Matt O'Meilia Interview
(Garth Brooks' Ex-Drummer)

Every musician has probably wondered what it would be like to play with a Superstar.

Matt O’Meilia doesn’t have to wonder.

He did it.

He was the drummer for Santa Fe, Garth Brooks first band.

Matt O’Meilia recounts his time with Garth in the book – Garth Brooks: The Road out of Santa Fe ( University of Oklahoma Press).

Q – Matt, after reading your book, I came away with a profound respect for Garth Brooks. He is the kind of guy every band would want in their group. What surprises me is that you and the other guys could not always see that and I’m wondering why.
A – I have tremendous respect for Garth too. There was never a time when any of us lost respect for him or didn’t perceive him as the heart and soul of the group. He organized the band, booked all the gigs, made sure we got paid, and even set up a band account for travel and equipment. Plus, he was funny and generally enjoyable to be around. Oh yeah-----and he played and sang well too. I don’t know where in the book I may have indicated that we never failed to respect him. His only ‘drawback’ if he had any, was sometimes being a bit too cornball at times, maybe a tad too serious or demanding-----like the time he got mad at me for not playing a gig because I was recovering from food poisoning. But, as I wrote in the book, sometimes it’s hard to relate to someone so inhumanly driven to succeed.

Q – Has Garth read your book? Did you or the publisher ever get him a copy?
A – I don’t know if Garth has ever read the book. I know that he has either read part of it or someone read part of it to him. The reason I know is because John Wooley wrote an article about Garth in the ‘Tulsa World’ in 1997 when Garth played five shows in Tulsa. In the article, John asks Garth about passages in my book, in particular the quote I attributed to his wanting to be ‘ America’s band’, which he acknowledged. I don’t remember if the publisher tried to send Garth a copy of the book. I know that as I was writing the first chapters, long before the book was published in (1997), I sent him copies to let him know what I was doing and try to get him to bless it or give me any sort of feedback. But, he never wrote back. I was glad that he acknowledged my book in Wooley’s article. This led me to assume that he wasn’t completely put off about my writing a book without his official permission. If that were the case, I reason he wouldn’t even mention it. But, if he ever has or ever does read it, I can’t imagine him getting bent out of shape over anything. It is, as unauthorized books go, very flattering of him. It praises his work ethic, his sense of humor, his talent, and his sincerity. And that’s probably why it didn’t sell a million copies. It was too nice.

Q – Why did you write the book? What were you hoping to accomplish?
A – As you know, Garth became a sensation within a few years after moving to Nashville. All of a sudden, he was turning up on every talk show in America, and every time I saw him the interviewer would ask the same old question about his past: ‘How did you meet your wife Sandy?’ And you could tell Garth was getting tired of telling the story: ‘I was a bouncer at Tumbleweeds and there was a fight in the girl’s bathroom and I went in and there was Sandy with her fist stuck in the wall’. Man I was sick of hearing that story almost as much as Garth was sick of telling it. So, while the band was still fresh in my memory, I decided I was going to write a book about Santa Fe and reveal some of the other stuff that happened to Garth before he moved to Nashville. I originally wanted to write his biography, but then I imagined having to go and interview his old grade school teachers and hearing about what a nice boy he was and all of that and that just didn’t appeal to me. So, I decided to write about Santa Fe, from the beginning of the group to the end, because I experienced most of it. And, I wanted to write about not just the band members, but also some of the interesting people we met along the way, club owners, other musicians; we opened for Dwight Yoakam when he was just becoming a star----- and various other folks that were just as fascinating to me as Garth ‘s rise to fame.

Q – On page 102, Garth says, “I’m going to be bigger than Hank Williams. Hank William’s Senior”. He really said that?!
A – Mike Skinner, the group’s fiddler, told me Garth said this on the way down to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for a couple of shows on the New Mexico State University campus. Mike rode down with Garth and had a chance to listen to Garth dream out loud for thirteen hours. Jed, Tom, and I drove down together with most of the equipment. I have no reason to doubt what Mike said. It was not unusual for Garth to make big proclamations when he got really caught up in thinking about his music career, like when he told me he wanted to be ‘America’s band’. You tend to remember things like that. If a friend told you with perfect seriousness something equally outlandish like ‘I’m going to be the first guy to have sex on the moon’, that would stick with you.

Q – There was a story in the book that tells me a lot about the mind set of most musicians out there playing the bars. You went backstage, after you left Santa Fe and said something to the effect of, “Well, does everyone have a record deal yet”? Or words similar to that. I think that was the one point in the book where you really came off looking bad. Do you know how hurtful of a remark that must have been at the time? I don’t know whether you were trying to be funny or sarcastic, but, it fell far short of the mark, that much I know. Everybody was giving their all. They didn’t need someone reminding them that things weren’t exactly ideal.
A – You misquoted me and misunderstood what I meant. At that time I was living in Tulsa, and doing my student teaching. I hadn’t seen the guys in a while and they had come to play Tulsa City Limits, so I went to check them out. We used to kid around a lot and I was pretending I was a big shot showbiz manager when I went backstage and said, “Hey, boys, y’all sound great. How’d you like a big fat record deal right here and now”? It was intended to be funny and taken that way, from what I remember. You’d have to understand our sense of humor, which, if I were even able to explain it, probably wouldn’t sound that funny. It’s one of those you-had-to-be-there things. There was a lot of silliness that went on onstage and off and Garth could definitely hold his own in the ridiculous humor game. I wish pretending to be a talent agent was the stupidest thing I ever did when I was around the other guys. Where I really came off looking bad in the book, aside from parting ways with Garth just before he became the biggest thing in music-----was the story of when I ruined our first photo shoot by making stupid faces and grabbing my crotch and doing other unnecessary things. Garth was justifiably very angry with me and he let me know it. I realized what an immature thing it was to do and that was the end of my acting as though being in a country music band was beneath my dignity. I really regret having done that.

