He’s one of the biggest-selling recording artists in history, and he doesn’t sport a sequined glove or unspool a string of urban rap.
He’s Garth Brooks, the artist who has put sass back into country music. Brooks will be uncorking his unique brand of bubbly on Thursday when he stars in a concert from Central Park on HBO at 8 p.m.
What makes this round-faced minstrel, whose roots are planted in rock, so phenomenal is no big secret, he says.
“We’re just following our heart. The one thing that everybody in this world has in common - the only thing they have in common - is that they have a heart. They might not speak the same language. They might not listen to the same music. But they’ve all got hearts.”
With hit albums like “No Fences,” “Ropin’ the Wind” and “In Pieces,” Brooks has managed to plug into the national pulse. He has already sold 62 million albums and stored away enough music awards to start his own trophy warehouse.
Though the 35-year-old singer grew up in Yukon, Okla., the youngest son of vocalist Colleen Carroll, Brooks’ major musical influence were his two older brothers.
“We weren’t allowed to date until we were like 16, so I went (to concerts) with my older brothers. And none of them went to country music shows.”
What he did see were the heavy rockers. “I had every Kiss album there was and went to the shows. And really what I saw when I went to the show was, hey, these guys aren’t giving me my record or my album. They’re giving me my whole money’s worth. Because what I’m seeing here, I don’t see on albums.”
That lesson has prompted Brooks to deliver more in his live concerts than a safe rehash of his vocalizing. “I think it’s a big downfall of anybody that feels like they should show their fans what the CD shows them,” he said.
“Unless you’re going to take the price of that CD off your concert ticket, I think it’s real important you give them something that’s worth their money.”
If Brooks seems different from country stars who have preceded him, it’s not by accident. He grew up tuned into Billy Joel, James Taylor and Elton John.
“Guys like Journey and Boston and Styx, I had all the eight-track tapes in high school and that was my thing. But I couldn’t sing that.
“A mortal human being couldn’t get away with doing that very long. And I was driving to the store with my dad in the summer of my senior year, and this lady said, ‘Here’s a new kid from Texas, and I think you’re going to dig his sound. His name is George Strait.’ And all of a sudden it hit me. It was like, my God, I LOVE this sound.”
Much of the music of the ‘70s had lost its touch with the lyrics, thinks Brooks. And that is another facet of country music that compels him.
“I think the lyric is becoming everyday life - the 10 o’clock news put to music. And I feel that people are looking for something to learn from,” he said. “You’re driving down the road and something comes on. If it moves you and makes you think, why don’t you want to do that instead of letting dust gather in your blood, veins and in your brain? … If you’re upset after you listen to a song, that’s good. As long as it brings an emotion, then you know you’re living.”
Brooks and his wife, Sandy, have three daughters. Though there were some shaky times, now he says, “We’re in the good years because of the work that she put into the marriage. And I just hope that I can try and continue being a husband and a father to her satisfaction.”
Music is clearly something he can’t live without. “Music is a very, very powerful thing - passion and emotion - I would bet on that before I’d bet on the economy of any nation as far as pulling a nation through the worst of times,” he said.