Born Troyal Garth Brooks Feb. 7, 1962, in Tulsa, OK; son of Troyal and Colleen Carroll (a Capitol Records recording artist in the 1950s) Brooks; married Sandy Mahl, 1986 (divorced, 2000); children: Taylor Mayne Pearl, August Anna, Allie Colleen. Education: Graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1984, with a degree in advertising.
Landing a record deal was the goal when Garth Brooks moved to Nashville in 1987. Becoming the largest-selling musical act of all time was the goal by 1998, when only the Beatles stood in his way. This dynamic country megastar- known for such hits as "If Tomorrow Never Comes," "Friends in Low Places," "The Dance," and "Rodeo"- is the highest-certified solo artist in U.S. music history, according the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). With more than 95 million album sales certified since 1989, he is also the fastest-selling album artist in RIAA history. Beloved by fans, Brooks played 350 shows in 100 cities during his 1996-98 concert tour, selling more than 5.3 million tickets.
Brooks had more than 20 number one hits, awards too numerous to count and his share of controversies, but in 1998, his sales numbers drew the most attention. To surpass the Beatles, he would have to sell more than 100 million records, a milestone it took the Fab Four 34 years to reach. His album sales were certified in June of 2000 at 100 million units sold. "Being mentioned in the same breath with the Beatles is staggering for me," Brooks told Brian McCollum of the Detroit Free Press. "Because no matter how many records we sell, we'll never be on the same planet as the Beatles." Capitol Nashville president Pat Quigley told Bryan Mansfield of USA Today,"If you were a betting man, a hundred million by the millennium is a good bet on Garth Brooks." "I don't want to be remembered as a scorekeeper," Brooks told McCollum. "I just want to focus on the music. Then the number thing will take care of itself."
Troyal Garth Brooks was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and raised in the small town of Yukon with country music in his blood. His mother performed on Capitol Records in the 1950s and his father taught him to play his first guitar chords. His sister, Betsy, who later became his bassist, was considered the musician among the six Brooks' children. Garth was the athlete of the family, excelling at track, baseball, football and basketball in high school. His musical tastes ran more toward the rock of the day, such as KISS and Journey. He attended Oklahoma State University on a partial track scholarship for javelin, graduating with a degree in advertising in 1984.
Playing clubs while in college, Brooks first talked of Nashville before he completed his degree. His mother told Karen Schoemer of Newsweek, "I begged Garth not to go. I cried. I said, 'I want you to get a real job. That's why we sent you to college'." Heeding his mother's plea, Brooks stayed in school, working as a bouncer in addition to playing with a band. He met his future wife, Sandy Mahl, when he was called upon to remove the fist she had pitched at a romantic rival from a bathroom wall.
When he graduated from college, Brooks handed his mother his tassel and asked for her blessing to go to Nashville. She refused, and offered her prayers instead. He went to Nashville in 1985 but headed home less than 24 hours later. He married Mahl in 1986 and set out for Nashville once more in 1987, determined to make a go of it. He sang demos and worked in a boot shop until he signed with Capitol Records in 1988. In 1989, Brooks' self-titled debut was released and a superstar emerged.
Alanna Nash summed up Brooks' early work in Entertainment Weekly; "From his first album ... [Garth Brooks] has recognized that younger country fans demand more than three-chord celebrations of drinking and cheating, so he has deftly wed classic country vocal and instrumental elements with 1970s confessional folk-pop. With No Fences in 1990, he began to address such ... subjects as wife beating, the topic of his controversial video for 'The Thunder Rolls.' The Chase is Brooks' most mature and ambitious album. If he can alter country's traditionally redneck attitudes toward blacks, homosexuals, and women, Brooks' feat as a record-seller will pale by comparison."
While his controversial message songs gained him praise, some of Brooks' other choices drew criticism. He had his share of trouble adjusting to stardom, Schoemer wrote in Newsweek. Brooks admitted infidelity in 1991, outed his sister as a lesbian in 1993 without first consulting her, and even refused an American Music Award for favorite artist of the year in 1996. Through it all, his fans remained loyal, and Brooks never forgot that they were responsible for his rise to fame and fortune. He insisted that concert tickets be held to a $20 average. At every arena he played, he moved through each section, checking the view and the sound. Producer Allen Reynolds said, "I've never known an artist who loves what he does any more than Garth Brooks. Nor an artist who loved his audience more."
Brooks told Ray Waddell of Amusement Business magazine, "Everybody talks about paying dues. I don't remember that part. It's always been a blast, whether it was 20 people in a club or 20,000 in an arena. The audience keeps me fresh. But there's another factor. When I step out on stage each night, there's a thought running around in my head. What if something happened to me? What if this was the last show I ever played? Is it the one I'd want to be remembered for?"
