A&E’s two-night Biography event Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On dives headlong into the complicated psyche of the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history. With commentary from musical friends James Taylor, Billy Joel, and Keith Urban, and in-depth interviews with Brooks, his three daughters, ex-wife Sandy Mahl, and wife Trisha Yearwood, the two-part special explores Brooks’ childhood, his rise to fame, and the personal struggles that would accompany his becoming, on a global scale, the most famous country artist of the Nineties. Here are 12 of the most fascinating things we learned from the documentary, premiering December 2nd and December 3rd at 9:00 p.m. ET on A&E.
1. Brooks has a special retreat on his Tennessee farm where he goes to clear his head.
On his farm in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, just north of Nashville, there’s a spot Brooks calls “the Point.” It’s where he goes to write songs or to clear his mind. “This is where a lot of questions get answered,” he says as he pulls up to the spot in his truck. There, he lights a fire, surveys the scenic landscape, and talks about his parents’ respective roles in shaping his character.
2. His brother taught him how to play guitar.
Brooks was the baby, the last of six children, in a blended family. He notes that “the dynamic of our family was 120 miles an hour, 24 hours a day. It was never quiet, it was never calm.” His brother, Mike Brooks, says that Garth was “a clown. He was a sweet, sweet-natured kid. It was always kind of, ‘How can I get my space in the group.’” Mike recalls that during family nights, each of the children would take turns entertaining and that Garth managed to excel at guitar not long after he taught him the first few chords he would learn.
3. Brooks’ mother was a 1950s country singer.
Colleen Carroll, Brooks’ mom, was a singer in the Fifties and appeared on the popular music show Ozark Jubilee, as well as recording a handful of country singles. She retired from performing to raise her six children. “She gave up a ton for us,” says Brooks. The film features rare footage of his mother singing the Bob Wills classic “San Antonio Rose” on Ozark Jubilee.
4. He and his brothers were terrified of their stern father.
Brooks’ dad was a Korean War veteran who served in the Marine Corps, and a Golden Gloves boxing champion. “That fear that that man instilled in all of us kept us on track, and that’s how it had to be,” he says. “Even though us boys didn’t know it then, it was the greatest thing for us. He told us, ‘I don’t care if it’s tiddlywinks, you’re gonna be on a team. You’re gonna be part of something bigger than you can be by yourself.’”
5. Brooks sold boots until he could get his career afloat.
Brooks’ ex-wife, Sandy, recalls their first wedding anniversary in Nashville. “We were getting ready to move into a three-bedroom house with seven other people,” she says. “We had five guys, two wives, an infant child, a dog, and a cat. In one house in Hendersonville, Tennessee,” Brooks adds. Short on cash, both Garth and Sandy would get jobs at a local boot store, which kept them afloat for the first year they were in town.
6. It was a songwriter who first put Brooks and Trisha Yearwood together — in the studio.
Songwriter Kent Blazy, who wrote “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “Ain’t Goin’ Down,” both of which became huge hits for Brooks, was impressed by Garth’s ability to sing songs from multiple genres, so he hired him to record demos of his songs. Blazy was also working with another aspiring artist at the time, a Georgia-born singer named Trisha Yearwood. “What I remember about that day, singing on the same microphone and it was a duet, felt immediately like I’d been singing with him forever,” Yearwood says of the man who would become her husband in 2005.
7. The birth of Brooks’ first child had paparazzi jockeying for photographs at the hospital.
Garth’s first child, daughter Taylor, and songwriter Tony Arata’s first daughter were born one day apart at Nashville’s Baptist Hospital. Arata recalls being able to wander the hospital corridors, while Brooks and his wife were in a room that was guarded by two Tennessee State troopers tasked with preventing paparazzi from trying to take photos of baby Taylor. “I was stunned to figure out that it was big money, whoever got the photograph of the first child,” says Brooks.
8. Brooks’ daughters all share some of the entertainer’s personality traits.
Taylor is currently in seminary at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University, in the second year of the Master’s program in Theological Studies. “Taylor is quiet courage,” says Brooks. “Taylor will trade her life for someone she doesn’t know.” “Intelligence, stubbornness, will,” is how Brooks describes second daughter August. “You’re gonna have to kill her to get her to move.” Youngest daughter Allie is seen performing the Keith Whitley (and Alison Krauss) hit “When You Say Nothing at All.”
9. Trisha Yearwood is a staunch Chris Gaines defender.
“Any time anyone ever makes a joke about Chris Gaines I want to punch them in the face,” says Brooks’ wife Trisha Yearwood of the alter-ego pop artist Brooks created in 1999. Gaines was intended to be the central character in a film but the project never materialized. The LP would go on to sell two million copies, in spite of the critical backlash and public confusion that accompanied it. “My wife calls it her favorite Garth Brooks record,” Brooks says. “If you sit there going, ‘Well, that’s not right is it?’ My guess is you haven’t heard it yet.”
10. Brooks received a wake-up call that prompted him to retire from music.
After his mom died and his marriage to first wife Sandy ended, Brooks was with his daughters when Taylor pronounced the word “both” in a way that only his daughters’ nanny did. “That’s when I realized someone else was raising my children,” he says. The realization was a wake-up call for Brooks, who decided to retire from music until his daughters were grown. Every day for the next 14 years, Garth and Sandy would take turns with the children at their respective houses. “He was a big dinner person, says Taylor. “He liked to make dinner and could not cook to save his life.” After dinners that included frozen chicken and boxed macaroni and cheese, “we were real excited when Trisha came,” she says. On a more serious note, when Garth asked Trisha to marry him, Sandy would tell him, “I think this is a really good move for you, and I think this is a really good move for our children.” Taylor admits that when Yearwood and Brooks first got together she would go out in the yard to catch tarantulas and put them in plastic bags in the freezer to frighten her.
11. Brooks’ kids didn’t have cushy children-of-a-celebrity lives.
To instill a responsible work ethic into his children, and to prove to himself that their privilege as the kids of a notable figure was not taken for granted — a lesson he learned from John Kennedy Jr. — Garth would employ his daughters every summer to handle a project on the farm, including building a bridge during one of the hottest summers in Oklahoma history. “They did everything,” says Brooks. “They built a 56-foot compression bridge.”
12. The superstar once gave a concession stand worker a chance to experience his fame.
When Brooks came out of retirement for his first world tour in 14 years, he played the Staples Center in Los Angeles. At the venue he encountered a young woman working at one of the concession stands who wanted to know what it was like to be Garth Brooks. He took her out onstage with him and introduced her. The crowd began cheering and chanting her name. He said, “Now you have to tell them goodbye.” “I don’t want to,” she said. “That’s what it’s like,” he told her.