There is a basic concept we all learn at an early age about sharing, being kind to others and giving of ourselves. It is packaged many different ways. It may have been drilled into us that there is “more happiness in giving than in receiving,” or we may have gotten strong stares from mom while she scolded us saying something like, “Share that with your brother or you’re going to get it!”
And usually we find that when we give of ourselves and share our belongings or our gifts, things tend to go a little smoother. Or at least we avoided mom’s wrath. However it was packaged in the Brooks family, a young Garth must have been paying extra attention to how the concept works because when it comes to giving, he really gives his all.
Garth Brooks is a favorite among country music fans today – and has been from the very beginning of his career. Think about it. No matter how unprecedented the career, who else could retire from the music industry to raise their children – then return to the scene some thirteen years later to have not only the same success – but even more success! At last count, Garth has sold over 2.5 million tickets on this new world tour …and is still gaining momentum with every city. In January 2015, his comeback album “Man Against Machine” was certified platinum.
When you see Garth Brooks in concert, yes, even today, you’ll see he is still giving 150 percent of himself to his fans. His energy seems to be ever cyclical and non stop! He does stop occasionally to take a few brief breaths or to joke about his age or about his guitar only being a prop to ‘hide his gut.’ But oddly enough, his realness only seems to fuel the love of his fans.
But what makes Garth Brooks, ‘Garth Brooks’?
What is it that had us all praying for Garth’s return to country music? What brings the kind of devotion that inspires someone to pen a song titled “Power of Garth”? And what is it about him that creates this myriad of loyal fans who believe he is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to country music?
Garth’s great gift for giving of himself is a definite part of his appeal, as is his very relatable music. But what other fuels are feeding the fire that continues to sweep the nation…and even the world?
Great songs? Yes. Talent and passion? Absolutely!
But it also takes endurance and strength, intuitiveness, loyalty to fans and friends, and a sense of compassion that people can actually see. It also helps to have someone who strongly believes in you and your talent. And from the very beginning Garth has had someone like that on his side.
A great manager who is also a believer!
Bob Doyle is Garth’s long-time manager and friend. He is soft-spoken, intelligent, laughs easily and does his best to make you feel at home. But he also has patience, endurance and a willingness to pursue what – and who – he believes in, no matter the price. Garth Brooks is a walking testimony of that endurance and also of Doyle’s faith in music that “speaks to him.”
When Garth first started out, he was working in a boot store and also as a church custodian. Doyle literally started out in the mailroom of Warner Bros. Records, but due to some kind opportunities given him by his then-boss Norro Wilson, he rose to the position of A&R director. By the time Doyle met Garth, however, he had relinquished his position as director of A&R for Warner Bros. and had moved on to ASCAP, because he wanted to learn more about the songwriting and licensing side of the business.
Doyle’s move to ASCAP proved to be a great opportunity for both himself and Garth, because that is how they met. Garth’s landlady had given Doyle a tape! Not long after that tape was delivered, Doyle had made the commitment to start his own business and work as a publisher. He says of Garth, “Initially it was about him as a songwriter, his point of view. He had a unique way that he told a story that connected with me that made me feel like… ‘I have to pursue this.’ I just knew he was really talented – and he needed the belief of someone to help him fulfill his dream.”
And fulfill his dream he did. And though it started with Garth as a songwriter, it wasn’t all about writing the songs himself.
Doyle says he and Garth spoke early on about the importance of great songs and of the fact that in a community of great songwriters it’s impossible to out-write the town every day. “My mantra to Garth was always ‘find the best song,’ i.e. ‘Friends in Low Places,’ ‘Two of a Kind Working on a Full House,’ ‘The Dance,’ and more recently, ‘More than a Memory,’” Doyle related. “He didn’t write it, but it spoke to him and he had a hit with it. So we’ve always worked to find the great songs, and Garth has done a great job at it.”
Garth Brooks is also known as much for his marketing savvy as he is for his high-energy performances and songwriting. Or perhaps it’s because he is so savvy that he knows what it takes to reach people when he’s performing…i.e., giving all he can of himself.
