Back in 1999, Garth Brooks was on top of the country music world and decided to kick it up a notch and take over the rock industry next. But instead of just simply releasing a Garth Brooks rock album, he created an elaborate character, an alter ego if you will, named Chris Gaines.
With a soul patch and a long black wig, “Chris Gaines” was envisioned as the Ziggy Stardust to Brooks’ David Bowie. However, that’s not how audiences viewed it. As intriguing as the new persona was, Chris Gaines ultimately became the biggest embarrassment of Garth Brooks’ career.
Here is a look back at one of the strangest instances in musical history.
It wasn’t like Garth Brooks just debuted a Chris Gaines album; he released a Gaines greatest hits complication. If that wasn’t confusing enough, fans were also wondering why the singer was dressed like a goth teenager. He only made things worse when he pretended everyone should have known about this alter ego of his.
The album, entitled Chris Gaines’ Greatest Hits, was apparently the highlights of successful solo albums like Gaines’ “debut” album, Straitjacket, whose cover was a picture of Gaines in a straitjacket – surrounded by naughty nurses.
The Greatest Hits album was supposed to be a “comeback” for Gaines in order to promote his new solo album, The Lamb. This is all very confusing since there was no previous album. In fact, The Lamb didn’t even come out because the Greatest Hits album ended up taking the largest nosedive of Brooks’ career.
Generally speaking, the album did pretty well, selling over two million copies worldwide! But compared to Brooks’ previous success in the music business, two million was nothing. By those standards, Chris Gaines’ Greatest Hits album was a major flop. Garth Brooks made the wise decision to shave the soul patch since.
Brooks didn’t just want to simply release a rock album under a different persona; he wanted to make multiple rock albums and even a movie under the identity of Chris Gaines. Needless to say, none of those plans ended up happening.
The movie was titled The Lamb, and strangely enough, the Gaines character was supposed to die in the opening scene. Instead of making it the shortest movie ever, the rest of the movie would focus on a Gaines super-fan who is trying to prove their idol’s death was a murder.
It sounds like an intriguing storyline, but Brooks as Gaines would only appear in flashbacks – a rock ‘n’ roll Citizen Kane. However, Brooks had other plans for his imaginary friend. CNN reported that he planned to follow up The Lamb with a soundtrack album (Greatest Hits was the “pre-soundtrack,” even though that term makes zero sense).
CNN went on to explain that the singer was also debating recording Gaines’ supposed early discography, all previously released exclusively for the character that lives in the mind of Garth Brooks.
Well, that sounds like a lot. It’s already difficult enough to have become successful under one identity, and Brooks finally got the hint that fans weren’t connecting to his new persona. The Lamb movie was never made, and Gaines didn’t release any more albums.
Garth Brooks went back to his old country music persona and hoped everyone would forget about Chris Gaines. Lucky for him, audiences were forgiving back then, and the music world was happy to leave Chris Gaines in the past. This should serve as a cautionary tale: Unless you’re Eminem, don’t try creating an alter ego.
If we’re being honest, It’s quite peculiar to try and release an album as a fictional character while also trying to star in a movie as the same made-up character. But Brooks wasn’t finished there. He also gave us the strangest backstory of any musical alter ego, including Ziggy Stardust, who was literally an alien.
According to Wide Open Country, Chris Gaines’ ridiculous rock star biography starts off like this. Gaines was a rebellious teenager whose father never approved of his rock ‘n’ roll dreams.
But Gaines pursued music anyways and formed his first band called Crush while he was in high school. Then, as they started gaining popularity, Crush’s singer died in a plane crash. Gaines rebounded with a solo album that sold a whopping 12 million copies. Then, his dad died, which led him into a downward spiral and a vicious cycle of sex addiction.
After several more hit albums, he found out he was being ripped off by his record deal. Once he managed to get out of his contract, he was involved in a horrible car accident that required extensive facial surgery that made him look like Garth Brooks. How convenient – since Brooks was set to play Gaines in the never-made film The Lamb.
Back in the 1990s, if you were a rock star with a story to tell, you did so on VH1’s Behind the Music. Apparently, this applied to all musicians, even if they weren’t technically a real person: Chris Gaines got his very own segment, and it was a juicy one!