Q – Had you been a guitarist rather than a drummer, would you have enjoyed being in Santa Fe a lot more? Would your perspective have been different?
A – My musical instrument had nothing to do with my perspective on the group. I would have been standing up as opposed to sitting down but that would have been the only difference. Are you wondering if I might have liked it better being up there closer to the crowd receiving more attention? No. I’m a drummer, and drummers sit in the back and keep the beat. I had more of an ego in the rock bands I’d played in before Santa Fe. We were always trying to outdo each other and show everybody how cool we thought we were and the music suffered for it. But, in Santa Fe, I finally learned the role of the rhythm section and it made me a better drummer. And for that I’ll always be grateful I was in Santa Fe.

Q – On page 108, you write, “We got some beer and went back to the motel. Watched a football game. We read the paper. We began to get a taste of what it would be like to be in a real touring group. Whooppee”. Matt, in a “real” touring/recording group you’d be promoting a CD. You’d be lucky if you had the time to sit down have a beer and watch a game or read the paper!
A – Thanks for setting me straight. Did you learn that from all of the bands you were in? All I was doing was saying, “We were bored”, without saying “We were bored”. You can’t tell me there is never any time to kill when a band is on the road even a ‘real touring, recording group’. That’s why musicians smash hotel rooms.

Q – Page 46. You did not understand the appeal of Country Music. Do you understand what that appeal is today-----and what is it?
A – Wow! That sounds like a question on the final exam of an anthropology or sociology class. Why don’t you just ask me, ‘What do you think is the appeal of religion’? And I guess the answer to both questions would be similar. If it does something for your soul, then you’ll naturally be attracted to it. Rock 'n' Roll appealed to me because I was conditioned to it. My older brothers and sisters were listening to it when I was a little kid, so that’s what I was influenced by. ‘Light my Fire’ was the first song I remember hearing and liking, when I was about five, and my easily influenced little mind was programmed to enjoy loud, rhythmic music with interesting lyrics from then on. I imagine that a lot of country music fans started the same way, hearing Hank Williams or Dolly Parton or George Jones on their parents' or their older siblings' stereo or car radio, seeing the way they reacted to it and being simultaneously influenced by both the music and how it made their family and friends feel. Personally, country music appeals to me more now after having played with Santa Fe and another country group for a few years later. Playing with Garth and Jed and the Skinners opened my mind to another world. I got to know some of country music’s fans and evangelists and I found out they weren’t the buck-toothed morons I imagined them to be in my pre-Santa Fe days, when I was immature and prejudiced against anything that wasn’t jazz or rock ‘n’ roll. Country music is a lot more sophisticated and creative then I’d given it credit and there are a lot of unbelievably talented country performers. So, after Santa Fe I stopped putting music into classifications and just started enjoying a song for its lyrics, music, arrangement and atmosphere. Now, I like a lot of stuff by Dwight Yoakam, George Strait, Clint Black and others. I like quite a few of Garth’s songs too-----‘Two of a Kind Working on a Full House’, and ‘Back When the Old Stuff Was New’ are two of my favorites.

Q – There are new faces comin’ up in the music world all the time. Why didn’t you see yourself as one of the new faces?
A – If you’re talking about me personally, I did see myself as making it in the music world. For many years I dreamed and worked toward being a big rock star drummer. But, I just couldn’t see myself in the Country music business as a career, though, which is why I didn’t move to Nashville with the other guys. The Santa Fe band helped me realize that I wasn’t really cut out for the music business in general. Nine months of playing every weekend and sometimes 4 or 5 nights a week proved to me that I didn’t have the work ethic necessary. It doesn’t sound hard to a truly dedicated musician, who has to play music in order to feel alive. But, during the Santa Fe days I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t one of those guys. But, I’d say that every other guy in the group definitely saw themselves as being one of the new faces in music, which is why they packed up all they had and moved to Music City USA. They all had the drive to do it, especially Garth. He got some huge breaks, but if he hadn’t, I imagine he would to this day still be playing everywhere he could, chasing that dream with blinders on. Tom Skinner ( Santa Fe bass player), an excellent musician, singer and songwriter, still has that fire even though he never made it big. He plays everywhere he can around Tulsa and I admire and envy him for never losing his passion for music.

Q - Are you involved in anything musical these days?
A – I’m happy to report that yes, I’ve recently reunited with some old buddies. We get together once a month or so to work on original music. Gone are the days of jamming on ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Louie Louie’. Long gone. Now, we give each other tapes and CD’s of original stuff, get together for a few hours either in my basement or in one of the other guy’s living rooms and have our therapy. We have no ambitions for playing bars or anything like that. It’s just the experience of playing and creating. Once a month isn’t enough to knock all the rust off my drumming ability, but having not played with anyone for years, I’ll take it.

Q – You’re a copywriter. Do you like being a copywriter? Is that something you had to go to college for or did you pick it up on your own?
A – My plan after college was to become a high school English teacher. That’s one of the reasons I elected not to go to Nashville. While I was looking for a teaching job in Tulsa, I was told about an ad agency that was looking for someone with an English degree. I never thought of using my English for anything but teaching, but since the teaching market was pretty tight at the time and I was working as a gardener and living with my parent (I was 26 at the time), I took a chance that it might be a lucrative enough job to at least afford me my own apartment. I was hired and I’ve been a copywriter ever since. Do I like it? Some days I do. Some days I don’t. Like anything else, it gets old after awhile. But it pays the bills-----sort of.

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