When Brooks & Dunn split up in 2009, it was a decade after they first considered going their separate ways. The duo, made up of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, released their No. 1 album, Reboot, earlier this year, earning the pair a couple CMA Awards nominations, including one for Vocal Duo of the Year. But the guys now reveal that if it wasn't for the legendary Merle Haggard, they might still be pursuing separate endeavors.
"In 2010, Merle Haggard, both our hero, had agreed to open the last two weeks of our tour if we would perform with him," Brooks recalled from stage, while at Brooks & Dunn's Country Music Hall of Fame induction. "Whoa. Throw us in the briar patch. He got to choose the songs. So it was never 'Silver Wings,' or anything we've ever heard of. He would pick the most obscure country songs just to screw with us. And we had the woodshed real hard before we went out that night, because we weren't going to screw it up with Merle.
"I went up there one night to get our song," he recalled. "Merle was in the back and he's staring out the window; we were in Woodstock, New York. He said, 'Sit down.' I did and he said, 'What's wrong with y'all?' I said, 'I don't know Merle. What's wrong with this?' He said, 'Look out there. How many people is that?' I said, 'I don't know. They told me it's like 20,000 people Merle.' He said, 'Yeah. Why would y'all quit?'"
Fast forward several years and Brooks was interviewing Haggard for the American Country Countdown show he hosts, and Haggard suggested the duo reunite, not long before Haggard's death in 2016.
"It wasn't too long before Merle passed," Brooks said. "He made another record and I was interviewing for the Countdown show. We had a good talk about his project and he still likes making music and all that. He finally went, 'You and Ronnie getting back together?' I said, 'I don't know Merle. We're having fun spending time with their families. We're doing stuff we enjoy.'
"He said, 'You don't understand, son,'" he continued. "'You boys have got a thing. You've got a thing. You can't put your finger on it ... It's one thing when an artist, somebody believes in has a thing and people know what. But for groups and for duos, it's a rare thing. And y'all got one. You got a thing man, you cannot waste that. You need to call up Ronnie Dunn and y'all need to figure this out.' I said, 'Yeah Merle, whatever.' I sent Ronnie that clip."
Brooks & Dunn were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame by their good friend, and Las Vegas residency partner, Reba McEntire. Ray Stevens and Jerry Bradley were also inducted. Prior to their induction, Brooks & Dunn were honored with performances of three of their hits by Brothers Osborne, Luke Bryan and Trisha Yearwood.
Photo Credit: Getty / Ethan Miller