Entitled Behind the Life of Chris Gaines, the episode somehow managed to make Gaines even more absurd. In just two minutes, he told us about the time he brought a chainsaw on tour. Billy Joel showed up for no reason other than to show the world that Gaines was his friend.
They filmed a cheesy music video for Crush’s (Gaines’ high school band) song “My Love Tells Me So.” We also found that according to his dreadful record contract, his manager owned everything he bought. In fact, the singer wasn’t even actually signed to the label – his manager was (even the sketchiest real-life contracts don’t work that way).
Perhaps the funniest of all was the special constantly reminding us about Gaines’s sex addiction. His sound engineer elaborated, claiming that Chris Gaines “had babes at home, on the road, on the bus, on tour, off tour, in the studio, in a session, out of a session, at clubs and bars.”
He went on to explain that ex-girlfriends and groupies give the singer extra reassurance, so Chris Gaines can’t stop with the sex or, as he calls it, “communicating.” The episode also mentioned that his “vice” almost killed him. They never really explained how, though.
It’s just so interesting that a fictional character has such a detailed backstory. He even opened up about his imaginary life during an actual interview. Honestly, we don’t need the Chris Gaines movie (The Lamb); VH1 gave us all the tea we needed.
As we mentioned, things got even more confusing when Garth Brooks wasn’t just pretending to be Chris Gaines for the album but was set to play Gaines in the movie. Meanwhile, the 1999 NBC special Garth Brooks… In the Life of Chris Gaines, he stopped pretending the character was real.
That move really blurred the lines on what exactly fans were supposed to think of this entire thing. The segment stars Garth Brooks as Garth Brooks, explaining what it was like to play Chris Gaines. He talked about how difficult it was to play a skinny rock star when he… well… wasn’t one. He also remarked how weird it was for Gaines’s artificial voice to come out of his mouth.
Furthermore, every few minutes, “Did You Know?” facts about Chris Gaines would pop up on the screen, even though the special made it crystal clear that the rock star wasn’t real. In between talking about his, as Brooks puts it, “fictitious character that just lets it swing,” we see clips of Garth Brooks playing Chris Gaines’ songs for a live audience, acting like Gaines wasn’t a fictional character.
I know; this is all extremely confusing. An interview about a guy playing his dead alter ego in a movie, claiming the character isn’t real, and then proceeding to continue playing the character.
As we know, Chris Gaines has a very elaborate fictional backstory. In the big reveal at the end of the NBC special, Brooks revealed the major car crash that forced Gaines to have facial reconstruction and then exposed Gaines’ face to the world.
Tongue firmly in cheek, he said that Gaines looks “a little like a Prince” and added, “I think that’s a damn good-looking man right there.” At that point, Brooks was clearly joking around, trying to have some fun. However, the dull reaction indicated that the fans didn’t share his enthusiasm.
Like any good rock star, Chris Gaines was featured as the musical guest on an episode of Saturday Night Live. I’ll give you one chance to guess who the host was. Yes, it was the one and only Garth Brooks who hosted the 1999 SNL episode, throwing on the Gaines wig and getting into the character for the performance.
For the most part, he kept Garth Brooks and Chris Gaines totally separate, despite both men suddenly sporting the exact same soul patch; there was just one exception−during the memorable sketch in which Tracy Morgan corners Brooks to talk about how much he hates Chris Gaines.
Morgan tells Brooks that he thinks that Chris Gaines acts like a diva referring to him as a “weedy-beady bing-bong freak,” whatever that means. He then calls Gaines fat which visibly horrifies Garth Brooks. Then, SNL producer Lorne Michaels tells Brooks he’s needed on stage.
After he leaves, Morgan admits to Michaels that he is well aware that Garth Brooks and Chris Gaines are the same person. Many Garth Brooks fans know that Gaines was his alter ego, but apparently, some people weren’t sure exactly what was going on at the time.
This SNL appearance came about two months after the Greatest Hits album hit the shelves, which sounds like very calculated timing for everyone−and especially for Garth Brooks, who knew the experiment wasn’t going well… so he decided he might as well joke about it.
