On April 12, 1989, the world was introduced to Garth Brooks with the release of his self-titled debut album on Capitol Records.
The album featured two number one songs, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Dance,” and kicked off a career in country music that changed the landscape of the genre forever. I started my career at around the same time, and it’s been amazing to watch the man’s career skyrocket and to watch him maintain an unprecedented level of superstardom. I’ve also been lucky enough to meet the man on a number of occasions, and it’s always been a great experience.
From day one, Garth had incredible charisma and a genuine love for people; that love was returned by millions of country fans over the subsequent decades. When you meet Garth Brooks, he has a way of making you feel like you’re the only one in the room and when you see him a second time and a third, he seems to know you. He’s one of the most famous people in the world, and he’ll still ask about your family, just as a long-time friend would. I often joke he would be a great cult leader.
Scott Stem worked as Garth’s publicist for years and was an intern working for Garth’s manager when his debut album was released, and has rare insight into the pre-stardom Garth, when he was just an artist trying to get a foothold in the industry.
Scott says, “It was always nice when Garth came around, he was just vibrant and exciting to be around and was excited about putting his first music out there. We knew that the music was good. I don’t know that any of us had envisioned the huge mega star that he would become, but we knew that he had put together a good product with [producer] Allen Reynolds and we were excited about it.”
He recalls, “Earlier in the year , we had been out at Country Radio Seminar distributing buttons to anyone who would take them; they said: ‘Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)’ on them, which was the first single. We were just kind of generating excitement and building up anticipation for that. It’s funny because I still hear today from people who still have those buttons, thirty years later.”
Garth befriended many in radio and media through the years, and many of those relationships are still intact today. In 1999, Garth was doing a press event: I was among ten journalists who sat around a table and asked him questions. When I sat down, he said to me, “So, I hear you had a baby, do you have a picture of her?” How could he have known that? Of course, I had a picture. I showed it to him and he looked at it and smiled. He asked everyone in the room a question about what was going on in their lives. This is a man who was as famous as Prince or Madonna or Mick Jagger, at least in much of America.
Garth’s live shows were like nothing country music had ever seen. Scott notes that Brooks paved the way country stars today who play to stadium-sized crowds. “I think there are a lot of things in the last twenty or thirty years in country music that wouldn’t have happened without Garth, but I think that he would be the first to say — and I would agree with him — that there were artists like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton that created opportunities that allowed him to exist the way that he did as well. I think he would also refer to Chris Ledoux in there.”
Even today, Garth’s shows sell out stadiums and arenas all over the country. Click here for all his stadium tour dates.
And it all began with that debut album. As Garth told Yahoo! in a charming story, he had to plunk down a few bucks to actually listen to it back in 1989. “I still remember the house that [first wife] Sandy and I were renting. I came home with [the album], and I had a CD of it — not a [vinyl] album. And then I realized when I walked in the door, we didn’t have a CD player. So, my first album cost me about 300 bucks to go down to get a CD player, so I could actually listen to it in the house!”
It was “The Dance” that brought him to the next level of stardom quickly, as the song not only charted at number one, it won the Academy of Country Music’s 1990 Song of the Year and Video of the Year and the CMA’s Music Video of the Year honor in 1990.
“There were tremendous ballad songs ‘The Dance,’ ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’ literally changed the way people looked at their own lives.” Garth shares on a video talking about the album on his website.
“There’s something special about this song,” his wife Trisha Yearwood says of ‘The Dance.’ “I don’t even think he knew how big of a record this would be. And the rest is history.”