Matt O'Meilia Interview
(Garth Brooks' Ex-Drummer)
Every musician has probably wondered what it would be like to play with a
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
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
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
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
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.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved