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VOL. 132 | NO. 26 | Monday, February 6, 2017

Brooks' and Yearwood's Memphis Stand Highlights Changes

By Bill Dries

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Garth Brooks keeps score. Be it house records at places he’s played in his long career, to who has the high point on his current tour with his wife, Trisha Yearwood.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood did four shows in three days last week at FedExForum.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

So when their current tour came through Memphis last week for four shows over three days at FedExForum, Brooks was quick to note that the first show only had advance sales that filled about half of the 20,000 seat arena.

“I know they are going to come and they are going to come hungry and they are going to come to sing. I’m going to work you guys like rented mules,” he said before the show. “Come on, this is the place where music was invented.”

Brooks and Yearwood are more than familiar with Memphis.

They’ve been through here a lot in the last two years with appearances at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and homebuilding projects by Habitat for Humanity in North Memphis with former President Jimmy Carter.

As they met the press Thursday afternoon before sound check, Brooks said this trip is different and more on his terms – which would be music and entertainment.

Yearwood, who explored the city’s food culture several years ago on her Food Network show, did an episode of her "Coffee Talk" program from Memphis Saturday.

Brooks’ band includes Bobby Wood on keyboards. He’s known as one of the Memphis Boys, the house band at Chips Moman’s American Sound hit factory of the 1960s-70s at Chelsea Street and Danny Thomas Boulevard, not too far from one of the Habitat houses Brooks helped build recently.

Wood has been one of the “G-Men,” as Brooks’ band is known, for 37 years starting with Brooks’ first album. And Brooks said Wood will be featured on an upcoming live album.

With the start of the new year, Brooks folded his “Ghost Tunes” platform for distributing his music and became what he termed “100 percent” part of Amazon Music Unlimitied, the digital service that makes his music available for download.

“It’s cool, so far,” Brooks said, adding that the business arrangement is still in its “honeymoon” period.

He and Yearwood both talked about changes in a business they each entered in their mid-20s – an age now considered “long in the tooth,” Yearwood said.

“I have always gravitated toward someone who just makes me believe what they are singing,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be the best voice on the planet. I want to believe what they are singing.”

Brooks was also critical of music companies for not giving artists a chance to become entertainers.

“Today because of technology, if you get close they can fix it. The truth is if I’m at a record label and a woman walks in and she’s drop-dead gorgeous, I’m going to go, ‘OK,’” he said. “It used to be you had to hear her sing first. Now I think, ‘Whatever it is, I can fix it. If she can sing that’s just a bonus.’”

The result, he said, goes to what some critics say is a dearth of women in country music, what he calls “icons.”

“They can take years to build,” Brooks said. “As far as an entertainer … our record labels are not investing in artists like they used to.”

The set list for Brooks and Yearwood was built around some basics with plenty of room for experimentation.

“When you are lucky enough to have a run of shows, you have a very specific plan on what is going to happen,” he said, contrasting several shows in one place to a one-night stand. “There’s going to be a skeleton of songs that you had better play or they are going to be waiting for you with a rope out at the bus.”

Beyond that, the set list included covers of everything from James Taylor, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Bob Seger to Randy Travis and Keith Whitley – Travis, Whitley and George Strait covers are part of Brooks’ mission to introduce “real country music” to ticket buyers not old enough to remember them.

“Because for me, Garth Brooks isn’t real country music – Haggard, Strait those guys,” Brooks said. “For me, that’s a real fun thing to do.”

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