Reckon you might say
She loves me like Jesus does:
Only when I tithe
Reckon you might say
Garth Brooks is nearly broke.
The somber, emaciated 51-year-old across the table from our correspondent stood in stark contrast to the color-block shirted, barrel-chested wild man of Nashville memory as he confessed that “girls are expensive.”
Despite 200 million in album sales, years of sold out concert tours and an estimated $350 million in career earnings, the country legend is surviving on Spam and saltine crackers these days as he plots his comeback. “I know, I know… I’ve seen all those VH1 specials about guys like MC Hammer and thought, how the hell did they go through all that money?” admitted Brooks, pulling at a loose thread on his 2008 Old Navy America t-shirt.
Brooks put his career on hiatus in 2001 to see his daughters through high school and into college. The costs of his divorce that year and the upbringing of three girls was a far greater financial strain than any of his fans might have imagined. “Well, Sandy got half and the girls got the other half,” chuckled Garth, sipping Big K Cola from a can. “I didn’t know Bratz cost so damn much.”
“I’ve also burned through most of Trisha’s money with some bad investments,” he continued, with a tear the size of a quarter building in his left eye. “The pager store franchise went under in ’02… damn cell phones. And my personal brand of offensively bright shirts for big and tall men never got off the ground due to a sweat-shop scandal.”
His three-year Vegas run only put a band-aid on the problem as bills and tuition costs slowly ate away at Brooks’ remaining fortune. “I’ve lost 60 pounds, man; all my old ‘Mo’ Bettas look like circus tents on me now. I’m going in for a third mortgage on the mansion.”
A potential comeback is in the cards, though the 26-year Nashville vet is not currently aligned with a record label. “Borchetta is interested in a comeback album, but he’s not sure I’ll fit the Big Machine mold. Hell, I guess I’d do auto-tune and sing about trucks… I need some money, pardner!” said Brooks.
The “Friends in Low Places” superstar bid us adieu for his afternoon Starbucks shift with these off-topic words: “Everybody blames me for pop-country, but I’m Hank Sr. compared to folks these days…”
At press time, Scott Borchetta had passed on Garth Brooks for a 19-year-old community college dropout with a five o’clock shadow and an intriguing chin scar.
Click the bullet after each quote to visit the source.
[Taylor Swift brings in] a huge group of people who are gay, and loud and proud about it, and that hasn’t been catered to yet. Not that I just want to cater to it. I just want to show them some love. Why can’t we talk about you? You’re a real person, you’re in a real relationship, and I’m tired of people acting like it’s not, just because of their religious beliefs. It’s not fair. ●
- – Kacey Musgraves.
Recognizing when you are channeling something great is an important part of the craft. It’s not always the writing itself that’s most important. Sometimes it’s something more subtle-the recognition of the wheat from the chaff. The skill of hearing which pieces have something poignant, meaningful and lasting takes time to develop. This is why sometimes you hear talented writers who don’t seem to know which songs are the keepers. It’s an actual skill that develops and it’s a skill that some people don’t nurture or even recognize. ●
- – Rod Picott on songwriting.
We try to dress [up] for the fans, to let ‘em know that we appreciate ‘em being there. … Also, through the years I’ve been playin’, [I’ve learned] if you’re not on top of your game, if you look the part, that helps a whole lot. (laughs) ●
- – Junior Sisk on dressing for success.
I love Lee Ann Womack and John Prine. That’s kind of my ideal cross point. If I can sing it like Lee Ann would and say it like John would, then I feel like I’ve gotten somewhere. ●
- – Kacey Musgraves again. Her new album is Same Trailer Different Park.
These days, Clawson’s writing less rural stuff and more of what he calls “frat boy-party-country” stuff. But country trends come and go, and Clawson writes about what he knows. “For the McGraw song, it was just us thinking back to high school or college, about picking a girl up and going to a party and getting to make out with her,” he laughed. ●
- – Songwriter Rodney Clawson, responsible for recent hits including “Feel Like a Rock Star,” “Take a Little Ride,” “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” and “Get Your Shine On.”
[Matt] Warren recalled he was working as a waiter at Chili’s when a customer asked if he’d be interested in earning $100 a day plus a $25-a-day food allowance and the chance to travel all over the country selling merchandise for a country artist. Warren said he would.
He had the choice of taking the job with Rascal Flatts or with [Gary] Allan.
