Garth Brooks, who remains the biggest-selling solo artist in music history, accepted the Dale Franklin Leadership Music Award from two of the most pivotal men in his career on Sunday night (Aug. 23) at the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel in Nashville. Jim Foglesong, who signed Brooks to Capitol Nashville, and Allen Reynolds, who has produced every one of Brooks’ albums, presented him with a large crystal trophy to signify the respect he’s accrued in the industry. Earlier in the night, Foglesong and Reynolds were recognized for their significant achievements in the music business as well, extending well beyond their association with Brooks.
The award celebrates leadership in the Nashville music business community and the night’s speeches were filled with references to authenticity, honesty and integrity. Over the course of four hours, the handpicked musical selections highlighted some of the most important records from their combined careers, with performances from Cowboy Jack Clement, John Conlee, Crystal Gayle, Lee Greenwood, Hal Ketchum, Kathy Mattea, Martina McBride, Steve Wariner and Trisha Yearwood.
Brooks capped the night with a cover of “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow,” flanked by his fellow honorees echoing the verses. Brooks was backed by his longtime recording band and emphasized that these were the players who came up with the distinct musical parts on “The Dance,” “Friends in Low Places” and “We Shall Be Free,” all of which they performed in between enlightening stories about the songs. (For example, the haunting, lingering piano solo at the beginning of “The Dance” was inspired by the score during a dramatic scene in the movie, Man From Snowy River.)
Brooks launched his set with “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” after his lengthy acceptance speech. “I really thought tonight was going to suck,” he said early on, but it didn’t take long to change his mind. “It’s so cool to be back in a room full of music,” he said. “Full of creators, full of dreamers.”
He also challenged the audience to take control of their work. “Content is king, and we are the creators of that content,” he declared. Brooks then stated that some musicians, artists and songwriters believe that if they pay close attention to their business affairs, that they aren’t truly artists. “Bullshit!” Brooks charged. “Our job is to come together!” Furthermore, he added, “If we realize we own the content, the music business can become what we all lay awake at night wishing it could be!”
Brooks recalled when he met John McBride, Martina’s husband, at a state fair, when McBride was working at the sound board. The experience inspired the McBrides to move to Nashville, with John ultimately in charge of sound on Brooks’ early tours. Then, Brooks said, John uttered “the worst thing anyone can hear in the music business: ‘You know, my wife’s a singer.’” Brooks continued to say that he’d seen Martina hauling equipment, so he knew she was a hard worker. He told John McBride that if she could get a record deal, she could have the opening spot on the tour. Lo and behold, RCA signed her and Brooks kept his word, even though he’d never heard her sing a note.
“I was scared to death what was going to happen when she opened her mouth,” he said. But when he heard her powerful soprano from his dressing room one night, he said he remembered thinking, “Yeah, I’m a genius.” After a round of laughter, Brooks went on to praise Foglesong and Reynolds (“They stood next to the music.”), Wariner (“I want to live the rest of my life with you in it.”) and Yearwood, his wife (“The last nine years have been the best years of my life.”).
During her turn at the microphone, Yearwood said, “This is the best party I’ve ever been to,” noting that so many of the most important people in her own career were on hand to salute Brooks. She recalled first meeting him at a demo session, where she was paid $10 and he wasn’t paid at all. They hit it off, she said, but she couldn’t have imagined what was about to happen. “I had no idea that he would become Garth Brooks,” she said. She summed up his character by mentioning his “good sense of humor, great love of music, and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s way nicer than me!” She dryly recounted when she landed an opening spot on Brooks’ tour. He invited her to use the whole stage. She didn’t know what else to do but stand there. But when she delivered a knockout rendition of Bob Dylan‘s “To Make You Feel My Love” (also a No. 1 hit for Brooks), her husband stood up at his table and she looked right into his eyes as she sang it.
McBride indulged Brooks by singing “The Thunder Rolls,” while Wariner performed “Longneck Bottle,” which he co-wrote. In addition, Brooks’ longtime manager, Bob Doyle, read a heartfelt letter to Brooks, and artists such as Charlie Daniels, Huey Lewis, Keb’ Mo’ and Dolly Parton — as well as Sesame Street‘s own Elmo — submitted congratulatory messages on video.
Foglesong and Reynolds enjoyed equal time in the spotlight. Mattea told the audience that she and Foglesong were from the same town in West Virginia and that she had never forgotten that he gave her 90 minutes of his time long before she ever got a record deal. At ABC/Dot Records, he signed Roy Clark (now in the Country Music Hall of Fame), Donna Fargo (who recorded one of the first million-selling albums in country music history) and Don Williams (one of the most popular and enduring country artists in foreign markets). As the head of MCA, he signed Reba McEntire and George Strait. Foglesong retired from the business in 1989 and began teaching at Trevecca and Vanderbilt universities.
Reynolds earned high praise from pals like Mattea, songwriters “Cowboy” Jack Clement (“Guess Things Happen That Way”), Dickie Lee (“She Thinks I Still Care”) and Bob McDill (“Amanda”) and producer Jim Rooney. Clement sang a few lines of Reynolds’ composition, “Dreaming My Dreams With You” while Ketchum delivered Reynolds’ own “Five O’Clock World.” After telling the audience that Reynolds developed her into an artist and a singer, Gayle delivered a strong rendition of Reynolds’ “Ready for the Times to Get Better.”
Foglesong was serenaded by Mattea (a cover of Williams’ “I Believe in You”), John Conlee (“Rose-Colored Glasses”) and Lee Greenwood (“It Turns Me Inside Out,” his first single). At the conclusion of Foglesong’s speech, he said nothing is more exciting than seeing a young person getting a break in the music business. “Encourage them as leaders and keep it going,” he told the audience. “We have a big responsibility.”View photos from the Leadership Music Award ceremony.