Garth Brooks ushered in a new era of country music, taking the music from its down-home audience and into arenas where it not only competed with rock & roll, it often eclipsed it in popularity. Crossover country hits were common in pop music throughout the 20th century, but Brooks flipped that notion on its head: during his entire phenomenal run in the 1990s, he didn't score a single Billboard Top 40 hit, yet he dominated the album charts, selling in numbers that would eventually surpass those of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. The great innovation of Brooks is that he played country on the scale of rock, a process that modernized both the genre's sound and business. His platinum albums and record-breaking concert tours eclipsed how Brooks broadened the sonic palette of country, too. Though he was grounded in traditional country, he was equally rooted in classic rock, resulting in a broad, powerful sound that roped in rock fans otherwise uninterested in country. During the 1990s, this sounded modern, but when Brooks mounted a comeback in the 2010s - after 2005 he took an extended hiatus to raise a family with his wife, Trisha Yearwood - he wound up as something of a traditionalist himself, advocating for the benefits of Nashville's system, particularly standing up for the rights of professional songwriters. Brooks released his 14th studio album, Fun, in 2020.
Garth Brooks is the son of Troyal and Colleen Carroll Brooks. Colleen was a country singer herself, recording a handful of records for Capitol in the mid-'50s that never experienced any chart success. As a child, Garth was interested in music and frequently sang at family gatherings, but he concentrated on athletics. He received a partial athletic scholarship at Oklahoma State University as a javelin tosser, but he wound up dropping the sport during his collegiate career. While he was at college, Brooks began singing in local Oklahoma clubs, often with lead guitarist Ty England.
After he graduated with an advertising degree in December of 1984, Garth Brooks decided to try to forge out a career as a country singer. In 1985 he traveled to Nashville with hopes of being discovered by a record label. Just 23 hours after arriving in Nashville, he returned to Oklahoma, frustrated with the industry, his prospects, and his naïve dreams. Brooks continued to perform in Oklahoma clubs, and in 1986, he married his college girlfriend, Sandy Mahl.
The couple moved to Nashville in 1987, this time with a better idea of how the music industry operated. Brooks began making connections with various songwriters and producers, and he sang on a lot of songwriter's demo tapes. Although he had made several connections within the industry and had a powerful management team, every label in town was refusing to sign him. In 1988, six weeks after Capitol Records passed on his demo, one of the label's executives saw Brooks sing at a local club. Impressed with the performance, the executive convinced the label to sign Garth.
Brooks recorded his first album with producer Allen Reynolds at the end of 1988; the self-titled debut appeared early in 1989. The album was an instant success, with its first single, "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," climbing into the country Top Ten. Garth's debut was a success, crossing over into the pop album charts, but it was overshadowed by the blockbuster appeal of Clint Black, as well other similar new male vocalists like Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson. Within a year, Brooks would tower above them all with his surprise, widespread success.
He had three other hit singles -- the number one "If Tomorrow Never Comes," the number two "Not Counting You," and the number one "The Dance" -- but it was his second album, No Fences, that established him as a superstar. No Fences was released in the fall of 1990, preceded by the massive hit single "Friends in Low Places." No Fences spent 23 weeks at the top of the country charts and sold 700,000 copies within the first ten days of its release. Throughout 1990 and 1991, Brooks had a string of number one country hits from the album, including "Unanswered Prayers," "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House," and "The Thunder Rolls." By 1993, No Fences would sell over ten million copies.
Not only did his record sales break all the accepted country conventions, but so did Garth Brooks' concerts. By the end of 1990, he was selling out stadiums within minutes and was putting on stadium-sized shows, patterned after '70s rock extravaganzas. Brooks used a cordless headset microphone so he could run around his large stage. He had an elaborate light show, explosions, and even a harness so he could swing out above the crowd and sing to them. It was the first time any country artist had incorporated such rock & roll techniques into stage shows.
By the end of 1991, Brooks had become a genuine popular music phenomenon -- even his 1992 Christmas album, Beyond the Season, went multi-platinum -- and there were no signs of his momentum slowing down. Naturally, a backlash began to develop in the fall of 1992, beginning with the release of "We Shall Be Free," the first single from his fourth album. Featuring a strong gospel underpinning, the single stalled at number 12 and many radio stations refused to play it. It was indicative of the eclectic nature of his forthcoming album, The Chase, which pushed the boundaries of contemporary country. The Chase debuted at number one upon its October 1992 release and by the end of the year, it sold over five million copies. Nevertheless, that number was half the size of the figures for his two previous albums and there was speculation in the media that Brooks' career had already peaked.
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