Regardless of how you feel about them, it’s undeniable that Waylon Jennings and Garth Brooks are two of the most influential names in the history of country music.
Obviously, they were from different eras of country music, and from the time of his meteoric rise in the ’90s Garth was almost immediately hit with criticism of being too “pop” for country.
Including (allegedly) from Waylon Jennings.
Though he never really confirmed it in public, Waylon was reportedly not the biggest fan of Garth and his brand of country music. And there have been plenty of alleged quotes attributed to Waylon that seemingly show how he felt about Garth.
There was, of course, that one quote that we’ve probably all heard:
“Garth Brooks did for country music what pantyhose did for finger f*cking.”
Now, whether or not Waylon ever actually said this about Garth is still up for debate. If he did it was never on the record, and it’s hard to tell where the quote as coming from Waylon really originated (Saving Country Music did a great deep dive to try to track down its origins).
But there’s another quote from Waylon talking about Garth that has a little more reliability behind it.
In his book Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face Of Nashville, Bruce Feiler recounted a quote from Waylon on Garth that showed how the country legend really felt about the then-relative newcomer:
“He’s the most insincere person I’ve ever seen. I remember a few years ago an old buddy of mine who worked with Ernest Tubb was giving him an old record. He tried so hard to cry, but he just couldn’t do it.
He thinks it’s going to last forever. He’s wrong.”
Garth crying? No way…
So yeah, even if some of the quotes aren’t exactly verifiable, I think everybody knew how Waylon felt about Garth Brooks.
And even Garth himself claims that he didn’t like him, but was never quite sure why.
In fact, according to Garth, he never even met Waylon:
“No, never met Mr. Jennings. And for some reason man, I guess I was the guy that he targeted. You know, it’s kind of weird because all the people why I’m in the business, those people say the reason they were in the business was Waylon.
So everyone loves him, and he’s a legend, and I just kind of let it go. I never knew what to say.”
Of course I think Garth probably knows the real reason a traditional outlaw country artist wasn’t a fan of the genre-pushing mega-star who made country music concerts a pop-like production unlike any other artist had done before:
“Yeah, I was definitely the guy that he targeted.
And it’s funny kinda being the non-traditionalist then, and now everyone looks at you like, ‘Your stuff is as country as it gets.’ So that’s kind of a weird view. It was tough for me because he was a country legend and for some reason I was the guy that got the brunt of it.
I never took it that personal. I just think he was addressing the different sound in country music and the changing of the guard. That’s tough for anybody to handle. The guy’s a legend and deserves nothing but respect.”
Garth always keeping it classy.
I will say, as much as I’ve heard about Garth, I’ve never heard a single person say anything other than he’s the nicest guy in the world. And I believe it. Is he a little goofy and corny? Sure. But I have no doubt that he’s probably a genuinely good dude and that the “nice guy” persona is actually sincere.
So the whole “feud” between Waylon and Garth? It was actually pretty one-sided, and seemed to boil down to Waylon not believing that Garth and his new brand of “pop” country music were sincere enough for a genre that is (or was…) built on honesty in its music.
Of course, Waylon may have missed the mark when he said that Garth wouldn’t last in country music, because the guy managed to take a decade off and still come back and sell out stadiums and arenas all over the world.
But man, I miss the days when artists like Waylon weren’t afraid to speak their mind.
If we had a few more like Waylon around to call out some of the new artists today, I have a feeling mainstream country music would sound a lot better than it does right now.
The Most “Outlaw” Thing Willie Nelson Ever Did
Willie Nelsonhas some pretty wild stories to his name from his younger years out on the road, most of which are almost too unbelievable to make up.
From his (alleged) 9-hour sex marathon, to the true story of how he got his nickname “Shotgun Willie,” to the time his ex-wife tied him up and beat him with a broom, he’s lived a true outlaw life that you usually only read about in books.
And of course Willie, along with his friend Waylon Jennings , were pioneers of the outlaw country movement in the 1970’s.
But in a 1988 interview with SPIN, Waylon admitted that the outlaw movement they were so influential in was more about marketing than anything else:
“You know what, let’s get all that up front, the way it really was. That was to merchandise and sell records. I remember when they were gonna call that album ‘The Outlaws,’ and I had been called that before because I had an album out called ‘Ladies Love Outlaws.’
But I tell you, I argued against that because there was a group called the Outlaws. A great group, and we probably sold some records on the strength of people thinkin’ it was that group, because it says ‘Wanted: The Outlaws.’
I argued with them about it until we were about an inch away from them changing their minds, but it did work out pretty good.”
While I think there’s quite a few stories about him that suggest otherwise (like the time he rode Buddy Holly’s motorcycle around in his hotel room, and once a ton of cocaine down the toilet during a DEA raid at the studio), he insists there honestly wasn’t much else to it.
Of course, he always had such a unique way of putting things, and used his good friend Willie Nelson as an example of the reality of what their lives really were in the music industry:
“No. No big story behind it.
About the closest thing that Willie ever did to bein’ an outlaw is that he probably came to town and double-parked on Music Row.”
Hysterical… what I would give to have one beer with Waylon and just shoot the shit about life.
And when the interviewer told Waylon he actually had a “Willie for President” bumper sticker on his car, Waylon told him that’s the last person he should be voting for:
“You do? Well burn that thing. If there’s anything you don’t want, Hoss, is Willie Nelson to be president.
I mean, you don’t even want him to be Secretary of — you don’t even want him to be dogcatcher.”
They just don’t make ’em like Waylon these days.
And during a performance of “Good Hearted Woman,” his 1971 #1 hit with Willie, Waylon sarcastically opened by saying the same thing about how they fought the system by double-parking on Music Row:
“Well, I think it means fight the system, you know? Me and Willie used to come to town and double-park on Music Row.”
I mean, parking tickets can be a real bitch, especially in a city with limited parking like Nashville, so more power to ’em…
Clearly, though, they did a whole lot more than that, and their authentic music has stood the test of time and reached across generations of music fans.
It’s crazy how just telling the truth is the most rebellious thing you can even still do in Nashville.