Garth Brooks

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TIME cover featuring Garth Brooks

Troyal Garth Brooks (born February 7, 1962 in Tulsa, Oklahoma) is an American singer, songwriter, actor, and charity director who performs country music.

Brooks was a phenomenal musical force in the 1990s. He appeared, apparently from nowhere, without the tall and lanky physical appearance typical of some male country stars, the year before the decade began and was an immediate commercial success, integrating pop and rock elements into his recordings and live performances. He soon began to dominate the country singles and the country albums charts and quickly crossed over into the mainstream pop arena, selling records like no one else in country music ever had and exposing country music to a larger audience than previously thought possible.

Brooks enjoyed one of the most successful careers in popular music history, with over 70 hit singles and 14 charted albums to his credit. Brooks broke records for both sales and concert attendance throughout the 1990s. Possibly dissatisfied and looking to expand his career boundaries, he then attempted an artistically ambitious but ultimately failed multi-media project involving a fictitious alter ego.

Troubled by the conflicts between career and family, the year after the decade ended Garth Brooks announced his retirement from recording and performing, thereby disappearing from the music world as suddenly as he had come. To his many fans the world over he remains a legend.

Early life and career

Garth Brooks grew up in Yukon, Oklahoma. His father Ray Brooks worked as a draughtman for an oil company, while his mother Colleen Carroll had been a minor figure as a country music singer in the 1950s. Garth grew up with an interest in music and sang in casual family settings, but his biggest interest was in athletics. He played football, baseball, and ran track in high school.

Brooks attended Oklahoma State University on a track scholarship as a javelin thrower. However he dropped track while at the school and graduated in 1984 with a degree in advertising.

Brooks began his professional singing career in that same year. He became very successful as a local artist, playing to packed clubs and bars in Oklahoma. However, a 1985 trip to Nashville to gain a record contract was a miserable failure. Brooks returned to Oklahoma and in 1986 married Sandy Mahl, whom he had met while working as a bouncer in a bar.

In 1987, the couple moved to Nashville, and Brooks was gradually able to wend his way into the music industry. By 1988, he was signed to Capitol Records.

The success begins

Garth Brooks' eponymous first album was released in 1989 and was both a critical and chart success. It peaked at #2 in the US country album chart and made #13 on the Billboard 200 pop album chart. Most of the album was traditionalist country, influenced in part by George Strait. The first single ahead of it was "Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old", a country top 10 success. It was followed by his first well-known song, "If Tomorrow Never Comes", which was his first country #1 and is still considered one of his best-crafted efforts. "Not Counting You" reached #2, and then "The Dance" put him at #1 again; this song's theme of people dying in the course of doing something they believe in resonated strongly and together with a popular music video gave Brooks his first push towards a broader audience.

The album No Fences followed in 1990. It reached #1 on the Billboard country music chart (staying there for 23 weeks) and #3 on the pop chart, and would go on to become Brooks' biggest-selling album, with global sales of over 20 million copies. It contained what would become Brooks' signature song, the blue collar anthem "Friends in Low Places", which was a favorite of American troops serving in the 1991 Gulf War. The album contained two other Brooks classics, the dramatic and controversial "Thunder Rolls" and the philosophically ironic "Unanswered Prayers". Also a hit was the affectionate "Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House"; all four of these songs hit #1 on the country chart.

While Brooks' music was definitely in the country idiom, he had also absorbed a sensibility from the 1970s singer songwriter movement, especially James Taylor (whom he idolized) and Dan Fogelberg. Similarly, Brooks was influenced by the operatic rock of the 1970s-era Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. In his highly successful live shows, Brooks used a wireless headset microphone to free himself to run about the stage, adding energy and arena rock theatrics to spice up the normally staid country music approach to concerts.


When Garth Brooks' third album, Ropin' the Wind, was released in September 1991, it had advance orders of 4 million copies and entered the pop album charts at #1, a first for a country act. It also further propelled the sales of his first two albums, such that he sometimes occupied to top two spots in the pop album chart. Nashville had never imagined that a country artist could become the biggest artist in popular music, but when both record sales and concert attendance were looked at, Garth Brooks was doing just that. Ropin' the Wind's music was a melange of pop country and honky-tonk; hits included Billy Joel's "Shameless", "What She's Doing Now", and "The River". In the end it became his second-best selling album after No Fences.

