The fastest selling solo artist in music history, Garth Brooks has sold in excess of 100 million albums in just 10 years, now topping 117 million. His body of work propelled country music as a genre to the front pages of newspapers worldwide and the covers of magazines, to the point where Forbes declared on its cover "Country Conquers Rock" and featured Garth in a major music piece. And he accomplished it without ever releasing a song to pop radio.
The key to Garths record-setting success lies within his personality and talent. It has been said that through the 1990s, Garth's only real competition was himself. He brought daring individualism and a love of music to the musical table, ranging from working-class blues and honky tonk to bluegrass and arena rock. And he had the talent to serve it up with class. His easygoing, approachable charisma was matched only by his fearless willingness to take chances and step outside the lines. His unprecedented run opened doors for many more country artists to follow.
After signing with Capitol Records and beginning work with record producer Allen Reynolds for Don Williams and Crystal Gayle, Garth started making music history. His self-titled recording debut contained four hit singles including "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," "If Tomorrow Never Comes," "Not Counting You," and his signature song, "The Dance." Released on April 12, 1989, Garth Brooks went on to become the biggest selling country album of the 1980s.
Garth took home the first of many industry awards when he was presented with the 1990 Country Music Association (CMA) Horizon Award and the Video of the Year Award for "The Dance." "The Dance" also won Song and Video of the Year at the 1991 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards. "If Tomorrow Never Comes," which he co-wrote, won Favorite Country Single at the 1991 American Music Awards, International Single of the Year from the London-based Country Music People, and International Song of the Year from the Nashville Songwriters Association. It was an auspicious beginning for an artist who said he was "scared to death" when he recorded his debut.
"When we first started, I had one thing in mind, and that was to make folks back home proud," Garth said. "I really felt like I was representing Yukon, Okla., and more than anything, I wanted them to like what I did."
Garth's second release, 1990's groundbreaking No Fences, won Album of the Year from the CMA and ACM and became the biggest-selling country album at the time. No Fences contained four No. 1 hits: "Friends in Low Places," "Unanswered Prayers," "Two of a Kind (Workin' on a Full House)," and "The Thunder Rolls." "Friends in Low Places" quickly became an anthem, winning Single of the Year from both the CMA and ACM. "The Thunder Rolls," which Garth co-wrote, won Video of the Year at the CMA Awards, and Favorite Country Single at the 1992 American Music Awards, where No Fences was also named Favorite Country Album. The CMA and ACM named Garth Entertainer of the Year in 1991, and Billboard named him Top Pop and Country Artist, Top Country Album Artist and Top Country Singles Artist. The overwhelming success of No Fences set the stage for 1991's Ropin' The Wind to become the first album in history to debut at No. 1 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart and Country Albums chart.
"Ropin' the Wind was like sitting in the draft position in a car race," Garth said. "You're right behind the lead vehiclewhich was No Fencesand there's a calm space created for you. In a race the two cars actually help each other, and I think that's what happened with Ropin' the Wind and No Fences."
Ropin' The Wind, which earned Garth a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 1992 as well as CMA Album of the Year honors, had five hit singles: "Rodeo," "Shameless," "What She's Doing Now," "Papa Loved Mama" and "The River." By the end of 1991, Garth's overall record sales accounted for one-fourth of country music's year-end sales. The ASCAP awarded Garth its first Voice of Music Award, and amid dozens of awards that followed, he again took home Entertainer of the Year honors from both the CMA and ACM. After Garth swept the 1992 Billboard awards, Entertainment Weekly's 1992 Reader's Poll named him Top Male Singer, ahead of runners-up Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose.
Garth called 1992's studio album, The Chase, his most personal album to date, and it remains one of his favorites. "I opened myself completely on that album. It's the closest anybody has ever got to getting inside my head," he said. Hit singles included "We Shall Be Free," "Somewhere Other Than the Night," "Learning to Live Again" and "That Summer."
The Chase became the second album in history to debut at No.1 in Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart and Country Albums chart. Garth and Stephanie Davis wrote "We Shall Be Free" as a result of Garth's being in Los Angeles during the 1992 riots. The song, a testimony to brotherhood and tolerance, inspired a video featuring cameo appearances by celebrities such as Michael Bolton, John Elway, Boomer Esiason, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Marlee Matlin, Reba McEntire, Warren Moon, Eddie Murphy, Martina Navratilova, General Colin Powell and Elizabeth Taylor. In addition to the celebrity appearances, the video consisted of news footage depicting social, political and environmental problems, counteracted by scenes expressing hope in humanity's ability to cope with them.
Garth debuted the video and performed the National Anthem live in Los Angeles at the 1993 Super Bowl to a television audience of over 1 billion people in over 87 countries. He became the 1993 Nashville Songwriter Association's Artist/Writer of the Year, won two more People's Choice Awards and favorite performer awards from Playboy, Performance and Pollstar, among others.
