The Story Behind Garth Brooks’ Iconic Hit ‘Friends In Low Places’

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The story behind Garth Brooks“Friends In Low Places” is just as entertaining as the iconic song. Arguably his biggest song, the tune actually predates the Oklahoma native’s success — all the way back to when he was selling shoes in Nashville.

But did you know Brooks wasn’t the only one to record the song? Or that he made a big reboot with lots of friends? Read on to learn more interesting tidbits about one of the greatest songs in country music.

Keep the tab open

The whole thing starts in 1989 with songwriters Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee. Aside from being great writers and good friends, the pair also enjoyed a drink or five during the day.

Now, the actual location is a bit disputed — some claiming it was at Tavern On The Row, others claiming it was a place called LongHorn. But either way, everyone attributes the title of the song to Blackwell and Lee outspending their own wallets.

When Blackwell realized neither had money to pay the tab, Lee assured him. “Don’t worry,” an imbibed Lee said. “I’ve got friends in low places.” He was referring to a friend who apparently cooked at the restaurant. Both knew they had something golden with the title, but didn’t quite know what. In fact, they tabled the title until the moment hit just right months later.

Party people

Several months later, Lee and Blackwell attended a party to celebrate another songwriter getting a No. 1 single on the radio. Those “number one parties” are pretty common in Nashville, and usually bring out all kind of folks eager to schmooze.

The moment must’ve felt just right, because the two brought up the “friends in low places” title again, and suddenly lines just started coming to them. So suddenly, in fact, that they wrote a good portion of the song on napkins, since they didn’t have other paper.

They used the atmosphere to describe what it may be like for a man to show up unannounced to his ex’s “black-tie affair.” Just to, you know, assure her that he doesn’t need her. The song originally only consisted of the first two verses, but Brooks eventually added a “third” verse in live shows detailing how he personally felt somebody may act that situation.

But where does Garth Brooks come into play in the first place? That’s just another great part of the story.

Missed it by *this* much

Blackwell and Lee first met Brooks while he worked as a shoe salesman. After they got to talking, the three hit it off, and they routinely brought Brooks in to sing on demos. In a lot of ways, it was how he first broke into the Nashville scene.

So when they wrote “Friends In Low Places,” which requires a two-octave range, they figured Garth Brooks was the perfect guy to go to. The only problem? By that point, Brooks already landed his first record deal and just finished recording his debut album.

But he by no means had any success at that point. He still liked the pair, and when he heard the song, agreed to do the demo for them. In fact, Brooks later said in some CD liner notes that he’d wished he heard the song a few weeks earlier so that he could’ve included it on his first record.

But no matter — much of the demo laid the foundation for the actual version he’d put on No Fences a year later. That includes the line about “The Oasis,” added by guitarist Jim Garver, a reference to his hometown bar in Kansas. It also includes session guitarist Mark Casstevens adding the now infamous intro, which Brooks predicted would be a huge hit in a live show. (Spoiler alert: he was right).

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About that rowdy crowd chorus

After Brooks’ first record enjoyed success with songs like “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Dance,” he approached Lee and Blackwell about using the song on his second album. They gleefully accepted. But he wasn’t the only one.

At the time, relatively unknown singer Mark Chesnutt also cut the song for his first album, Too Cold At Home. Brooks released his version as the lead single from his album though, effectively squashing any chance Chesnutt could do the same. Luckily for him, Mark Chesnutt went on to be quite successful in his own right anyway. But the real reason Brooks’ version was a hit was the “rowdy crowd” atmosphere.

When they cut the album version, they brought in tons of friends to sing on song. And that’s a huge part of its appeal nowadays. You can even hear somebody crack open a beer into the microphone, which mastering engineers originally thought was a “glitch” in the track. In another moment, somebody yells “Push, Marie!” which is a reference to guitarist Jim Garver’s wife, who was in the hospital giving birth at the time.

A massive hit

The song went on to with the Single Of The Year award at the Country Music Association Awards, as well as at the Academy of Country Music Awards. The single stayed at No. 1 for four weeks (supplanted by Reba McEntire) after taking only eight weeks to get there and became one of the biggest country songs of the decade. It also catapulted No Fences in general, which went on to produce four No. 1 singles.

Oh, it also sold 10 million copies in three years and went on to be the fourth best-selling album of the entire 1990s. To date, the record sold 23 million copies worldwide.

Brooks planned a 25th-anniversary edition of his album No Fences, which he planned on anchoring with a re-recorded version of “Friends In Low Places” featuring George Strait, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line.

Unfortunately, a contract dispute ended those plans. But he still included the re-recorded version of “Friends In Low Places” on his recent album Gunslinger. You can hear it below.

“Friends In Low Places” Lyrics

Blame it all on my roots

I showed up in boots

And ruined your black tie affair

The last one to know

The last one to show

I was the last one

You thought you’d see there

And I saw the surprise

And the fear in his eyes

When I took his glass of champagne

And I toasted you

Said, honey, we may be through

But you’ll never hear me complain

‘Cause I’ve got friends in low places

Where the whiskey drowns

And the beer chases my blues away

And I’ll be okay

I’m not big on social graces

Think I’ll slip on down to the oasis

Oh, I’ve got friends in low places

Well, I guess I was wrong

I just don’t belong

But then, I’ve been there before

Everything’s all right

I’ll just say goodnight

And I’ll show myself to the door

Hey, I didn’t mean

To cause a big scene

Just give me an hour and then

Well, I’ll be as high

As that ivory tower

That you’re livin’ in

‘Cause I’ve got friends in low places

Where the whiskey drowns

And the beer chases my blues away

And I’ll be okay

I’m not big on social graces

Think I’ll slip on down to the oasis

Oh, I’ve got friends in low places

[3rd Verse Sang Live]

I guess I was wrong

I just don’t belong

But then, I’ve been there before

And everything is alright

I’ll just say goodnight

And I’ll show myself to the door

I didn’t mean to cause a big scene

Just wait ’til I finish this glass

Then sweet little lady

I’ll head back to the bar

And you can kiss my ass

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