Karen Brooks' Country Hit Is a New Way Out, but She's Right at Home on the Range
A fair hand at roping cows, country newcomer Karen Brooks is no slouch at dogging music executives either. Take the way she corralled her deal two years ago with Warner Bros. Miniclad at an L.A. party, she was approached by Warner bigwig Andrew Wickham, who asked if he might have the green garter punctuating her leg. "That got us on speaking terms," recalls Karen. "Then I made him take it off me. I've never seen him so red since. I think executives like being intimidated because they think that's what a star is all about."
Maybe so. What's certain is that 37-year-old Karen garter-snaked Warners into a contract that's beginning to pay off for all concerned. A songwriter of standing (she co-wrote Emmylou Harris' Tennessee Rose and Rosanne Cash's Couldn't Do Nothing Right), Karen turned recording artist this past June with her bluesy first album, Walk On, which produced a single, New Way Out, that percolated into country's Top 20. And a new release, Faking Love, a duet with T.G. Sheppard, is already zipping up the charts. All of which leaves Karen as down-home and saucy as ever. "What would people think," asks Brooks, cleaning out a stall on the 500-acre Franklin, Tenn. ranch she helps manage with her new husband, cowboy Jack Lawrence, 29, "if they knew the only time I have for listening to country music is when I rake out the manure?"
Obviously no rhinestone cowgirl, Brooks actually grew up a city kid in Dallas. By 17, she had quit school, toiled some as a cocktail waitress and worked on a ranch. One night in Austin in 1972 she met singer Jerry Jeff Walker, who encouraged her to get into the music business. Brooks took that as "a real compliment," considering that she'd only just become proficient on the guitar and had only serenaded cowpokes. She eventually became an opening act for Jerry Jeff and others. Several years later Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell encouraged her to move to L.A., where she signed as a staff writer with Warner Bros, in 1980—and promptly moved to Tennessee to be nearer the country capital, Nashville. Soon after, she moved up to a recording contract.
Music hasn't yet made her rich, but she isn't complaining. Brooks, Lawrence and Luken, her 6-year-old son from an earlier marriage to songwriter Gary Nunn, live simply in a house trailer so small it won't take a kitchen table. "Jack is my hero," says Brooks, who also loves her life-style, even the chores. "My favorite time is when we ride horses. Jack has five horses and I've got three. I've got to ride them every day. I love being one of the bumpkins." Contentment, in fact, is creating a problem. "I wish I were miserable so I could write more songs," sighs Brooks. "My publishers are real sick about it."
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