Ronnie Dunn is still just getting started. Again.
Nearly two years after walking away from one of the most successful duos in country music, Kix Brooks’ ex-partner admits his solo career hasn’t taken off quite as quickly as he expected.
“When I started this thing, I popped off and said something like, ‘Oh, I think it will take a year,’ ” the 59-year-old singer says with a rueful laugh. “I was so naive. What I’m learning now is it takes time.
Now I get it. And I don’t mind. Sure, I’m starting from scratch. But I have someplace to grow. And I’m enjoying the process of trying to get there. I’m having more fun now than I ever had.”
This month, Dunn brings the party north of the border for a string of dates with his new band, mixing B&D classics like Boot Scootin’ Boogie and Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You in with tracks like Bleed Red and Let the Cowboy Rock from his self-titled 2011 solo debut.
From his Nashville home, an affable and remarkably candid Dunn came clean about the straw that broke the camel’s back, his Russian art collection and his eternally youthful locks.
Congrats on your 59th birthday. Are you gonna hold there?
(Laughs) I’ve been holding at like 38 for the last however many years.
I’m really embarrassed to say that I’m in denial. I’m sure it’s awkward for a lot of people to deal with. I’m still out there jumping around and playing with a country-rock band and getting tattoos and trying to act 22.
How long did it take to feel comfortable onstage alone?
Not long. I was prepped to do that. Kix was kind of the frontman, spokesman, circus ringleader for what we did. I feel more comfortable doing this solo than I did with Brooks and Dunn. That’s not to diminish anything I did. This just feels more natural. Whether it’s more exciting or entertaining is another issue.
Did you feel constrained in Brooks and Dunn?
Well, I was asked by T-Bone Burnett to work on the soundtrack to Crazy Heart, but the label wouldn’t let me break away from the B&D thing to do that. That was definitely one of the straws that broke the camel’s back. There were other small things.
How is your solo show different from the old show?
We’re playing smaller venues. There’s less production; hardly any production at all. It’s definitely a little more raw and organic.
Hopefully it will stay that way. I’m enjoying looking people in the eyes and being able to tell stories between songs. The bigger shows, the festivals we’ve done, they’re almost a distraction once you get accustomed to the intimacy of a small room.
Have the reunion offers started coming yet?
If they are, I’m not hearing about it. And I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon. If it did, I’d have to think about it. I mean that. I have to be careful right now, because I think I still have a lot of work to do on the musical front. And that’s more important than just reaching out and grabbing the money.
Your first solo album didn’t push the envelope too much. Is that something you might try next time around?
In a big way. That’s the biggest lesson I learned. People expected more edge. I think I have to start making music for the sake of music and not for feeding the machine. When I started, I caught myself playing the game — meeting with labels, strategizing on what song to do, so many things that aren’t relevant to music. So I’m coming full circle to where I don’t wanna talk to a label or a manager or some strategist; I just wanna focus on music and enjoy that. And ride it off into the sunset. Maybe I should have done that with Brooks and Dunn; I don’t know. We’ll see.
I read that you collect Russian art. How did that happen?
Years ago, when the tech bubble burst, we were making money and I didn’t have a clue what to do with it, other than bury it in a tin can in the backyard. I asked the head of our record company. Surprisingly, he recommended this art. And it was about that time the Russian art market started taking off. I just stumbled into it. At first it was purely for investment. I’ve since grown to appreciate it. I go to museums, I read and study. And when I hang out with people in the art world — which is very seldom — I take notes.
Tell the truth: Do you let the hair and goatee go grey between tours?
I would scare myself if I did.
Ronnie Dunn’s Canadian tour dates:
June 20 | Grand Prairie | Canada Games Arena
June 21 | Saskatoon | TCU Place
June 23 | Regina | Conexus Arts Centre
June 25 | Edmonton | Jubilee Auditorium
June 26 | Bonnyville | Centennial Centre
June 27 | Calgary | Jack Singer Hall
June 29 | Dauphin | Countryfest
July 29 | Penticton | Rock the Peach Festival