Brooks was in Los Angeles when the 1992 riots broke out there. To then express his desire for tolerance of all kinds, he co-wrote the gospel-country-rock hybrid "We Shall Be Free", which was the first single off his fourth album The Chase. [1] However the song met with resistance from country radio stations and from the culturally conservative country audience, and only made it to #12 on the country chart, his worst showing to date. That said, the song is very popular amongst many of his fans and Brooks got standing ovations many times when the song was sung in concert.

The Chase, which Brooks would later describe as his album that gave the closest look into his mind, would go on to become a huge success, with its next two singles both making it back to #1. But it would not quite match the sales of his previous albums, and the tension between what Brooks wanted to do and what his core audience was willing to accept would seem to stay with him for the balance of his career, though many also comment that if Brooks hadn't have pushed the boundaries and dealt with matters the way he would have wanted to, he may have become a shadow and faded from the music scene, rather than retain respect from a very loyal fan base.

Brooks won his first Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1992 for the album Ropin' the Wind. He was awarded the Academy of Country Music award for Entertainer of the Year for 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993, and the award for Top Male Vocalist for 1990 and 1991. As a performer and artist he has been compared to fellow country and pop/rock legends, such as the likes of Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jackson Browne, Kenny Rogers, George Strait, George Jones, and Eagles.

Brooks has been nicknamed Garth Vader in reference to his "invasion" of the charts and his success as an icon of the country genre. The phrase is a play on "Darth Vader". The nickname probably originated from Britain when a top DJ, Nick Barraclough, used the phrase to describe Brooks' success on his BBC radio show.

His success as a world-wide star is evident. As well as tremendous success across the board in North America, Brooks enjoyed hit records and sell-out tours in many countries, including Ireland, Britain, Spain, throughout Europe, Brazil, The Far East, New Zealand, Australia, etc. In 1994, he opened London radio station, Country 1035.

During this period Garth and Sandy Brooks had three children: Taylor Mayne Pearl, born July 8, 1992; August Anna, born May 3, 1994; and Allie Colleen, born July 28, 1996.

One of the later peaks in Brooks' fame came on August 7, 1997, when he gave a free concert in New York City's Central Park, drawing hundreds of thousands of people in a city that many would say is far removed from the country music world. Estimates of the actual crowd size varied considerably, from 250,000 to 750,000 or even higher (this is because many were outside the actual venue, which was filled, enjoying the show)[2]; an additional 14.6 million viewers saw it live on HBO. Billy Joel and Don McLean made guest appearances. Brooks once again won the award for the ACM Entertainer of the year in 1998.

"Chris Gaines"

In 1999 Brooks launched upon a conceptually ambitious and unorthodox multi-media project. He wanted to star in a thriller film in development called The Lamb that was about an emotionally conflicted fictional pop/rock star named Chris Gaines. He got the role, with Don Was to produce it. To prepare for the film, Brooks then decided to become Chris Gaines, adopting an alter ego look and personality – slimmer, black hair, soul patch, somewhat angst-ridden – and constructing a large back story. Much of this back story had to be musical, so with altered style and voice Brooks wrote and recorded Gaines' "Greatest Hits" album, In the Life of Chris Gaines. This was announced to the world, and met with a confused reaction, in May 1999 [3].

In October 1999, this album, now titled Garth Brooks In ... The Life of Chris Gaines, was finally released. It can best be described as a collection of Brooks's experiments in other popular music genres, such as alternative rock and rhythm and blues. It received mixed reviews in the United States, although in Great Britain the magazine Country Music People referred to it as "a work of genius".

A mockumentary, Garth Brooks ... In The Life of Chris Gaines was also made and shown on VH1 in that same year. Additionally, Brooks appeared once as guest host on Saturday Night Live with Gaines as special musical guest.

The success of the Chris Gaines experiment was decidedly doubtful mere weeks after the album was released. Some critics admired Brooks for demonstrating his range as a musician and actor, but most of the American public was either totally bewildered, or completely unreceptive to the idea of Garth Brooks as anything but a pop-country singer. Many of his fans also felt that by supporting the Gaines project they would lose the real Garth Brooks. Sales of the album were unspectacular, and although it made it to #2 on the pop album chart, expectations had been higher and retail stores were heavily discounting their oversupply.

The Lamb film project, which had been the genesis of the whole idea, was then cancelled and "Chris Gaines" quickly faded away into obscurity. Recently, on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Conan added Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers was added to the "Late Night Wall of National Jokes", where Chris Gaines was displayed and mentioned.

Charitable activities

In 1991 Brooks took part in Voices That Care, a multi-artist project that featured other top names in music for a one-off single to raise money for the allied troops in the Gulf War. The project included fellow country singers Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers and Kathy Mattea.

