Let the cowboy rock and let the good times roll...
Ronnie Dunn is more than just the first-ever solo album by one of country music’s most beloved artists—a man who’s already learned a thing or two about being a singer in a cowboy band. As familiar as his winning voice has become, Ronnie Dunn has only now taken the time to explore once and for all his own powerful voice as a brand new solo artist. And as Dunn himself notes with a laugh, “I have to say, I’m sure enjoying feeling ‘new’ all over again.”
For Dunn and for all the fans he earned along the way, this deeply felt new effort has been a long time coming. In many ways, Ronnie Dunn is literally the album of a lifetime for the man whose name now gives this remarkable collection of songs its title. “Yeah, you really could say that I have been waiting my whole life to make this album,” Ronnie Dunn says with a smile as he sits back in The Barn outside his home where he spent countless hours working on this music over the last few years. “Like one of the songs on the album says, ‘We all bleed red,’ and frankly there’s a whole lot of my blood all over these particular tracks.”
As a result of all his hard work, Ronnie Dunn reflects perhaps the most intense soul searching Ronnie Dunn has ever done as a recording artist—and as a man too. “More than ever before, I felt as if I had a chance here to tell my own story through songs that mean a lot to me—some I wrote, some I co-wrote, and some that I just tried to make my own,” Dunn says. “Having waited so long to make my own album and say exactly what I wanted to say, I think that I became obsessed with making every song here really count.”
Of course, Ronnie Dunn has had an excellent reason to wait until now to make a solo album. For 20 years, Dunn was extremely proud and thankful to be a big part of the single most successful duo in country music history—and one of the most popular performing acts in recent music history. “When my musical partnership with Kix happened, lightning just struck. All of a sudden, all that success took us both by surprise, and away we went. It’s like we created these two characters, and we just took off on the rocket together, and kept going.” Brooks & Dunn’s remarkable rocket ride would ultimately result is more than 30 million albums sold, countless crowd-pleasing stadium and arena shows and multiple CMA Awards, ACM Awards, GRAMMYs, CMT Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards. “Kix and I were very honored in so many ways,” says Dunn. “We didn’t just accomplish everything we dreamed of as a duo. We accomplished a lot more than we ever expected. I have absolutely no complaints and no regrets.”
So when Brooks & Dunn decided to hang up their boots while they were still on top—ultimately playing their very last show together on September 2, 2010, at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee—Dunn finally had the time to call upon all his skills as one of music’s finest voices and storytellers to tell his own story in a way he’s never done before. As he explains, “When I started this album, right from the first song, every track that I wrote or co-wrote or picked was autobiographical in a way. I began with ‘Singer in a Cowboy Band’—which is definitely a big part of my story—and we went on from there, and on and on.”
A famed perfectionist by nature, Dunn admits that he threw himself into the creative process for the album in a very big way as he produced his own solo debut. “This time around I baked it, I baked it and cooked it, and cooked it again,” Dunn says shaking his head. “I wrote or was involved with recording 34 songs for this album. I was all over the place, literally and figuratively. I mean, was cutting all over town everywhere, nonstop. I became a man obsessed, and maybe a man a little lost too. But I kept going because making this album all it could be became so important to me. I wanted this to be something special for all the fans who’ve given me this opportunity—and for myself too.”
In the end, however, it was Janine Dunn—Dunn’s wife of 20 years—who ultimately helped him figure out the secret to making this solo album work. “I’d go home after writing, and it’s the first time Janine, my wife, has ever come to me and said, ‘You need to stop writing right now. Stop the madness.’ She said, ‘If you do anything, go down to The Barn, stare out into space or whatever you’ve got to stare out into, and find yourself.’ She told me, ‘You’ve been running hard for 20 years—and for about 15 years before that you were running hard to get here. You need to stop and spend time trying to find where you are in your heart.’ As usual, Janine was right. That’s what I fought to do with this album, and I feel like, for the most part, I captured that in the end.”
“I started listening to music with my father who was a guitar player and a singer in a band,” Dunn remembers. “In a way, this was his aspiration—to do what I’m doing now. My father loved Merle Haggard, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, hardcore country. When I became a teenager I would sneak off and listen to rock too. I remember getting a little record player that played 45s for Christmas in New Mexico. I think I was maybe six or seven, and I played ‘Peace in the Valley’ from Elvis over and over, thinking, ‘Man, that’s different.’ I mean, that was rocking compared to what I was accustomed to. And then later on I snuck off and was into listening to everything—and I still am.”
That initial introduction to music is reflected loud and clear in the music that Ronnie Dunn has made all his life, and now it’s all over Ronnie Dunn—a potent signature combination of hard country and hard rock with a healthy serving of down home gospel soul. Truth be told, Dunn has always loved singing “the fast and the slow ones”—the deeply felt sounds of Saturday night and Sunday morning.