Morgan even asked Michaels if he had heard the Gaines album, and Michaels responded that he hadn’t. Then, the two agreed that Garth was “a strange guy.” Millions of country and rock fans almost certainly agreed. I mean, let’s be honest, the whole thing is kind of weird and seems like it required a lot of time, energy, and effort.
While looking at the otherwise successful career of Garth Brooks, Chris Gaines was a failed ventured. Very few fans bought the album, and even fewer were looking forward to the movie. There was one career milestone, however, that Brooks did achieve as Gaines: crossing over to the pop charts for the very first time.
Garth Brooks has countless country hits: 19 number one songs and 36 in the Top 10, but according to Billboard, the singer never had a genuine pop hit. The closest was his 1998 track “It’s Your Song,” which made it to No. 62 on the Billboard hot 100.
Then entered Chris Gaines. Despite his album not going anywhere, it shot Garth Brooks almost straight to the top of the charts. His song “Lost in You” peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100 back in September 1999: a small feat for a huge country singer pretending to be a figment of his imagination.
Since then, Brooks has had various songs reach the Hot 100, but none of them even came close to Top 10 territory. The closest was 2001’s “Wrapped Up in You,” which landed at No. 46. But for the most part, it looks like Brooks better hope his Gaines wig still fits if he ever wants to be a pop star again.
Despite only being in his thirties at the time, Brooks must have been having some sort of mid-life crisis during the Chris Gaines era. Creating an elaborate alter ego wasn’t the only strange thing he did in 1999. Months before unveiling his inner rocker, the musician also tried to become a major league baseball player.
According to the Baseball-Reference, Brooks was a high school baseball player (not to be confused with Gaines, who did not play sports growing up). Unfortunately, despite his incredible fame, it wasn’t enough to get the aspiring athlete drafted by the San Diego Padres as a left fielder.
It was mostly a stunt for a good cause. Instead of a baseball salary, the Padres donated $200,000 to one of Garth Brooks’ charities. The facts remain: Garth Brooks legitimately went on the field as an official member of the Padres minor league system.
He also legitimately stunk! Going 1-for-22, Brooks was mostly used as a pinch hitter and runner; his sports venture may have been less successful than the Chris Gaines experiment. To be fair, he probably didn’t actually think he would make the team, but this is the same guy who put on a wig and eyeliner to become a rockstar. Who knows what he was he was really thinking?
Even after the Chris Gaines debacle on his resume, Garth Brooks doesn’t seem bitter or regretful about his alter ego period. In fact, if Chris Gaines was real, Brooks would probably walk up to the singer, shake his hand, and say, “no hard feelings.”
During a 2015 press conference, Garth Brooks said that even after “getting the sh*t kicked out of him” by the negative responses to Chris Gaines, he has no regrets about attempting to bring the fictional rock star to life. “I love music,” he explained, “and that’s what it’s all about.”
With all that said, Garth Brooks reached a point in his career when he certainly doesn’t need a wig or eyeliner to rock out. According to Rolling Stone, Brooks’ 2014 comeback album, Man Against Machine, was “one of the year’s best accidental rock albums,” a record riveted with “ripping guitar solos, Aerosmith-style strings, and gospel-tinged background vocals.”
It really makes us wonder what would have happened if Brooks had made this type of music during his ‘90s commercial peak – only as himself instead of Chris Gaines. His alter ego’s soul patch was more unnecessary than anyone even realized at the time.
Contrary to popular belief, Chris Gaines was inspired by Australian country star Keith Urban. The character was based on a completely different musician.
According to songwriter Gordon Kennedy, who wrote a bunch of the Chris Gaines tracks – and sings on “My Love Tells me so,” which in the fictional world of Chris Gaines, the voice belongs to Gaines late bandmate, Tommy Levitz (remember the one who died in a plane crash?) – Gaines’ brooding look is based on Johnny Rzeznik, the Goo Good Dolls frontman, who was sporting a similar shaggy-haired style around that time.
“But it is interesting that Chris Gaines is supposedly Australian,” Kennedy admitted. He also shared that Brooks and Urban were already familiar with each other by that time. Kennedy and Urban both actually overdubbed guitars on a song from Garth Brooks’ 1998 Double Live album.
