Brooks, Garth

Brooks, Garth

▪ American country singer
in full  Troyal Garth Brooks 
born Feb. 7, 1962, Tulsa, Okla., U.S.

      American country music singer-songwriter whose crossover appeal to the pop market made him the top-selling solo artist of all time.

      Brooks was born into a musical family; his mother had a brief recording career with Capitol Records in the 1950s. He initially exhibited little interest in music, however, preferring to concentrate on athletics. A track-and-field scholarship brought Brooks to Oklahoma State University, and it was there that he met guitarist Ty England, with whom he began performing at area nightclubs. Brooks graduated with a degree in advertising in 1984 and moved to Nashville the following year, hoping to break into the music business. This initial foray into the heart of country music was short-lived, however, and Brooks returned to Oklahoma after only a day. In 1986 he married Sandy Mahl, his college girlfriend, and a year later she accompanied him back to Nashville, where he was signed to Capitol Records in 1988.

      Brooks released his eponymous debut album in 1989, and he was joined by England in a partnership that became one of the most lucrative in country music. Touring in support of the debut album, the two established an easy onstage banter that became a trademark of Brooks's live shows. While Garth Brooks sold well, listeners and critics could not have anticipated what was to come. In 1990 Brooks released No Fences, a blockbuster that sold more than 17 million copies on the strength of singles such as "Friends in Low Places." While his music blurred the line between pop and country, his live performances eschewed country traditions altogether, embracing instead the spectacle of 1970s arena rock. Concerts incorporated pyrotechnics and light shows, and Brooks used a wireless hands-free microphone that allowed him to roam the stage.

      Brooks followed his breakthrough release with Ropin' the Wind (1991), another genre-bending album that was equal parts honky-tonk and classic rock. It debuted at the top of the Billboard pop chart and went on to sell more than 14 million copies. Brooks turned away from the pop sound of his previous works to deliver the holiday album Beyond the Season (1992) and the introspective The Chase (1992). Although both releases posted sales figures in the millions, The Chase was regarded as somewhat of a disappointment, and Brooks returned to playful rock-influenced tunes on In Pieces (1993). Later releases included Fresh Horses (1995) and Sevens (1997), as well as the concert album Double Live (1998).

      In 1999 Brooks took the unusual step of recording a straightforward pop album under the pseudonym Chris Gaines. The Gaines character, portrayed by Brooks as a goateed rocker dressed in black leather, came complete with a fictional backstory as well as an assortment of “greatest hits” that were collected on In the Life of Chris Gaines (1999). While the album featured impeccable production from the likes of Babyface and Don Was, its content was overshadowed by questions about why Brooks would take his career in such an unexpected direction.

      The following year Brooks and his wife divorced, and he announced that he would put music on hold until his youngest daughter's 18th birthday. His next record, Scarecrow (2001), would be his last studio effort released before his extended break, and it sold briskly to fans who welcomed Brooks's return to country pop. In 2005 Brooks married fellow country star and frequent duet partner Trisha Yearwood. While he remained committed to his “retirement,” Brooks occasionally performed live shows—most notably at a series of nine sold-out concerts in Kansas City, Mo., in 2007 and a five-show benefit for Los Angeles firefighters and wildfire victims in 2008.

Michael Ray

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Universalium. 2010.

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