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Garth Brooks takes Chris Gaines on media rounds

September 30, 1999 Web posted at: 3:56 p.m. EDT (1956 GMT) NEW YORK (CNN) --

He's the top-selling solo artist in the United States, having moved some 95 million albums. But country music isn't enough for its shining star, Garth Brooks. He's decided to attempt a potentially risky dual-crossover into both acting and pop music: He's created a grunge-musician character for himself, Chris Gaines.

To promote the release of his CD "Garth Brooks in... the Life of Chris Gaines," Brooks played the role in an NBC special Wednesday night, singing several numbers "by" Gaines. He's to continue the media blitz with October appearances on the shows "The View," TNN's "Crook and Chase" and ABC's "Good Morning America."

The Gaines look -- for which Brooks, 37, doffed his hat, dropped some pounds and donned a goatee -- requires the careful attention of makeup artist Lance Anderson, who was key character makeup artist on the 1996 Marlin Brando-Val Kilmer film, "The Island of Dr. Moreau."

"With each video, (Gaines) starts to get more shape, to where you want him," Brooks told CNN Showbiz Today's Laurin Sydney. "We're still kind of creating him. We have a year before the movie, so he's right on target."

The story to come

Gaines, the lead character in a yet-to-be-made film "The Lamb," is a fictional rock icon who began his music career as a member of an '80s one-hit wonder band, went on to a Grammy-winning solo career and then mysteriously died.

Brooks' "Chris Gaines" album is designed as a tease to the film. It's a 14-song greatest-hits collection in which Brooks sings in the guise of Gaines.

He's approaching the project with some humility: "I surrounded myself with people that knew what hip and cool was," he tells The Associated Press, "since I don't." The album was a collaboration with veteran producer Don Was (he also worked with Brian Wilson, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan) and impresario Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Much of the album was written by Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick and Tommy Simms.

Brooks has acknowledged that he put the first album together so that audiences could get familiar with the Gaines character before the movie, slated for a December 2000 release. But he says that passion, not marketing, is what's driving him on this project.

Work in progress

"It just happens to be something nobody has ever done before," Brooks says. "So like anything that we've got, we're always going to be called the marketing guy, or the phrase I like is the 'marketing bastard.' But, you know, it's all about the music, and that's going to be our friend on this piece -- word of mouth.

"So the big question is this: If we don't have the traditional first week, 'Garth Brooks week' that we've been so fortunate to have (in the past) -- is (the new album) going to be deemed a failure? I'm hoping that Chris gets a chance, like all new artists, gets to come out and then hopefully word of mouth gets around and he starts to pick up and gain speed, and starts to actually live and breathe like artists do."

According to reports Brooks has committed to releasing one more Gaines album, the soundtrack to "The Lamb." If both do well, he may also record the "first" five albums in the fictional Gaines discography -- including one that, according to the Capitol Records publicity jacket, is supposed to be full of the stormy rock outpourings of a young musician whose father died of cancer a year earlier.

The already-released Gaines album is certainly not typical Brooks fare, and Brooks knows it. "You try and respect the country format for what it's worked for and then pop for what it's worked for," he says. "I have respect for both formats.

"But the greatest thing, thank God, for me, is the music, because that's what it's all about."

Chris Gaines

Crush (1986) Gaines joined his best friend Tommy Levitz along with Marc Obed in the band CRUSH. The band signed with Capitol records in 1985 and released their self-titled debut album in 1986. The second single, "My Love Tells Me So," was a smash and one of the year's most successful songs. But the band's success was short-lived when lead singer Tommy Levitz died in a plane crash later that year.

Straight Jacket (1989) For the next two years, Joe Smith of Capitol Records and Chris discussed the possibility of a Chris Gaines solo career, and in 1989, Chris debuted his solo album, Straight Jacket. The album spent 224 weeks on thhe Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album is still Chris' biggest-selling album to date.

Fornucopia (1991) Tragedy stuck again when Chris' father died in the fall of 1990 after his long battle with cancer. Almost a year to the day later, Chris released his second solo album, Fornucopia. Even though it was a very dark and angry album, it debuted at No. 1 and spent a combined 19 weeks on top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. The album included a the soulful remake of "It Don't Matter To The Sun."

