Ronnie Dunn and the Roasted Vegetables

Back in the mid-1980s, a good friend of mine asked me to help him organize a country music talent contest. Nationwide.

The friend was Carl Griffin – the guy who signed me to Motown. We were both “in between engagements” at the time, which is a polite way of saying “out-of-work” in showbiz. My band, BootCamp, had just broken up. My girlfriend and I had just broken up, too. I was all broked up. And broke.

Carl had Marlboro as a sponsor. Marlboro wanted us to find the next big country music star. They didn’t want to just run a contest–they wanted whoever won to be HUGE. Marlboro wanted to be a leading force in the country music scene. They sank a ton of dough into sponsoring concert tours and talent contests.

Carl wasn’t a big country music fan. Neither was I. The only two country CDs I had were a Best-of Hank Williams, Sr. and the first Dwight Yoakum. But when Carl told me how much Marlboro was paying, I started liking country music a whole lot more.

Carl ran the talent contest out of New York City. He asked me to organize the contestants, which I did for the first two tours. For my third Marlboro tour? Carl asked me to MC and host the shows. A promotion!

Marlboro wanted me to have an assistant, someone to do my old job – organize the bands. The first call I made was to Hit Man Howie Z, also known as Howard Zizzi. Howie was the drummer in my band, BootCamp.

He was in between engagements, too. Howie signed on. We hit the road. Two city boys heading out into the Wild Wild West.

Marlboro chose a bunch of markets – mostly small southern towns — all across the USA. Bands would submit their music to the NYC office, and the New Yorkers would choose 30 bands for each town. Ten bands a night, three nights in a row, all in the same club.

In each town, we had a panel of judges – local music biz folks – who would choose one band to represent their town at the finals in Nashville. The contests were held in what I affectionately call honkytonk hellholes — rough and tumble small clubs on the outskirts of a town.

The grand prize was substantial — a $50,000 production deal with Barry Beckett, who produced Hank Williams, Jr. and Bob Dylan, among others.

Each band had 15 minutes on stage. If you went over your 15 minutes, big points were deducted. That was a strict rule.

Let me set the stage – a small town, a small club, packed with country music fans, smoking the free Marlboros they’d been given. The lights go dim. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA” blasts out of the speakers. The song finishes, a spotlight cuts a beam through the fog of cigarette smoke and lands on a microphone stand, center stage…

The very first time I walked on stage and looked over the audience, I could feel the apprehension. It got mighty quiet. I could almost hear the whispers, “Where is this boy from? New York City?”

I introduced myself to the crowd. My real name is real long, real complicated and real Italian. I looked totally out-of-place, like Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny. People didn’t throw stuff at me, but I did see some folks looking around for a piece of rope and checking their guns for ammo.

I didn’t get killed that first night, but I decided I needed a stage name, something to lighten things up. The next day, I came up with a nickname- Slim Chance. Slim, because I thought it was a good countrified name. And Chance, because it was a talent contest, after all. From then on I introduced myself as Slim Chance. It didn’t get a ton of laughs, but at least it kept the cowboys from pulling out their six-guns. From that point on, I kept my stage banter light and lively.

One day Howie and I pulled into Tulsa, Oklahoma. The contest was at a place called Tulsa City Limits. We got the club ready for the big show. We made sure the Marlboro signs were hung. We made sure the sound company was good to go, and that the judges were ready to judge.

The bands showed up for their sound checks. There were some good bands that day, but nothing really knocked us out. When the last band started their soundcheck, the whole club went silent. They were incredible. The drummer was amazing. The singer was even more amazing. He had a great voice. I looked at Howie and said,

“Here’s our big winner. This Guy’s going all the way.”

When The Guy and his band played that night, they killed. Killed.

The local favorite happened to be a gal named Suzy Brandt. She packed the place with her fans. Towards the end of her 15 minutes, she started yodeling, the way some country singers do on occasion. Then she started yodeling faster. And faster. And higher. And higher. I thought her head was gonna explode. Suzy kept on yodeling. She was going so fast it sounded like she was speaking in tongues, like Robert DeNiro at the end of Cape Fear.

