When he’s asked to assess his return, of sorts, to active duty in the music industry, country icon Garth Brooks chooses baseball as a metaphor.
“Let’s say that a pitcher retires five years ago,” Brooks says, “and he comes out of retirement and the first game that he pitches ... he pitches a no hitter. That’s a helluva hug back.
“It sure makes you feel like music is maybe what you’re supposed to be doing.”
In Brooks’ case, few would argue with that. He’s been largely below the radar since considering himself “retired” in 2007, living quietly in Oklahoma with his three daughters and his second wife, fellow country singer Trisha Yearwood. But this year, the thunder has rolled again — as loudly as it did in the early ’90s, when Brooks was the face of country’s surge as the most popular musical genre in America.
“More Than a Memory,” one of four new songs and the first single from his new “The Ultimate Hits” collection, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country chart. Heavy ticket demand turned what was supposed to be a single concert to open Kansas City’s new Sprint Center — Brooks’ first full-scale performance in six years — into a nine-show run that concludes Wednesday (Nov. 14) with a closed-circuit simulcast to more than 300 theaters nationwide.
And the Academy of Country Music recently gave Brooks its prestigious Crystal Milestone Award, commemorating the fact that with 123 million albums sold, he’s the top-selling solo artist in history, beating out Elvis Presley.
Absence, apparently, has indeed made fans’ hearts grow fonder.
“You never know,” says Brooks, 45. “You’ve been (away) for awhile. You don’t know who’s still there or how interested anybody is. But I think my goal has always been — and I don’t know why it’d be any different — to try to make everything you’ve done up ’til (now) look small.”
The sales mark, of course, is probably the biggest mark Brooks has accomplished since the Oklahoma native began recording in 1989, two years after moving to Nashville and working as a studio singer. And though he tries hard not to appear immodest, Brooks cannot deny that the achievement is “neat.”
“We sold a lot of records,” he says. “When you talk about it, the Elvis thing comes up — ‘How in the world can you think you’re better than Elvis?’ ‘Oh, you think you’re better than Elvis.’ I don’t think that.
“I think what that represents is the size and the magnitude of the country music audience. Those people out there that say the country music audience is gone, I have to disagree with them.”
How much that audience hears from Brooks in the future remains to be seen, however. Though he’s been busy promoting “The Ultimate Hits,” which also includes a new duet with Huey Lewis on the latter’s 1982 hit “Workin’ For a Livin’ “ along with hits such as “The Dance,” “The Thunder Rolls” and “We Shall Be Free,” Brooks is pointedly not calling this a comeback. In fact, he has every intention of returning to the quiet life back in Oklahoma.
“The greatest thing is being the father of three and being Mr. Yearwood,” Brooks explains. “Our youngest is 11; it’ll be another 10 years. My guy is George Strait; he’s 55, I’m 45, and he looks great and he’s doing stadiums. I’d like to do that at his age if it’s in the cards.
“So if we’re lucky enough, there’ll be a hole open and the kids are doing well and Ms. Yearwood says, ‘OK, let’s go ...’, then you’ll see us out there.”
But maybe not in the same way, he adds. Having made the reluctant move from clubs to arenas early in his career, Brooks — who played to a record-setting crowd (estimated at as many as 900,000) in August of 1997 in New York City’s Central Park — says that he has a similar aversion to stadiums. In that regard, he views this week’s cinema simulcast as a technology that may allow him to meet the outsized fan demand for his live shows.
“It allows me to virtually kind of tour,” Brooks says. “The great thing is it’s like us touring through your town, without you ever leaving town. So the people that couldn’t travel to Kansas City and still wanted to see the show, this is gonna be a way to see it.
“I think that’s gonna set the template for us, just trying to get to everybody we can, so I think the whole theater thing might be a big part of future technology. I don’t know if artists are gonna look at me in 20 years, young guys, and go, ‘Dude, you actually had to travel to the city you were playing?”
NEW BROOKS ALBUM HELPS BACK BREAST CANCER CURE
Garth Brooks’ new release, “The Ultimate Hits,” could be a big profi tturner for the country artist and for Wal-Mart, who he’s been working with for the past two years. But he’s willing to steer buyers elsewhere for a good cause.
Brooks has tied in with Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer foundation, which is selling a $15 “pink” benefi t edition of “The Ultimate Hits” at www.Komen.org — with $10 of the proceeds going to the charity. Brooks says he made the deal at the behest of his wife, fellow country singer Trisha Yearwood, and as a tribute to his first wife and mother of his three daughters, Sandy Mahl, who’s a breast cancer survivor. The album lists for $13.90 elsewhere.
This is not about selling records; it’s about awareness,” Brooks says of the initiative. “It would make me so happy if everybody hit www.Komen.org just to be smart, to be more aware of what’s out there.
“I didn’t know men could die of breast cancer. This is all of our disease. These guys have got one helluva fight on their hands, and they’re gonna need all the help they can get.”
The Komen edition of “The Ultimate Hits” is wrapped in a pink covering and features pink discs.
The last of Garth Brooks’ nine concerts at the Sprint Center in Kansas City will be simulcast at 9 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 14) at the Commerce Township Stadium 14, 3033 Springvale Drive, Walled Lake, (248) 960-7459), and at the AMC Livonia 20, 19500 Haggerty Road, (734) 542-3191. An encore presentation will be shown on Thursday (Nov. 15). Tickets are $10. Visit www.fathomevents.com for information.
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