When Garth Brooks first hosted Saturday Night Live on February 28, 1998, he naturally performed as the show’s musical guest as well. But on this day 18 years ago when Brooks made his second go-round as host of the long-running sketch-comedy series, he stepped aside to allow a different artist his moment in the spotlight. Well, sort of.
That evening’s musical guest was the country superstar’s mysterious rock alter ego Chris Gaines – essentially Garth in a wig. Just two months earlier, Brooks had released the album Garth Brooks…In the Life of Chris Gaines, a pop project that was to serve as an introduction to Gaines’ life and career. The ambitious artist had plans to make a film about the fictional singer – who, according to the backstory Brooks had concocted, was born in Australia, moved to L.A. when he was five and released his Grammy-winning debut album, Straight Jacket, in 1989.
Along with the album, Brooks also appeared in a wildly eccentric NBC special in which he performed songs from the Gaines catalog and spoke about Gaines’ first band, a teen pop group called Crush. The part-concert/part-interview even included “Did You Know” cards with Gaines trivia like “Chris was almost killed in a violent car crash in 1992. Chris spent the next two years undergoing extensive plastic surgery on his face, shoulder and hands.”
The highlight of the special, which aired in September 1999, was Brooks offering fans their first glimpse of Gaines, whom he said “kind of looked like Prince,” albeit heavier. “I think that’s a damn good looking man right there,” Brooks quipped when the image of Gaines appeared behind him onstage.
Gaines’ appearance on SNL was equally bizarre, but you have to commend Brooks for committing so fully to the stunt. It was method acting of De Niro caliber, as “Gaines” sang, “some they in it for money, some they in it for love, some they in it for romance, my baby’s all of the above” in the R&B-inflected “Way of the Girl.”
Brooks also poked fun at Gaines with the help of cast member Tracy Morgan, who accosts Brooks after a sketch to advise him to “drop Chris Gaines like a hot plate,” because “you can see his gut through his outfit. If you were that big, they’d be calling you Girth Brooks.”
The real Brooks, who was named Entertainer of the Year at the 51st CMA Awards, is currently in the midst of a world tour. Alas, Chris Gaines has yet to make an appearance.