Troyal Garth Brooks was born February 7, 1962 in Tulsa, Oklahoma as the youngest child of Troyal Raymond Brooks and Colleen Carroll. His father worked in the oil business while his mom was a country singer, signed to Capitol Records in the 1950s. Young Brooks was required to participate in his family’s weekly talent nights, where he learned to play both Guitar and Banjo.
As a teenager, Brooks turned his attention to athletics. He was on his high school’s football, baseball, and track & field teams. He was talented enough to earn a track scholarship to Oklahoma State University (in Stillwater) where he competed in Javelin and earned a degree in advertising.
Brooks would begin his professional music career shortly after graduating college in 1984. He played the club circuit around Stillwater and sang the wide range of music he was exposed to in his childhood. It wasn’t until he came across a recording of George Strait’s debut single “Unwound” that he decided to set his sights on country music.
A year later he caught the attention of Rod Phelps, an entertainment lawyer from Dallas, who urged Brooks to go to Nashville and make a go at the big time. His first trip to Nashville in 1985 was a 24-hour disaster. He returned home and married Sandy Mahl, a woman he met while working as a bouncer at a local club. The couple moved to Nashville two years later and Brooks began making headway in music city. He connected with songwriters and producers and began singing demos. With a powerful management team behind him, Brooks pursued a record deal. He was passed over by every label in town, finally getting his deal when an exec at Capitol Records, the same label his mother recorded for thirty years prior, saw him perform at a local club. This came six months after they had previously passed on him.
Brooks released his eponymous debut April 12, 1989. (J.R. Journey reviewed the album as part of our Class of 1989 coverage in 2009). Like most of the era’s neo-traditional leanings, Brooks’ debut skewed hardcore country. His debut single, “Much To Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” peaked inside the top ten while the follow-up “If Tomorrow Never Comes” became Brooks’ first #1 hit. He would top the charts again with the album’s final single “The Dance,” which featured a masterful ACM and CMA winning music video that depicted historical figures (John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Keith Whitley, Lane Frost, the Challenger Astronauts, and John Wayne) linked by their tragic deaths.
He rode the success (#2 country, #13 pop) of his debut into 1990, where the Country Music Association gave him their Horizon Award. That fall he released his sophomore album No Fences, a game-changing record spawning four #1 hits, including his signature song “Friends In Low Places” plus “Unanswered Prayers” and “The Thunder Rolls.” The CMA winning video for the latter single, depicting domestic violence, was banned from CMT, TNN, and GAC upon release.
No Fences, 1991 CMA Album of the Year, sold a remarkable 700,000 copies within the first ten days of release and ten million units by 1993. By 1991, he was already a CMA and ACM Entertainer of the Year recipient thanks to his live show, which had morphed into a 70s rock inspired set primed for the stadiums he would sell out in mere minutes.
Brooks, who was now the biggest artist in country music, released his third album Ropin’ The Wind in the fall of 1992. In anticipation of massive sales, the album shipped with four million advanced copies. The project, which sold 400,000 units opening week, was the first country album to debut atop the Billboard 200 chart. By 1998, the project was certified for sales exceeding fourteen million copies.
For Brooks, the Ropin’ The Wind era was huge. He won his second straight CMA Awards for Album and Entertainer of the Year and he launched his first television concert special This Is Garth Brooks. In August he put out his first Christmas album, Beyond The Season, to multi-platinum sales.
Just a little more than a month later, Brooks debuted his fourth album The Chase. The first single was the highly controversial “We Shall Be Free,” inspired by the L.A. Riots. The track pushed the boundaries both thematically and sonically, thus it stalled at #12. Like his previous sets, the album debuted at #1, but with only five million units sold by years end, wasn’t the gargantuan smash he and his label hoped it would be.
Brooks made another stunning move in January 1993, when he was asked to perform the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. He wanted to debut his star-studded “We Shall Be Free” video before his performance. When the National Football League said no, he walked. Brooks won in the end, effectively delaying the start of the game so the video could be shown.
