is he?”

“I think that kind of nervous energy has been our M.O. from day one,” Kix says. “Both of us had failed solo deals, both of us had been around the block. That really made us both wake up and pay attention. Try to play at the top of our games in terms of writing and singing and everything we were doing.”

Both men were in their late 30s, the oldest guys, says Kix, getting started in this business. “All of a sudden, you know, we meet on Tuesday write ‘Brand New Man” and ‘Next Broken Heart’ on Thursday and Friday, our first two number-one records and our next two, ‘Neon Moon’ and ‘Boot Scootin’ Boogie,’ just kind of blew the roof off of it, and we’re like holy cow, this is working isn’t it?”

And it has worked for more than 17 years. There have been more successful years than years of failure.

“I think all those years of stuff not working is that big red flag that’s always in the back of our minds,” says Kix. “You can’t take this for granted because you know this isn’t going to last.”

Success is part of the glue that Kix says makes it work for Brooks and Dunn. “After 17 years you build a brand and, thank God, a fan base. We found people who like what we do, and so that marriage of us and those folks out there for so many years, that’s a lot of encouragement.”
That comes through when you see Brooks and Dunn on stage. Kix says they are in better shape than when they first started.

“We really rocked hard and got run down,” he says. “We stayed tired. But the crowd is a magic potion. It’s truly a drug that’s pretty hard to describe. It will amp you right on up there where you need to be. There has never been a night walking up to the stage that I haven’t been able to get the wind back in my sails and say I’m ready to go!”

Beyond Brooks and Dunn
Success has given Kix a voice in the business of music. He has served as president and chairman of the Country Music Association. He says he never really made it his ambition to be in the music business, but he couldn’t resist it. He found a fascination with the inner workings of the industry – how music is sold and how publishing takes place. Being on the CMA Board was an eye-opener.

“For the first time, I was amazed at how the heads of all these labels and publishers and promoters came together and what a great think tank it was,” he recalls. “It just fascinated me.”

Growing (Grapes) Beyond Music
Kix is a keen businessman. He made good friends with a great wine maker who had a great business plan and wanted to make a great wine. Arrington Vineyards came out of that alliance.

“We wanted to build a really nice tasting room high on a hill with a great view”, Kix says. “We wanted something special people could come and enjoy and most importantly make really nice wines.”

This year the vineyard crushed 100,000 pounds of Napa grapes. And, it is bringing in the best fruit from Napa, Oregon and New York. Arrington Vineyards blends this with the grapes grown in Tennessee and produces a fine wine.

“It will always be a challenge in Tennessee because the nights are not that cool to grow the fruit they grow out there,” Kix says, adding that he is pleased the winery is fast-becoming a popular destination. “It’s rocking. Weekends out there are fun. There are a lot of tables, beautiful views, and people can buy wine, enjoy the view and enjoy the jazz. Folks really get out there and dig it. The atmosphere is perfect for watching the sun go down.”

Kix says has another interest, as well. He is the host of the syndicated radio show America’s Country Countdown.

“It’s really fun”, he says, “I obviously love to hear myself talk.”

The show came at a perfect time for him, he says, explaining that he loves getting in touch with all the acts coming out. When he was writing songs, he says, it was part of his job to know who’s next: Who’s doing what on the charts, Who’s record didn’t make it? Why is this song good and this one not? All of that was a part of his workbook for pitching songs. Doing the radio show gives him a chance to get back in touch with all that and not be so focused on Brooks and Dunn.

“It has been a great realization for me to find out who is coming up, and it’s really fun to get them in here and not just interview them, but have a conversation with them,” Kix says.

Family first
Even with his music, business and career obligations, Kix says that he puts his family ahead of everything else.

Kix and his wife, Barbara, have been married for 27 years. He says he has been blessed with so much spotlight its really fun for her to have her own spotlight. He is the father of two college-aged children: Molly, a third year student at Washington University, and Eric, who just completed his first year at Vanderbilt. Kix says he enjoys his role as a father and feels really blessed with two great children.

“As much as we have been on the bus, if they had been in trouble and whatever all the time, for me it would have been impossible,” he says. “I think I would have to quit and take care of my family. Family, for the both of us, is without a doubt the most important thing.”

Brooks and Dunn have always tried to schedule their touring to be home during the week: They do Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Friday, Saturday and Sunday; three-day weekends, 70 dates a year. And in the summertime, the family could tour with him. Staying home during the school year gave Kix the opportunity to help with homework.

“Of course,” Kix says, “once they got in the second grade, I was not able to do that anymore. Got over my head in a hurry!”

His wife, Barbara, enjoys training cutting horses. Barbara now has 10 people to help her care for 60 to 70 quarter horses that are being trained to do cutting. Barbara has a semi and nine-horse trailer and travels as much as Kix.
 
“That fateful Black Wednesday when she rode a cutting horse for the first time completely changed our lives,” Brooks recalls. “Its fun to see her have that passion and have success with that. They do great and have a good time.”

As for his parents, Kix says he was very close to his father – his mother died when he was four years old. So Kix and his dad became inseparable. His dad was a pipeline contractor from Shreveport and had to travel a lot. But Kix says he never felt abandoned.

“His being gone all made sense to me when I got older and knowing all that stuff gave me comfort as a father being gone a lot,” he says. “I knew everything would be okay as long as that encouragement and that love was always there. I think it has worked out pretty good.”

The next steps…
Brooks and Dunn are now off on their next big venture. They have become authors.

The Adventures of Slim and Howdy has just been released. The book was an outgrowth of liner notes the guys would write for their albums. The stories were metaphors for what was going on in Kix and Ronnie’s career.

“Sometimes it was touring,” Kix explains. “Once we were by a campfire with a red headed girl. That’s when we were touring with Reba. Our note on the Greatest Hits album was the story about burying an old friend of ours. That was when my father died.”

William Morris Agency finally convinced Brooks and Dunn to do the book.

“I said we would like to write a book, but we don’t know how,” Kix says, laughing, and then adding, “we’d be actors, but we don’t know how to act.” (More laughter.) “Not that I know how to make wine. I’ve never been that great at anything, but I’ve got a lot of confidence. So, if ya’ll want to do a book, we’ll do it.”

Writer Bill Fitzhugh was brought on board to develop the project.

“I think people will enjoy reading it,” Kix speculates. “It’s not kid stuff reading. But it’s not R-rated either. It’s somewhere in between. Think of it like PG cowboy fun!”

Already, there is work on a screenplay, and Sony Pictures is interested in the story.

With everything that’s going on in their lives, Kix and Ronnie say they are happy, having fun and making a difference. And neither has any desire to rest on his laurels.

“We still enjoy playing ‘Brand New Man’ and ‘Neon Moon,’” Kix says. “Those songs will always be on our set list. But there is going to have to be new music to match that success in the set too. We’re not going to be an oldies act that at some point you see at the state fair playing those songs we used to play.”

That’s good news for all of us B & D fans.

Read more articles like this at www.southernexposuremagazine.com.