Suzy went into overtime. She finally stopped. The crowd went wild. I went out to the microphone, told everybody to sit tight and that I’d be back with our big winner. I went into the back room with the judges. We totaled up their score sheets. Suzy had won. But when we deducted the penalty points for the overtime yodeling, she came in second.

Who came in first?

The Guy. The Guy went on to win the national finals in Nashville. My psychic prediction came true. Marlboro started grooming this Guy for success. Barry Beckett produced some songs for The Guy, Scott Hendricks engineered the session, and everything was going great, when suddenly –

Nothing happened. The Guy couldn’t get a record deal. Not a nibble. A few years later, the engineer—Scott Hendricks—played one of the songs for a record executive who was looking for a country music duo. The executive already had one half of the duo—a guy named Kix Brooks–and needed the second half. When he heard the Barry Beckett demo of The Guy, he put the two halves together and they became…

Brooks and Dunn. Ronnie Dunn was the Guy who sang at Tulsa City Limits when Howie and I were doing the Marlboro Contest. His drummer, Jamie Oldaker, had played with Eric Clapton a few years before. It was Jamie who entered Ronnie Dunn into the contest. Brooks and Dunn went on to become one of the most successful country music duos ever.

Ronnie Dunn at the Finals in Nashville

Ronnie Dunn at the Finals in Nashville

A few years ago, I was playing a small jazz club in Fresno, California. I walked outside the hotel and took a jog. On the way back, I noticed a bunch of 18-wheelers, painted black, parked outside the big auditorium downtown. The fleet of trucks had the Brooks and Dunn steer horns logo on the side.

I finished my jog and walked inside the hotel. And who was walking out? Ronnie Dunn. He said,

“Slim! Man! How are ya?”

And the Slim Man name was born.

Roasted Vegetables

After a long night of honky-tonkin’, ain’t nothin’ like some roasted vegetables to soak up Roasted vegetables 7the booze and ease the joints. Here at Slim’s Shady Trailer Park, I roast vegetables a lot. Why? It’s easy—you chop ‘em up, add a little olive and salt and pepper and stick them in the oven.

Another reason? Roasted vegetables are real healthy.

The most important reason? They are molto delizioso. That’s Italian Cowboy talk for, “These vittles are lip-smackin’ good!”

The other night, I decided to make dinner. The first thing I did was chop up some red beets. I added a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Then I stuck them in the oven while I prepared some salmon with my incredibly incredible cippolini and bell pepper sauce.

I roasted the beets for 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Then I gave them a stir and put them back in the oven. I checked them every 10 minutes, stuck them with a fork. It took about an hour, total.

Sometimes, it takes less than an hour. The last time I cooked beets, it took about 40 minutes, total. I used the same oven, the same baking dish, but it took 20 minutes less. Why?

Who the hell knows!

The important thing to remember is…give the vegetables a stir after 20 minutes, and stab ‘em with a fork. If it goes in easily, the vegetables are done. Most likely, they’re not. Put them back in the oven, and check every 10 minutes or so. Average cooking time is about 50 minutes for beets, carrots, potatoes, things like that.

When they’re done, take them out of the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes. You don’t want to be burning the roof of your mouth!

That’s my basic roasting method. Olive oil and salt and pepper, roasted in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes to an hour.

A few IMPORTANT things…

Use a metal pan if you want your vegetables to be crispy on the outside. When I cook potatoes or sweet potatoes, I use a metal pan, because I want the outsides to be crunchy.

I use a glass baking dish when cooking beets and carrots, because they roast better that way.

When roasting vegetables, it’s important to remember to roast vegetables that are similar.

For instance, sometimes I roast red beets and carrots together. They both take about the same amount of time, about 50 minutes, usually.

Zucchini and summer squash roast together quite nicely, they only take about 15 or 20 minutes.

I like roasting potatoes. I use red potatoes, or Yukon gold. I also roast sweet potatoes. Sweet!

There are so many variations. Here is the basic roasted beets recipe, followed by some delectable variations.

Makes 4 side servings, perfect with just about any Slim dish!

IMG_7216Roasted Red Beets


4 cups of red beets

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Here we go…

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Wash and peel the beets. Cut the smaller beets in quarters, cut the larger beets in eighths. The larger the pieces, the longer they take to cook. They should be about the size of your average strawberry.

