Brooks heads for Country Hall of Fame, looks ahead

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Garth Brooks

Country singer Garth Brooks (AP photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Garth Brooks will spend Sunday looking back when he’s inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, touching on some of the greatest moments of the most electric career in country history.

“It’s so exciting,” Brooks said. “I’m trying to be somewhat professional or somewhat have manners or something, but I’m probably going to be Garth and fall apart.”

Unlike most honorees, whose best performances are usually behind them at this point, there’s a chance the semi-retired superstar could continue a career that helped country music evolve from a regional sound to an international phenomenon.

At 50, Brooks has been mulling a return, occasionally hinting at what’s to come. He went into retirement about a decade ago so he could be around the house while his three daughters grew up, and he’s mostly stuck to that plan – though he did agree to a three-year stint in Las Vegas that recently ended and he’s played charity concerts, including a nine-gig run following the Nashville flood in 2010.

Two of his daughters have graduated high school and moved on to college and Brooks said in an interview before the recent Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame induction that he and his wife Trisha Yearwood have been kicking around ideas about what the second act of his career might entail.

“We’re just going to start,” Brooks said. “It will be fun. We’ve got our youngest baby (Allie), this is her junior year, and she’s really in touch. Now, down from three to one (at home), you spend a lot more time with that one. She’s in on every plan. She knows all the decisions. She’s really well-educated in what’s going on.”

“I think she’s ready for us to go on the road because she’ll be home by herself,” Yearwood joked. “She’s doing every after-school activity you can do. ‘You don’t just want to sit and stare at us?’ It’s really fun.”

Fun might be the perfect word to describe Brooks’ one-of-a-kind career. The Oklahoma native, who will be inducted with Connie Smith and Hargus “Pig” Robbins, got his start playing for tips in bars near the Oklahoma State campus and went on to become the third highest-selling act in U.S. history. He has sold more than 128 million albums – more than anyone except The Beatles and Elvis Presley. Brooks could start adding to that tally by making a simple announcement to Music Row: Send me your songs.

“You talk about songwriters, the great ones can birth a career, but the greatest ones can bring life back into one,” Brooks said. “So we’ll be looking hard for songs just to see what the future might hold for us.”

One of the songwriters who’d like to make a contribution if the singer returns is Kim Williams, who has written four No. 1 hits with Brooks.

“I think it will be incredible,” Williams said. “I don’t know if the (album) sales will ever be what they were because of downloading and all those things have changed. But one thing I can guarantee you is people will flock to see him. I think he proved it when he came down and did the flood shows. He sold out nine shows.”

Scott Borchetta, who as head of Big Machine Label Group put out Brooks’ last platinum-selling greatest hits package, said there remains a hunger to see Brooks on stage. “I can tell you I don’t think Garth Brooks is done by any stretch of the imagination,” Borchetta said. “There’s a huge fan base out there. There’s a huge desire. The man lives to perform.”

George Strait said in an email interview that Brooks “transcends country music.” His gifts were apparent immediately when he arrived in Nashville, and they retain their gravity even in his retirement.

“He opened a show for me somewhere, and I remember someone telling me he was sitting on the stage hanging his feet over singing to the crowd,” Strait recalled. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m not sure this is going to work out for the boy.’ Hah, what do I know? It’s been amazing to watch how he exploded into the biggest-selling artist of the time and then laid it all down to raise his kids.”

If that time’s coming to an end, Jerrod Niemann thinks whatever’s next will be spectacular. Niemann, who wrote songs with Brooks before breaking through as a performer, said many of the folks at country radio he’s talked to the last few years have said they’re excited about a possible return with a full album and will support Brook with airplay. Plus, he said, Brooks’ philosophy has always been to go big or go home.

“He’s very competitive but at the same time very passionate and genuine,” Niemann said. “That’s the beautiful part of him. He wants to win, as long as it’s not at the price of somebody else. I think if he’s had all this time to think about it, he’s definitely got many tricks up his sleeve.”

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