That’s been one big musical constant in a busy life that’s found Dunn covering so much territory. Born in Coleman, Texas, Dunn would go on to attend 13 schools in his first 12 years of education. In a sense, Ronnie Dunn’s path was forever determined while studying psychology at Abilene Christian University and playing with bands in bars at night. He was forced to choose between his studies or his music. “Choosing between a life in the church or making music in the bars comes from the dynamic between my mother and my father,” Dunn says. “My mother was the oldest of seven kids, very stable, Louisiana farm family, Baptist church going. My dad had been raised in orphanages all his life, bounced around and had just the opposite life. Opposites obviously attract.”
Ultimately and perhaps predictably, Dunn chose music, and eventually moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to make his way. “Tulsa is a great music town—and it was a crazy town in the day,” Dunn says with a warm smile. “I was urged to move to Tulsa to break into the music business before I was urged to go to Nashville. See at the time, Eric Clapton’s band was from there. Guys who were playing with Joe Cocker were there. You had J.J. Cale and his cats, and the guys from The Gap Band too. Then there was Leon Russell who was kind of the king daddy with his whole Shelter Records scene. It was also the home to the largest country booking agency in the world at the time. So Tulsa was this crazy mix-match of music styles at the time, and it was all there and very much alive. Live music was really important, and the club scene there was hot. So for someone like me, it was the perfect place to learn your chops.”
Dunn’s big break—and his eventual move to Nashville—came thanks to Jamie Oldaker, a distinguished Tulsa drummer who had already played with Bob Seger, Leon Russell and, most recently, Eric Clapton. “I had a house band at a country club there, and Jamie would come in every now and then and sit in with us,” Dunn recalls. “One night Jamie called and said he was at the QuikTrip getting gas after all the clubs closed down, and there was an application at the counter for some talent contest and that he put my name down. I was like, ‘Dude, that is so uncool.’ But it ended up being a whole lot cooler than I could have imagined.”
In the end, Dunn was accepted—and ultimately won—the Marlboro Country Music Contest. The demo that Dunn was asked to send in to the contest included such future hits as “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and “Neon Moon.” The finals for the contest brought Dunn to Nashville, and when he won, Dunn was given the chance to record a single with producer Scott Hendricks. Impressed with what he heard in Dunn, Hendricks suggested that famed music executive, writer and producer Tim DuBois check the singer-songwriter out. It was DuBois who suggested that Dunn meet up with another singer-songwriter in town named Kix Brooks, and the rest would soon be history.
Ronnie Dunn is an album that vividly reflects one man’s whole journey to this point. While working on the album, Dunn thought a lot about the good luck and great fortune that have taken him this far. It’s an inspired song cycle that covers much of the path Ronnie Dunn has taken as a travelling troubadour—with up-tempo country rockers like “Singer in a Cowboy Band” and “Let the Cowboy Rock” and the mariachi-flavored
“How Far to Waco”—and on more intimate and romantic ballads like “Last Love I’m Tryin’” and “I Don’t Dance,” about the real-life love that’s somehow sustained Dunn through all the highs and the lows. Even the songs Dunn has chosen to cover here, he makes forever his own—like the stunning first single “Bleed Red,” written by Tommy Lee James and Andrew Dorff, a song that represents a grand statement about our shared humanity.
“It’s amazing when I think back on it all,” Dunn says, shaking his head now. “Consider this—my first landlords in Nashville were Johnny Cash and June Carter. June knew my wife Janine forever, and they offered us one of their cabins when I first came to town. I can remember when I was first introduced to John. He had just given June a new Rolls Royce—this big, blue thing. She took Janine shopping and said, ‘You boys stay here and visit.’ They left me in the house with Johnny Cash. Here’s this hero of mine sitting in a black recliner in a black suit in front of a TV, and I don’t think he says two words the whole time they’re out. Janine comes back, and she looks like she’s seen a ghost. Later, Janine told me, ‘June just read me the riot act about being with someone in the music business.’ June warned Janine about every dark aspect that could—and usually does—happen. I’ll never forget Janine looking at me and saying, ‘Maybe we should just go home tomorrow.’” Ronnie Dunn didn’t run home—instead, he stayed put and began the very public life in music that continues now in a whole new and exciting way with the album that shares his good name. “All these years later, I think back and realize that June was right to warn my
wife,” Dunn says. “After all, what were our chances then? And yet here we are today.
We’re still married with beautiful kids, and I’m still making music that I truly love. And Johnny Cash was the first to call me up and tell me he was proud of me when I first made it. How amazing is that? So all things considered, I’m glad that we didn’t just turn and go home that next day. I still had a lot more songs to sing then—and I still do now.”
"Love Owes Me One"
"I Can't Help Myself"
"How Far to Waco"
"Cost of Livin'"
"Let the Cowboy Rock"