Put the beets in a glass baking dish. I used an 8”x11” dish, and 4 cups fit perfectly.

Drizzle with the olive oil and mix. Make sure they are coated with oil, but not swimming in it!

Add the salt and pepper. I start off with about a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, and about 6 turns of the peppermill.

Mix, make sure all the beets have a bit of salt and pepper on them.

Put them in the oven.

After 20 minutes, give the beets a good stir. Then, stick a fork in one. If it goes in easily, they are done. My average cooking time for roasted beets is about 50 minutes.

Check every 10 minutes or so. When the fork goes in easily, they are done.

When the beets are done, take them out of the oven, and let them cool for a few minutes.

If you want, you can add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.

Toss gently and serve.

That’s it!


Beet Variations:

Roasted Red and Yellow Beets

Use 2 cups of red beets and 2 cups of yellow beets, and follow the instructions above.

Roasted Red Beets and Carrots

Use 2 cups of red beets and 2 cups of baby carrots and follow the directions above.

IMG_7213Roasted Red Beets with Goat Cheese and Chives and Balsamic Vinegar

Follow the instructions above. When the beets are done, pull them out of the oven. Add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and stir. Crumble 3 or 4 ounces of goat cheese over top of the warm beets. Top off with about a tablespoon of snipped chives (I use a scissors.)

Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Shallots

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Use red potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes. Scrub the potatoes. Leave the skin on! Cut them in quarters.


4 cups red or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed, skin on, and quartered

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon chopped fresh shallots

Salt and pepper

Here we go… 

Put the potatoes on a metal baking pan. You can line it with aluminum foil if you like.

Drizzle the olive oil on the potatoes and mix. Make sure each one is coated.

Add the rosemary, shallots and salt and pepper. Mix, make sure each tater gets some love!

Put the taters in the oven.

After 20 minutes, give them a turn. Only stir once! We want each side of the potatoes to get nice and brown.

Cook for another 20 minutes. Stick a fork in a piece of tater. If it goes in easily, it’s done.

My average cooking time is about 50 minutes.

When the potatoes are done, take them out of the oven and…


IMG_6248Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Two or three sweet potatoes should give you about 4 cups, depending on their size. Scrub your sweet potatoes. Leave the skin on! Cut them into small wedges.


4 cups of sweet potatoes, cut into small wedges

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper

Here we go…

Put the sweet potatoes on a metal baking pan. Line with aluminum foil, if you like.

Add the olive and mix. Make sure each wedge is coated!

Add the salt and pepper and stir. I usually use about ½ teaspoon of kosher salt and 6 twists of the peppermill.

Mix the sweet taters again.

Put them in the oven.

After 20 minutes, turn them over. We want each side to get toasty brown.

Let them cook for another 20 minutes.

Then, stick a fork in one. If the fork goes in easily, they’re done.

Dish ‘em up!


IMG_7221Roasted Zucchini and Summer Squash with Oregano and Garlic

One medium zucchini should yield about 2 cups sliced. Same with the summer squash. You’ll need 2 cups of each.

Fresh oregano is milder than dried. If you use fresh oregano, you’ll need a tablespoon, chopped. If you’re using dried, a generous teaspoon should do it. I prefer dried for this dish.

Scrub your zucchini and summer squash. Slice in circular slices.

Peel 4 cloves of garlic, and smash each one with the flat side of a knife.


2 cups of zucchini, cut in circular slices

2 cups of summer squash, cut in circular slices

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of oregano (I use dried, you can use either dried or fresh)

OPTIONAL: ¼ cup or so of freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese

Here we go…

Put the zucchini, squash and garlic in a glass baking dish.

Add the olive oil and mix gently. Make sure each piece is coated with olive oil, but not swimming in it. Start off with 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil. You can add more if you need to.

Add the salt, pepper, and oregano and give it a gentle stir.

Put it in the oven.

After 10 minutes, check your vegetables! Take a stab at a piece of zucchini. If the fork goes in easily, it’s done. Most likely, it ain’t. No need to stir or flip the vegetables.

Cook for another 10 minutes and check.

They should take about 20 minutes to be done.

Take them out of the oven. You can sprinkle a little freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese on top, if you like.

Dish it up!