Ronnie Dunn Talks Vegas With Reba & New Single: 'I Think People Are Going to Be Pleasantly Surprised'

Ronnie Dunn
Courtesy of Nash Icon Records

Ronnie Dunn

There’s always a certain bit of myth in the entertainment business. Sometimes, things can sound a lot more emotional than they actually were. Ronnie Dunn laughed just a little bit when asked recently about the supposed dinner Reba McEntire had with him and Kix Brooks to convince them to partner up with her for a series of shows at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“I bust her during the show,” Dunn admits to Billboard. “She and Kix start talking about how the Vegas thing all happened. There was really no magical dinner where we all showed up and agreed in unison to do it. There were all kind of clandestine negotiations going on behind the scenes that might have led us to that dinner. Her husband, Narvel, and Clarence Spalding [longtime manager of Brooks & Dunn] had been spotted in the back rooms of restaurants talking about it around town, so I was getting all the scoop on it -- that something was in play.”

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Actually, Dunn admitted the idea of doing a show in Vegas had been mentioned for a couple of years. “I just kind of walked away and let it develop and do its deal. The next thing I know, we wound up at Caesars and we finished our first run in June,” he said, adding that the trio will return there for a two-week run in December. “It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s almost too much fun. The room is unbelievable -- the perfect acoustic room for sound and the production they allow us to bring in. They’ve definitely rolled out the red carpet.”

Dunn says that Caesars has been an ideal venue to play. “On the last show, I told them I didn’t want to go home. The show is great, and the crowds are great. I think it holds a little over 4,000. You can stop and talk, and you’re not overwhelmed by a big production, like in an arena.” He also likes the fact that getting “home” during their Vegas stints is easy. “You walk out of your room, get on the elevator and step onstage.”

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Vegas definitely offers some unique experiences that you might not find anywhere else on the road. “It’s definitely different, for sure. There’s an endless array of things to do and see. It’s all there. I don’t think a lot of people realize how drastically Vegas has changed since the mid-'90s. It exploded. It’s a completely different world.”

The iconic voice said sharing the stage with good friend McEntire is always a pleasure. “It’s never bad for morale to have a pretty and talented redhead onstage with you. We’re both from Oklahoma and have the same take on that culture and world.”

He is quick to give McEntire credit for helping build his career. “She was the first person to give us a break when ‘Brand New Man’ came out in 1991. She gave us a job opening on her tour. She was one of just about four of five major tours back then. We stayed with her for two years, and had four number ones in a row -- which enabled us to go out and start headlining,” he recalled, adding that the bond has deepened further over the years. “We’re friends, as well. Our families travel together all the time, so it’s all good.”

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Just like McEntire, Dunn has just inked a new deal with Nash Icon Records. A partnership between Big Machine and Cumulus Media, he’s excited about the future possibilities. “It’s a new way of going about getting mainstream exposure. There’s a certain demographic that is crying out for artists that still may have some life yet that can fit into the constraints of commercial music these days.”

Currently in the studio working on his debut for the label, the singer has just released the set’s first single, “Ain’t No Trucks in Texas,” which is a collaboration with another hitmaker. “It’s produced by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts. I was sitting with the A&R department, and they were talking about who to use, and they suggested Jay. I was taken aback at first. I thought, ‘I can’t have my records sound like Rascal Flatts. That’s not going to work.’ We wanted to do some hardcore traditional stuff. So, I sat with him, and threw this song out.”

Dunn said he was surprised by the results. “His approach was perfect. We’re going back in next week to do some more stuff like that. He has a real feel for it. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by how it comes out. I hope they are.”

What is it about a fellow artist sitting behind the glass that has made the combination work so far? Familiarity with each other, he says. “We speak the same language. I know where the buttons are, and he does to, when it comes to our neuroses and our strengths. I also know what he’s going through as a touring artist. They’re in the middle of touring, and that can take the energy out of you. The surprising thing for me, is for me -- a control freak  to give him the room to do what he does. With ‘Trucks,’ he blew me away. He’s got a great team behind him. He’s got a terrific studio and facility. I watched him in action with the players. He’s really good. I think you’re going to hear a lot out of him as a producer.”

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