Exactly 30 years ago, Garth Brooks wrote his first No. 1 song.
He was in his 20s, didn’t have a record deal yet, and went to write with Kent Blazy for the first time. They’d met when Brooks had moved to Nashville, and was trying to get his start by singing demos for Blazy. It was a bit of a side hustle, since he already had day jobs selling boots and cleaning churches.
“I figured he’d bring some ideas into that first write,” Blazy told me. “So he walked in and said, ’I have this idea that I’ve run by about 25 writers and nobody likes it.’ I thought, ’Gee. Thanks.'”
That idea was “If Tomorrow Never Comes,” and Brooks and Blazy put it on paper on Feb. 1, 1988.
“He came to my house on Warfield Drive, kind of behind the Bluebird Café. And when he played me his idea, it hit me because my mother always used to say, ’Tell the people you love how you feel about them while they’re still alive,'” Blazy said. “But I told Garth, ’You’re killing someone off in the first verse, and that’s like killing off the star of the movie.’ So we changed that first verse.”
The song reached the top of the charts at the end of 1989. But back in that writing session, right away, the impression Brooks made on Blazy was that he was 25 going on 50. “He had such an old soul mentality about him. To be able to be 25 and write a song like that. It spoke volumes about the kind of writer he was going to be. He’d lost people he’d loved, and he was able to tap into that,” he said.
The kind of writer Brooks was going to be, according to Blazy, was one who was, among other things, very loyal. Together, the two went on to write so many of Brooks’ cuts: “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up),” “It’s Midnight Cinderella,” “She’s Gonna Make It,” “Somewhere Other Than the Night,” “For a Minute There,” “How You Ever Gonna Know,” “Why Ain’t I Running,” “Cowboys and Angels,” “Honky-Tonk Somewhere,” “The Storm,” “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance,” and “SugarCane.”
But in 2004, the heartache Blazy and Brooks had been writing about hit way too close to home. Blazy’s wife Sharon was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor. And just five years later, at 56, she was gone.
When the Blazys learned that Sharon only had about six months left, they turned to Alive Hospice for help. “They came in every few days to monitor Sharon and help me. Then they came at the end. It was such a comfort having them there. They made it so much more peaceful and an easy transition. I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
Blazy, Brooks and a few other guest stars and some of Brooks’ other co-writers — like Tony Arata, Victoria Shaw, Pat Alger — will be playing a benefit show for Alive Hospice at the Bluebird Café on Thursday night (Feb. 1). It will be the 25th anniversary of the benefit, and Blazy said he’s personally been playing these shows for at least two decades.
And this one, on the 30th anniversary of that first No. 1, is going to be special.
“It’s so much fun to do shows with Garth. It’s one of those things where it’s just friends again making music together. And he’s been so generous with his time. I’m honored to have him,” he said. “We’ll take turns singing songs, and telling the stories behind them.
“It’ll almost be like we’re all just sitting in someone’s living room.”