One-Hit Wonderings: What Happened To Ty England?

Musicians are often lumped into two buckets: Those who make it big, and those who don’t make it at all. However, there’s a third group that sits in between these extremes: The artists that get a taste of success and draw the spotlight for a brief moment, but can’t sustain the momentum and watch the light quickly fade from their careers. Bittersweet as it may be, however, that brief moment can leave an lasting impression on the people who hear it, leaving them scratching their head as to why things didn’t. These are the stories of the one-hit wonders.

In our first installment of what will hopefully be a recurring series, we examine the career of Ty England, a supporting character in the GBCU (Garth Brooks Cinematic Universe) that struggled when they tried to step in a leading role themselves. England only managed to put a single song into the Top Twenty when his 1995 debut “Should’ve Asked Her Faster” made it to #3, but the song must have left a serious impression on people, because this exact same article has been written twice within the last three years, including one by country chart insider Chris Owen! When a song makes that kind of an impact, it begs the question: Why wasn’t England’s success sustainable?

In examining England’s career, many of the same factors that we’ve seen in previous deep dives (notably timing and label machinations) are present here, but the biggest factors at play are luck and personality: It took a huge break to get England into the music business in the first place (one that he could never seem to replicate), and one he got a taste of the business end of the business, he didn’t seem all that enthused in being a part of the system.

The Dream

Ty England is the ultimate “right place, right time” individual: A few weeks after arriving on the campus on Oklahoma State University, he was introduced to a fellow student (and eventual roommate) that shared his musical obsession. England’s devotion to music over grades, however, eventually led him to leave campus and finish his degree via night classes, but his friend declared that if his career ever went anywhere, he would bring England along for the ride. Pacts like this are made, broken, and forgotten all the time, but this time was different: England’s OSU acquaintance wound up being the Garth Brooks (who, as of this writing, is still putting singles on the country charts) and he made good on his word:

“The day Garth signed his record deal at Capitol…he called my house. He told me he wanted me to move to Nashville and be a part of his band. I hesitated and said, `Man, give me a week to think about this. It’s a pretty scary thing.’ And then I went into work that next morning and told my boss that I would be leaving to move to Nashville. So it took me about 24 hours to come to that decision.”

England, as told to FuseVisual, March 2015

Say what you want about Garth Brooks, but the man is fiercely loyal to his friends (so much so that volunteered to donate part of his liver to Chris LeDoux when LeDoux required a transplant), and Brooks was both a friend and a superfan of Ty England, at one point calling him “probably the most talented person I had ever been around.” It was this connection to arguably the biggest star in country music history that eventually earned England his own shot at radio success.

England played in Brooks’s band for seven years, but Brooks continued to talk him up as a potential country star, and encouraged England to embark on a solo career on his own. England would eventually sign a solo record deal with RCA in 1995, and when “Should’ve Asked Her Faster” caught the public’s ear, he seems to be poised for country stardom.

The Reality

However, as a not-so-wise man is fond of saying, country music will give a debut #1 to just about anyone (yes, I know “Should’ve Asked Her Faster” only made it to #3 on Billboard and #4 on R&R, but the point still stands that it was a radio hit), and subsequent singles could never recapture the magic. Neither “Smoke In Her Eyes” nor “Redneck Son” could even crack the Top 40, the big leadoff single for his sophomore disc “Irresistible Girl” peaked at #22, and by 1997 England’s country career was basically a wrap.

So what happened? First, let’s consider the usual suspects:

  • Label Issues: England’s tenure at RCA was defined by micromanagement, with both the label and producer imposing their own artistic vision on the artist. England was less than thrilled with the process:

“We made several mistakes at RCA, number one being we chose songs by committee…We were exclusively trying to pick songs that we thought radio would play. And [producer] Garth Fundis didn’t know me for who I really was. He knew me for who I had been in Garth’s [Brooks] band.”

England, as told to Lisa Young, June 2003

“England said the folks at RCA weren’t too welcoming of his suggestions, so he was reluctant to suggest tunes to Brooks.”

Diane Samms Rush, Orlando Sentinel, January 2001

England also cited the political side of the business as a problem during his RCA tenure:

“I never wanted to look at (music) as a business because I enjoy playing so much. But it’s as much a business as the New York Stock Exchange…It’s very political, and you have to have two or three guys watching your back all the time.”

England, as told to Ben Scott, June 1999

It’s worth noting that RCA was going through a bit of a transition at the time, with Joe Galante (a man known for cutthroat business acumen and unafraid to ruffle feathers and bruise feelings) returning after a disappointing stint at the label’s main corporate headquarters. England, however, admitted that he wasn’t always the easiest person to work with either:

“I didn’t have as much tact as I should have had…I made some demands from RCA that I shouldn’t have. [Brooks] called his own shots. I had never seen it done another way. I learned I’m not boss hog at the record label.”

England, as reported by Edward Morris, January 2004

The frustrating experience and limited success led England to rejoin Brooks at Capitol Nashville in 1999, where he had both a sympathetic producer (Brooks) and CEO (Pat Quigley) that would give England the freedom to make the kind of album he wanted. So he did, and then

“Two weeks before that album came out, the president of the label was fired, and the walls came tumbling down…When a new person comes in, he always has new ideas and new plans, and I wasn’t in those plans.”

England, as told to John Wooley, December 2004

The album wound up flopping hard (none of the singles even cracked the top 50), once again that even the best of albums is just a plastic disc with a picture without some marketing muscle behind it.

