Anybody who has spent time in college dive bars has heard Garth Brooks’ drinking anthem, “Friends in Low Places”. More than likely, if you’re reading this post, you’ve heard the song more times than you’d care to admit.
Don’t worry, you’re in good company here. We’ve been there, too.
Released in 1990 as the lead single from Garth’s second album, No Fences, and became a number one hit on the Billboard country charts in the United States, remaining at the top of the charts for 8 consecutive weeks.
As we know, since then the song has maintained popularity, especially among patrons of any given dark and dingy watering hole.
“Friends in Low Places” Origins
While the song may have been popularized by Garth Brooks, he was not the one who wrote it, nor was he the first one to release it.
“Friends in Low Places” was written in 1989 by Earl Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell, and the first recorded version was released that same year by David Wayne Chamberlain.
The common origin story is that one night Blackwell & Lee were hanging out with other songwriters in the historic Nashville country artist hangout, The Row. When it came time to settle up, Lee realized he had forgotten his wallet.
However, it was no big deal, as Lee told his friends, “Don’t worry. I have friends in low places. I know the cook.” The duo recall recognizing the line’s potential but naturally, in a setting of drinks and good times, life gets in the way.
Later, they were at a party for another songwriter who had recently penned a number one single, and the “friends with low places” idea came up again. This time, they were committed, and they penned the song on bar napkins in one night.
As they polished the song, they asked Garth Brooks to record a demo for them, which they would then go and use to shop around to artists. This was the last time that Garth Brooks ever recorded a demo as a singer, as it was just before his career exploded with the release of his self-titled debut album.
In the liner notes for his 1994 greatest hits album, The Hits, Brooks explains a bit of the backstory in his own words:
“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 on to 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 Dewayne and Bud for believing in me.”Garth Brooks on the origins of “Friends in Low Places.”
Of course, that is not entirely true, as the song was recorded by both David Wayne Chamberlain (in 1989) and Mark Chesnutt (1990) prior to Brooks’ recording of it for his second album. Brooks did release his before Chesnutt’s version but I’m not sure it would have made a difference anyway.
Listening to Chesnutt’s recording below, it’s clear that Brooks delivers a more powerful vocal performance that is more suited to the boozy nature of the song.
Mark Chesnutt – “Friends in Low Places”
Unfortunately, while David Chamberlain’s version is well-documented as having been recorded in 1989, it seems that it may be one of the rare instances where something is actually not on the internet yet. Let me know if anyone is able to find a stream of that original recording.
“Friends in Low Places” Lyrics Meaning
The lyrics to “Friends in Low Places” depict a man who crashes a fancy event, perhaps the wedding of an ex-girlfriend, and ruins the party by showing up drunk and in boots. Or, to put it more simply, by showing up as himself.
As Garth sings in the opening lines, that’s just how he was raised:
Blame it all on my roots, I showed up in bootsFirst verse to “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks.
And ruined your black-tie affair
The last one to know, the last one to show
I was the last one you thought you’d see there
And I saw the surprise and the fear in his eyes
When I took his glass of champagne
And I toasted you, said, “Honey, we may be through
But you’ll never hear me complain”
There are several hints given in this verse that the event he’s crashing is his ex-girlfriend’s wedding.
First, of course is the black-tie affair. Many weddings to adhere to the black tie dress code, typically reserved for formal evening events.
Then, being the last one to hear about the wedding suggests that he wasn’t invited, and even that there was an effort made not to let him hear about it.
When he got there, he grabbed the glass of champagne from his ex-girlfriend’s new man and made a toast of his own, essentially saying, “good riddance.” He’s glad they’re through.
His reasons why, well, those are his friends ’round the corner at the oasis. This he explains while belting out the iconic chorus:
‘Cause I’ve got friends in low placesChorus to “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks.
Where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases
My blues away
And I’ll be okay
I’m not big on social graces
Think I’ll slip on down to the oasis
Oh, I’ve got friends
In low places
Garth’s friends at the bar are his drinking buddies, and he’s been in there drowning his blues in whiskey and beer. He’s not too concerned about being polite at a black tie event, and saving face. He’d rather just go meet up with his friends and get blasted, because these people won’t judge him.
This brings to mind another country classic, “Neon Moon” by Brooks & Dunn, which addresses a less boisterous side of being heartbroken in a bar.
Next is the second verse, continuing Brooks’ narrative of the black tie event, or ex-girlfriend’s wedding:
Well, I guess I was wrong, I just don’t belongSecond verse to “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks.
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 give me an hour and then
Well, I’ll be as high as that ivory tower
That you’re livin’ in
Brooks has made a fool of himself, and he feels out of place at this event. He knows what to do, though, because it’s not his first rodeo. He says goodnight and gets the hell out of there as fast as he can. His favorite watering hole is not far away and he can get a good buzz going within an hour.
The mention of an ivory tower suggests that the people whom are not his “Friends in Low Places” are disconnected from reality, and turn their nose upon the struggles of others. He suggests they are living high in the tower, and he’s planning to get drunk enough to feel just as high.
As it was written by Earl Bud Lee and Dewayne Blackwell, this is the final verse in the song, and it closes with a few more singalong renditions of the chorus.
However, not long after Brooks started to perform the track, he added an additional verse in the live setting, where he refers to the second verse and claims that he would have handled things a bit differently if it were real life.
Then, he provides an updated version of the verse which changes the final few lines:
I guess I was wrong, I just don’t belongGarth Brooks’ additional verse to “Friends in Low Places”.
But then, I’ve been there before
And everything is alright, I’ll just say goodnight
And I’ll show myself to the door
I didn’t mean to cause a big scene
Just wait ’til I finish this glass
Then sweet little lady I’ll head back to the bar
And you can kiss my ass
This removes the mention of the ivory tower, and instead places the focus on the narrator himself, where it has been for the majority of the song.
Listen to “Friends in Low Places” below, and hear the live recording featuring his ad-libbed third verse below that.
Garth Brooks – “Friends in Low Places”
Garth Brooks – “Friends in Low Places” (Live)
“Friends in Low Places” 2015 Re-Recording
In 2015, Brooks was set to release a 25th anniversary edition of the No Fences album, which would include a re-recorded version of “Friends in Low Places” featuring a bunch of his friends. This includes George Strait, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Keith Urban singing along with Brooks.
The album was never released but the song itself did appear on the 2016 Ultimate Collection box set. You can stream that one below, as of now.
There’s no telling how long it will remain on Youtube, as it seems that Garth Brook material is difficult to find online in general. That’s a story for another day. Let us know if it’s gone and we’ll find an alternate source. Cheers!
Garth Brooks – “Friends in Low Places” (2015)