Brooks’ fifth album, In Pieces was released that August amid speculation his career had peaked. His second concert special, This Is Garth Brooks, Too, aired in 1994, the same year he graced the cover of Country Weekly Magazine’s inaugural issue. A limited-edition album, The Garth Brooks Collection was sold exclusively through McDonalds locations beginning in September and sold three million copies in three weeks. The label released a greatest hits compilation, The Hits, that December. The album, only available for a year, quickly sold more than eight million copies. In June 1995, he buried the masters to the album under his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
By now, Brooks and Mahl were parents to Taylor Mayne Pearl and August Anna, who were born in 1992 and 1994 respectively. A third daughter, Allie Colleen came in 1996. For the first time in five years, Brooks didn’t issue a new studio album in 1994. His sixth release, Fresh Horses, came in November 1995. A string of hits followed, yet the project was met with quadruple sales that were deemed endemic given Brooks’ stature at the time.
In 1996, Brooks was awarded Artist of the Year at the American Music Awards. When he went up to the microphone, he set the award on stage, refusing to accept it. Brooks believed fellow nominee Hootie & The Blowfish deserved it more.
Brooks was ready to release his seventh album, Sevens by the summer of 1997. He had planned for the album to be out so he could promote it during a concert he was planning in Central Park that August. When plans went awry, he staged the concert without any new music to push. Garth Brooks Live in Central Park, a free show, aired live on HBO Aug 7. It was a rating bonanza and proved Brooks was popular everywhere, including New York City, which famously resisted country music.
Due to the strength of the show, he was able to release Sevens in November. To push the project, Brooks slapped a “first edition” sticker on the first 777,777 copies. His next release was The Limited Series, a box set reissue of his first six albums with a newly recorded track added to each album. The album was a smash, and Brooks became the first artist to debut a box-set atop two separate Billboard Charts.
Brooks broke records again with Double Live, which was recorded during his 1998 tour. Lead single “It’s Your Song,” which Brooks dedicated to his mom, advanced #33-#10 in one week on the charts. The album itself broke sales records for a live album and has been certified 21x platinum by the RIAA, since the project had two discs. Brooks also began his practice of issuing albums with multiple covers.
By 1998, Brooks was in the thick of a three-year tour that gave him two more Entertainer of the Year CMA Awards, and mourning the loss of his beloved mother. He stunned the world again in 1999 when he released a project entitled, …In The Life of Chris Gaines where Brooks took on the persona of a fictitious rock artist. The album was supposed to be a companion piece to a moive about Gaines entitled, The Lamb but it was never released. Brooks promoted the album on Saturday Night Life, hosting as himself and performing as Gaines. A second Christmas album, Garth Brooks & The Magic of Christmas followed.
By the turn of the century, Brooks and Mahl had decided to divorce. He announced his plans to retire, which once again, stunned the industry. His plan was to raise his daughters until the last one left for college before he’d concentrate on music again. The final album of his main era, Scarecrow, was released in 2001.
He remained out of the spotlight until proposing to (at a Buck Owens’ event) and marrying Trisha Yearwood in 2005. He then announced he’d made a deal with Wal-Mart to sell his back catalog as well as some special releases. The second installment of his Limited Series box set followed, as did a DVD Set entitled The Entertainer, comprising his concert specials.
In 2007 he released The Ultimate Hits in conjunction with Big Machine Records. Lead single “More Than A Memory” became the first and so far only song to ever debut at #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart. In 2009, he began a weekends-only residency at Steve Winn’s Encore Las Vegas. A concert special and Box set entitled Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influence followed. In 2012, he was formally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He also announced his daughter August had welcomed a child of her own, thus making Brooks’ a first time grandfather.
Brooks kept his word and stepped out of retirement in 2014. He had planned to go big, with five concerts at Dublin’s Croke Park. Tickets went on sale and quickly sold out, but all dates were cancelled admits legal issues between event organizers and members of the public.
This past summer Brooks held a press conference to announce he had signed with Sony Music Nashville and would be releasing a new album in November. Always one to bark at iTunes policy to sell individual tracks, he announced the formation of his own digital platform, GhostTunes, that would give more freedom to the artist. Shortly thereafter he announced Chicago as the first stop on his world tour.
A new single, “People Loving People” hit radio airwaves in September. Since then he’s been announcing each city on his world tour separately. He also announced, in Atlanta, he’d be releasing his brand new album, entitled Man Against Machine, on November 11, 2014 and another new studio album sometime in 2015.
No matter your personal opinion, it’s had to argue against the mammoth success of Garth Brooks and his influence on the genre of country music. He’s the best selling solo artist of all time and our spotlight artist for November. I hope you enjoy our look back at his catalog throughout the month.