Garth Brooks Credits His Wife for Punching Up His Sagging Career
Tuesday, April 25, 1989
Chicago Tribune. Story by Jack Hurst
One evening, he recalls, he was informed that a young lady had gotten her fist stuck through the pressed-plywood wall of one of the stalls of the women`s restroom. When he walked in, she was still trying to extricate her fist while another female stood shaking in a corner. ``I looked at the two of them and said, `What happened?` `` he remembers. ``The little girl in the corner didn`t say anything, but the one pulling her fist out said, `I missed.` I thought, `Holy cow.` ``Then I said, `Well, you`re going to have to leave,` and I walked her outside.`` The girl was so ``cute,`` he says, that he was inspired.
Imaginatively, he told her the nightclub had a policy requiring any bouncer who threw out a woman to make sure she got home okay. The girl shrugged and said fine.
Her name turned out to be Sandy, and she proved to be a fellow student, residing in a dormitory about two blocks from his own. As they neared the latter, he pushed his luck. ``I said, `Look, my roommate`s gone for the weekend. Why don`t you come on up, and I`ll drive you home in the morning?` `` he recalls. ``She said, `Drop dead.` That was all she said. I thought, `This little gal`s got class.` ``
The reason this incident is so important is that for nearly three years now Sandy has been Brooks` wife-and seems to have been the primary reason he stayed in Nashville long enough to achieve the very promising new-artist status he enjoys today.
His first single, ``Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),`` is rising respectably in the country hit charts; his self-titled debut album has just been released; and on Nashville`s streets his is one of the handful of names most mentioned as candidates for quick stardom. None of which might have happened without Sandy.
On Brooks` first trip to Nashville, after a gala sendoff in Oklahoma City, he fled home after just one night in the Tennessee capital. The second trip, which occurred after his marriage, he considered fleeing again, and it was Sandy who stopped him. ``She sat me down one day,`` he recalls, ``and said, `Look, I was around when you came back the last time, and I`m not going through that again. I think you`re good enough, and you think you`re good enough, so we`ll just become citizens here. We`ll get jobs, work here and you`ll work on your music.` ``
So that`s what they did. He found a job as manager of a suburban boot store that allowed him to hire an assistant, so he hired Sandy. That way, when he had to be downtown for music appointments, she could mind the store.
Eventually, he got a songwriting contract that paid him a weekly draw, and they gave up the boot business. Now, with a hit single in the offing, he`s expecting to return to the honky-tonk circuit he plied before emigrating from Oklahoma.
The LP ``Garth Brooks`` offers a lot of glimpses into the man. A burly former athlete who describes his background as ``oil-field trash,`` he is an unusual mix of religious and artistic sensitivity and cowboyish ruggedness of the steeliest sort. His music is unusual, too. ``I wanted a George Jones hard-country feel with a Dan Fogelberg or James Taylor orientation toward lyrics,`` he says. ``I`ve always thought, `If I ever get a chance, I`d like to have a (musical) feel that really feels good to sit in-and then while you got `em there strapped in, feed `em some opinions. With every song, you`ve got a chance to get on a soapbox and tell a nation something, and you might as well tell them something that needs to be said. ``If the songs were funny, I wanted them to be clever, and if they were serious I wanted them to be real deep, to reach in there and try to grab you by the heart.``
One of the more memorable cuts on ``Garth Brooks`` is a song titled ``Nobody Gets Off in This Town,`` a hilarious paean to a wide place in the road where the bus only stops to take on, not let off, and the high school colors are brown.
By contrast, such others as ``Cowboy Bill,`` ``If Tomorrow Never Comes`` and a stellar remake of Jim Reeves` ``I Know One`` are as serious as ``Nobody Gets Off in This Town`` is funny. The steamy ``Every Time That It Rains`` unflinchingly portrays a rainy-day liaison in a roadside diner that rings too true to be made up. ``I`m not going to tell you it`s a true story, but I`m not going to tell you it`s not, either,`` Brooks says. ``I love my wife with all my heart, but the woman that song`s written about will know when she hears it exactly who wrote it.``
Brooks comes from the small town of Yukon, Okla., where his father still works for Union 76, and his mother is a housewife. On a modest salary, the family reared six children and sent them all to college, some with the aid of athletic scholarships.
The youngest son says the family engaged in a lot of front-room music while he was growing up, but he and his sister Betsy, who used to play in the band of female country-rocker Gus Hardin, are the only ones who made music an obsession. During college he played a lot of different types of bars around Stillwater, developing a repertoire of more than 400 songs.
After graduation, he branched out to other cities, traveling east into Arkansas and as far west as Santa Fe, N.M. ``During that time, I got to learn a lot of the business aspect of music,`` he says. ``I got into a couple of situations where the money wasn`t there at the end of the gig, and I had to either fight or get walked on.`` He made his first trip to Nashville at age 24 financially backed by the city of Stillwater, which presented him a personalized briefcase and other tokens of municipal affection.
When he returned in 24 hours, having found that none of the Nashvillians he was supposed to see were expecting him, he hid out at his parents` home for two weeks. He married in May, 1986, and came to Nashville again in June, 1987. There he quickly met his co-manager, Bob Doyle. When Capitol Records eventually became interested, Capitol executives suggested he team up with one of Nashville`s finest producers, Allen Reynolds, who has worked with such stars as Don Williams, Crystal Gayle and Kathy Mattea. ``They suggested I talk to Allen and a bunch of other big names,`` he says. ``But after talking to Allen, I came back and told Bob I didn`t feel I wanted to talk to anybody else.`` Asked if his wife-who has had so much to do with his rise-is also musically inclined, he says her interest is confined to listening. One night when another woman got onstage and tried to cozy up to her husband, she seems to have listened extremely closely.
``When Sandy gets mad, she counts to herself, and I can usually pick it up at about 6 or 7,`` Brooks says. ``One night a little gal was drunk and singing on the microphone, trying to get as close to me as she could, and I looked out there and Sandy was on 3. I thought, `Oh, God.` ``I tried to figure out what to do, but she didn`t even get to 5; she just stood up, and even though this little gal onstage was pretty good-sized, Sandy grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her off the front of the stage and over the first table. ``The gal fired up like she was going to do something, but then she saw Sandy-who`s about 5-9 and was a swimmer all through high school-with her fists doubled up, eye-to-eye. The gal just disappeared. ``I go, `Hey, babe,` and she looks at me and says, `You`re dead when you get home.`
It took me forever going home that night; I kept going back for stuff I forgot. But by the time I got there she had cooled down.`` ``She`s a fireball,`` he adds, ``a great woman who`s every bit a lady but don`t take nothing off nobody-`specially me. I owe everything to God and her.``