“I didn’t listen to country music then,” he explained. “So I said I’ll go with the guy with one name.” ●
- – Matt Warren’s first #1 as a songwriter, the Gary Allan co-write “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” started from a chance encounter at Chili’s.
He amazes me every day. He plays me new songs he’s written. I, for sure, wasn’t writing those caliber songs at 21, and I’m not writing a lot of them now at 41. He had four cuts his very first year after he got signed, with Jason Aldean, Lee Brice, Scotty McCreery and Joe Nichols. Then he got his record deal on Valory. He’s just a good boy and he’s just got that ‘it’ thing. ●
- – Rhett Akins on son Thomas Rhett.
TGIF! Meet my friend Teensi. We live for Friday afternoons, because we meet at Red Robin for lunch. I had a salad today, I swear! (OK, nevermind what I ate).
My Friday ritual got me to thinking, what do you do on Fridays? Do you enjoy a half-day? Do you have the day off? Do you get to wear jeans to work? ●
- – Taste of Country is trying to put a face on its soulless, hit-driven web presence by having one of its radio personalities do chatty, pointless personal posts. Irksome.
Is it weird that I always love to wear shorts, T-shirts and flip flops anywhere I go, no matter what temperature it is outside!? Is it because I’m bear-like? ●
- – Uh, okay. Taste of Country’s Jeremy Robinson.
Octomom, 37, filmed the video last fall during a break from her 30-day stint in rehab for her Xanax dependency. At the time, Radar Online reported that she was “extremely annoying” to everyone on the set and “her crazy laugh scared all the geese off.” ●
- – Cledus T. Judd booked the Octomom for a “Pontoon” parody music video. God help us.
I know it sounds pretty out there, but it’d be pretty awesome to collaborate with Wiz Khalifa or Lil Wayne. We just recently did a collaboration with Nelly, which was pretty neat because we’re both big fans of Nelly. ●
- – Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard. It’d be pretty neat if he went away.
Before he reached Nashville, he made his first pitch — literally — through an open window of Linda Ronstadt’s tour bus in 1976 when it was parked at Greensboro Coliseum. [He] doesn’t know if Ronstadt ever heard his tape, but it was one of his first “stunts” to get his music heard. ●
- – From a Winston-Salem Journal article on “Fool Hearted Memory” songwriter Byron Hill.
I don’t know if we get wiser, but we have more experiences under our belt, and I think maybe your sense of humor gets more intense as you look at the world from a little bit of a distance. I’m just too busy living every day to really spend a lot of time thinking, “Am I old?” I’m this age. I am in this moment and in this life. One of the great things about dogs, they are totally in the moment, and I think that’s a very difficult thing for humans to do. We’re cursed with self-consciousness. We can’t get away from ourselves. You asked me if I have any regrets? I regret that it took me all that time to figure out I could have a dog on the road. ●
- – Emmylou Harris, brilliantly, on aging. From an especially worthwhile interview by Joan Anderman for the New York Times.
Excuse me? A mainstream-sounding country song with a chorus suggesting I roll up a joint and kiss people of my same gender? As a country-music fan, I must admit this is a fresher vision of personal freedom than beer, beach vacations and firearms. ●
- – NPR’s Will Hermes on Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow.”
The more ups the better. For this next album we’re really focusing on getting radio play, and uptempo stuff seems to do a little better in that environment. In the last year I’ve [had] lots of success whether it was sales or awards shows, but I’ve never had that radio hit. And that’s my focus now. ●
- – Heads up: Scotty McCreery will be getting even boring-er.
As the owner-operator of a reasonably widely-read music blog, I end up fielding some interesting questions via email from time to time. One recent inquiry, from an up-and-coming singer-songwriter on the regional scene here in Northern California, struck me as especially deserving of wider consideration:
It seems to me that positive music is more likely to be panned by critics than material of a darker nature. Do you find that to be the case? If so, why? It is particularly relevant in my case because the record I’m working on is a very bright, optimistic one. There are very sincere reasons for that, but I want this record to be heard by critics without getting tossed because of its primarily good-natured content.
What do you think? Are critics biased against feel-good material? Should they be?
My initial feeling is that many critics are drawn to darker subject matter because there’s simply more to do there, more to unpack. Whereas a party song or motivational anthem is made to be taken at face value and enjoyed on a visceral level by even the most casual of listeners, a song that grapples with a problem or presents an unexpected or subversive notion gives you something to ponder. When you’re in the business of thinking about music, the latter makes for obvious, appealing source material.
