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 Waylon 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.”
Sounds like there were no hard feelings from Garth.
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.