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Story Behind the Song: Garth Brooks, ‘The Thunder Rolls’

Garth Brooks The Thunder Rolls lyrics
Cooper Neill, Getty Images

“The Thunder Rolls” is one of Garth Brooks‘ most well-known hits … but he wasn’t the first country artist to record the song.

Brooks co-wrote the tune with Pat Alger, and they gave it to Tanya Tucker, who recorded it but didn’t release it until after it became a hit for Brooks. Brooks released “The Thunder Rolls” as the fourth single from his sophomore No Fences album, and in 1991, it became a No. 1 song in both the U.S. and Canada.

In October of 2010, Alger was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and when Brooks paid tribute to the tunesmith that night, he told The Boot and the others assembled about writing “The Thunder Rolls.”

Pat [was] sitting with his pen and his paper, poised. I’ve got a little rubber ball that I’m bouncing off the wall right above his head, back and forth, crawling underneath the chairs and desk like you do when you’re five years old — because that’s what I do. Alger’s sitting there about ready to kill me, coming up with all these wonderful lines, thousands of ‘em that you never use.

But that’s Alger’s thing. Alger understands the craft. That’s what I love about Pat Alger. Pat Alger doesn’t care how or when it gets done. I might go as far as saying, not even if it does get done. The cool thing is just to capture that moment. And that’s what Pat Alger does.

It’s the first time I was ever in a record label. I was scared to death. Pat was kind of like my mentor/buddy — who was scared to death, too, if the truth be known.

Brooks also remembers that he and Alger felt “pretty cool” when they finished writing their song, put together a demo and went to meet record producer Jerry Crutchfield, who was interested in recording it with Tucker — but Crutchfield informed Brooks and Alger that he didn’t consider their song finished.

Alger, as sweet as he could, looked across that desk and [said], “What the hell you mean this ain’t finished?”

[Jerry] said, “I wanna know how it ends.”

Alger looked at him and goes, “No, you don’t.”

They had a great rapport with each other. I’m mortified. I’m sitting there going, “Well, there goes my first cut out the window.”

Brooks and Alger, of course, ended up writing that notorious third verse. Although Brooks’ recorded version of “The Thunder Rolls” does not include it, the complete version of the song has become a staple of Brooks’ live shows.

This story was originally written by Marianne Horner, and revised by Angela Stefano.

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