“I got a call Garth; he needed me to come to the studio to play guitar on a song, and he said, ‘I’m gonna put you with this guy who just came here from Australia. I think you guys would get along really great. He’s a really good guitar player,’” Kennedy recalled. “And I show up, and it’s just me and Keith Urban.”
Chris Gaines has his own custom Fender guitar. There are exactly 21 of them in existence, all designed by Gordon Kennedy. The guitars feature a maple neck, a P-90 pickup, and a telecaster-style body covered in a holographic film.
The pickguard, as well as two other spots on the guitar, showcase Chris Gaines’ signature. AKA Garth Brooks signed Chris Gaines’ name with his left hand, which is how he created his alter ego’s autograph. Wow, it’s truly amazing to see how much effort went into this persona.
So, I know what you’re wondering: where are all 21 of these guitars then? Well, the first seven are in Garth Brooks’ possession, and guitars 9-20 were gifted to the people who were involved in the Chris Gaines project – which, as we’ve seen, involved a lot of people.
Brooks also has the 21st guitar, which is a left-handed version of the instrument… since Chris Gaines is left-handed. Brooks’ band member Jimmy Mattingly has been seen playing one of the guitars, which is outfitted with a non-Chris Gaines pickguard for concerts. “It’s really something,” Kennedy gushed, “and it’s a great guitar!”
With a few exceptions like “Unsigned Letter,” “Right Now,” and “Main Street,” the songs included in the Brooks’ Chris Gaines album weren’t written specifically for the record. When it was time for Brooks to lend his vocals for the album, he didn’t want to re-record any of the tracks.
Gordon Kennedy explained that the reason was that Brooks “wanted it to represent a span of time,” and re-recording it “would have been too consistent.” In addition to Brooks’ vocals, some of the tunes were switched to a slightly different key, and some included additional instrumentation: for instance, the orchestra on the song “Maybe.”
In the early 1990s, Gordon Kennedy and fellow songwriter and musician Wayne Kirkpatrick were trying to make it as a band. They called themselves the Mute Brutes of Labor and made a demo tape featuring the future Chris Gaines cuts “White Flag,” “Digging for Gold,” and “My Love Tells Me So,” as well as a fourth song.
Kennedy’s brother Bryan, also a tunesmith, had known Garth Brooks since the country star first arrived in Nashville. Bryan gave Brooks a copy of that demo tape because he thought he might genuinely enjoy the songs, not because he wanted to cut them.
Kennedy recalled that a few months after that, his brother called him to pass on a message from Garth Brooks: The country star received a speeding ticket while driving through Arkansas while listening to “White Flag.” Kennedy replied, “Tell him I’ll put that on my resume.”
He’ll listen to a song for a long time and keep something in the ‘grocery cart’ until it’s time,” Kennedy said about Brooks. “He listens to a lot of music.” The fact that Brooks got a speeding ticket while playing the song really meant he got lost in the music.
As it turns out, Trisha Yearwood did not co-write the song “Main Street.” The track listing for the Chris Gaines album credits Gordan Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Trisha Yearwood as the writers of the album’s ninth track, “Main Street,” but Kennedy revealed that Brooks was actually in the room with them, not Yearwood.
“The first three times that we wrote with Garth, he didn’t put his name on the song… so I don’t know if that’s his version of giving somebody flowers or what,” Kennedy explained.
So, how the heck did her name end up on the credits if Trisha Yearwood didn’t write the song? Well, as Kennedy put it, “For all I know, she said something to [Brooks], and he thought. ‘That’s a great song idea,’ and then he contributed to it.”
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were longtime friends, collaborators, and tour mates. After the Chris Gaines album came out in 1999, it would be another six years before the country stars would walkdown the aisle together and exchane vows.
Remember when we mentioned that Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick were trying to land a record deal as a band? Well, they submitted their demo to a New York City record label, and executives thought that they could make at least one of their songs into an alternative chart hit, but on one condition: they wanted to hear a pop hit as well.
