Garth Says He’s Out, But Not Down

Garth Brooks says he will retire from performing after he records one more album. And while he was unequivocal in his use of the word “retirement” during his press conference at Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville today (Oct. 26), he implored the attending reporters not to label the album his “last” or “farewell” one. So what should it be called, a scribe asked. “Maybe ‘the best,’” said the singer with a grin.

Brooks also announced that “Wild Horses,” a cut from his 1990 No Fences album, will be released to country radio stations on Nov. 20. Brooks recut his vocals for the song, which was written by Bill Shore and David Wills.

Although he has decided against further touring, Brooks said he has been discussing “the possibility of doing something with the networks as a summer replacement series.” In addition, he plans to write screenplays. “That’s stuff that I can do after I drop my kids off at school.” He vowed that being close to his children over the past year has been infinitely more rewarding than anything else he has done.

Brooks said that while he and his wife Sandy have agreed they should divorce, it is something they will do — or not do — strictly by their own timetable. “Could it happen tomorrow? Yes. Could it never happen? Yes.”

The singer made it plain that his retirement does not mean he’s quitting the Grand Ole Opry. “If I end my being a part of the family of the Opry,” he said, “it will be because they’ve pried my cold, dead fingers off it. They’ll have to kick me out of there.”

He conceded, though, that he will probably not make the 12 appearances a year the Opry asks of its cast members. Instead, he said he hoped to act as a goodwill ambassador for the show. “My job with the Opry, I feel, is to explain to people that it is the highlight of my career and, for those who haven’t been there, why they need to go.”

Brooks said he hopes to attend Country Radio Seminar next year and may even perform at the luncheon hosted by ASCAP, the performing rights organization, during CRS for radio programmers. It was at the 1990 ASCAP luncheon that Brooks made his first big impression on this commercially crucial group.

The most surprising element of Brooks’ far-ranging conversation with reporters was his willingness to dismiss himself as a musical lightweight. “I’ve done my career with the old saying, ‘Burn bright, burn fast,’” he said, “I [knew I] wasn’t going to be somebody that we could come to really appreciate, like Billy Joel or James Taylor, and know that their stuff was timeless. I knew mine was going to be gone. Thank God for the rocks in this business, like Reba McEntire and George Strait. Those people are going to do that … Hopefully, if I’m a trivia question 10 years from now, I pray to God they get it right.”

It was an odd assessment coming from someone who has sold more than 100 million albums in 10 years and who had arranged a lavish celebration later in the day to mark the event.

Time and again, Brooks expressed the fear that he may have lost the musical touch that kept him for so long at the top of both the country and pop album charts. “We all grow older, and formats change,” he observed. “And I’m not sure that what we do will fit the format today … The greatest thing to me about ‘Wild Horses’ is that it’s a song I would cut today on a new album. So it’s going to be a really interesting ride for me on this single to see how the format responds. It will be a huge thing to me in determining what kind of music, if any, I bring to the format next year.”

Allen Reynolds, who has produced all Brooks’ country albums, will be at the helm of the new album as well. The suggested release date for the project, Brooks said, is Mother’s Day or Father’s Day of 2001.

Early in his remarks, Brooks assailed Napster, the Internet mechanism, for downloading music without paying for it. But he also took a swipe at record labels for charging more for CDs they sell online than the price at which they’re available at mass merchandisers such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. “It’s not a big mystery, people,” he said. “What Napster’s doing is wrong … But the thing about Napster that wakes us all up is that there is a huge market on the Internet for music … We’re going to get with our label and make good music available that’s clean music — no viruses — and download it at a discounted price, because you have to buy your own [blank] CD, and it comes with no art work.”

Brooks also acknowledged that his label, Capitol Records, has become something of a pariah within the country music industry. “Between [former presidents] Jimmy Bowen, Pat Quigley and myself, we’ve done a pretty good job of alienating Capitol Records from Music Row. I never want to kiss anybody’s ass to be accepted into a family, but you’ve got to admit that to be part of a family is a great thing. If there is anybody who can make Capitol Records again become a part of the Music Row industry, [newly appointed president] Mike Dungan is that man.”

Explaining his tendency to announce his major career and personal moves in advance, Brooks said, “[I do it because] I really don’t want people to be saying, ‘Whatever happened to Garth Brooks? Did he just fall off the face of the planet?’ This way I can be honest with them.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.