That’s not to say that bright, optimistic songs can’t be interesting, or that compelling critical arguments can’t be built around them. I’ll be the first in line for a book-length breakdown of every happy song Roger Miller ever wrote. But in the often relentlessly positive world of today’s mainstream country music, the willingness to go a little dark – to be unsettling and ‘real’ in ways we don’t expect – automatically commands critical attention and respect. How could it not? If you’re willing to go to all the trouble of swimming upstream, you must have something particular and distinctive in mind. Otherwise, why make it harder on yourself?
By contrast, a new uplifting song can come off as more white noise, easily dismissed even if better than the average song of its ilk. Made for tailgate parties and minivan commutes, not serious examination.
If country music is about stories, storytelling is about conflict. Conflict is inherently interesting because we all have problems. When problems are glossed over or resolved in pat ways to motivate and inspire, it can feel like opportunity lost and time wasted. Worse still, it can feel like we’re being manipulated.
Yeah, that’s cute. Sure, that’s catchy. But where’s the story? Why should anyone care?
The best uplifting songs answer those questions. Most don’t.
When a song’s focus is darker, conflict and intrigue are nearly automatic. The elements are already there. Making ‘feel-good’ matter takes considerably more finesse. Non-cheesy feel-good songs are actually deceptively difficult to write, so lots of people try and fail, so many such songs get panned.
That’s what I say, anyway.
Contrary to my ramblings, though, I’m actually interested in your input. Reactions to this fellow’s question? Feel-good songs that were, or should have been, great critical successes?
All you need to do
Is rewrite “Gettin’ You Home”
I’ll take it from there
Amid all the (justified) Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves hoopla, we’ve been doing our best to beat the drum for Brandy Clark in hopes that her own singer-songwriter debut won’t be overlooked. As it turns out, we’re in good company: Marty Stuart counts himself a fan of Clark’s, too. The singer-songwriter recently appeared on RFD-TV’s Marty Stuart Show to play all three songs from her EP.
Since the videos made it to YouTube, you can sample the whole Brandy Clark EP ‘live’ right here. Stuart even joins Clark for a proper duet on “Take a Little Pill.”
“Take a Little Pill” (with Marty Stuart)
“Pray to Jesus”
Click the bullet after each quote to visit the source.
We’re in an industry where it’s 999 nos for every one yes. They say you have to develop a thick skin. We all develop ways to pretend we have a thick skin. I mean, I’ve been doing this for longer than 30 years. I sent a batch of songs the other day to the powers-that-be, and I didn’t get a response. I’m heartbroken. It’s like, “I guess I suck.” You never develop a thick skin. ●
- – Gary Burr, hit songwriter and one-third of the Blue Sky Riders.
Maybe they can just see in my eyes and voice that there’s an oldness in me, and a passion for music that other people with that same passion can see. ●
- – Ashley Monroe on her habit of attracting heavyweight collaborators like Vince Gill and Guy Clark.
A lot of times it goes back to who you are and what you did first. You can do that as an adult. You can do all those different things and kind of morph your musicianship, but there really is an element of ‘who are you?’ and ‘where did you come from?’ And what meant everything to you musically when you were 15 years old?
It’s never going to go away and that’s at the core of your musical self. Even as a professional musician, you can never re-create that feeling you get as a teenager that captivates you and sets you on the path. Even if you’re not a musician, if music just meant that much to you as a listener, if it ever grabs you in those formative years, what you are during that time will always be there. It’s a well that you can always return to. ●
- – Grascals banjoist Kristin Scott Benson on the persistence of formative influences.
I think your shelf life as a songwriter is longer in Nashville than it is in L.A. A lot of the top songwriters right now are mid-50s and up, and I like that, being 44 years old. I was like, ‘How long am I going to want to be playing the pop game in L.A?’ I don’t want to be 50 and wearing increasingly silly tennis shoes, and saying, ‘Dude, dope beat.’ ●
- – Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin on finding a home in Nashville. He co-wrote “Stuck Like Glue.”
But I always try to put a sunny outlook on things even when it seems impossible. That’s the basis of a lot of blues songs. You’re purging your soul, but you’re hoping for better times. People can relate to that. The world isn’t always win-win, falling in love and having a big family. Sometimes you go through several pairs of shoes before you find the right one that fits you. ●
- – Wayne Hancock to CMT’s Chris Parton.
I’ve never had a wreck but I kind of bump into things a lot. My husband has had backup cameras installed on my car. I had to get him to replace the bumper because I backed into a telephone pole. ●
- – Maybe Carrie Underwood should let Jesus drive.
