Brooks & Dunn: how long gone are you gonna be?

An event over a year in the making has occurred. Country music has officially lost Brooks & Dunn, the most successful duo in the genre’s history. At the end of their September 2 show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, they closed the door on nineteen years of record- breaking, hit-making success. Their mark on country music will last forever even though no more music will ever be made.

Country Music had never before seen an act like Brooks and Dunn and never will again. An experiment that could’ve gone horribly wrong, B&D were placed together in the first arranged marriage in the genre’s history. A spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame should be made for Tim DuBois, the head of Arista Nashville, who orchestrated the pairing twenty years ago. Not a smarter move has been made by a executive of a record label within country music since.

It’s fitting that the first Brooks and Dunn song I would hear the morning after they officially retired is their 1998 Number 1, “How Long Gone,” where the male narrator is asking of his woman “how long gone are you gonna be?” as their relationship unravels. Many a B&D fan are also left wondering the same thing. It isn’t unheard of that an act will go in and out of retirement.

I’m not one of those fans. I have a deep admiration for the duo who helped shape my childhood, but I’m glad to see them part ways. Their music had become stale as of late and the gimmick had run its course. What once was fresh and exciting became old as the years progressed. I’ve always believed that an artist should retire before wearing out their welcome because I’d rather be left wanting more music than wishing they would just hang it up.  And B&D knew it was time when “Honky Tonk Stomp” becomes the last single they’d ever release to country radio.

I first got introduced to the music of Brooks & Dunn fourteen years ago when they released “My Maria,” one of their most recognizable songs and best loved hits. I grew into a fan of their music and even saw both their world tours with Reba in 1997-1998. Their music has become so ingrained in my psyche that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know “Neon Moon” (my favorite of their songs) or “Boot Scootin Boogie.”

When I first got word of their impending retirement last August, I was sad and shocked. They have always been the act that even if you didn’t care for whatever song they were releasing at the time, you still had the comfort of knowing they were there. My love for them may have grown less over the years but I cannot deny the influence they’ve had in the genre since their debut in 1991.

Last year the Country Music Journalist and CMT Editorial Director Chet Flippo said, “B&D are also one of the last few country acts that grown men can publicly admit to really, really liking. Or even love — on a purely musical level.” With the audience shifting to women and teenage girls, who’s going to fill those daunting shoes? A case could be made for Jamey Johnson but he hasn’t broken through in the way Brooks and Dunn have and doesn’t have their appeal.

The other major influence B&D have had in the genre is they’ve reinvented what a duo is and should be. Before them, the only official duo to sustain success within the genre was The Judds. Quite a few have followed in their footsteps with only Sugarland reaching anything near B&D’s status. (Of course, country music produced other duos but most were duet partners such as Porter Wagnor & Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn). But B&D made being a duo cool. They showed the world the potential in a sustained musical partnership and won more ACM and CMA Awards than any other act in history. Topping them is damn near impossible.

They also reinvented the dust jacket of the compact disc. What was once the space to reprint song lyrics and list the musicians that played on the sessions became a place to print prose. With each CD came another installment of The Adventures of Slim and Howdy the on-going tale of Brooks and Dunn’s alter egos. The adventures followed Slim and Howdy, singers on the Texas Honky-Tonk circuit. In 2008, a full-length novel featuring the characters, written by B&D, was released.

But it’s the songs that’ll last a lifetime. B&D recored some of the most recognizable and likable songs during their heyday in the nighties. When they released their career spanning #1’s…And Then Some collection last September, I was in awe of all the great hits they’ve had and quality of their music. It’s easy to see why Ronnie Dunn is widely considered the best male country singer of his generation and one of the iconic voices of the genre.

The vast thematic variety of their music showcases them perfectly. From the rock influenced “Little Miss Honky-Tonk” to the gospel weeper “Believe” B&D ran the gamete of emotion during their career. They even won their lone Grammy Award for their tribute to blue-collar folks, “Hard Workin’ Man.”

They could make you want to line-dance one minute (“Boot Scootin Boogie”) and take you out west the next (“Cowgirls Don’t Cry”). They inspired a patriotic love of the USA with “Only In America” but at their core B&D just wanted to “Play Something Country.” So it fit like a glove during the George Strait tribute in May 2009 when they sang Strait’s classic “The Cowboy Rides Away.”

Last spring, CBS aired the special Brooks and Dunn: The Last Rodeo which brought together the finest in contemporary country music singing B&D’s songs back to them. Not ever in such a grand scale has their legacy been put on display. It was clear from that special alone just what an impact they’ve had on country music and to the artists who have come up in their wake. Every act present had genuine love and respect for them.

Their final outing The Last Rodeo Tour was a major success playing to almost every major market and the Sirius XM channel Prime Country devoted an hour each Monday throughout the summer to Last Rodeo Radio. It was also made public that Ronnie Dunn didn’t even want to do the final tour but gave in for the sake of the fans. In fact, their #1’s…And Then Some CD was supposed to be another studio album of all new material but it seems they didn’t have it in them.

In the end, their successes may have worn them down, and as some fans have said, their music may have become dated, but they needed each other. Two people okay apart, made magic as a pairing. They’ve mentioned returning for solo albums (Kix made his solo debut back in 1989), and Kix has announced he’ll be bringing his American Country Countdown to various radio stations to air live in the spring. But what’s done is done.

They knew it was time to move on and will now let the music stand on its own as a reminder of their mark on Country Music. Just like Garth Brooks and Alabama before them, country music has lost another iconic artist. Someone who knew when the time was right to hang it up. They’re music is going to last forever on radio and in the hearts and minds of country music fans.

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One Response to “Brooks & Dunn: how long gone are you gonna be?”

  1. DAWN Says:

    There will ever be another duo that will come close to the wonder that was…no hell…IS Brooks and Dunn. Yeah, they are no longer recording or touring together but they wll always BE. It is heartbreaking that we will never have a summer of Brooks and Dunn tours and road trips, and more than a little depressing that we will never see Kix dancing across the stage with all that insane energy while Ronnie makes us swoon with that melt your heart voice. Together they were concert magic. BUT…they will always be the top country duo in history and the name that pops into your mind when you think honky tonk and heartbreak.
    I am gonna miss them when they’re gone and go on being a raging Brooks and Dunn cowgirl until I ride off into the sunset!

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