Country fans need no introduction to Kix Brooks. In our latest podcast, Marty Smith dives deep with the legendary half of Brooks & Dunn on the musical influences that shaped his career – and how they aided his climb to the top of the country music industry.
Marty Smith, host of Outsider’s The Road You Leave Behind, is a huge fan of Brooks like the rest of us. As such, he knows late legend Johnny Cash was of tremendous influence for Brooks growing up. Using this as a springboard, Smith sits down with the one and only Kix Brooks to discuss how he and others shaped the man who’s been topping country charts for decades.
From Johnny Cash to Johnny Horton: The Musical Influences of Kix Brooks
“You noted the 100 song of Johnny Cash book that you learned by heart. So, obviously the ‘Man in Black’ was a musical influence. Who are some of your other musical influences comin’ up?” Smith asks.
“Well growing up in Shreveport [Louisiana], Hank Williams and Johnny Horton‘s widow lived like two blocks from us,” Brooks begins of his youth. He speaks of fellow country music singer-songwriter Billie Jean Horton, who was famously married to both icons.
“My first gig with my band, The Originals, in the 6th grade – was at her house,” Brooks continues of Horton. “Her daughter – Johnny Horton’s daughter – Nina Horton, and I went to gradeschool together. And [Billie Jean] paid us five bucks… it was a dollar a piece, ’cause there were five of us [in the band]. But still the big money, you know?” he smiles of the memory.
“So that was my first introduction. We went in that house, and man there was Hank Williams‘ guitars and gold records on the wall! Pictures of Johnny Horton in a Revolutionary War outfit that was hangin’ over their fireplace,” Brooks recalls. “They lived in a little white house just like us. It was a pretty humble neighborhood, really. We weren’t in poverty, but we weren’t in ‘society’ by any means.”
Kix Brooks on What ‘Lured Him to Nashville’
Following these fond memories, Smith asks the icon what “lured him to Nashville?” Music City is, after all, where Brooks truly flourished in the years to come.
“My father,” Brooks answers without hesitation. Right out of high school, a fresh Kix Brooks had the “bright idea” he says, to buy out a local Shreveport bar his band played often. $5,000 is what it would’ve taken to own the place, and Brooks’ humble upbringings meant he’d need to get a loan. So Brooks went to have an ol’ fashioned sit-down with his beloved father to ask for a co-sign at the bank.
“He listened to my whole thing, sittin’ there smoking his cigar,” Brooks recounts. “I had this whole plan together… and he said ‘You know, two things: One, you don’t know a damn thing about the bar business – other than drinkin’ and bangin’ on a guitar. And Number Two: you’re pretty good at bangin’ on a guitar. But in Shreveport, Louisiana, you’re kinda a big fish in a small pond right now,'” his father told him.
“If you wanna prove something to yourself, you need to go to Los Angeles, or New York, or I would suggest Nashville for the kind of music you play,” Brooks Sr. continued.
Brooks on His Later Musical Influences: ‘Everything from Hank Williams to Frank Zappa’
But Brooks wasn’t entirely sold on country music specifically. At least not yet. So his father’s suggestion didn’t quite sink in at first.
“College kids don’t care,” Brooks says. “We played everything from Hank Williams to Frank Zappa. A lot of Allman Brothers, and all that kinda stuff. And I was really heavily influenced by the whole Austin thing that was coming up.”
Before his eventual move to Nashville, Brooks would spend a hell of a time getting acclimated to the music industry with some incredible names, too.
“There was a big bar in town called The River City Music Hall. And that’s where I met Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker and Ray Benson & Asleep at the Wheel,” he recalls. “All those guys… ‘Cause I could open up just by myself with a guitar and make a lot of noise. So I got all those gigs. Jerry Jeff and I got to be buds… Y’know, it’s funny – I actually wrote a song for him on one of our Brooks & Dunn records that he sang on.”
Brooks then laughs that this was a “real reckless, inebriated introduction into the music business. There was nothing sober about the way we were runnin’ back then,” he smiles. “And I loved every minute of it. It was great. At that time, you know, I just wanted to be like them.”
Eventually, Kix Would Become Friends With His Musical Heroes in Music City
Eventually, however, Kix Brooks would take his father’s advice and make the move to Nashville.
“And that’s where I realized: it wasn’t uncool to be in Nashville,” he recalls of the move. “And a lot of my heroes, like Roger Miller and Mickey Newburry, Kris Kristofferson, Sonny Throckmorton – I got to be friends with.”
From here, Brooks delves further into his beginnings in Music City. And for any fan of country music, Brooks & Dunn, and living legend Kix Brooks himself – it’s well worth a listen.