Brooks gave his all for the fans, even if it meant losing lucrative endorsements. He told Waddell, "Our promoters don't have any front-row seats to give out. We've never done an endorsement because of one phrase in every contract: 'We need 20 of your best tickets every night.' When you've got 20 people that would be somewhere else if they didn't have free tickets, that sucks. We want everyone to be there because they want to be there. We've turned down $10 million, $15 million and $20 million endorsements because of that clause. We will not do it."
Kate Meyers summarized the fan relationship in Entertainment Weekly; "He's got Springsteen-like energy, but never screams; a Madonna-style mouthpiece, but he never grabs his crotch; fist pumps a la Arsenio, but he never barks. To me, a great performer is someone who, when it's over, you'd walk through hell with them. You feel like, 'Yeah, I believe!' And sure enough, at the end of his shows he uncaps bottles of Evian and baptizes the adoring crowd, true believers all."
Adored by millions of true believers, it seemed Brooks couldn't lose. His next two albums, 1993's In Pieces and 1994's The Hits sold 8 and 10 million copies respectively. His four NBC television specials produced through that time were major ratings winners. But his 1995 album, Fresh Horses, was seen as a failure for selling only 6 million copies.
After Fresh Horses, Brooks had grave concerns about Capitol's ability to market his work. Those concerns led to a three-month delay in release of Sevens in 1997, and replacement of the label's president, Scott Hendricks. Sevens was originally timed for release to coincide with the HBO television special Garth Live from Central Park on August 7, 1997. The special drew the largest concert audience ever in New York's Central Park, and was the highest-rated original program on HBO in 1997, drawing 14.6 million viewers.
But "by the beginning of June ," Melinda Newman wrote in Billboard, "Brooks felt he had no decision but to pull the album, knowing full well that he was missing the opportunity of a lifetime by not coinciding the release with [the concert in] Central Park." Brooks explained, "In 1992, I negotiated and worked real hard to gain the right [in my contract] that if I didn't think things were right during the time of release, I didn't have to release the record. And in my opinion, things were definitely not right." He feared that without the proper marketing plan, Sevens would "fall on its face, and it would be over for me."
As the situation dragged on, Brooks considered the possibility that the album would never be released. "My thinking in July is that I'm history," he told Newman. "They've got my head under water, and I'm trying to remain calm, and maybe they'll let my head up, and I'll snatch a breath, but it's getting to where I'm thinking I'm going to die down here." Eventually, all Brooks' demands were met, and Sevens was released on November 25, 1997. In seven weeks, it sold 3.7 million units, the same number it took Fresh Horses more than two years to sell. Never before had a performer wielded that kind of power on Music Row, and it made some industry executives nervous. "It's like having a gorilla in the chicken pen," former Capitol Nashville president Jimmy Bowen told Newsweek's Schoemer. "Some of the chickens are gonna get stomped on. And the ones that don't are gonna be nervous."
Critics say that in his quest to become history's biggest star, he has become ruthless and manipulative." Brian McCollum also wrote in the Detroit Free Press. "Sure, he wears his heart on his sleeve, they say. But that's just so nobody notices his hand on his wallet." Brooks, however, told Ray Waddell of Amusement Business magazine, "that is the only true representation of success in this business, when people give up their money and their time. You can win award after award, and if you're not selling tickets, the awards don't mean anything. Tickets and CD sales can't be hyped, and we take them both very seriously."
In 1998, Capitol Nashville ceased production of Brooks' first six albums to boost their sales as a boxed set. The Limited Series-so named because only 2 million copies were manufactured- created controversy among specialty retailers who would have seen greater profits from individual sales of the artist's back catalog. The record company announced plans to re-release the albums individually on the 10th anniversary of the original release dates. Quoted in Billboard, Brooks said, "It's just letting the catalog go, and hopefully when it comes back out, it will be an event. And we'll probably do the same thing, bring it back out, and not service it for a while and then bring it back out again, following the Disney [video] model."
1998's Garth Double Live was preceded by a publicity blitz that included a multi-million dollar advertising campaign, an appearance with Jay Leno the night before release, a closed circuit performance beamed to 2,400 Wal-Mart stores the day of release, and three consecutive television specials--each of which aired live on NBC--the second day of release. The goal was to sell one million units the first day, but it took a week to sell 1,085,373 copies. There was speculation that Double Live would push Brooks over the 100 million sales mark.
"The 100 million thing has been so focused on in the public that if it happens, so be it," Brooks told Melinda Newman of Billboard. "But truthfully, how I'd love the 100 million thing to work is I'd love to feel for the industry, for country music, what Mark McGwire felt from the sports industry on chasing the 70 home runs. I'd love to see us all enjoy and celebrate it and feel like it's all ours and move forward from there and remember that the numbers aren't what's important. It's the trip that gets you there."
At the American Music Awards in January of 2000, Brooks received the award for Favorite Country Album, for Double Live. Additionally he was named the Favorite Male Country Artist for 1999 as well as the Artist of the Decade for the 1990s. In November of 2001 he made more music history with a new album, called Scarecrow, made its debut at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart--making Brooks the only artist in history to have seven albums debut at number one. In 2001 he was named the honorary chairman of the National Education Association's Read Across America 2002.