In 1992, Garth also released his first Christmas album, Beyond the Season. "I'd make this album every day of my life if I could, because you're singing about what counts," Garth said at the time. Sales from the Christmas album raised over $2 million for the charity Feed the Children.
The high-energy In Pieces became the third album to enter Billboard's Top 200 and Country Albums charts at No. 1 when it was released in 1993. The album produced five hits: "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)," "American Honky Tonk Bar Association," "Standing Outside the Fire," "One Night a Day" and "Callin' Baton Rouge." The debut single, "Ain't Going Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)," which Garth co-wrote, made Radio & Records history by entering the country singles charts at No. 25, with 222 stations adding the song out of the box. For his cut of "Callin' Baton Rouge," Garth reunited New Grass Revival, the band that first recorded the song. Although "The Red Strokes" was a top 14 pop hit in the U.K., it was never released as a single in the United States, where the album cut climbed to the Top 40 on country music charts.
The following year saw Garth's international stature rise to stunning heights, and fans around the world anxiously awaited Garth's 1994 World Tour. Excitement started early in Ireland, where an estimated 130,000 Irish fans streamed into the downtown area in search of show tickets after it was announced that Garth would be playing The Point in Dublin in the spring of 1994. In less than two and a half hours, 34,000 tickets for the four shows were sold to those with the proverbial luck of the Irish. Police finally had to disperse the crowd so the city's merchants could get back to business. The tour took Garth to 13 countries and played to over a quarter million fans outside of the U.S. In Barcelona, the crowds paid him their highest compliment, screaming, "Torero! Torero! Matador! Matador!"
In 1995, Garth received the ACM's Jim Reeves Memorial Award, the first to have been presented in 13 years. The award is only given when the Academy recognizes an artist who has uniquely enhanced the image of country music internationally.
The Garth Brooks Collection and The Hits were both released in 1994. The Garth Brooks Collection was compiled for McDonald's first music promotion, which benefited Ronald McDonald Children Charities. The Hits was an 18-cut album of Garth Brooks' best-loved songs, available for a limited time only. The album was the biggest-selling greatest hits package in country music history and the bestselling greatest hits package in any genre for the 1990s.
By 1994, Garth had made four NBC television specials, all overwhelming ratings successes. The first special, This Is Garth Brooks, was filmed at Dallas' Reunion Arena in September 1991. When it aired in January 1992, it gave NBC its highest-rated Friday night in more than two years with 17.3 rating and 28 share, and was the No. 9 show in the Nielsen ratings for the week. The second airing of This Is Garth Brooks remained powerful, receiving a 6.9 rating and a 12 share. This Is Garth Brooks, Too! was filmed over the course of three sold-out shows at Texas Stadium in Dallas in 1993, and when in aired in May 1994, that show gave NBC its first time period win among adults 18-49 since August 1992.
When The Hits aired in January 1995, it gave NBC its best adult rating in that time slot since January 19, 1994, with an 11.8 rating and an 18 share. The behind-the-scenes documentary, Tryin' to Rope the World, featured never-before-seen footage of Garth's first European-Australian tour in 1994, and received a 9.4 share and a 15 share in the age 18 to 49 demographics.
Garth's next studio album, Fresh Horses, was released on November 21, 1995. Refreshing and diverse, the project reflected the success of his road show, which covered the ground from the Western side of country, to insightful relationship reflections, to full-tilt boogie country rock 'n' roll. Singles included "She's Every Woman," "The Beaches of Cheyenne," "It's Midnight Cinderella," "That Ol' Wind" and his version of the Aerosmith song, "The Fever." The album also included "The Change," for which Garth made a moving video honoring the heroes and victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Eight of the 10 songs on Fresh Horses were written by Garth.
In March 1996, Garth launched a record-breaking, three-year concert tour, playing 350 shows in 100 cities, selling more than 5.3 million tickets. He sold out nearly every show on the tour, playing multiple shows in each city and consistently breaking venue attendance records set by the likes of Elvis Presley, The Grateful Dead, Elton John, and Neil Diamond. Amusement Business called it the top country music tour of all time, and likely the biggest arena tour ever.
In December 1996, VH1 premiered Garth Brooks: Storytellers, as part of its critically acclaimed singer-songwriter series. This intimate look into Garth and his music doubled the ratings of shows featuring rock stars including Sting, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello and Melissa Etheridge.
