Billy Joel Says He Thought Country Music “Sounded Dumb” Until Guys Like Garth Brooks & Travis Tritt Brought Rock ‘N Roll Into Country

Garth Brooks Billy Joel
Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall of Fame

Legendary singer-songwriter Billy Joel just released his first new song in 17 years titled “Turn The Lights Back On” and safe to say the internet is ablaze.

There are few artists on the planet that are as well known as the New York City native whose classic songs like “Piano Man”, “We Didn’t Start The Fire”, “Vienna”, and about 100 others can be heard at every wedding, bar, karaoke night, and gathering of adults aged 40 to 75 where wine is drank and music is played.

While no one thinks this release means a resurgence to the astronomical level of fame and touring he once had is upon us, it is cool to see 74 year old Billy out there doing his thing.

But as happens almost every time I hear Billy Joel’s name, I think of his song “Shameless”; more specifically the Garth Brooks cover from his 1991 album Ropin’ The Wind, which went on to be a number one hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart.

I’d never really given thought to Joel’s opinion on Garth covering his song but it turns out he addressed in during an intimate Q&A portion of a show in Nuremberg, Germany back in 1995.

And man was it a wild answer.

An audience member brought the topic up and once it was translated from German (and the translator was informed it was Garth Brooks, not Garth Crooks) Billy launched into a 6 minute response which featured a number of impromptu performances that’s well worth the listen.

“The funny thing is, when I wrote the song “Shameless” … I thought I was Jimi Hendrix.”

This started the first of many impersonations contained in the answer, with Billy pretending to be Jimi and saying that he sings like he was always chewing gum.

He then continued:

“And Garth Brooks took it and made it into a big country/western hit which was fantastic to me because I never had a record played on country/western radio. Country/western radio is very very strict, they would only play country/western artists.

I’m very grateful to Garth Brooks for making something that I wrote available to hear, to people who wouldn’t normally have heard the music that I do.”

While he certainly gave Garth some credit with that answer, I do have a few comments.

First, I doubt there were many people at the time who were first introduced to Billy Joel via Garth Brooks. I’m sure there were some but certainly it wasn’t a large number.

Second, I don’t think it’s that weird that country radio would only play country artists. Today that’s certainly changed, but hey, it’s one of the many reasons we look back fondly at the 90’s.

Billy went on to talk and sing about his experience with country music, and simply writing down the words from his spur of the moment song (in a fake country accent) about what he thought country music was doesn’t do it justice so please watch the video. This one starts around the 3:24 mark.

“Well I went into town the other night
To see if I could start a fight
I felt so mean that I was going nuts
Well I felt so downright mean you see 
That when some dude bumped into me
I went and I stuck a pitchfork in his guts”

Honestly, not awful for right off the top of his head but hey, that’s why he’s Billy Joel. The song continued and there’s a choice line in there that I’d bet he’s hoping doesn’t resurface to much in today’s climate…

He then went back to talking about Garth’s involvement with country:

“Over the years it’s become hybrid, it’s changed. Garth Brooks brought a lot of rock and roll into country music. People like Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks, they grew up listening to me and the Rolling Stones and they brought a certain amount of popular music into country/western. 

Now I changed my opinion about country/western music because at first I thought it sounded kind of dumb.”

Again, he launched into an impression of what he thought country music was that you have to hear to understand. This one is at the 5:28 mark, before continuing:

“And then about 1964, 63, I heard Ray Charles, who was a Blues singer, a black man who sings the blues, did a country/western album and all of a sudden I got it. I like country/western music!”

So his response to Garth covering his song looped in and out of demeaning country music impressions and wound up with Ray Charles getting the credit? Man, that was confusing and entertaining and somehow it all makes sense?

What ever path it took for Billy Joel to like country music is good enough for me and that’s how I feel about all fans.

Sure, it’s better if you just start and stay with Sierra Ferrell, Turnpike Troubadours, Tyler Childers, etc., but I was hooked by Eric Church, Florida-Georgia Line, and Rascal Flatts and then had my mind blown when I heard the good stuff.

At the end of the day, it’s not how you got here that matters, it’s that you got here that matters.

So shoutout to Billy Joel and country music fans everywhere.

Here’s Garth covering “Shameless” live back in 1991.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock