With No. 1 Debut, It’s Party Time for Garth Brooks

"More Than a Memory" Celebrated at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Garth Brooks wanted the No. 1 party for “More Than a Memory” to focus on the songwriters. As a result, he spent most of Friday morning (Sept. 7) at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum ducking out of the limelight, while hundreds of people celebrated the success of his new single, the first song ever to debut at No. 1 at country radio.

At the private industry party in the rotunda, Brooks had to be summoned from a back room to come on stage. There, he joined songwriters Lee Brice, Kyle Jacobs and Billy Montana as a parade of executives lauded the accomplishment. Representatives from ASCAP, BMI, Big Machine Records, Billboard, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Country Radio Broadcasters, Curb Music Publishing and Pearl Records (Garth’s own label) all took a turn at the microphone before asking the songwriters to say a few words. Most of those words were along the lines of “amazing,” “excited” and “I’m still in a dream.”

Brooks, who first retired from music in 2000, concluded the afternoon with a gracious and good-natured speech. Dressed very casually in a faded orange T-shirt and blue jeans, he was quick to give a shoutout to the songwriters by saying, “It’s a great day for country music when we get our priorities right.”

Brooks made it a point to praise his longtime producer Allen Reynolds and engineer Mark Miller, who both watched the festivities from the crowd of about 200. He also teased Jacobs, who had earlier praised his publishing company. “He just hasn’t been in the business long enough,” Brooks quipped, and when the laughter died down, he thanked his own publisher and manager, Bob Doyle. He noted that a song plugger from Doyle’s company, Major Bob Music, pitched “More Than a Memory” to Brooks, even though it wasn’t in the Major Bob catalog. Brooks said he called Doyle, who replied, “If it’s a hit, that’s what we’re looking for and I don’t care whose name is on it.”

In his final words of the day, Brooks went on to praise the songwriting community in Nashville and advised the industry to nurture its greatest asset: “You have to fight and protect the rights of songwriters. Radio and records are nothing at all without the songwriters.”

Earlier that morning, Brooks and the songwriters answered questions from reporters in the museum’s Ford Theater. When the first question was directed toward the songwriters, Brooks rose from his plush armchair and walked backstage, saying something about how he didn’t want his presence to distract the writers from telling the story. He wandered back in a few minutes later as the writers were still talking. When a reporter would ask Brooks a question, he’d put his hand over his own mouth, appearing to be nervous or concerned that he might be talking too much.

When the songwriters mentioned that Brooks had changed a few song lyrics (which they were agreeable with), Brooks explained his actions by saying, “I want to know where I am in a song when I hear it on the radio.” Asked if his No. 1 debut might set a precedent for new country singles, Brooks said, “I hope it’s a rare thing because songs should earn the right,” and that the fans should be the ones who get it there.

Brooks will release The Ultimate Hits on Pearl Records on Nov. 6. The package will offer 33 music videos and 30 of Brooks’ past hits, plus three new songs and a bonus track, according to his Web site. “More Than a Memory” was released as a single on Aug. 27 at midnight. Big Machine is handling radio airplay for the single, and speculation at the party was that it might dip in the airplay charts, then rebound in a few weeks for a second turn at No. 1. Brooks wasn’t shy about telling reporters that he’s keeping his fingers crossed, saying he’d be delighted to celebrate the songwriters one more time.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.