“Garth is one of those unique individuals who has that ability to look at something and see the creative side of it and at the same time see the business opportunity…or the pitfalls that might come along with a given venture in some way. In his case it’s his own career – so he’s very conscious what each move does…to be consistent with the overall ‘brand,’ if you will,” Doyle reveals. “He was always very aware of what he wanted to do and how he wanted to execute it. The image back then was very well established…and…when you saw it you’d say, ‘That’s Garth,’” Doyle summarizes.
Brooks speaks very highly of Doyle also and hopes they have another 25 years of working together. His loyalty to Doyle and to many others in his life who were with him from the start certainly appears to add to his success. Two of those “others” are longtime keyboard player and bandleader Dave Gant and drummer Mike Palmer.
Be loyal – and remember your roots
Ada, Oklahoma native Dave Gant plays keyboards with Garth’s band and originally played both fiddle and keyboards starting back in 1994. But the two became aware of each other in 1986 while Gant was working with Reba’s brother Pake McEntire, who was on RCA Records at the time. Gant reflects, “Pake was playing in Stillwater and Garth was warming up for us. And…we’d set up, gone out for dinner and came back…and couldn’t park anywhere. And we were thinking ‘Yeah, we got ‘em!’ So we go in and Garth is warming up and he’s playing cover stuff and sounds exactly like whomever he’s covering. Then we go up and the place empties out,” Gant chuckles. “There’s only about 30 to 40 percent of the house left, but Garth stayed and listened to Pake.”
“Later on, when Leigh Reynolds and Garth were writing songs together, Garth told Reynolds he needed a fiddle/keyboard player and Reynolds told Garth that I was available.” Gant toured as Garth’s fiddle/keyboard player in 1994 and ‘95, but in 1996, Garth hired current fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly, and Gant stayed on keys.
Drummer Mike Palmer hails from Pennsylvania and started playing drums in the fifth grade. His family moved from Pennsylvania to Florida, and as the new kid, he spent a lot of time playing his drums. Palmer started a band with a guy he met in the eighth grade – and that band lasted over seven years until Palmer moved to Nashville.
“When I was with my band in Florida, I was always trying to get us out of the clubs and really believed that we had to be more of an ‘entertainment factor’ and get away from [being like a] jukebox,” describes Palmer. “When I met Garth, he pretty much said the same thing. He said, ‘You know, I don’t want to stand there and be a jukebox. I want to entertain the people!’ I think my jaw probably dropped open and my eyes probably bugged out,” jokes Palmer. “He was the perfect fit for what I was tryin’ to do.
“I was fortunate because the band I had in Florida lasted a while. Then I moved up here to work with a guy, then I left him to work with Garth. So really I’ve only had three main jobs and really haven’t worked with a whole bunch of other people. That’s really kind of unheard of in the industry. It’s almost a… Cinderella story!” Palmer laughs.
With somewhat of a “Cinderella Story” of his own, Gant talks about the earliest years with Garth, saying “there was a lot of learning going on” in those early days. Before they got to the point of having a big tour, Garth and his band played smaller venues and clubs which allowed them to work on songs and to “see what worked and what didn’t.”
They soon received a coveted invitation to play on the Grand Ole Opry in the summer of ‘89—“a really great opportunity,” Gant says. “Soon after, ‘Much too Young’ had become a huge cowboy hit,” Gant reflects. “The next thing you know, I think we got on Kenny Rogers’ Christmas tour that year…Then the next year we were out with Reba. And while that was going on, I guess it was ‘The Dance’ that was No. 1 for three weeks,” Gant recalls. “That was followed up by ‘Friends in Low Places’, then by ‘The Thunder Rolls,’ and after those three it went on…and that’s when he became a ‘superstar,’ so to speak.”
If you ask Dave Gant what his favorite trait about Garth Brooks is, he’ll tell you it’s his loyalty. Gant enthusiastically says, “…he is a big-hearted guy, but his loyalty is amazing.”