Apostle (1994) Chris released his third solo album, Apostle, in the winter of 1994. Without any artist promotion, the album sill managed to spend a combined eight weeks atop the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart, and featured the singles "Way of the Girl" and "Unsigned Letter."

Triangle (1996) In the winter of 1996, Chris re-emerged into public view for the first time with Triangle. Chris was dubbed "The New Prince" by the media because of his new look and the fact that his music showed a move towards R&B -- a distinct change in musical style from his past.

Greatest Hits (1999) Chris has assembled his greatest hits as well as two new songs, "Lost in You" and "Right Now." Chris' Greatest Hits is the perfect bridge between his upcoming solo album, The Lamb, and the albums that have defined our times over the last decade.

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Garth faces new music

September 27, 1999 Web posted at: 12:58 p.m. EDT (1658 GMT) By Mary Jo DiLonardo Special to CNN Interactive

Garth Brooks "Garth Brooks in... the Life of Chris Gaines" Capitol Records Releases: September 28, 1999 (CNN) --

There's not even a smidgen of dobro or steel guitar on the latest Garth Brooks album. That's because Garth isn't Garth. He's playing Chris Gaines, a fictional rock singer from Australia who's to be the subject of a December 2000 film, "The Lamb."

This album -- already debated in the press, sometimes as a stark gimmick and at other times as a nervy career choice -- is billed as a "pre-soundtrack" to the film. That screenplay is said not to have been scripted yet. The exercise is called a concept album.

And it's hardly a new or unheard-of marketing device, by the way, particularly in the world of theatrical musicals. A studio album for the Andrew Lloyd Webber "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and a video for "The Phantom of the Opera," for example, preceded the productions of those shows.

Once "The Lamb" is made, there's to be a follow-up soundtrack and maybe another record or two, all featuring the fictional Gaines.

But the musical direction Brooks is taking is new, for him. Critics say he's looking for a way to draw crossover pop success without alienating his hard-core country fans.

Brooks says he's releasing the album before the film because he wants people to become familiar with the Gaines character before they see "The Lamb."

And in a recent interview with the Associated Press, he points out that he already has such vast successes to his name that he hardly needs to jump genres for more. He's even approaching the project with some humility: "I surrounded myself with people that knew what hip and cool was," he tells AP, "since I don't."

At 37, Brooks veers from his beaten path with a prodigious track record behind him: He's sold some 95 million albums. His two-CD live album alone has sold more than 6 million copies. So on the road to this excursion into pop, Brooks may even pick up a supporter or two willing to note that it takes a certain amount of courage for a star so firmly niched in one idiom to risk, if not fortune, at least the nature of his well-established fame in a venture of this kind.

Less girth, Garth

The album poses Garth as Gaines in an eclectic collection of pop-rock songs. That's him on the cover garbed in black, sporting a kind of Johnny Rotten look. The occasionally pudgy country singer lost weight and wore mascara for the photo shoot.

The first single, "Lost in You," features Brooks singing in falsetto and sounding like Tracy Chapman. From there, the pop sound dredges up images of the Fab Four, Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac and others. The musical style changes dramatically from song to song, like the fictional Gaines' changing career.

For the most part, the sound is middle-of-the-road. The songs aren't pithy or saccharine, but they aren't Jewel material, either.

The most riveting is "Right Now," an unusual meld of "Get Together" from The Youngbloods and the eerie staccato of "If It Were Up to Me." It's the ills-of-society ("tattoos, pipe bombs underneath the bleachers") merged with a peace-and-love anthem ("C'mon people now, smile on your brother / Everybody get together, try to love one another right now").

Although a number of the songs are catchy -- most notably, "Digging for Gold" -- the jury is still out on whether any of them will thrive in radio. The most Garth-sounding of them all, the melancholy "It Don't Matter to the Sun," is currently getting country radio airplay. But rock stations hesitate to play anything by Brooks. Some may tackle that hurdle by introducing songs as sung by Chris Gaines.

Still the one

To non-Garth fans, there's nothing country about this music.

But his legions of country fans will be able to identify Brooks easily in many of these numbers. His unique phrasings and trademark twang can't be completely disguised by a black wig and mascara.

Time will tell if Garth-as-Gaines will survive.
But the odds are that Garth-as-Garth certainly will.

A one-hour Garth Brooks special -- promoting his "In ... the Life of Chris Gaines" CD, is scheduled to air on NBC at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, September 29.