In the '80s, big-shots would sometimes brag about how they had "friends in high places." Well, in this song, Garth Brooks has friends in low places like the dive bars where he takes his whiskey, and that's just fine with him.
The song was written by the Nashville songwriters Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell; Lee came up with the title one day when they were having lunch with some of their buddies at a restaurant called Tavern on the Row. When the check came, Lee realized he didn't have any money, and said not to worry because "I have friends in low places. I know the cook." (source: The Stories Behind Country Music's All-Time Greatest 100 Songs.)
In this song, Brooks plays a cowboy who turns up at the engagement party or wedding reception of an old flame. He makes a toast:
Honey, we may be through
But you'll never hear me complain
Then he sees himself out and drinks himself silly. That's were the song ends, except in live versions, where there's more to it.
The song is a huge crowd pleaser. Brooks introduces it with a four note arpeggio on his acoustic guitar, which inevitably brings roars of applause. After the second verse, he tells a story along these lines:
"One day I was driving around back home, and it came on the radio. I said, 'Garth, would you handle this situation that way?' And I said, 'No, I don't think I would.' So I went back and wrote a third verse for this song to make it a little more me."
He then launches into the extra verse, which most of the crowd inevitably knows:
Well, I guess I was wrong
I just don't belong
But then, I've been there before
Everything's all right
I'll just say goodnight
And I'll show myself to the door
Hey, I didn't mean
To cause a big scene
Just wait till I finish this glass
But sweet little lady
I'll head back to the bar
And you can kiss my ass
Mark Chesnutt recorded a more down-tempo version of this song almost a year before Garth Brooks did (Brooks had it on hold first, but it was pitched to Chesnutt when he didn't record it fast enough), though Chesnutt's version was not a single. Chesnutt's appears on his album Too Cold at Home
Beau - Phoenix, AZ
On Garth Brooks: The Hits
Garth says: "'Friends in Low Places' was the last demo session I ever did as a singer. The demo was for Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell. I sang the session out in Hendersonville, and for the next two weeks the chorus to this song kept running through my head. I knew it would be a year and a half before the release of No Fences
because Garth Brooks
was just getting ready to be released. I asked Bud Lee and Dewayne if I could hold onto it and, without a blink of an eye, they both said yes. Putting that kind of faith into an unknown artist is unheard of. Thanks Bud and Dewayne for believing in me."
Alice - Winston-Salem, NC
Garth Brooks closed the last ever episode of The Tonight Show
to be hosted by Jay Leno with a performance of this song (Leno had hosted the program for 22 years). Brooks also sang "The Dance
" on the show.
In 2008, months after Brooks played a series of nine sold-out concerts at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, the Kansas City Royals baseball team started a tradition of playing this song during the sixth inning of every home game. After a few years, it frayed on some fans, and in 2014 was replaced with Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'
," chosen in an online vote.
Brooks worked out with the Royals at spring training in 2004 and made contributions to youth baseball initiatives in the area. In 2017, five players from the team joined Brooks on stage to sing "Friends In Low Places" when he played another show at the Sprint Center.
This was a #1 hit on the Country chart. Throughout the '90s Brooks notched a total of 17 #1 hits (his first chart-topper, "If Tomorrow Never Comes
," was released in 1989).
Brooks snapped up the tune after George Strait passed on it. Strait probably didn't kick himself too hard, though. He had two #1 hits in 1990: "Love Without End, Amen" and "I've Come To Expect It From You."
In Brooks' 2017 book, The Anthology Part 1: The First Five Years, Chris Leuzinger, who played electric guitar on the album, described how the tune pushed the musicians out of their comfort zone. He said: "They told the band, 'This needs to be like a bar band, like a bunch of guys playing at the end of the night, last song of the set kind of thing.' Usually we were all trained to be very polite in our playing, meaning like I would never think about covering up a steel lick with a guitar lick or covering up a fiddle lick. But Garth was like, 'No, you guys, I just want you to play like you're in a band. So it sounds like a band jamming onstage.'"
This earned Brooks a Grammy nomination for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, but he lost to Vince Gill for "When I Call Your Name."
Guitarist James Garver suggested they name the song's bar The Oasis after a watering hole in his hometown of Concordia, Kansas.
Listen closely to the rowdy chorus and you'll hear someone yell, "Push, Marie!" That's because Garver was at the hospital with his wife, Marie, who was having a baby. Brooks kept the shout-out in the mix for good luck.
Also you might catch a musician opening a beer can during that raucous party refrain. The noise was picked up by a microphone, but when the album was being mastered, its crack-fizz sound was originally mistaken for an audio glitch.