This is especially impressive considering the fact that Gant says he did not work as a professional musician during the years off the road. Gant laughingly gives up the scoop. “I was a computer tech for Wells Fargo for 13 years,” he explains. “I had little kids and my ears were pretty beat up, so I got my Microsoft and my Dell certification and went to work. It was great because it kept me home, but the fact that Garth called me after thirteen years and asked me back was pretty amazing,” Gant says honestly. “I mean he could get anybody in town! Granted, I’d been there a long time, I knew the songs and pretty much what’s going on, but still! His loyalty is just amazing!”
Mike Palmer agrees, stating that from the very beginning, he lived his “Cinderella story” each year he was with Garth. Like Gant, he admits he didn’t really pursue playing professionally during the extended time off, either. He worked doing some producing and studio work for a while, then he later co-founded a company with a friend that is still in operation today. Many have asked Palmer why he didn’t simply go out and play drums for another act. “Playing with Garth and just that level of intensity on stage and the crowd? It’s almost like the old adage of ‘eating steak every night,’” Palmer chuckles. “But going out with somebody else?” he asks. “Nobody else could compare to that!”
Garth states his own perspective on the matter admirably. “Life is nothing without relationships and people you care about to share it with. It is great to look over and not see ‘hired guns’ but instead, true brothers of the road.”
Be a good father to your children
Garth makes no secret of the fact that being a dad is a priority in his life, even over music. “Those are days you can’t get back…and that time [with your kids]….is over like that!” Garth says, snapping his fingers. He spoke these heartfelt words while on the ‘Today’ show in January 2015. “And there’s going to be heartaches, but heartaches with them is better than nothing without them.”
Some of Garth’s band members feel the same way. During the 13-year hiatus, Palmer enjoyed the time with his family. “My daughter and my son were the same age as Garth’s kids. So while he was gone and raising his kids, it was the perfect opportunity for me to stay home and be with my family. And my wife and I just celebrated 26 years of marriage….and my kids grew up better…and happy,” Palmer explains proudly.
“Now we’re back out and …this tour is different with the fact that we’re flying. We were doing multiple dates in a city, but now it’s gotten even crazier. But Garth’s real good about getting us home a lot,” Palmer describes. “We’ll be out for 10 days and then home eight or 10 days. So we’ll have a little more time in between shows than we used to have. We’re all getting to be a husband and father and do all the chores around the house as well,” Palmer jokes.
Draw inspiration from your fans
One of the most inspiring parts of being on the road is seeing the loyalty from the fans both old and new. “Garth and Gant and I were just talking the other day about some guy in Denver that was in the second row who was in his mid-60s, and I was able to see him, Gant was able to see him,” Palmer continues. “He sang every word to every song. Then another night in Sacramento, our background singer gave some tickets to a 19-year-old girl who was basically just overjoyed, and she sang the words to every song! It’s all over the place and unexplainable. I think that the history of this gets stronger. And I think that’s what inspires us and keeps our energy up!”
Be Real…Be humble..Be a friend
“He’s real, he’s humble and when we go out on stage – the fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly and I are constantly moving, trying to outdo him, but he’s working his butt off out there and he wants to give everything 125 percent! So we’re just tryin’ to match that or try to beat him,” Palmer laughs. “It’s that kind of thing, it’s that kind of show. What he’s always pushing is what he’s always wanted to accomplish.”
Palmer’s admiration of the man comes from many years of loyalty and friendship. “He’s solid gold from head to toe. In those initial days from the beginning, I was there and witnessed all the decisions he made that eventually helped his career along,” describes Palmer. “He was also an artist who loved songs and songwriters…and it just seemed like he was making all the right decisions to be ‘at one with the world,’ if you want to call it that.”
“As a person, he’s a great guy, a great father…a smart marketing guy and…I just appreciate the fact that he’s given me the opportunity because there are so many big monster drummers out there… But he’s kept me around for some years and I really appreciate it. We all appreciate his loyalty and his friendship.”
