shall we blame it all on garth and walmart?

As I was twirling the dial last night (alright I just dated myself didn't I...) Let me start over. As I was clicking the clicker for my home entertainment system last night looking for something to watch on the tube that featured either cops chasing bad guys or carpenters sharing secrets on how to best build a room addition, I stumbled on the Country Music Association's annual award show. I paused and watched for about twelve minutes before moving on.

In a different time and place, these award shows mattered to me. Or to be more accurate, they mattered to the record labels I distributed and the artists I represented. Twice a year for almost a decade I would rent a tuxedo, hit the CMA and ACM awards and either back slap or commiserate at the lavish post-show parties. That most of my memories center around jumbo shrimp, stone crabs, prime rib and top shelf alcohol says as much about the business as it does about me. Maybe not, but it reads nicely.

I came to work at Capitol-EMI Music just a few months after Garth Brooks' first album was released. It was dead on arrival for a number of reasons, but primarily because there was a management change going on and the old guys who signed him were shipped out, the new guys were cleaning house and everyone was a bit distracted to deal with it. A few months passed, someone finally heard something they liked, orders from the top trickled down, the promotion and marketing teams kicked in high gear, money was spent, investments were made and a star was born.

To be fair, you can't blame the current state of country music on Garth. But I believe he came to popularity and prosperity at a very unique moment in time that changed the blueprint or at least raised the stakes. The country music industry was chugging on rather nicely in the late eighties and there was a return to the traditional music via the hat acts. George Strait and Randy Travis (although he never wore a hat as I recall) took the lead and they were filling arenas and making money. But Garth...he took it up a notch. Bam!

Around the same time period, Walmart was changing the way that consumers consumed. They were opening stores almost every day, guaranteeing the lowest prices and rapidly killing off ma and pa retail. Their demographics were rural America and in recorded music their market share for country music was big and getting bigger. When Garth entered the scene, he was fortunate enough to hold a marketing degree and the smarts to listen to a couple of sharp advisors, and they helped him partner up and crawl into bed with the Arkansas retailer and the game changed.

Books could be written on the subject but the bottom line is this: country music today is a unique and profitable entity that exists in a cultural bubble driven by a handful of major labels and publishers, radio conglomerates and syndicates, a couple of concert promoters and Walmart. The money is huge, it has operated fairly well outside of a rush to digital music, the fans are rabid and the music is secondary to the industry. Or so it seems to me this morning.

My twelve minutes of watching the CMA show last night made me remember just how far from country music we've drifted away. I saw three performances which could barely be considered twang despite a hat or two, and the staging and posing and music reminded me of what happens when the business people take control. They not only reap the rewards, they shift and adjust the culture and artistic process for profit; tradition, quality and integrity be damned.

As a kid from a northern city, I grew up listening to country because there was a certain magic in the music that grabbed me and I was enchanted. It wasn't always my first choice, but I found myself coming back to it time after time. And to be honest with you, I like Garth...both as a performer and a person. He looks you in the eyes when he talks to you, he speaks from the heart and he connects with his fans despite his fame like no other performer I've known.

But in his wake, he helped to set the table for this country music that we now are left with. And I won't be coming back again.

Views: 176

Tags: Garth Brooks, Walmart

Comment by Kim Ruehl on November 11, 2010 at 10:57am
I didn't bother with the CMA awards last night. My inclination is that they're not aimed at my demographic, for my kind of country music (or even my kind of pop music). But, I have to say Garth was a bit of a gateway drug for me. WalMart, on the other hand...well, I won't go there.
Comment by Kevin Brown on November 11, 2010 at 11:46am
I suppose it says something that my absolute favorite moment of Garth Brooks' career is the sketch he did on SNL with Will Ferrell about selling his soul to a very musically-challenged devil.
Comment by Adam Sheets on November 11, 2010 at 12:01pm
Kevin, that was a great sketch. And Will Ferrell's "music" during it ranks far above Garth's, in my opinion. I ended up not watching the CMAs, but I did hear about Miranda Lambert covering John Prine during the awards and looked up the video of it this morning. Although I really like Miranda Lambert, the cover was absolutely horrible. Of modern-day Nashville artists who are still popular among mainstream fans (which puts Dwight Yoakam and Marty Stuart out of the running), I only like Jamey Johnson, Alan Jackson, and George Strait. The rest are just mediocre pop.
Comment by Michael on November 11, 2010 at 1:08pm
When Gwyneth Paltrow is on the CMA show singing "country" to promote a movie she's just done about "country" and the NY Times thinks she sounds better than some some of the "country" artists...has commercial/popular country hit rock bottom?
Comment by Jack Williams on November 11, 2010 at 1:39pm
On Garth, all I can say is that my forced exposure to country radio (sometimes it's my wife's turn in the car) has led me to have some small appreciation for him.
Comment by on November 11, 2010 at 2:53pm
I watched the whole thing, and my favorite performers were Gwyneth Paltrow (nervous, but surprisingly compelling for someone who's primarily an actress) and Kid Rock (who sounds rootsier and more down-to-earth than just about any of Nashville's current darlings). I'm with the New York Times on this one, I guess.
Comment by Adam Sheets on November 11, 2010 at 2:55pm
I've heard a few songs from Kid Rock's upcoming album and while I doubt if I'll buy it, it does sound like a throwback to old-school country rock. More Eagles than Flying Burrito Brothers, but still better than Garth.
Comment by Hal Bogerd on November 11, 2010 at 3:55pm
Does the box set include unreleased Chris Gaines' tracks?
Comment by Easy Ed on November 11, 2010 at 5:13pm
For the record, that box set came out several years ago and I just grabbed the image to illustrate the partnership. I believe Garth bought all remaining copies of the Chris Gaines' CD and held a bonfire with them late one night in Oklahoma with Trisha cheering him on.
Comment by Bill Nudo on November 11, 2010 at 5:54pm
Man, I could go on and on about the dumpster that today's country music has gone into, and I could do the same as far as Garth Brooks goes, but I would just like to mention a couple of things.

What the younger generation is being fed, and told is country music isn't even close to what "real" country music is, or was. Oh, there are people out there who are still singing country music, radio doesn't play them, and they aren't talked about on our great media - television. Merle Haggard, Patty Loveless, Willie Nelson to name a few. Most of today's country fans don't even know who they are. I only saw about 1/2 hour by accident last night. I don't imagine that many under the age of 30 knew who Loretta Lynn even was. What really makes me nauseated is the fact that a girl like Taylor Swift who can't carry a tune in a bucket is making so much money and getting so much publicity, when guys like Merle Haggard have to continue to tour extensively to make a living.

Now, as far as Garth Brooks goes, here's what sickens me. This guy comes along back around the smae time that the great Alan Jackson does. He makes his first three albums, which are really good country albums. Then, he gradually decides that he wants to become the next Bruce Springsteen. And, believe me, being a 40 year fan of Bruce's, Garth never made it. All he did was scream, fly from ropes, yell some more, and make millions. But, did he remember country music? That's what made his name. The topper with me Brooks was when he brought out an album that was only in Walmart stores when it first came out. The product was put out with 6 different covers, but all the same songs. Garth Brooks fans traveled all over their particular part of the country so they could say they had all 6 different covers. That was the biggest scam that I've ever seen a recording artist pull, and at the expense of his fans. Guess what I did. I took my Garth Brooks CD's that I had at the time to my hometown record store and sold them to them for $2.00 apiece and never bought another Garth Brooks album again. I guarantee you that you will never see a guy like Merle Haggard do something like that to his fans. As far as I'm concerned Garth Brooks showed exactly what he was made of with that stunt, and it didn't bleed "country".


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.