When Ronnie Dunn released "Bleed Red," his solo single for Arista Nashville last year, he faced a unique challenge that no "new" artist had ever faced before. He wasn't just competing with artists such as Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, or Jason Aldean, but also a twenty-year catalog of hits with his own voice on it -- as part of Brooks & Dunn.
"That twenty year catalog has been the hardest thing to overcome, and it had a big bearing on picking 'Bleed Red' as the first single. We did that just to sidestep doing something like I had done in the past with Brooks & Dunn. It's a constant challenge."
In an exclusive interview with Billboard, Dunn said the challenge of establishing himself as a solo artist is comparable to the political arena.
"It's going to take more than a year," he says with a smile. "I realized that in a hurry. I feel like I am campaigning door to door. You just can't step out of a band like Brooks & Dunn and assume that it is just going to be business as usual. You have to work it. It does feel like a campaign where you would have Obama, Romney, or Newt beating the bushes right now. That's what I'm having to do. I'm going out and playing clubs, and bars and stuff - just to reacquaint myself with people. I've always been the quiet guy in the band, and I have to go out and make people see there is potential here. It can talk," he says, grinning.
"Let the Cowboy Rock"
The singer is busily promoting the third single from his latest album, "Let The Cowboy Rock." Dunn said that he is glad to have a up-tempo song out.
"Finally," he says emphatically. "We weren't worried about not sounding like Brooks & Dunn. In my mind, it was going to be the name of the CD and the first single, but we just ran around it for the first two singles for various reasons. I'm digging it. The boys in the band are digging it. Now, with a tempo song, we can go to Letterman or Leno now and kick a campaign off. It's hard to release a record with a mid-tempo or ballad," he states.
Dunn is also working on an alternate mix of the song for PBR. "This is about to be one of the ad initiatives for Professional Bull Riders. We're rocking it up right now. I just did a little bit of tweaking on the lyrics for a bull rider. We're doing a remix right now."
The term 'Cowboy' is special to the singer. Brooks & Dunn's last studio disc was titled Cowboy Town, and one of their last hits together was 'Cowgirls Don't Cry," a collaboration with close friend Reba McEntire. In fact, Dunn made news last year when he had the word "Cowboy" tattooed on his arm.
"I was freaking out when Brooks & Dunn were breaking up. I thought 'We play a ton of rodeos, and I thought this was such a cowboy deal, and I don't wear a hat. They might not think I'm a cowboy. That might sound ridiculous to a lot of people, but apparently, it meant something to me. I wound up with a cowboy tattoo from my elbow to my wrist. It's just a part of what I do. My dad was a ranch foreman in west Texas. He wanted to be a country singer, and all the things he wanted to do and didn't pull off in life, I've done, so this is a homage to him."
One interesting aspect of this solo run for Dunn (He charted a pair of singles as a solo act back in the early 1980s) is the fact he is been very aggressive from a video standpoint. He has promised his fans a video for every song on his album - not just the singles. He says it's work, but not as much as it might have been a few years ago.
"I carry my own film guys with me now. People think that's a huge expense, but with technology like it is these days, it's not. You can film videos and everything with a Canon Mark II, and shoot a movie. They're doing it for next to nothing, by comparison. I can do ten videos for a project for the price of one mainstream video in the past."
So, where does Ronnie Dunn go from here? He says that he's keeping it simple. "You have to just try to stay focused, do what you love, and let everything else take care of itself. Music is the number one most important thing you can do. I'm just going to let the music take me where it does."