A list of the most influential artists in history chosen by country stars themselves, another honoree is named each week on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
Arriving with his self-titled debut album in 1989, Brooks’ sound was a broadly-appealing fusion of mainstream rock and country which fans quickly embraced, despite criticism from some of the country music establishment.
A high-energy entertainer, he injected extravagant, rock-style showmanship into his concerts like pyrotechnics, lasers and massive, multilevel stages with trap doors. He would famously swing by a rope out over his audience or sprint from one side of the stage to the other. Virtually unheard of for a country artist at the time, live productions like these are now commonplace.
Brooks has released 10 studio albums to date, six of which reached diamond status in the U.S. for shipments of over 10 million copies. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, he is the third-best selling albums artist of all time, behind only the Beatles and Elvis Presley.
His iconic singles include “Friends in Low Places,” “The Dance” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up).”
Brooks retired from music in 2001 to focus on family life but returned to the stage in 2009 with a residency at the Wynn resort in Las Vegas. He resumed touring in 2014 and has a new album, Man Against Machine, planned for release on Nov. 11.
He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
“Garth is a huge, huge entertainer,” Strait said. “When he came along, doing his thing, it was like nobody had done that before in country music, and we were all going, ’You can’t do that in country music.’ (laughs) Little did we know what a huge artist he was and would become.”
“I think he’s taught all of us artists how to perform,” Lynch said. “We all strive to put on a show as good as Garth can put on a show. … He did bring the rock show — the lights, the fire. Gosh, he was one of the first dudes to fly through the air, which pretty much had to have been a shock. He looks like he is resurrecting as he is singing in some of these songs.”
“All the things that all these young cats are doing today — their arena and stadium shows with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of adoring fans and it’s this huge set — it’s these huge productions and stages and lights and lasers and screens and all that kind of stuff,” Adkins agreed. “You better thank Garth Brooks because he was the one that made it. He was the one that took rock production and put it in a country format. He was the one that did that.”
McBride began her career selling merchandise for Brooks on his tours, and her husband John was one of Brooks’ early sound engineers.
“If you ever want a lesson in performing live, just watch Garth Brooks,” she said. “I mean, I think he’s so different. I can remember when John, my husband, went and did the first few shows with him. He came home raving about it. He was like, ’He was swinging his hat around. He’s climbing up on the lighting. It’s unbelievable.’
“And it was just something we’ve never seen before in country music. People were just rabid and crazy and singing every word. It was an experience. I mean, I got to see it every night, and I still think to myself, ’I haven’t seen anything like it ever since.'”
Hayes marveled at Brooks’ seemingly limitless energy.
“You’ve got a dude that’s got more energy than anyone I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “Running probably the length of a football field from one side of the stage to the other with these giant stages and all these lights and these huge sets, and you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people just standing in a field to see this show.”
Lambert felt the same way.
“Garth has something about him I’ve never seen in any other performer,” she said. “It’s the energy. I don’t know where he gets the energy and this ability to make you feel like you’re a part of something that’s once in a lifetime every time you see him. … I think that’s what people are drawn to about him — that you don’t forget the experiences you have with him no matter what they are.”
“He just had this thing in his voice that connected, even through the radio,” Brice added. “And I learned later on that it wasn’t just through the radio. If he talked to you in person, you’re the only person in the room, even if he’s got a thousand people pulling at him. And I think he just kept that mentality when he was singing. He had this crazy connection with people.”
Indeed, Lynch heard Brooks’ secret from the man himself.
“I had the honor of meeting Garth when he was inducted into the (Country Music) Hall of Fame,” he said. “I asked him, ’What is your trick with connecting to an audience?’ And he said, ’I try to look at every fan, every person. Whether it be 10 people in a room or 10,000 or 100,000, I try and hit everyone in the eyes once and tell them thank you for giving me the coolest job in the world.'”