The idea of putting on all those sequins and walking out onstage and rebooting my singing voice—that seemed exciting. There’s something really great, once you hit 40, about taking on something that genuinely, fully flexes new and different muscles. Because, man, is it scary. It’s more than twice as scary as when you do it when you’re 20. ●
- – Connie Britton on the challenge of portraying Rayna Jaymes on “Nashville.”
When she comes back I never know what’s going to be in the car. I can tell you — I’m not kidding when I say 20, maybe 25, maybe 30 times — she’s come home from the grocery store and there will either be a dog or a cat in her car. And they’re not always puppies, it might be a big a** pitbull in there and I’m going, ‘What the hell, you can’t just …’ ‘Well, it licked me so it was nice,’ and I say ‘Yeah, but you don’t know if it has rabies or what.’ ●
- – Blake Shelton on Miranda’s habit of bringing home strays.
I think it’s crazy the way people try to label our genre. My Dad always said, ‘There’s an ass for every seat.’ That just means there’s something out there for everybody. Not everyone goes into the store and buys vanilla ice cream. Some people like chocolate chip, some people like chocolate mint, some people like Rocky Road. It’s still ice cream though. You can find what you want. I think people start labeling what is and what isn’t country, or what is and what isn’t rock and roll, or why this is a sell-out sort of a town, or whatever. Everybody has their own path. ●
- – Jake Owen. On the other hand, it’d be pretty disappointing if your favorite ice cream shop suddenly refused to serve anything but spaghetti, all the while continuing to tout their ice cream-making bona fides.
I did indeed, and I’d like to think it was the Fonz who wrote me back months later. I’m sure it was an underling at ABC. But it was in the heyday of “Happy Days.” Somebody at my school bought this book that had the addresses of all the celebrities. I did get a response and I’ll leave it at that. But I will tell you that everything I’ve done since then has been in response to that letter and what that letter told me to do. ●
- – Bruce Robison on writing a fan letter to Henry Winkler.
This apparent puritanism, not shared by the rootsier country styles grouped under the alt heading of Americana, is perhaps better understood as a highly developed sense of genre formula. Musgraves likes to point out that in real small towns people do in fact get pierced, curse, surf Internet porn and indulge in a wide variety of stimulants and sexual relations their pastors might not approve of. The country-music establishment knows this, of course, but it has invested heavily in the notion that its loyal listeners would rather spend time in a richly idealized alternate universe where such things are referenced only obliquely, if at all, and many of the cultural battles of the 1960s and after have been magically unfought. To judge by the videos the industry cranks out, misbehavior in this genre utopia doesn’t get much racier than beer-and-bonfire jams attended by models decked out in designer versions of working-class attire. ●
- – From an excellent New York Times Magazine feature on Kacey Musgraves by Carlo Rotella.
She’s like, ‘My friends are gonna hear you say these things,’ and I’m like, ‘Nana, it’s my career to mess up.’ And not to be rude, but she’s not my demographic. ●
- – Musgraves on her grandma’s reaction to “It Is What It Is,” known colloquially as “the slut song.” From the New York Times feature.
What’s so great about Buddy is his taste. He’s not a pushy guy. But he sets the standard in the studio. We were going for feel. Nothing else mattered. Buddy gets that almost instantly and everybody goes along with it. You don’t get that from anybody except Buddy. ●
- – Bobby Bare is a big Buddy Miller fan. (Shakespeare, incidentally? Still a big George Jones fan.)
Rick [Rubin] in his current incarnation is such a minimalist – it’s what we love about him. But we also knew that to accommodate all of the goals that we had, the best producer was Dann Huff. ●
- – Kimberly Perry on thinking better of the original plan to have Rick Rubin produce The Band Perry’s sophomore album.
Who would say no to that? If the reasons were the same as they were this time, I think we’d do it. But if this record is a success, as it seems to be, it could be that we’d be too self-conscious because of that. I’ve always said self-consciousness is the enemy of great art. If you somehow come into it with no designs and nothing to prove — hat in hand and heart wide open — you’ve got a good chance of making something worthwhile. So we’ll see. ●
- – Rodney Crowell on the possibility of a sequel to Old Yellow Moon, his duet album with Emmylou Harris.
Q: What direction would you like to see music go in?
A: Better lyrics. I don’t care if it’s punk rock or folk music or traditional country, as long as it’s good lyrics. ●
- – Guy Clark.