Garth Brooks scores with first autobiography installment, ‘The Anthology: Part I: The First Five Years’

December 17, 2017 GMT

Garth Brooks scores with first autobiography installment, ‘The Anthology: Part I: The First Five Years’

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Garth Brooks is a major contradiction . . . but in a good way.

He’s sold more records than any single artist on the planet – pushing 200 million worldwide. He’s known for referring to himself in the third person: “Garth this” and “Garth that.″ When you’ve got six – count ’em, six – Country Music Association entertainer of the year awards, you’ve sort of got a right to be at least a little full of yourself.

But the truth is, that’s not the real Garth. In some ways, he’s as humble as Underdog’s alter ego, Shoeshine Boy.

“People in this business ask if it ever gets old,″ he bubbled – literally bubbled -- in a call from his home near Owasso, Oklahoma, outside of Tulsa. “The younger guys get all the awards, so if anything, it gets rarer and cooler!″


Brooks’ surprise at the award didn’t just seem genuine, it was genuine.

“It stunned everybody in our camp,″ said Brooks, who’s about to finish a 400-show tour that marked the end of a 10-year hiatus he took to raise his daughters. “At first, we were sure no one would show up, and then we were scared if they did.″

The goal, he said, was pretty simple.

“If we could have racked up 50 percent of what we did in the ’90s, we’d have been thrilled,″ he said.

Clearly, the public was ready for Garth Brooks’ return. That includes Cleveland, where he served up four sold-out shows over two nights at Quicken Loans Arena in 2015. It was undoubtedly the best show I saw in the entirety of that 2015 concert season, regardless of genre.

And it set the stage for his newest feat: “Garth Brooks: The Anthology: Part I: The First Five Years.” It’s a 240-page hardcover book that is the first of five installments in his memoirs, each accompanied by a series of five CDs that feature unreleased demos and something called “day-writes.″

“In songwriting, at some point during the day, you’re going to have to memorize the song,″ he said. “Those day-writes are priceless.″

Some of those day-writes are Brooks. Others are his co-writers. But what they and the demos do is show the evolution of the tunes that made him a superstar, songs that every Garth fan can sing word-for-word even 20 years later.

“To hear Tony Arata put down ‘The Dance’ for the first time . . .,″ he said, his voice trailing off almost in awe.

The book itself features recollections by Brooks, ruminations from co-writers like Arata and Larry Bastian, Brooks’ co-writer on such iconic songs as “Rodeo″ and “Unanswered Prayers,″ as well as commentary from the producer Brooks likened to “a second father,″ Allen Reynolds, and especially his longtime manager, Bob Doyle.

Equally amazing are the photos that grace the pages. Not because they’re great pictures, but in some cases because there are pictures at all.


“Allen Reynolds was known around town for his ‘no cameras, no videos’ rule,″ Brooks said.

“He kept the house [studio] as a sanctuary for the artist,″ he said. Brooks went begging anyone and everyone who’d been involved in the recordings for those first five years – remember, this was the era before cellphone cameras. He sought Polaroids, anything he could find.

He managed to obtain one picture that drove him crazy.

“I’m laying on the front steps and I can’t for the life of me figure out why we took this picture,″ he said. In it are his then-wife Sandy, his college roommate and former guitarist Ty England, England’s wife and others. Among those “others″ was another friend from Brooks’ and England’s days at Oklahoma State University.

Brooks couldn’t recall when that fellow arrived . . . and then it hit him:

“This is the voices from ‘Friends in Low Places!’ ″ he said. A session guitarist apparently had a camera and snapped the photo.

But there are other, more telling photos, too – and just the kind the true Garth Brooks fan would appreciate. There’s the high school kid in his No. 12 football uniform, a club shot featuring a long-haired Garth at an Oklahoma City joint called Hinson’s, a snap of him with his parents, Colleen and Raymond, and even his job application for Cowtown Boots in Rivergate, Tennessee, outside Nashville, which he managed while pursuing his record deal.

He was putting in a long day at Cowtown and remembered hearing himself on the radio being piped into the store.

“The day the first single is out and I’m still selling boots, and I’m telling [the customer], ‘Hey, man! That’s me!’ -- and the guy goes, ‘Yeah, so the left boot feels a little tight.’ ″ Brooks said.

He laughed and remembered wondering, “Dude, did you wear those stinky socks for two weeks just for me?″

The book also reveals tidbits true Garth fans will treasure, like the story that accompanies a publicity still of his beautiful mother, Colleen, a singer and model whose career put her on the same “Louisiana Hayride″ that made Elvis Presley famous.

During her appearance on the show, Brooks’ mother sang with Patsy Cline. As he tells it in the book, karma comes to roost because when Brooks recorded his version of “Walkin’ After Midnight,″ he revealed that he sang it the way his mom would interpret the Cline standard.

What we learn through this book – and will learn in the four that will follow it – is just how much of a softie Garth Brooks is. Those who’ve seen him onstage know it: The antics are somewhat rehearsed – that’s just a professional necessity – but there’s a spontaneity and a sense of “genuine″ that comes through whenever Brooks sings a song.

Perhaps that is best illustrated by a story he told, not in the book, but on the phone. It was about his 1989 release, “The Dance,″ a breakup song written by his pal Tony Arata, which recognizes that sadness and joy are sides of the same coin. That’s clear in the lyric, “I could have missed the pain / But I’d have had to miss the dance.″

“The girls’ mom, Sandy, and I were at a funeral,″ he recalled. “At cemeteries, there are two little gravel strips for cars to drive on. I can feel the gravel under my feet.″

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught something.

“I stopped and backed [Sandy] up, and there is a tombstone with every syllable of ‘The Dance’ on it,″ Brooks said.

“You know it’s for a kid [because] the song hasn’t been out that long,″ he said. Sure enough, it marked the final resting place for a little boy.

“It was so beautiful and so heartbreaking at the same time,″ Brooks said. “It’s one of those things that let you know you touched someone.″

That’s what Brooks has always done, and it’s why he was able to take that hiatus to raise his daughters, and come back as strong as he has.

And why he’s not going anywhere.

(Garth Brooks: The Anthology: Part I: The First Five Years, 240 pp., $39.95. Melcher Media and Pearl Records)