NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Garth Brooks' induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame caps one of the most astounding and important music careers in American history. At 50, though, Brooks isn't done yet.
He's one of the hall's youngest living inductees and might be a few short years from launching the second phase of a career that forced country music into the national consciousness and sold more albums than Michael Jackson.
He joins singer Connie Smith and keyboard player Hargus "Pig" Robbins as this year's inductees. A formal ceremony is planned later this year.
Brooks has been in semi-retirement, raising his children in his home state of Oklahoma with his wife, Trisha Yearwood. He started a string of shows in Las Vegas a few years ago, and talked openly Tuesday about what will happen after his nest empties.
"A lot of times you go into the hall of fame at the end of your career," Brooks said. "I've got to make sure that I understand this honor. But now my job is to take this honor and take it somewhere hopefully it hasn't been taken before, and that's to strap it on a rocket like a tour, especially a tour that's been vacant since 1998. Our youngest is a sophomore in high school, so we'll see after that. The kids are always our first priority. If they seem to be off and running well on their own, it sure would be fun to fire it up."
All three inductees noted the contribution of others to their success. Brooks thought his induction might be "premature," given the long list of others he believes should already be enshrined. Yearwood said Brooks was in tears after he got the call a few weeks ago.
"You're excited," Brooks said. "You feel very honored. But at the same time there's this kind of guilt or, I don't know what it is, a kind of embarrassment, so you feel uneasy because I wouldn't be standing here today talking to you if it wasn't for Randy Travis. I wouldn't be standing here talking to you today if it wasn't for Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Steve Wariner, these guys. ... I think eventually they will get in, but it probably should've been before Garth Brooks came in. That's the whole feeling for the day."
Smith, whose first single in 1964, "Once a Day," was a No. 1 hit for eight weeks, is a pioneer female country singer who released her 53rd album last year. She was discovered by Bill Anderson, who saw her singing in a talent contest in Columbus, Ohio. The wife of fellow country star Marty Stuart, she had a series of hits in the 1960s and '70s and parlayed that success into movie and television appearances.
She said she was in the middle of preparing dinner when she found out she was inducted. When asked what she did after the call, she responded: "Finished supper."
Robbins, blind since childhood, is considered among the top session players in Nashville over a 50-year career that's included work for everyone from George Jones to Bob Dylan. He played on Jones' iconic No. 1 hit "White Lightning" and spent the next several decades contributing to a mind-boggling string of classic songs and albums. Over time, his sound became one of the most copied in Nashville.
News conference host Kix Brooks, of Brooks & Dunn, said Robbins' name comes up often in Nashville recording sessions: "Time and time again you hear people say, 'Play some of that Pig stuff.'"
Before he went into semi-retirement, Brooks became the top-selling solo artist in the U.S. with more than 128 million albums sold in his career. He busted down the walls of what had been a regional sound, taking country music to stadiums and major metropolitan markets. He opened the door for scores of artists who joined him on a platinum-selling spree in the 1990s never before seen in the genre.
Kix Brooks acknowledged a debt to Garth Brooks that many in Nashville owe.
"I'm convinced that half of the Brooks & Dunn records we sold were people reaching for the other Brooks," he said before shouting over his shoulder to Brooks, who was standing behind a curtain: "Thank you! Thank you!"