Sign up for newsletter
 

The Garth Factor: The Career Behind Country's Big Boom

By Patsi Bale Cox

Center Street, 316 pages, $24.99

Reviewed by Andrew W. Griffin, June 2009

Find it on Amazon
Say the name "Garth Brooks" and what comes to mind? Twangy songs about life and love? Innovative music videos? Countless hit singles? That ever-present cowboy hat, perhaps?

Well, in the sweeping new book, "The Garth Factor," written by Nashville-based country music writer Patsi Bale Cox, readers discover that the Yukon, Okla. native did all of that and so much more since the release of his self-titled debut album in 1989 and his meteoric rise to stardom where he has sold 128 million albums to date. What we also get from Cox is a unique look at how Garth Brooks got to the point where he earned the distinction of being the number one selling artist in U.S. history.

Key to Garth's success was his shrewd decision to take charge of the business side of his career. It was also, as Cox writes, his ability to connect with people, from those close to him in the industry to the throngs of fans who came to love him through thick and thin. It was that undeniable combination of down-to-earth authenticity, enthusiasm, energy and talent that drew people to Garth Brooks, Cox writes.

While "The Garth Factor" got off to a slow start, with some uneven writing and a couple of editing mistakes, Brooks' story picks up after he makes the important decision to leave Oklahoma and move to Nashville where he works hard to land a recording deal and does, with his self-titled debut and his first hit single, Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old), in 1989.

"The country lyric is everyday life. It's the 10 o'clock news put to music," Brooks told a magazine back in 1992. And yet as time passed, Garth's music went beyond the usual country music themes of personal relationships, love and loss. He was no longer a mere "hat act." In fact, there was something bigger and more ambitious about his songs that drew people, as some noted, who work rock concert T-shirts to his shows. He was successful because he was able to draw people to country music. Ultimately he offered, Cox writes, "something approaching a practical philosophy."

Now, for people who don't like to see and hear about how sausage is made, then the portions about Brooks' dealings with Capitol Records, Nashville bigwigs, producers and the business side of things may lead to some serious eyes glazing. But then, Cox is the ultimate Nashville insider, and she gives readers the full story, from his decisions about song choices for albums, grueling concert schedules, his relationships with his wife Sandy (now ex-wife), the birth of his children and his burgeoning relationship with Trisha Yearwood and their decision to marry.

Cox has written a brilliant book that covers the first chapter of Brooks' life as an entertainer from barroom gigs in Stillwater, Okla. to the strange Chris Gaines alter ego episode and beyond. While he has been largely off the scene since 2000, since announcing his retirement, he has made a partial comeback, popping up now and then, particularly with new singles like More Than A Memory and his Kansas City concerts in 2007.

"The Garth Factor" is a must for fans of Garth Brooks, for lovers of country music and people interested in American pop culture, in which Brooks' name is firmly cemented.

(Andrew Griffin is a freelance writer based in Oklahoma City, Okla., reddirtreporter@gmail.com)