Lynn Shults, the man who offered Garth Brooks his first record deal, died Thursday (Feb. 24) in Nashville. He was 55. Although Shults was but one of a team that welcomed Brooks officially to Capitol Records, he was the one who specifically extended Brooks a “handshake” agreement on the evening of May 11, 1988, after the then-26-year-old completed his showcase at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café.
“I don’t remember what his first song was,” Shults later told an interviewer, “but I’m pretty sure the second one was ’If Tomorrow Never Comes.’ Garth just blew me away.”
At the time Shults encountered Brooks, he was Capitol’s vice president of A&R (artists & repertoire) and had already worked closely with such superstars as Kenny Rogers, Anne Murray, Crystal Gayle and Tanya Tucker. “Being on the road with a lot of great artists,” he noted, “you get this frame of reference for what is exceptional. And that night, Garth was exceptional.” Brooks had auditioned for Shults and label president Jim Foglesong a month before at Capitol’s Nashville headquarters but had not significantly impressed either man.
The power of Brooks’ Bluebird performance, Shults continued, “was something that in no way came across in the (Capitol offices) with Jim and me . . . What went through my mind was that I had just seen somebody who was as good as — if not better than — anyone I had ever seen . . . Immediately after he finished, I went over to (Brooks’ manager) Bob Doyle, who was standing by the bar, and I said, ’You guys got a deal, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s an album deal’.”
Brooks signed his contract with Capitol on June 17, 1988, and released his first single, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” on March 25 of the following year.
Carl Lynn Shults was born Oct. 19, 1944, in Old Hickory, Tenn., near Nashville. Prior to assuming his post at Capitol Records, he had worked for the Acuff-Rose music publishing company, JMI Records, Starday/King Records, RCA Records and United Artists Records.
Shults’ tenure with Brooks was short-lived. At the end of 1989, the year Brooks made his chart breakthrough, Capitol came under new management, and Shults, Foglesong and all the other members of the hot young artist’s startup team were fired. Shults moved on to become director of country operations for Billboard and to write a weekly column on the record charts for the magazine. He then went to Atlantic Records and from there to another music publishing job. At the time of his death, he was just settling into his position as spokesman for the Tennessee Correction Department.
Shults is survived by two sons, Taylor and David.