Country's Brooks & Dunn ride their partnership into the sunset


It's the end of the road for Brooks & Dunn … at least for now.

After almost 20 years as one of country music's prime duos in album and concert ticket sales, as well as award wins, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn have decided to go their separate ways. First, they're staging a farewell tour; they're also being honored by many of their peers and the Academy of Country Music in the CBS special "ACM Presents: Brooks & Dunn -- The Last Rodeo" Sunday, May 23.

Taped at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas the night after last month's ACM Awards -- at which Brooks & Dunn were honored as top vocal duo for the 16th time -- the two-hour show boasts a genuine who's who of the genre's stars.

Reba McEntire, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Miranda Lambert, Sugarland and Jason Aldean participate, joined by Grammy and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.

"We're both very appreciative of what we've been blessed with, in terms of success and the things we've gotten to do," Brooks says in explaining there's no rancor in his imminent split with Dunn. "I think we're also really proud of the music we've made. At the same time, you only live once.

"We've never said we would always try to make music together," Brooks adds. "We just got back from a vacation in Cancun together. We're the best of friends, and we get along great, and this is just one of those things. We've honestly gone 20 years without taking a break from touring or making records or working as hard as we could. At some point, you look at each other and (realize) you've kind of exhausted a lot of things. It's just a good time for a break."

The showbiz juggernaut known as Brooks & Dunn came about very quickly in 1990. "This wasn't a high-school dream of ours, or some family band we'd been trying to put together forever," Brooks reflects. "He was playing clubs in Oklahoma, and I'd been a songwriter in Nashville for 10 years with a couple of record deals on my own. It was the wild idea of a record label guy to stick us together and see what would come of it."

What came of it, literally within a couple of days, were the songs "Brand New Man" (which also became the title of the pair's 1991 debut album) and "My Next Broken Heart." Brooks recalls he and Dunn had been toiling "for so long without success that when those songs became hits, we just rolled up our sleeves and said, 'Let's see what we can make of this thing.' It's not like we were ever trying to be, nor were we, the Everly Brothers or anything like that.

"Probably part of why we've been successful is that we've always been two guys who somehow worked together. The way we look at it, it's been a great run, and we've had a lot of fun, but trying to write and produce for two people comes with its creative restrictions if being a duo wasn't always your thing. I know Ronnie is interested in doing something where he doesn't have to answer to a partner, and I totally understand that. And vice versa."

"Boot Scootin' Boogie," "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone," "Red Dirt Road" and a cover of B.W. Stevenson's 1973 pop hit "My Maria" also are staples of the Brooks & Dunn catalog. Fans can anticipate hearing them in the duo's farewell concerts, now under way and ending in early August in -- appropriately enough -- Nashville.

"I can't say I'd be surprised if we ever tour together again," Brooks says, "because we've done it so much. A few years down the road, if we feel like doing it, I don't see any reason we shouldn't."

As for going solo, Brooks anticipates "a lot of things" for himself, including continuing to host the weekly radio show "American Country Countdown" and spending more time at Arrington Vineyards, the Tennessee winery he co-owns.

"I don't feel any regrets, as if I've missed anything in my career so far," Brooks concludes. "Before I met Ronnie, I really enjoyed the times and places I played by myself in clubs. It's all part of life; you go along and do different things, and our separating is part of that. It's not like we're 25 years old anymore, so if we're going to do anything else with our lives, we'd better take a shot at it."

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