Today is the 36th birthday of country crooner Garth Brooks. Brooks forever
changed the face of country music when he helped usher the genre into an
era of mainstream success by merging the clean country image of the late
'80s with the sensitivity of a folkie singer/songwriter and the energy of
arena rock. Before Brooks came along, the now commonplace act of a
country artist selling a million copies was laughable. Born in Yukon,
Okla., the son of a country-singer mother, Brooks originally thought of his
music as a side project, preferring to concentrate his energy on
athletics. Oklahoma State University granted him a partial athletic
scholarship for his skills as a javelin thrower, but Brooks ended up
dropping the sport midway through college so that he could spend more
time singing in Oklahoma clubs. He graduated with a degree in advertising
in 1984 and moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1985 to chase his country singer dreams.
He returned to Oklahoma a day later, frustrated by the lack of response from clubs and labels. He and his wife returned to Nashville in 1987
armed with a better knowledge of how the industry worked, and Brooks was
signed to Capitol in 1988. His self-titled debut was released in 1989 and
landed at #2 on the country charts based on the strength of such
high-charting singles as "Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old)," "The Dance"
and "If Tomorrow Never Comes."
While Brooks was an instant success on the country charts, it wasn't until
1990's No Fences that his sales passed up such contemporaries as
Alan Jackson, Clint Black and Travis Tritt to a level where it hit #1 on
the country charts and #3 on the pop charts. The album's lead single,
"Friends in Low Places," became Brooks' signature song, and No Fences
would go on to sell over 10 million copies in just three years. A tour in
support of No Fences showed Brooks' appreciation for bands such as
Queen and Kiss, as the country singer would perform energetic, explosive
shows to arena- and stadium-sized crowds. In 1991, Brooks' Ropin' The
Wind became the first country album to debut at the top of the pop
charts. 1992's The Chase, which featured elements of straight-ahead
rock and gospel, also sold well but gained some extra publicity for the
positive stance Brooks took toward gay rights in the song "We Shall Be Free."
The Chase sold only five million copies during its first year
of release, which caused some in the media to speculate that Brooks had already
peaked since The Chase's sales figures were half his "usual" sales. The success of 1993's In Pieces and 1995's Fresh Horses, both of which were a
return to the sound that made Brooks famous, silenced any doubters.
Brooks, however, wasn't happy with how Fresh Horses was marketed and
held up the release of 1997's Sevens until an agreement was reached
with the record company. Sevens was a massive holiday-season
success, but the headlines were filled with reports of a since-settled
plagiarism suit against the singer and a copyright infringement suit filed
against Brooks by rapper Warren G over the use of the letter "g" as a moniker.
Other birthdays: Alan Lancaster (Status Quo), 49; Brian Travers (UB40), 39;
and David Bryan (Bon Jovi), 36.