Considering the friendship and camaraderie, Gant asserts that he, Garth, Mike Palmer, Jimmy Mattingly and the whole crew are all really good friends.
“We get home and we’re off for a week, but we’re not calling each other because we’ve seen enough of each other!” laughs Gant. “But we’re all good friends and we’re always there for each other when we need to be.”
Both Gant and Palmer say that whatever Garth does they’ll be there for him – and they’re in it for the long haul.
Be there for your fans…
When you attend a Garth Brooks concert, the funny thing is, you really feel like he’s “there” for you. I experienced it myself. You feel like he is looking right at you – singing right to you – and caring just about you. But then, everyone in attendance is made to feel the same way. That “it” thing in Garth can perhaps be personified by telling you a story.
During one of Garth’s concerts in Minneapolis, a lady held up a sign that read “Chemo this morning, Garth tonight enjoying ‘The Dance.’” Garth was performing the song and prior to getting to the end of it, lowered himself to the edge of the stage, hugged the woman, gave her his guitar, then announced to all that she had the power and love of all who were present there that night, and he gave credit to the Creator for the miracles we sometimes receive when we least expect them. There is likely little doubt in that woman’s mind that Garth was “there” for her.
Appreciate all you have!
Garth says that “Happiness isn’t getting what you want. It’s wanting what you got.” One of the reasons Garth doesn’t mind giving so heartily of himself is because he feels grateful and appreciative to have what he has…which is the love and respect of all those around him.
When speaking of his wife, his family, friends and even his fans, Garth comments on how well they’ve supported him over the years.
“It’s thorough encouragement. It is that simple…they have always been interested in my dreams and have always encouraged me to pursue them.”
So though Garth is there for all those he cares about, it comes full circle, because he always receives that love and support back in spades.
Have integrity! Build Bridges…don’t burn them
So what is that “it” thing that makes Garth ‘Garth’?
“I think it’s his integrity,” Doyle says thoughtfully. “You always know what Garth stands for.”
“Something that’s never changed about him is that when Garth greets you, the first thing out of his mouth is going to be ‘How are you?’ He cares about people,” Doyle says definitively. “If somebody in your family is sick or something…he’ll always ask ‘How’s this person or that person?’”
One detail few may know about Garth is that he builds bridges.
Yes, that is an accurate statement. Garth Brooks enjoys building bridges because, according to Doyle, he is fascinated with the engineering of suspension bridges and the mechanics that work to actually hold the bridge up. So the super star Oklahoman builds bridges here and there on his farm in his spare time. And Doyle chuckles almost to himself. “You might say Garth spends his time building bridges metaphorically as well.”
Garth has most definitely bridged the gap from his career that started over 25 years ago to the career he still has today! And he does it by continually giving – by being there for his family, his friends, his band members, his fans…
“Garth realizes you could give people back their money, but you can’t give them back their time,” Doyle states honestly. “In his head I think there has always been this continual thought after he said his prayers and kissed everybody goodnight – the last thought in his mind was, ‘What do I do tomorrow to keep this going?’ And I will say that has not changed dramatically. He’s very on top of things.”
The difference between then and now for Garth as an entertainer? Doyle continues, “He’s not doing anything dramatically different. Where he connected with audiences before, he’s still able to connect with them the same way. It’s almost like he didn’t go away! His enthusiasm is there, and his effort to put on a great show in terms of production – in terms of what he expects of the band, to connect with everybody and ‘work’ that room is really pretty much the same. Garth just loves what he does, and the people feel it.”
Garth sums it up nicely. “You aren’t wealthy until you have something that money can’t buy. And you can’t buy good, solid relationships. You have to earn those.”
And that realization, my friends, is what makes Garth “Garth”…and what makes us all stand in awe when we have the rare treat of hearing one of his songs, of meeting him in person, or of attending one of his shows.
And to that, all we can say is…