Garth Brooks emerged in the 1990s to become one of the biggest-selling music acts of all time. He greatly heightened country music's media profile and helped move the genre into the mainstream of American entertainment. In 2007, the RIAA named the Oklahoman the best-selling solo artist in American music history, citing sales of 123 million albums to that point. In 2009, emerging from retirement, Brooks announced he would perform fifteen concerts annually for five years at the 1,500-seat encore theater in Las Vegas. The first twenty concerts sold out at $125 a ticket in five hours.
Born in Luba, Oklahoma, February 7, 1962, Brooks was the sixth child of Troyal and Colleen Brooks. His mother appeared on the Ozark Jubilee in the 1950s and recorded briefly for Capitol Records. Garth started performing while attending Oklahoma State University, concentrating on songs by James Taylor, Billy Joel, and Bob Seger while mixing in tunes by George Strait and other 1980s country stars.
His first trip to Nashville in 1985 ended in disappointment, and he returned to Oklahoma. Two years later, after marrying first wife Sandy Mahl, he came back to Nashville and found encouragement from Music Row executive Bob Doyle, who left a position at ASCAP to form a publishing company, with Brooks as his first client. Doyle and Pam Lewis teamed to manage Brooks, and Jim Foglesong oversaw his signing with Capitol Records in1988.
The record label introduced Brooks to veteran producer Allen Reynolds, who had worked with Kathy Mattea, Don Williams, and Crystal Gayle. Reynolds gently altered Brooks's singing, encouraging him to stop belting out ballads in a full-throated style, and suggesting he use a more relaxed, natural approach. The change brought out an intimate tone in Brooks's voice, which he used to great effect on his early hit ballads, "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and "The Dance." With his first album-Garth Brooks, his most traditional country effort to date-he also established his credentials as an evocative songwriter. He wrote or cowrote his first three hits, "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," "If Tomorrow Never Comes," and "Not Counting You." He has continued to contribute songs throughout his recording career.
Sales of Brooks's first album initially were strong but not spectacular: It sold 500,000 copies in the first year. But after the release of "The Dance" in the spring of 1990, sales doubled within a month. His second album, No Fences, appeared in the summer of 1990; sparked by the popularity of the hit "Friends in Low Places," it sold more than 700,000 copies within ten days of its release. His third album, Ropin' the Wind, became the first album by a country singer to debut at #1 on Billboard's all-genre chart. By 1991 these three albums had sold a mind-boggling 30 million units. Brooks had reached sales levels unprecedented for a country music performer.
"Garthmania" was fueled not only by his radio hits but also by the athletic entertainer's explosive stage show. A fan of 1970s rock acts-Kiss, Kansas, and Queen among them-Brooks added an arena-rock flash to his performances, utilizing dramatic lighting effects while smashing guitars, swinging from ropes, dousing himself in water, and tearing across the stage while exhorting the crowd. His ticket sales rivaled those of tours by the Rolling Stones, U2, the Eagles, and the Grateful Dead.
By the mid-1990s, Brooks settled into a winning musical formula: His albums repeatedly combined intensely dramatic ballads, high-speed country-rock, the occasional western swing or honky-tonk tune, and a cowboy song thrown in for its down-to-earth effect. He benefited from pushing boundaries with controversial songs: From the banned video of "The Thunder Rolls," a song that vividly discussed the horrors of domestic violence, to the gay rights statement in "We Shall Be Free," to the cheeky wordplay of "Papa Loved Mama" and "Bury the Hatchet," Brooks took chances, courted controversy, and gained media attention. Though album sales for The Chase, In Pieces, and Fresh Horses did not equal those of No Fences and Ropin' the Wind, Brooks still captured the public's attention while compiling remarkable sales numbers.
On August 7, 1997, Brooks performed in New York's Central Park before an audience estimated to be 250,000-and millions more via a live HBO broadcast. As the biggest star in Nashville, he wielded his power openly, negotiating new contracts and shaking up the executive staff at Capitol's country division. He delayed the release of his album Sevens until November 1997, after helping choose the label's new Nashville chief, Pat Quigley.
Before long, Brooks reached a crossroads. In 1998 he appeared at spring training with the San Diego Padres, the first of several years of participating in baseball training camps to raise awareness for his Teammates for Kids foundation. He released the successful Double Live album in late 1998 and his first Greatest Hits collection in 1999. That same year, he gambled on an unusual project under the name Chris Gaines. Designed to become a character in a movie about a conflicted rock & roller, Chris Gaines was introduced by Brooks in a rock album, Garth Brooks in . . . The Life of Chris Gaines. Described as a "pre-soundtrack," it sold 2 million copies, which, given his typical album sales, was considered a disappointment. Eventually, the movie deal fell apart and the Gaines project ended.
In 2000, Brooks divorced his wife, Sandy Mahl, and, three weeks later, said he would retire to raise his three daughters. He released the album Scarecrow in 2001. In 2005, he signed an exclusive deal with Wal-Mart to release The Limited Series, a six-CD box set. That December, he married singer Trisha Yearwood. Wal-Mart released The Lost Sessions in 2006 and The Ultimate Hits in 2007, with a new single, "More than a Memory," debuting at #1.
In November 2007, Brooks performed nine sold-out shows in Kansas City. In January 2008, he made five sold-out appearances at Los Angeles's Staples Center. He announced his five-year Las Vegas commitment in October 2009. In December 2010, he performed nine sold-out shows in Nashville, donating proceeds to the city's ongoing relief effort resulting from a devastating flood in May of that year.
Brooks celebrated his 50th birthday in February 2012, and all of his daughters-Taylor, August, and Alli-are in high school or college. Brooks always has said he'd stay in retirement until his children are grown, and his fans eagerly wait to find out if he'll return to a recording and touring more actively.