In 1999, Garth Brooks began the Teammates for Kids Foundation which provides financial aid to charities for children. The organization breaks down into three categories spanning three different sports.

  • Touch 'Em All Foundation - Baseball Division
  • Top Shelf - Hockey Division
  • Touchdown - Football Division

The foundation enlists players to donate a predetermined sum of money depending on their game performance. Brooks has participated in spring training for the San Diego Padres in 1998 and 1999; the New York Mets in 2000, and most recently currently with the Kansas City Royals in 2004 to promote his foundation.

Brooks is also fundraiser for other various charities, including a number of children's charities and famine relief. He has also donated at least $1 million to wildlife causes.


As his career took off, Garth Brooks seemed frustrated by the conflicts between career and family. He talked of retiring from performing in 1992 [4] and 1995, but went back out on tour each time instead. In 1999, he talked again of retirement again on The Nashville Network's Crook & Chase program; this time, falling records sales may have been an additional trigger. [5]

In 1999, Garth and Sandy Brooks separated [6]; they made public their plans to divorce on October 9, 2000 [7] and it became final during 2001.

On October 26, 2000, Brooks officially announced his retirement from recording and performing. [8] That same night, Capital Records saluted his achievement of selling 100 million albums in the U.S. with a lavish party at Nashville's Gaylord Entertainment Center. [9]

November 13, 2001 saw the release of Brooks' last album, Scarecrow. Brooks staged a few performances for promotional purposes, but stated that he would be retired from recording and performing at least until his youngest daughter, Allie, turned 18. Although the album didn't sell as well as his heyday, it still sold comfortably well, reaching #1 on both the Pop and Country charts.

Although Brooks' ceased to record new material between 2002 and (most of) 2005, he continued to chart with previously recorded material, including a top 30 placing for "Why Ain't I Running" in 2003.

On May 25, 2005, Brooks proposed to girlfriend and fellow country music superstar Trisha Yearwood in front of a packed house in Bakersfield, California.

Later in 2005 there were rumours of a comeback concert in Las Vegas; however, these proved false and Brooks insisted he was not touring, neither did he have any plans to make any new studio material until 2015. However, there was some good news for his fans in August 2005 when it was announced that Brooks had signed a deal with Wal-Mart, leasing them the rights to his back catalog following his split with Capitol. It has been reported that Brooks and Wal-Mart plan to issue a multi-CD box set containing past material and previously unissued recordings. This is the first time in history that a musician has signed a deal that states his music will be sold by only one retailer.

In September 2005, Brooks came out of his retirement long enough to perform John Fogerty's "Who'll Stop the Rain" with Yearwood on the Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast nationwide telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief. A new single was also issued, "Good Ride Cowboy", a tribute to his late friend, rodeo star and fellow country singer, Chris Ledoux.

Later in the month Brooks performed at the Grand Ole Opry's 80th birthday celebration. Selections included a duet with Steve Wariner on "Long Neck Bottle", another joint effort with country legends Bill Anderson, Porter Wagoner, and Little Jimmy Dickens, and a solo guitar "The Dance", after telling the audience he hoped it was like riding a bicycle. The audience sang along with Garth, and there was a rousing long standing ovation.


Used CDs

In 1993, Garth Brooks, who had criticized music stores which sold used CDs since it led to a loss in royalty payments, persuaded Capitol Records not to ship his album In Pieces to stores which engaged in such practices. This led to several anti-trust lawsuits against the record label and ended with Capitol shipping the CDs to the stores after all. [10] Brooks lamented that the record label had "sold out".

Best selling solo artist?

In 1999 the Recording Industry Association of America made an announcement that Garth Brooks was the best-selling solo artist of the 20th century in America. [11] This conclusion drew a fair amount of disbelief and outrage from the press and music fans, who did not feel that Brooks had the stature or musical gravitas for this distinction, and who felt that surely Elvis Presley must have sold more records than Brooks. This latter point led to much discussion and criticism of how RIAA does its certifications and lifetime totals, and how those methods may well have been faulty during the period decades ago in which Presley got many of his sales. [12] [13]

In any case, Brooks, while proud of his sales accomplishments, deferred to "The King" and stated that he too believed that Presley must have sold more. More recent figures now suggest that this is the case, but this brought more criticism of the accuracy of the RIAA's figures, this time from Brooks' followers. Similarly, some doubt RIAA rankings which show Led Zeppelin as having outsold Brooks, as they have overtaken him on at least two occasions with very little chart action, whilst Brooks was having success with new albums.

