Few people on Music Row, if any, possess a more diverse résumé than Kix Brooks. He can be heard weekly as host of the syndicated radio show “American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks.” He co-owns Arrington Vineyards, an award-winning winery just south of Nashville in pastoral Arrington, Tenn. He answers fan questions in a column for Country Weekly. He has launched an acting career and started a film company, Team Two Entertainment, in partnership with his son, Eric, director/producer Dustin Rikert and actor/producer William Shockley.
Then, of course, there’s his music career, which these days finds the Louisiana-born entertainer embarking on a new path. After 20 years as one-half of the multi-award-winning, multi-Platinum duo Brooks & Dunn, he amicably parted with partner Ronnie Dunn in 2010. Dunn released his self-titled project last year, and on Sept. 11 Brooks issued his own 12-song collection, New to This Town.
Brooks actually came to Nashville as a solo artist. He had released a single on Capitol Records, “Sacred Ground,” which peaked at No. 87 in 1989, and was establishing himself as a songwriter when he switched gears and paired with Dunn in 1990. Now, in striking out again on his own, he began by gathering material. Eventually, he wound up with 12 songs, nine of them with his credit as co-writer.
“I had a couple of songs that, being from Louisiana, were pretty rocky and swampy that I wrote early on,” he said. “I just felt they were me and how I was feeling right now. Then I started looking for songs that would complement that stuff and kept trying to write things in that vein. They seemed to have a continuity to them, so I tried to build an album around that that made some sense.”
Recruiting musicians was next. “I cut with the same guys I’ve been working with for a lot of years. I’ve known (bassist) Michael Rhodes for over 30 years; we even played with rival bands down in Louisiana. I’m sure with a lot of new artists, especially if you have studio players, trying to explain to them what you are about and where you come from can be difficult. But I’ve made so much music with these guys, so it was fun to bring some new songs in and they lit up and hit it real hard.”
Brooks produced the entire album except for the title track, which he wrote with Marv Green and Terry McBride. “Jay DeMarcus (of Rascal Flatts) and I are doing a soundtrack for a Christmas movie,” he explained. “We got done a little early. The players were sounding good and the studio was rockin’, so I asked Jay if I could do ‘New to This Town.’ We produced that song together, since we were already working. It came out really good and turned out to be the first single.”
The Eagles’ Joe Walsh added his legendary guitar skills to the track. “That kind of happened by accident,” Brooks said. “Lonnie Napier (Associate Producer, ‘American Country Countdown’) suggested adding ‘some Joe Walsh-sounding guitar,’ so I took a chance. I had met Joe when I was doing those stadium tours with Kenny Chesney. I took the liberty of calling Joe’s manager, Irving Azoff (Chairman/CEO, Front Line Management Group), and asking him if it would be inappropriate to get in touch with Joe about playing on it. He really liked the song and he said, ‘Heck, send it to him.’ And I did.
“Joe was in rehearsals with Paul McCartney at the Grammy Awards at the time,” Brooks continued. “He listened to the track when they were on break, called me up and said he wanted to play on it. He went home that evening, put those great slide tracks down and emailed them to me. I just dropped them in and we were done.”
“New to This Town” peaked at No. 31. “Obviously, I would have wanted it to go multi-week No. 1,” noted Brooks’ longtime manager, Clarence Spalding, President, Spalding Entertainment. “That didn’t happen, but some people who hadn’t really had the opportunity to hear Kix sing alone came back and said, ‘We love that song!’ That’s the ‘new artist’ way of doing things. We’re going to get the consumer to taste this a little bit, and if they like it, we’re going to feed them some more.”
Written by Brooks, Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson, “Bring It On Home” is the album’s second single. “I’d come up with that chorus the morning they got there,” Brooks said. “Dallas had a title, ‘Speed of Life,’ that we tried to stick onto it, but it was like we were forcing it. So we finished the song, and after they went home I got to banging around on it and came up with that idea of ‘Bring It On Home.’ I called them up and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about going a little more simple?’ They both liked that idea, because that’s really what the song is about. We actually wrote ‘Speed of Life’ the way it needed to be written, so we got two songs out of that one.”
These first singles invite listeners to open their ears and hear what Brooks has to offer on his own. “It’s hard for any singer in this format to stand up beside Ronnie Dunn every night and sing,” Spalding said. “Ronnie will go down in history as one of the greatest singers of all time. Kix got to sing a few songs on each album, but Ronnie’s was the voice that sang more. I think that allowed Kix to sit back, so when it came time for him to make his record, he had a good idea of exactly what he wanted to do. That’s what you hear. You don’t hear a Brooks & Dunn record; you hear a Kix Brooks record. It’s a lot easier being a solo act when it comes to making decisions. You don’t always have to ask, ‘What does Ronnie think?’ It’s ‘I think this’ and you move on with the decision. I couldn’t be prouder of him and all the music on there.”
Spalding also admires Brooks for the range of his interests and energy in pursuing them. “He does the radio show,” he said. “He has his acting career. Everything he does that goes along with his music career makes Kix Brooks who he is.”
“I like to think I can wear different hats,” said Brooks, whose acting chops will be on display with his lead role in “To Kill a Memory,” which will show at the Austin Film Festival on Oct. 23. The title takes its name from a song Brooks wrote with Randy Houser.
Not the least of his interests is the Country Music Association. A respected and productive CMA Board member, Brooks plans to continue to support his passion for Country Music through the organization and is proud of what it has accomplished throughout his involvement.
“I love our business,” he said. “So, to be on the Board and get to hang out every couple of days with the leaders of our business, to hear what everybody is up to and where our business is going and the things that we’re doing, is really fun for me. I enjoy that part of it, but I’m also really proud of the things that we’ve accomplished, like the CMA Music Festival in particular. We’re making a serious effort at helping kids get into music in public schools that otherwise wouldn’t be able to give them an opportunity. This year, we crossed the $6 million mark in contributing to (the CMA music education program) Keep the Music Playing and helping kids who need instruments in school and to teach them how to play music. We also helped victims of the flood two years ago in Nashville.
“It makes me feel good to see something that we worked real hard on go from the racetrack (at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, former home of CMA Music Festival/Fan Fair) to LP Field and be an event that the whole city of Nashville and fans of Country Music everywhere can be proud of. It accomplishes something that’s really meaningful.”
Whether singing for wine lovers during a night of music at Arrington, writing music to accompany a movie project or answering fans’ questions in Country Weekly, Brooks approaches each endeavor enthusiastically. “What brings me the most satisfaction is what I’m working on at the time,” he said. “Dale Earnhardt told me something when he had a lot of different projects going. I asked him if he was interested in quitting driving and just getting into some of these other things he was into. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Don’t ever forget the No. 3 car,’ which was his way of saying ‘Racing is what allowed all this to happen for me.’ You can’t take your eye off the ball. Music is my heart and soul and that will always be. As long as people want me to play music, I’ll be doing that.”
On the Web: www.KixBrooks.com
On Twitter: @KixBrooks
By Deborah Evans Price
© 2012 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.