Toby Keith Claims Jennings Nixed His Performance

Toby Keith has performed his new single “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” twice on national TV, but he won’t be doing the song on an upcoming ABC 4th of July special.

Keith told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday (June 13) that the song didn’t sit well with ABC news anchor Peter Jennings, host of the holiday special. “Lyric content” Keith said, was the reason he no longer is part of the Independence Day show.

Audiences heard Keith’s song, with its angrily patriotic lyrics, May 22 when he performed it on the CBS broadcast of the Academy of Country Music Awards. He performed it again Wednesday night (June 12) on the CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards.

Keith also has played the song at the Naval Academy, at the Pentagon and on a USO tour of Kosovo and Bosnia. “The response was so tremendous, I said, hey, we’re allowed to be angry … I’m a musician-songwriter, so this is my way of trying to express my feelings.”

Among the most confrontational lyrics: “This big dog will fight/When you rattle his cage/And you’ll be sorry that you messed with/The U.S. of A./’Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass/It’s the American way.” did not reach an ABC News spokesman Thursday. USA Today quoted a corporate spokeswoman who suggested that a final invitation had not been issued to Keith. “The whole production is still in the planning stages,” she is quoted as saying.

Keith disputes that. He says he was contacted May 16, just days before he performed the song on the CBS telecast of the Academy of Country Music Awards, and his manager faxed confirmation of his appearance to ABC. “They said, ‘We’ve gotta have you on the show. We want you opening it. This song’s great, it’s hot, America loves this song.’”

Backstage at the Flameworthy awards, Keith told the press, “Peter Jennings comes in and says that that song has lyric content that does not belong on his television network.”

Keith wrote the song about his father, Hubert “H.K.” Covel, who served in the Army. Covel died March 24, 2001, in a car crash. “He taught me to be a flag-waving patriot long before it was cool to wave a flag like it is now,” Keith said.

The song is at No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart after only five weeks, the fastest-rising single of Keith’s career, but he has not decided whether to make a video.

“We went overseas to Kosovo and Bosnia, shot a ton of footage riding those helicopters and put all the soldiers in it,” Keith said Wednesday. “There might be some documentary stuff that we do with it. I didn’t really think there was a song there. It was just a message and a statement that we had.”