Toby and Willie Saddle Up for “Beer for My Horses”

(Toby and Willie — Making the Video airs May 2 at 8 p.m. ET/PT; May 4 at 5:30 p.m. ET/PT; May 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.)

When Toby Keith wrote “Beer For My Horses” with pal Scotty Emerick, something about the song reminded them of Willie Nelson .

“With Willie’s phrasing an everything, we were thinking wouldn’t it be great if Willie would do it,” Keith tells CMT. “And Willie does so many duets, I just assumed he’d say yes. I hoped he would. So we went ahead and wrote it to where it would fit his phrasing.”

Keith got his wish one night after running into Nelson at a Nashville restaurant and mentioned a song he wanted Nelson to sing with him.

“I said, ‘Well send me whatever y’all want to do,’” Nelson tells CMT. “Later on that afternoon, we were hanging out on the bus and I said, ‘Toby, what’s the name of that song?’ And he said, ‘Whiskey for My Men, Beer for My Horses.’ And I said, ‘Well, let’s go cut it.’ That’s all I needed to hear was the title.”

Keith says, “When I was a kid, after high school, I’d work in a rodeo company that put on rodeos and brought the stock. They were stock contractors and they brought stock to rodeos, put them on and did it for the local round-up club. The old guys at the end of the night, after they got the stock bed down, would always have a toast. One of the toasts they used to do was, ‘All right boys, whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.’ … And I always thought that sounded like a real Western thing, and I always wanted to write it, and kept that title around for a long while.”

Setting aside two days in January to film the video in Los Angeles, Keith plays an undercover cop, and Nelson plays the retired detective who enjoys the cowboy lifestyle. Together, they pursue a serial killer. Although the workdays were long and occasionally grueling, the singers managed to have a little fun on the set, too.

“We were shooting the toasting scene, and there was a lot of whiskey involved there,” Nelson says. “Of course, they asked us, do we want iced tea or do we want the real thing? And you know which one we wound up wanting.”

As for the numerous stunts in the video, Keith jokes, “It’s not any worse than being in a beer joint on Friday night.”

In the past few years, Keith’s outspoken demeanor has also resulted in comparisons to Nelson’s outlaw image, although Keith is quick to downplay the similarity.

“Somebody was interviewing both of us and they said, ‘Here we sit with the old outlaw and the modern-day outlaw,’ or something like that. And I said, ‘That’s not fair that you guys are calling me an outlaw. I haven’t done half the things that guy has done,’” Keith says. “That’s not a title you can give yourself. You can’t just put ‘the outlaw Toby Keith’ on T-shirts and sell them. You’ve got to be given that name and branded with that name. … If Willie thinks I’m in that mold … it’s neat that you would have the king say that.”

“If Toby’s anything like we were, he’s not going to listen to any advice we give him anyway,” Nelson says. “He knows what direction he wants to go, and I’m all for him, and I like his spunk and I like his spirit.”

Nelson, who turns 70 on Wednesday (April 30), remains one of Keith’s heroes. “I feel like I’ve known him my whole life,” Keith says. “But when you meet someone like that and you get to know them, finding you’ve got so much in common and so many common friends. … I don’t know how we waited until two or three years ago to get to know each other. We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for the same people.

“And he’s a great joke teller,” Keith adds. “Willie will sit around on break for hours and do nothing but tell jokes. He loves to hear them. He’ll listen to them like a hit song. I mean, he’ll make everybody shut up and dig on a great joke. He loves to tell great jokes and he loves to tell great stories. You’ve got to figure he hung out in Nashville with Roger Miller , Waylon Jennings , Johnny Cash , Faron Young . He’s got all the legendary scoop on all those cats.”

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.