Garth Brooks Bulks Up

Garth Brooks Bulks Up illustrated by Isabelle Cardinal.

Isabelle Cardinal

This article first appeared in the July 26th issue of Billboard Magazine.

Garth Brooks’ July 10 reveal of a new deal with Sony Music (an album on Pearl/RCA Nashville is due around Black Friday, and will be sold digitally on his own site, sidestepping iTunes) and an upcoming global tour had tongues wagging: Does he still carry the clout of a country superstar? “Our listeners say they’d buy tickets today,” says Bruce Logan, vp country programming for CBS Radio. (Only one date, Sept. 4 in Illinois, has been announced so far.) Adds Kris Daniels, PD of KCYE Las Vegas: “A lot’s changed, but he is Garth Brooks. If the music is country and hip, it’ll be a slam dunk.”

That’s what Sony’s CEO is counting on. According to sources, Doug Morris pulled out all the stops to land the deal, beating Big Machine, whose CEO, Scott Borchetta, says, “Ultimately, the deals Garth wants to strike aren’t aligned with what Big Machine has to offer.”

Such a gargantuan launch is justified for an artist who has sold 134 million albums worldwide (his latest, 2007’s "Ultimate Hits," sold 2.5 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan), but if it’s the industry’s confidence Brooks, 52, is seeking, he may have his work cut out for him. “I don’t know if he can do it anymore,” confides one senior label executive. “Radio will play him in the beginning, because it won’t want to miss out on promotions for show tickets, but will the play sustain?” Clear Channel executive vp Clay Hunnicutt, who oversees country programming, says that’s missing the point. “The twentysomethings know the legend of Garth Brooks but haven’t had the full-on Garth experience. Now, they’ll get that.”