It’s perhaps the biggest honkey tonk anthem country music’s ever known. When Garth Brooks released “Friends in Low Places,” he knew it would be big. But he couldn’t have foreseen how big–especially considering the idea came from a drunk guy who couldn’t pay his bill. But when Garth got his hands– and his voice– on it, it was music magic.
According to Wide Open Country, the story begins in 1989 with two writers, Dewayne Blackwell and Earl Bud Lee. Blackwell and Lee weren’t just writers, but also friends and drinking buddies. So one night when they were out (the location is still disputed), they kicked back more than a few adult beverages. And neither had the cash to pick up the tab.
It was Lee who quipped, “Don’t worry. I’ve got friends in low places.” He was actually referencing a friend who worked as a cook at the bar, but something about it stuck with them. They knew it was a song waiting to happen.
Fast forward several months. Lee and Blackwell were schmoozing at a release party with other writers when the “friends in low places” comes up again. All of a sudden, lines were flying left and right. Turns out that most of the lyrics were written on cocktail napkins. Pretty apropos for the song, right?
So now the song has shape, but no voice. Enter Garth Brooks.
That Third Verse
Garth Brooks was just beginning to have success in his career as Blackwell and Lee were writing their future hit. But the three men actually knew each other. (Funnily enough, their knowing each other had nothing to do with music–they met Brooks when he worked as a shoe salesman.) Anyway, once the song was written (at least, the first two verses of it), Lee and Blackwell knew that they needed a singer with some range. Brooks was the obvious choice.
Unfortunately, Brooks had just released his debut album. He later acknowledged that he was bummed he didn’t get to include “Friends in Low Places” it on that first record. But it turned out to be no matter. Brooks penned the famous third verse, and also knew that rowdy intro (where you hear all the voices) would be a huge crowd pleaser. So the three put it together and Brooks recorded it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Some interesting trivia about the song. Mark Chestnutt’s actually recorded it on his first album, Too Cold At Home. Clearly, Chestnutt’s version didn’t do much, but that also turned out not to be an issue. Chestnutt went on to be a huge success, regardless.
So basically two drunk guys who couldn’t pay a bar tab wrote a song on napkins and have a shoe salesman record it. It’s the absolute perfect story for “Friends in Low Places.”