CMT Crossroads, a still-running cable television series that teams country music stars with musically-inclined admirers from outside the genre, debuted on April 21, 2002 with ZZ Top and Brooks & Dunn: a stacked lineup that magnifies the influence of classic rock on '90s country.
Texas-formed trio ZZ Top's inimitable mix of cutting-edge rock 'n' roll and regional blues traditions --a sound often complemented by tongue-in-cheek humor-- exemplifies the type of music blaring from car radios and bar jukeboxes during the formative listening years of Kix Brooks, Ronnie Dunn and other '90s country giants. Indeed, it's hard to imagine the guitar rock undertones and stadium-packing showmanship of Brooks (both Kix and Garth), Dunn and Travis Tritt without the influence of classic rock staples by ZZ Top, the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and other contributors to the soundtracks of their lives.
"If you were to name a rock band that comes from where we do -- Texas, Louisiana, that part of the country -- ZZ Top just dominated rock 'n' roll when we were coming up through the ranks," Dunn told CMT in 2002 "For years in the clubs, we'd stop playing and ZZ Top would come on the [jukebox]. The cowboys and cowgirls would pour onto the floor to dance to it. It's pretty synonymous with a lot of stuff we do."
When looking back at 20-plus years of CMT Crossroads, it's worth noting that country music has never existed in a vacuum. A fervent listener of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, Willie Nelson remains the textbook example of a star who forged their own sound in the '60s and '70s by embracing the music of their youth. From the mainstream end of the musical spectrum, Nelson and such musical peers as Merle Haggard took vocal cues from Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and other crooners while still following the leads of pop culture products Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell. So, by creating music shaped by the guitar work of John Mayer and the storytelling chops of Nelly, today's most criticized country stars --many of whom guest on Brooks & Dunn's 2019 album Reboot-- simply follow the lead of their detractors' honky tonk heroes by incorporating outside influences.
Beyond crossing the creative streams between rock and country, CMT Crossroads' debut promoted Sharped Dressed Men, a 2002 country tribute album to ZZ Top featuring appearances by Brad Paisley ("Sharp Dressed Man"), Kenny Chesney ("Tush") and others.
With the context of '90s country in mind, revisit these memorable performances.
Both acts took turns elevating each other's signature songs. In the above footage, ZZ Top's "La Grange" gets a shiny, new coat of paint via Brooks' harmonica accompaniment and Dunn's blues-groove guitar licks. "Gimme All Your Lovin'" got the same treatment, with Brooks, Dunn and their backing band adding country flair to a ZZ Top standard.
"Hard Workin' Man"
Likewise, ZZ Top sprinkled some rock 'n' roll seasoning on multiple Brooks & Dunn hits, as seen and heard above. Similar rock sorcery spiced up the already-electrified "Only in America."
"She Loves My Automobile"
Another all-time highlight for the series found Dunn fronting ZZ Top for a rowdy performance of "She Loves My Automobile." Brooks got his turn as lead singer on slow-burner "Rough Boy," which was Brooks & Dunn's contribution to Sharped Dressed Men.
Brooks & Dunn collaborated with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons again for 2009's "Honky Tonk Stomp" and its music video. The song debuted on greatest hits compilation #1s... and Then Some.
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