Garth Brooks Leaves Capitol Records

Will Keep Rights to His Albums After Severing 17-Year Relationship

Garth Brooks has severed his 17-year relationship with the Capitol Nashville label. EMI Music, Capitol’s owner, will no longer distribute his records.

The announcement of the separation came from the label Friday morning (June 3) in a tersely worded statement stressing that “terms of the agreement are confidential; however, no compensation was requested by Mr. Brooks or paid by EMI for the license termination.” The press release also said the move to end the current license agreement was “decided by mutual agreement.”

The announcement brings to an end what was probably the most profitable association in country music history. After having been turned down by virtually every record label in Nashville — including Capitol — Brooks finally signed to the label on June 17, 1988. He scored his first platinum album in October 1990 and was soon the top-selling artist in popular music.

When his third album, Ropin’ the Wind, was released in September 1991, Brooks became the first country artist to debut at No. 1 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart, dislodging Metallica and beating out new albums from Dire Straits, Tesla, Kenny Loggins and Diana Ross. In July 1992, an Entertainment Weekly survey proclaimed him “America’s favorite male singer” after he outpolled Bruce Springsteen, Michael Bolton, Luther Vandross and Phil Collins.

After Jimmy Bowen took over Capitol Nashville from Jim Foglesong in December 1989, a tension developed between the strong-willed Bowen and the equally resolute — and increasingly powerful — Brooks. Ultimately, with Brooks’ implicit approval, Bowen was forced out, as was his successor, Scott Hendricks. By the late 1990s, Brooks was essentially setting his own course independent of the label.

The superstar took a brief turn away from country in 1999 when he released Garth Brooks … In the Life of Chris Gaines. In this album, he created a fictional rock star and his “greatest hits.” While critics generally trounced the project, it went on to sell more than 2 millions copies.

On Oct. 26, 2000, Brooks announced he would retire from the music business after releasing one more album. Later that same day, he attended a lavish party for more than 1,000 friends and business associates at Nashville’s Gaylord Entertainment Center to celebrate his having sold 100 million albums. His best-selling album, No Fences, has now sold 16 million copies. Brooks’ most recent project, Scarecrow, which was released Nov. 13, 2001, is now certified at the 3 million level.

Since distancing himself from the music business, Brooks has lived in Oklahoma. Last week, he announced his engagement to fellow artist Trisha Yearwood.

Sources close to Brooks declined to say what he plans to do now that he has control of his albums. But given their profitability, it is likely he will continue to make them available.

“For nearly two decades, Capitol Nashville has had an extraordinary and fruitful relationship with Garth,” Capitol president and CEO Mike Dungan said in the press release. “We wish him all the best for the future.”

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