  • Timing: If Marvel is playing the “What If?” game with its cinematic universe, we can do the same thing here. Suppose that Quigley never leaves Capitol, and that Brooks and England put together an album for the ages. (Truthfully, Highways & Dance Halls is a decent album as it is, and Brooks’s influence is palpable in the tracks—you could just imagine Brooks singing these songs himself, and he eventually did. However, England’s rendition of “Travelin’ Soldier” is pretty weak compared to The Chicks’ version.) Would the album have done well? I have my doubts:
Image from Amazon

By the turn of the millennium, country music was dominated by a pop-country movement headlined by artists like Shania Twain and Faith Hill, and the neotraditional sound that had defined early/mid-1990s was fading from the scene. (For all of Garth Brooks’s star power, it’s worth noting that even he was starting to lose his grip on the genre by this point, and he would announce his retirement just one year after Highways & Dance Halls was released.) England’s sound in both his RCA and Capitol tenures was firmly planted in a more-traditional style, and it wasn’t simply wasn’t in vogue at this point. This album could have made some noise in 1990, but by 2000 the musical world had moved on, which makes me think that whatever window England might have had for stardom had already closed.

The Reasoning

So if timing and label issues were clear factors in England’s decline, why did I single out luck and personality earlier? The luck factor is easy enough to explain: Much like Lee Ann Womack, England simply missed his moment by a good ten years or so to make his mark in Nashville, and when did he take his shot, circumstances beyond his control never seem to work out in his favor.

But exactly how does personality fit into this equation? Much like Chris Cagle, after going through England’s statements I get the sense that the man simply wanted to make music on his own terms, and was uncomfortable in the role that a musical career demanded.

The biggest example of this is England’s attempt at “anti-networking.” There’s an old saying that “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and as the guy standing beside one of the biggest musical stars on the planet for seven years, England may well have been one of the best-connected people in country music. Being the loyal person that he is, Brooks was more than willing to offer a helping hand or ten to England to aid his rise to the top, and given Brooks’s power at the time, he probably could have opened a lot of eyes and doors for his former sideman. England, however, didn’t want to be labeled as the guy who found fame just by riding Brooks’s coattails:

“I mean, when I left Garth and went on my own, I felt I would earn more respect by totally severing all of my ties to Garth. Now, I could have opened every show he did. I could have done duets with him on my albums. He offered those opportunities to me. Garth wanted to help me. But I turned down all of his offers.”

England, as told to FuseVisual, March 2015

“I felt I needed to get away from Garth so I could earn credit and wings on my own.”

England, as told to Lisa Young, June 2003

England eventually came to terms with his role as Garth Brooks’s understudy when he joined Capitol Records, but even then he made a point of declaring “I’m not saying that I’m going to use Garth for everything I can to get where I’m going.” England wanted his success to be his own doing, which is a laudable sentiment, but perhaps not ideal for someone looking to break through in a dog-eat-dog town like Nashville.

The duplicity of musical insiders seemed to bother England a lot as well: In addition to the politics quote from earlier, he explicitly references character when talking about his post-Capitol plans, saying that he was thinking about starting an Oklahoma-based label because “people here have a heart that’s right for country-music talent…They’re down-to-earth. They’re honest. They’re friendly.” (He also applauded Quigley back in the day for making Capitol “a lot more family-oriented,” which is a supremely weird compliment to give a record executive.) England thought of himself a purely a musician, and wanted to surround himself with people he could trust so he didn’t have to worry about their motives or schemes. Again, this is a great idea in theory, but it’s also a pipe dream in an industry that promises untold fame and fortune for those who rise above their peers.

Finally, while England claimed to be obsessed with music, after his RCA tenure he seemed to lose his taste for a formal musical career:

“In all honesty, I had done a lot of soul searching and looked through newspapers for jobs…I did everything to try to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I have never found anything that I care about the way I do music. When Garth called, my immediate response was, ’I want to try it again.'”

England explaining his actions after exiting RCA, as told to Lisa Young, June 2003

“This is the beginning or the end of my musical journey.”

England on his Highways & Dance Halls album, as told to Diane Samms Rush, January 2001

“I’ve got an album sitting in my back pocket, but I don’t want to sign with a record label and just be one of the guys on the label…I want somebody who’s willing to jump on the bandwagon with me.”

England after leaving Capitol, as told to John Wooley, December 2004

Basically, the dude was done with Nashville by 1997, and it took the perfect offer from an old friend to bring him back for a second go-round. (England would eventually release a fourth album Alive And Well And Livin’ The Dream in 2007, but whether that was the album in his back pocket is unclear.)

The Verdict

So what made Ty England a one-hit wonder? It appears that his career was a case of “be careful what you wish for”: He had a vision of what his career and his music would be like, and he got a rude awakening when a) his record label didn’t follow his roadmap, and b) he discovered his sound was out of step with the public’s tastes. Still, for one shining moment he was on top of the world (if not quite on top of the charts) with a catchy little Western swing number that still resonates listeners over twenty-five years after its release, and while the song would occasionally wear on him for being the only one people remembered, I would argue that it beats the alternative of not being remembered at all.

2 thoughts on “One-Hit Wonderings: What Happened To Ty England?

  1. Great post. Thanks for taking my idea and bringing it to fruition. How about my all-time least favorite one-hit wonder, Canaan Smith, next? (Or perhaps Jessica Andrews…you may disagree but “Who I Am” has always been one of my least favorite 2000’s country songs. It’s just tacky and sappy in nature with no real substance behind it.)

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  2. There were a couple of nice ballads on his first album – “It’s Lonesome Everywhere’ and ‘Is That You?’.

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