- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Singer Tyler England tried for years to downplay his ties to Garth Brooks, country music's biggest star.
Mr. Brooks has been Mr. England's friend since college, and Mr. England played guitar in Mr. Brooks' band for six years. Then Mr. England left for a solo career in 1994, determined to make it on his own.
When his career stalled after two albums, he decided it would be better to make it with some help from Mr. Brooks than not make it at all.
"If you can't get out of the guy's shadow, just ride on his shoulders for a while," Mr. England says. "And I guess that's kind of what I'm doing."
His new strategy has paid off with a new album, "Highways & Dance Halls," produced by Mr. Brooks, who acted as matchmaker for Mr. England and Capitol Records.
"Highways & Dance Halls" is a fine traditional country album. The surprise is that Mr. England and Mr. Brooks have made an album that recalls George Strait or Don Williams, not Mr. Brooks. It even includes a song Mr. Strait recorded, "Blame It on Mexico."
Particularly pleasing are a pair of songs by Bruce Robison, "Travelin' Soldier" and "She Don't Care About Me."
"It's stone country," Mr. Brooks says. "I told him it's a shame that the dance halls aren't around like when I had my first album out, because this is a dance-hall record."
Mr. England, who was raised in Oklahoma City, got his love of country music from his grandfather, Ed Lester, who taught him to play guitar. Mr. England met Mr. Brooks at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and the two aspiring musicians made a pact that if one became successful, he would help the other.
Mr. Brooks made good on the pledge in 1988, when he got a record deal with Capitol. He hired Mr. England as his guitar player, and Mr. England became a popular sidekick.
When Mr. Brooks took a break at the end of 1994, Mr. England recorded his first solo album. "Ty England," released by RCA in early 1995, garnered good reviews and the hit single "Should've Asked Her Faster."
"I knew and the world knew that I probably got my record deal because I was in Garth's band," Mr. England says. "And that's cool. But from that point forward, I wanted to try and earn as much credit as I could on my own."
On the road, both fans and industry insiders assumed that Mr. Brooks was paying the bills, Mr. England says. "So what I ended up doing is denying myself a great friendship.
"I didn't do a duet with him, even though he asked me for each of my albums. I didn't open his shows, even though he invited me to do every show he did after I left," he says.
Now Mr. England recognizes the mistakes he made.
"The idea that I turned down so much exposure, and then got no credit for it, discouraged me greatly. It also made me feel really stupid. You know, how dumb could I have been?"
Mr. England was dropped by RCA when his second album, "Two Ways to Fall," didn't sell.
"I moved back home to Oklahoma three years ago feeling fully defeated," he says. "I got the newspaper, and I searched high and low for a profession I could … be passionate about. For three months I searched. I found nothing that I wanted to do."
Again, he got a call from Mr. Brooks.
"Garth called me, and he said, 'Buddy, I feel like you haven't had the chance you deserve to have. And if you want it, I want you to have it. And I'll try and help you get it."'
Mr. Brooks helped Mr. England get signed to Capitol; Mr. England asked him to produce the album. Mr. Brooks thought about it for two weeks and then agreed.
Mr. England has made some changes: He's using the name Tyler instead of Ty to avoid confusion with Ty Herndon. He's singing in a lower register, and the music is harder country.
"The magic of Garth Brooks as my producer was simply, he knew things about me from years past," Mr. England says. "Garth's probably the only guy in the world that knows that the first song I ever sang with him was 'Listen to the Radio' by Don Williams. He knew what my niche was, and he knew what my comfort zone was. He let me just sit in the middle of it."
The first single, "I Drove Her to Dallas," will be the indicator whether "Highways & Dance Halls" will revive Mr. England's career.
"Boy, do I ever feel the pressure," he says. "I just turned 37. I've done this since I was 26, so this is my profession. And still, I'm trying to decide if I'm going to make it in here or not. It's tough for me to face up to the fact that I could have to go find another way to provide for my family.
"Thank God, Garth called, that's all I can say."


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