So, along with Tommy Sims – another writer whose name frequently shows up in the Chris Gaines album’s credits – Kennedy and Kirkpatrick wrote a song titled “Change the World” and sent it in.
Unfortunately, the label passed, telling the guys that they simply didn’t hear a hit song. But Eric Clapton did. He recorded the song for the soundtrack for the 1996 movie Phenomenon, and it became a huge success topping music charts all over the world and earning three Grammy Awards! “Things happen the way they’re supposed to happen, you know?” Kennedy said.
Here is another fun Chris Gaines connection: Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds produced the track “Change the World” for Eric Clapton. The singer, songwriter, and producer was supposed to be an executive producer on The Lamb, the Chris Gaines movie that never happened.
“Wayne [Kirkpatrick] and I kind of braced ourselves for, ‘We’re gonna find something, for the first time in this guy’s life, that isn’t gonna work,’” Gordan Kennedy admitted about preparing to hit “record” and hear Brooks sing in a falsetto. “And then we got behind the glass… and he starts singing this song, and our jaws hit the floor.”
Kirkpatrick added, “My first thought was, ‘he’s gonna ruin this’… [but]] it ended up being shockingly well-performed.” Later, when the trio played the track for Don Was, the producer had no idea that he was hearing Brooks’ voice at first. “It was kind of a nice little test of ‘can Garth pull this off?’” Kirkpatrick said.
Wayne Kirkpatrick recalled that the initial plan was to release Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines material anonymously… which sounds like a much better (and less risky) idea. They would put out an album under Chris Gaines’ name, “and not tell anybody who it was,” he explained. However, Garth Brooks and the record label had other ideas in mind.
“The record label, I think, got nervous about that… and they thought using the name of Garth Brooks was going to catapult this into the stratosphere,” Kirkpatrick went on to explain, “and it was the exact opposite.”
Childish Gambino was not the first to cover Chris Gaines; far from it, actually. Actor, comedian, and hip-hop artist Donald Glover made headlines in 2019 when he covered the song “Lost in You.” But back in 2003, the Irish boy band Westlife had already covered the song for their Turnaround album.
Meanwhile, “It Don’t Matter to the Sun” was covered by Eagles member Don Henley for his 2015 album Cass Country. His version features Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. Indie-folk singer Rosie Thomas also covered it on her 2005 album If Songs Could Be Held. Thomas’s rendition of the song was featured in two television shows in 2006: Bones and Grey’s Anatomy.
Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood are basically the epitome of a perfect country couple. The happy couple had been collaborating for years before they finally tied the knot. Before they got together, Trisha Yearwood was involved in the Chris Gaines project, and she looks at it more fondly than her husband does.
In 2017, Yearwood revealed to the Edmonton Journal that the Chris Gaines album is “probably my favorite Gath Brooks album ever. I love that record.” See, it wasn’t a total failure; some people really enjoyed it. After all, it did sell an impressive $2 million copies.
Garth Brooks put out the 1999 album “Garth Brooks in… The Life of Chris Gaines” in an attempt to generate excitement for a potential movie about his fictional alter ego, Chris Gaines. Unfortunately, not much enthusiasm occurred, and the movie was shelved. Surprisingly, Brooks doesn’t regret his time as Chris Gaines.
We mentioned how Brooks explained that it was all about the music. However, the singer was asked if his alter ego would ever come back, and the singer joked, “Would I love to do a second one? Sure. Would I ever drop that much weight again? I don’t think I could.” Although he has no regrets, Garth Brooks believes that the failure of Chris Gaines has to do with his appearance… at least partly.
So that was a mouthful. Garth Brooks’ rockstar persona was more than just an alter ego, he was a figment of Brooks’ imagination, and he brought the character to life. Say what you want about his Chris Gaines stint, but you can’t say he didn’t put effort into it.
With such an elaborate and detailed backstory and a whole new look, Brooks really wanted to create a character to help him break into the world of rock ‘n’ roll. He even lost weight just to look more like a rockstar. It’s like method acting. Although the singer could have easily dabbled with new genres as himself, his fascinating Chris Gaines idea didn’t seem to resonate with fans. It’s safe to say Garth Brooks wants to leave Chris Gaines in the past.