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“Chris Gaines,” Garth Brooks’ rock alter ego, performs on Saturday Night Live

If you were entirely out of touch with the contemporary music scene in the fall of 1999, you could still have tuned into most episodes of Saturday Night Live during its 25th season and recognized the names of musical guests like David Bowie, Sting and R.E.M. But even those with a finger on the pulse of all things musical could easily have drawn a blank when it came to the guest on one particular episode: On November 13, 1999, the host of Saturday Night Live was the country-music giant Garth Brooks, but the musical guest that night was a rocker by the name of Chris Gaines—a musician few but Garth Brooks himself had ever even heard of.

According to his official biography, Chris Gaines was a former Grammy-winner and seasoned rock veteran staging a mid-career comeback nearly 10 years after a string of hits in the 1980s with songs that included collaborations with Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, among others. In fact, “Chris Gaines” was Garth Brooks in a black wig and a glued-on soul patch—the biggest country-music star in the world pursuing his dreams of being a rock star in the guise of a highly developed alter-ego.

Garth Brooks had never made a secret of his love of rock and roll. He spoke openly of being influenced by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Freddie Mercury, for instance, and he’d contributed a totally faithful version of Kiss’s 1976 hit “Hard Luck Woman” under his own name on the 1994 album of KISS covers, Kiss My Ass: Classic Kiss Regrooved. But when he decided he wanted to release a full-blown pop album, he also decided he needed to do so under an assumed identity.

In his appearance on Saturday Night Live on this day in 1999, Brooks played it completely straight, remaining in character as “Chris Gaines” while performing the song “Way Of The Girl” and reverting to his regular identity during the evening’s comedy sketches. The appearance was part of a major publicity push undertaken by Brooks to promote the recently released “Chris Gaines” pop album Garth Brooks in…The Life of Chris Gaines, which was itself originally intended to be followed by a Hollywood film starring Brooks in the role of the fictional Gaines. The latter project never got off the ground, however, and the entire Chris Gaines experiment has become a topic of easy ridicule for entertainment critics in the years since. Garth Brooks…In The Life of Chris Gaines, did, however, launch the “Chris Gaines” single “Lost In You” into the Billboard Top 40, giving the man who sold upwards of 100 million country records during the 1990s alone his one and only pop hit.

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