Ironically, the baseball diamond was where Brooks chose to watch for the 100 million milestone. Planning a year off from touring, he joined the San Diego Padres for spring training in 1999 to fulfill a lifelong dream and boost support for his children's charity, "Touch 'Em All: Teammates for Kids." Brooks spent subsequent spring trainings with the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals. The foundation asked major leaguers to pledge a donation for each play in a chosen category, such as home runs, to be matched by both a corporation and an entertainer. If a player pledged $1,000 for every home run, the final donation would add up to $3,000. Quoted on planetgarth.com, Brooks told ESPN, "I want to change people's lives. I want it to give opportunities to kids that do not have it. Those kids go on to do something with their lives that changes the world for a better place." Jim Caple wrote for ESPN.com during the 2004 spring training season, when Brooks was with the Royals:
by Shari Swearingen Garrett
Garth Brooks's Career
Played in bands in high school and college, also worked as a bouncer during college; signed with Capitol Records in 1988; released Garth Brooks, 1989, with first number one hit "If Tomorrow Never Comes"; released No Fences, 1990; released Ropin' the Wind, 1991; released Beyond the Season, 1992; released The Chase, 1992; released In Pieces, 1993; released The Garth Brooks Collection, 1994; released The Hits, 1994; released Fresh Horses, 1995; released Sevens, 1997; releasedThe Limited Series, 1998; released Garth Double Live, 1998; released Scarecrow, 2001; subject of six NBC television specials; Garth Live from Central Park was highest-rated original program on HBO in 1997, and drew largest concert audience ever in Central Park; received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame,1995; recorded more than 20 number one singles; highest Recording Industry Association of America certified solo artist in U.S. music history, with more than 100 million album sales since 1989.
Garth Brooks's Awards
Country Music Association music video of the year, 1990-91; Country Music Association Horizon Award, 1990; Academy of Country Music video of the year, 1990 and 1993-94; Academy of Country Music top male vocalist, 1990-91; Academy of Country Music song of the year, 1990; Academy of Country Music single of the year, 1990; Academy of Country Music entertainer of the year, 1990-93 and 1997; TNN/Music City News video of the year, 1991; Grammy, best male country vocal performance, 1991; Country Music Association single of the year, 1991; Country Music Association entertainer of the year, 1991-92, 1997-98; Country Music Association album of the year, 1991, 1992; American Music Awards favorite single, 1991-92; TNN/Music City News entertainer of the year, 1992; American Music Awards favorite male artist, 1992-97; American Music Awards favorite album, 1992 and 1996; Country Music Association vocal event of the year, 1993; ASCAP songwriter of the year, 1993-94; Academy of Country Music Jim Reeves Memorial Award, 1994; Academy of Country Music special achievement award, 1997; Grammy, best country vocal collaboration, 1998; American Music Awards for 1999: Artist of the Decade, Favorite Male Country Artist, and Favorite Country Album.
- Selected discography
- Garth Brooks (includes "If Tomorrow Never Comes), Capitol, 1989.
- No Fences (includes "The Thunder Rolls"), Capitol Nashville, 1990.
- Ropin' the Wind (includes "Rodeo"), Capitol Nashville, 1991.
- Beyond the Season (includes "The Old Man's Back in Town"), Liberty, 1992.
- The Chase (includes "We Shall Be Free"), Liberty, 1992.
- In Pieces (includes "That Summer"), Capitol, 1993.
- Fresh Horses (includes "The Beaches of Cheyenne"), Capitol, 1995.
- Sevens (includes "Long Neck Bottle"), Capitol, 1997.
- Double Live (includes "It's Your Song"), 1998.
- Garth Brooks & the Magic of Christmas Capitol, 1999.
- Maximum Garth Brooks Orchard, 2000.
- The Magic of Christmas: Songs From Call Me... Capitol, 2001.
- Scarecrow Capitol, 2001.
December 10, 2005: Brooks married singer Trisha Yearwood at their home in Oklahoma. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, January 14, 2006.
- McCloud, Barry, and contributing writers, Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers , Perigee, 1995.
- Amusement Business , Nov. 16, 1998.
- Billboard , Jan. 31, 1998; April 11, 1998; Oct. 24,1998.
- Business Wire, January 19, 2000; November 21, 2001.
- Country Weekly , July 28, 1998.
- Detroit Free Press , Nov. 15, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly , Oct. 2, 1992; Dec. 25, 1992.
- Newsweek , March 16, 1998.
- USA Today , Nov. 17, 1998.
- "The Artists-Garth Brooks," Country.com, http://www.country.com.
- "Brooks' foundation a hit with big leaguers and kids," planetgarth.com, http://www.planetgarth.com.
- "Brooks Taking His Cuts Again This Spring," planetgarth.com, March 24, 2004, http://www.planetgarth.com/news/article.php?cid=01132 (December 27, 2004).
- Additional information was provided by Capitol Records publicity materials, 1998.