More history was made on August 7, 1997, when Garth played a concert in Central Park and drew its largest-ever concert crowd. GarthLive From Central Park was the most watched and highest-rated original program on HBO in 1997, beating all broadcast competition in the time period as well as three of the four networks combined. Based on HBO average ratings, GarthLive From Central Park was the most watched special on cable television in 1997. This phenomenal success, as well as his continuing tour, earned Garth 1997 CMA Entertainer of the Year honors and a Special Achievement Award from the ACM in 1998.
Garth appropriately titled his 1997 seventh studio album Sevens, another release that debuted at the top of Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart and Country Albums chart. But the album made history before it was even released. The debut single, "Longneck Bottle," became the only single to be added by every Radio & Records reporting station on the day of its release. "Longneck Bottle" debuted in the R&R chart at No. 10, the highest single debut in its history. Other hits included "In Another's Eyes," the duet with Trisha Yearwood that earned them a Grammy in 1998 for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, "She's Gonna Make It," "Two Pina Coladas," "You Move Me" and "Do What You Gotta Do." Sevens has been certified by the RIAA and has gone nine times multi-platinum.
In May 1998, Garth released a boxed set, The Limited Series, so named because only 2 million units were produced. The Limited Series contained his first six multi-platinum releases as well as a bonus track on each CD. The package became the first boxed set to debut on two charts. It topped the country charts and became the first boxed set to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart since Soundscan's inception in 1991. Buoyed by the success of Sevens, the boxed set and his tour, Garth was again named CMA Entertainer of the Year in September 1998.
Coinciding with the end of his record-breaking tour, Double Live, released in November 1998, featuring 25 cuts and over 100 minutes of music. The 20-time multi-platinum, multi-disc set became the best-selling live album in music history. The first single from Double Live had special meaning for Garth. "I've been looking for the right song to sing for my mother ever since I started making music," Garth said. "Somehow, I could never write it myself. Then one day, Benita Hill played me a song she'd written with Pam Wolfe, titled 'It's Your Song.' Benita's mother had been ill, as had my mother. I sat down and listened to it and tears started falling. When I recorded it, I almost broke down. I told Benita that the sentiment expressed in that song was what I'd wanted to say to my mother all this time and just never found the words." Garths mother Colleen, former Capitol Records recording artist and Garth's first musical mentor, died on August 6, 1999.
September of 1999 saw the release of a unique project, Garth Brooks In ... the Life of Chris Gaines. The recording was produced by Don Was as a soundtrack for a forthcoming feature film thriller called The Lamb. The collection represented the "greatest hits" of the fictitious Chris Gaines, and the musical sounds spanned the decades of the '80s and '90s. It sold over two million copies.
A second Christmas album was released in 1999, Garth Brooks: The Magic of Christmas. The album contained new music from the TNT original film Call Me Claus, starring Whoopi Goldberg. Garth was the executive producer for the film, along with Whoopi and Lisa Sanderson. Call Me Claus was the most-watched cable television movie of the season and one of the two highest-rated and most-watched cable movies of the year.
"I love the idea of the 'Scarecrow,' a guy who is brainless but who has a heart," Garth said of the title for his 2001 studio album. "This is the happiest record I've ever made." Like its predecessors, Scarecrow was big news. It debuted at the top of Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart and Country Albums chart, and by its fourth week the album accounted for 21 percent of all country sales. Stellar duets on Scarecrow include "Beer Run" with George Jones and "Squeeze Me In" with Trisha Yearwood. Additional hits included "Why Ain't I Running" and "Thicker Than Blood."
By the time Scarecrow, the five-time multi-platinum album, was released, Garth had announced that he planned to retire from the road to spend more time with his three daughters. Time said: "Scarecrow is a reminder that Brooks is a man with a significant gift. Like Elvis and Sinatra, Brooks isn't just a singer, but an interpreter." People addressed the retirement: "This is his best work to date. It pulses with human feeling. If this is to be the last disc from a superstar, what a way to go!"
But Scarecrow wouldn't be the last from Garth, who couldn't lay it to rest all too quickly. In 2005, striking up an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart, he released Garth Brooks: The Limited Series boxed set, which achieved Gold status in the first day of sales, becoming the top-selling music item in Wal-Mart's history. The boxed set also included the record-breaking and chart-topping, "Good Ride Cowboy," Garth's tribute single to the late Chris LeDoux, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country charts.
With the great success of the boxed set, Wal-Mart is set to release Brooks' The Lost Sessions, featuring six new tracks including a duet with new wife Trisha Yearwood, "Love Will Always Win," making the launch of the new disc Wal-Mart's second exclusive project with Brooks. Though not even yet released, The Lost Sessions has been RIAA \-certified as a Gold, Platinum, and two-time multi-platinum album.
Garth now spends his time in Oklahoma with daughters Taylor, August and Allie, and wife Trisha Yearwood. He continues to work on behalf of many charities, including his own Teammates for Kids Foundation.