By Beverly Keel
DECEMBER 1, 1997: "Garth two, EMI zero." That's what former Capitol Records head Jimmy Bowen reportedly said when he heard that Garth Brooks had insisted on the removal of yet another Capitol president. The news couldn't have surprised Bowen, who now lives in Hawaii. "Garth is going to battle with whomever is the president of the label," he told the Scene this summer.
But winning the battle may just cost Brooks the war in the long run. "Somewhere there'll be a toll for him to pay for all of this," says one music industry insider. "If he wins, the other artists will think it's at their expense. If he loses, he'll be viewed as an egomaniac. What is the win? If it's money, he's already told people that he has more than enough."
Earlier this month, EMI, the parent company of Capitol, announced that it had replaced producer and company head Scott Hendricks with Pat Quigley, who had most recently served as executive VP/general manager. Quigley, who was with EMI in New York before being transferred to Nashville, masterminded Brooks' Central Park concert this past August. Last week, Capitol sent home--with pay--five executives: Doug Baker, Mark Brown, Donna Duarte, Susan Levy, and Lorie Lytle. They'll remain on leave until Hendricks decides whether to accept EMI's offer to open a Virgin Records office here. If he doesn't, they'll be looking for new jobs.
Scott Stem, Brooks' publicist, says Music Row's current perception of the singer isn't accurate, and as time goes by, the truth will be learned. He says Brooks did not ask for Hendricks' removal, but merely wanted Quigley to be on equal footing with Hendricks. "He never asked for Scott to be gone," Stem says.
This recent power play has also put the fear of Garth into the label's other acts, who are concerned that their careers won't receive the attention or resources they deserve. The manager for one Capitol artist admits that he's worried, but it's too soon to know what the consequences will be. Says another industry insider, "Any time one artist demands to control the label's output, it pretty much has got to scare any other artists on the label. A label should promote every act equally and ensure that the priorities are spaced out to make sure everyone will get their shot.
"The fact that [Brooks] has that much power says he should start his own label. It's not really fair to let one artist have that much control over the label. Nine times out of 10, labelmates are jealous of each other. Garth never has to wonder if his labelmates are jealous. He just burned a bridge."
Again, Stem says this isn't the complete story. "A lot of people think Garth runs Capitol now, and that isn't the truth." Stem asserts that acts may actually be helped by Brooks' move in the long term. "He understands business and how it's played. He has brought a little more business respect of artists that hasn't been there, and other artists will hopefully benefit from that as years go by."
At least one executive says the firing is good news for his own label. Before, he had to compete with Hendricks (who has produced Brooks & Dunn, John Michael Montgomery, and many others) when attempting to lure new acts to his label. No one knows anything about Quigley.
Stories are now beginning to surface that support both Brooks and Hendricks: Some people say that the star reportedly screamed at Capitol employees, and he apparently banged his head on a table when he disagreed with the former label head. On the flip side, other Capitol acts were allegedly so unhappy with Hendricks that, when given the choice between Quigley and Hendricks, all went with the new guy.
Music workers and fans alike have been polarized on the Garth issue. "They either love him and think he's God, or they hate him and think he's Satan," says a radio executive. "A lot of people here think they're getting a peek at the man behind the curtain."
The community's strong feelings--both pro and con--quickly rose to the surface on Gerry House's WSIX show last week. The disc jockey announced that he had received an advance copy of Brooks' new LP, Sevens, telling listeners he would only play the record if they wanted to hear it. The first two callers told him not to. One caller said, "I liked him in the beginning, but he's been pushed down our throats." Another caller said, "He should pay penance to Nashville." Several pro-Brooks calls came in before the station broadcast the strongest sentiment of the morning: "Garth Brooks can walk back to Oklahoma," said one caller, who vowed to change the station if a Brooks song was played.
Angel or devil, right or wrong, Brooks is now at the center of a major PR bungle. "His record may be marketed right, but he's got a real reputation problem," one Music Row publicist says. "To remedy that, he needs to do something warm, fuzzy, and altruistic for the community."
Brooks can be faulted for his enormous ego, but EMI must shoulder much of the blame for this debacle. The label's first blunder was to renegotiate Brooks' deal after the success of 1991's Ropin' the Wind (which accounted for 85 percent of EMI's album sales at the time). According to Bowen's autobiography, Rough Mix, the label offered the singer a joint venture that allowed him to receive more than half of the profits on his record sales. And not only did the contract give Brooks total creative control of his music, it allowed him to turn in a finished LP whenever he wanted to. The singer used this particular stipulation to his advantage, holding onto his latest project until the label had been reorganized to his satisfaction.
While behind-the-scenes stories continue to emerge in Music City, two looming questions remain: How will the album sell, and how will Brooks' popularity be affected? "As a whole, I don't think consumers really care [about the label upheaval]," Stem says. "Outside of Nashville, people really don't care."
This week, Capitol is shipping 5 million units of Sevens, an overly ambitious number, considering that his previous album only sold 3.6 million copies, according to Soundscan. In fact, Soundscan (which doesn't calculate sales from record clubs and other promotions) shows that a regular Brooks studio album hasn't sold 5 million copies since 1991. Stem says the shipment merely fulfills the 5 million orders that the label received from retailers.
Capitol is spending up to $20 million on this project, three times the amount it spent on 1995's Fresh Horses. Does that mean the album will have to sell nearly 11 million copies--three times the sales of Fresh Horses--to be considered a success? Attorneys and financial experts speculate that Sevens will have to sell 3 million to 6 million copies before it will even see a profit. Stem says he doesn't know what Brooks' personal goal is for the album. "Obviously, he wants as many people as possible to know the album is out there, then it's their choice if they pick it up. He just wants the music heard."
The first week's sales figures will be released next Wednesday; they should receive an extra boost, since this weekend marks the beginning of the holiday buying season (which accounts for about 40 percent of country's annual sales). This is an event record, which means that first-week sales will likely be high. Consumer curiosity will play a big factor early on, but radio success will drive later sales--and that may be what matters most, if Capitol is to recoup its investment.
No matter how much money is spent on marketing, the music will sell--or not sell--itself, as was the case with Fresh Horses. The album will be popular because it has the music Brooks' fans like to hear him sing-- down-to-earth tunes with universal themes. Sevens is neither exceptional nor disappointing, and sales probably won't achieve the success that Garth experienced during his heyday in the early '90s.
The album does contain several potential radio hits--"Cowboy Cadillac," "Longneck Bottle," and "She's Gonna Make It"--but it doesn't boast a country standard like "The Dance" or "Friends in Low Places." But no country album this year has delivered anything equal to any of those Brooks smashes. They were once-in-a-lifetime songs that represent the best of what this genre has to offer.
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