Then & now


Garth Brooks, singer

WHO WAS THE biggest-selling solo artist of the 20th century in the US? You might have said Elvis Presley, but for a while the accolade belonged to a balding country singer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. When the Recording Industry Association of America announced that King of Country Garth Brooks had sold more records in the US than the King, Elvis fans were up in arms. Even Brooks himself thought it must be a mistake. So the RIAA revised their certification methods, and Presley was restored to his rightful place.

Still, coming second only to The King was no small achievement, and if Brooks had continued to perform and make records in the 21st century, who knows how many Guinness records he would have broken. But in 2000 the world’s biggest country superstar, with more than 100 million album sales under his cowhide belt, announced his shock retirement from performing and recording.

Few rock fans even noticed his absence. Brooks had made some botched attempts to cross over into rock, including contributing a track to a Kiss tribute album, and releasing an album of grunge-lite tunes under the fictional alias of Chris Gaines. But fans of such massive hits as Friends in Low Places, If Tomorrow Never Comes, Thunder Rolls and Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till the Sun Comes Up) were thunderstruck.

Behind the image of the squeaky-clean, God-fearing dude in the Stetson, however, Brooks was battling some old-fashioned rock’n’roll demons. The superstar lifestyle was taking its toll on his 14-year marriage to Sandy Mahl, who he met while still trying to get record execs to listen to his demos. It didn’t help that the dogs in the street were yapping about an affair with fellow country star Trisha Yearwood. Brooks’s marriage ended in 1999, and he married Yearwood in 2005. His ex-wife hasn’t been so lucky in love: one ex-boyfriend was jailed for attempting to kidnap her, and her ex-fiance was found shot dead.

Much of Brooks’s retirement years have been spent raising his his three daughters, Taylor, August and Allie – and let’s face it, this is one stay-at-home dad who’ll never be short of a few bob.

In 2009, he delighted his fans by announcing that he was coming out of retirement.

He had played only a handful of concerts during his hiatus – and then, only for charity – so the prospect of Brooks bringing his spectacular arena show around the world once again had fans – and promoters – dizzy with anticipation.

But Brooks’s comeback, at the Wynn resort in Las Vegas, was disappointingly low-key. Gone was the iconic Stetson, replaced by a hoodie and baseball cap, and there was no sign of a backing band. Had Brooks discovered a new passion for rap? Fans were reassured when he performed several of his own hits, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, and he also did covers of songs by James Taylor, Billy Joel, Cat Stevens and Don McLean.

He has promised to do a full-blown arena tour as soon as his youngest daughter starts college, but for the moment his Las Vegas run will continue until November at least, so fans will have to go to Sin City if they want to watch their hero ropin’ the wind again.