Absence on the pop singles charts

While Brooks scored many number ones on the Billboard 200 pop album chart, very few of his singles reached the parallel Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, an odd discrepancy. The Hot 100 chart has been the subject of much criticism over the years due to the way it has been compiled, especially since it stopped using sales as its main source of information. In 2005, long after Brooks' peak success, the Pop 100 was launched by Billboard in answer to these critics. Although this new chart is still criticized by some, it shows stronger placings for country songs.

Support for gay rights

There have been rumours of alleged homosexuality since early in Brooks' career. Though it would seem evident that he is not based on his marriages to women, this is not always an indicator of actual sexual preference. Brooks has consistently denied the rumours but his public actions have only fuelled speculation. He appeared in the year 2000 at the Equality Rocks benefit concert for gay rights. He sang a duet with openly gay singer George Michael.

In the lyrics to his song "We Shall be Free", Brooks sings "When we're free to love anyone we choose," a reference to gay relationships. However, this is by no means any indication of a homosexual preference; the song deals with all issues of fascism, racism and bigotry and is a song about how everyone is equal, rather than a "coming out" song. Brooks won a 1993 GLAAD Media Award for the song and his subsequent comments about it, such as, "But if you're in love, you've got to follow your heart and trust that God will explain to us why we sometimes fall in love with people of the same sex." [14]

Because of these gay-positive comments, and a close and heavily publicized relationship with his own lesbian sister, Brooks has become one of very few country music gay icons. (By comparison, in the pop or rock worlds none of these stances would cause much notice.)


Charts and sales

  • Garth Brooks is the only artist to have seven albums debut at number one on both The Billboard 200 and Billboard's Top Country Albums charts: Ropin' the Wind, The Chase, In Pieces, Sevens, The Limited Series, Double Live, Scarecrow, in addition Fresh Horses debuted at #1 on the country chart and #2 on the pop 200.
  • Capitol Records shipped 5 million copies of The Chase which, at the time, was the largest initial shipment in music history.
  • Fresh Horses made history as the first album to have 8 out of 10 tracks on the country music singles charts at the same time.
  • Follow-up Sevens broke his own record, with 12 out of 14 tracks on the singles charts.
  • Every Rosemont Horizon (now Allstate Arena) record was broken by Garth when he sold over 140,000 concert tickets in 1997 alone.
  • Garth Brooks was the first artist to debut a live album at number one on two charts (Double Live).
  • Double Live is the best-selling live album in music history.
    • Double Live set the all-time record for first week sales 1,085,373 copies. (However, this record was broken by Britney Spears in 2000 (1.3 million with Oops!... I Did It Again), Eminem (1.7 million with The Marshall Mathers LP), and *NSYNC (2.41 million with No Strings Attached.) In total the double live album went on to sell in excess of 32 million units world-wide.
    • This was also the record for any one week sales period for any genre artist in history.
  • Garth's Central Park concert audience is generally estimated as being the largest for any concert there.
  • Garth had 3 albums at the top of the Billboard pop charts at the same time in 1998 (Sevens, The Limited Series, and Double Live). He was the first to do this since Elton John in 1975.
  • Garth Brooks has four albums certified RIAA diamond (more than 10 million copies), a record for a male solo performer, and the second overall (behind The Beatles with six).
  • In the United States alone Brooks has sold over 100 million albums, the fourth-highest such total ever.



For a list of singles and albums, see Garth Brooks discography

Personal quotations

  • "No matter where in the world we go, from the countries it was released as a single to the countries that it wasn't, it doesn't seem to matter, people just know that opening, no doubt about it, 'Friends in Low Places' is the most recognised Garth Brooks song."
  • "I truly believe if country music had the accessibility pop and rock has been granted it would be the biggest musical format on the planet."
  • "There have been hundreds people before me in this seat who will never be up here again and that's because the people were through with them, so I hope I can see it coming, so I can either retire gracefully and go out with some kind of class, I'll be faced with that decision to either do that or either hang in for one more album and see what happens."
  • (after being asked if he felt his was "born to sing and entertain people" ) "Well I hope I was, cause if there's something else I'm meant to be doing I'm missing the boat."
  • "I don't talk very well, but hopefully in my music we can get something across."
  • (After being compared to Elvis Presley) "Come on, let's be realistic..... No one will ever touch Elvis."
  • "Sometimes you just can't be afraid to wear a different hat. If Columbus had complied this whole world might still be flat."
  • "If you do it for the money you won't last very long, because money is the opposite of music."
  • "I want to thank the good Lord, because He's done a heck of a lot for me."

See also


External links

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