When he burst onto the Nashville music scene in 1989, Garth Brooks not only changed the direction of country music, but of American entertainment overall. He played sold-out shows and moved unheard-of numbers of country CDs for a few years, then became someone else for a minute (Chris Gaines), then retired, then came back for one song (the Chris LeDoux tribute “Good Ride Cowboy”), then sort of un-retired on a limited basis. Now he’s totally back in the saddle with his latest album Fun (and an American Songwriter cover appereance!).
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The song that started it all for Brooks was “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” co-written with his friend Randy Taylor during Brooks’ days of performing in his native Oklahoma. This story of a rodeo cowboy and his struggles on the road resonated with a country audience that had been caught up in the “New Traditionalist” movement for a few years, and while Brooks’ debut single didn’t top the charts, it opened the door for the man who would go on to break nearly every record ever set by numerous artists of every genre.
Meanwhile, co-writer Randy Taylor — now Dr. Randy Taylor — went on to become a respected agricultural engineer, and is today part of the Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering faculty at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. But in the mid-1980s both men were still trying to find their places in the world.
“Garth and I had done some writing together,” Dr. Taylor recalls, “and one night he sat down and played ‘Much Too Young’ for me. It was originally written about a music artist – sort of the same story of life on the road, that type of thing – and I said, ‘Why don’t you make it about a rodeo cowboy?’ So we got together later and wrote it with a rodeo rider in mind. Garth’s band used to play it live back then, as Garth was already big around Oklahoma. It was an event whenever he played somewhere.”
Numerous Internet sites, and even a book about Brooks, erroneously identify the song’s co-writer. Those sources say he was indeed Randy Taylor, though not Randy Taylor the then-engineering student named. They claim he was an Oklahoma rodeo rider with the same name, presumably the Randy Taylor who today is a well-known professional rodeo announcer. It only took one phone call from American Songwriter to Taylor the rodeo announcer to confirm how wrong that attribution is. The onetime bareback competitor says that, while he has been asked countless times if he’s “that” Randy Taylor, he has “never even met Garth Brooks,” and certainly never wrote a hit song with him.
Upon hearing this, Dr. Taylor says that he has no problem with people thinking that the song was written by someone else with his name. But he also says “It’s nice to set the record straight.”
The song also helped launch the recording career of Chris LeDoux, the singer and former bareback champion who was well-known to the rodeo world, but not to the general public, despite the fact that he had already recorded about 20 albums. “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” contained the line The worn out tape of Chris LeDoux, lonely women and bad booze, which left millions of radio listeners wondering who Chris LeDoux was. Before long, Brooks and LeDoux, with his band the Western Underground, were playing on the same stages, and LeDoux had inked his own deal with Capitol Records. He passed away in 2005.
“Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)” changed the lives of everyone associated with it, and helped change the entire country music industry as well. Dr. Randy Taylor still writes and plays music, “But I’m not planning to move to Nashville,” he says. “I just got lucky. Actually, it was a combination of luck and working with somebody who was really good.”