Toby Keith: ACM Win, Willie and a Little Politics

He and Ted Nugent Will Be Entertaining U.S. Troops Overseas

LAS VEGAS — The big winner at Wednesday’s (May 26) Academy of Country Music Awards wasn’t expecting to take home any trophies, but Toby Keith has been around long enough to know the drill.

Keith won in four categories, including entertainer of the year and male vocalist. His Shock ‘n Y’all was named album of the year, and a collaboration with Willie Nelson on “Beer for My Horses” managed to lasso the fan-voted video of the year honor.

“It feels like the Joker overthrew the kingdom,” Keith said as he arrived in the backstage pressroom.

Keith’s lifetime average of winning awards has only improved in recent years. In the days leading up to this year’s ACM show, he said, “It didn’t feel like we had a chance going in. Everybody kept it under their hat. …. Sometimes those guys mess up. The guys working the stage know who the winner is. So if me and Alan [Jackson] are backstage … they say, ‘You two stand over here. We’re going to put the camera on you.’ And you’re both standing there already, and they go, ‘Alan, now come over here and stand in front of the camera.’ You already know Alan’s won. Then they go, ‘Oh, yeah. You, too, Toby.’”

Keith’s only hope this year was to win the video award.

“They let the video be voted on by the fans this year, so I thought me and Willie might have a shot,” he said. “I wanted so bad for Willie to get that award. He’s so deserving of everything he gets. That video was overlooked and overlooked, and it’s like a five-minute minimovie. He did a great job in it.” Keith also credited video director Michael Salomon.

During the press conference, Keith confirmed that he is working on a new album for release in November. He hinted that one of the tracks will be a new vocal collaboration.

“I’ve got a duet underway, but I’m not at liberty to speak about it because it’s not a done deal yet,” he said. “But if the thing goes [through], it’s with a female, and it will be huge.”

Keith also revealed plans for another overseas tour to entertain troops fighting the war in Iraq. Noting that his accomplice will be gonzo rocker and noted firearms enthusiast Ted Nugent, Keith joked, “He’s already advanced the ammo.” Describing the tour, he said, “It’s just a few of us going in. We’re taking in a couple of acoustic guitars and just hanging with the guys and taking some goodwill to them.”

Keith was asked about his reaction to Willie Nelson’s intentions to join Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond in performing at an upcoming event raising money for presidential hopeful John Kerry.

“You’ve got to put your politics aside,” Keith responded. “Willie understands where I come from, and he understands where I come from. I get accused of banging the war drum, but Willie knows me better than that. He knows we’re all about peace. Sometimes [war] is the only answer.

“I never one time have ever, anywhere, said anything about the Iraq war. Some guy in L.A. wrote a column on me one time that said I was trying [capitalizing on the war] to save my career. That’s such bullshit. There’s a difference between supporting your troops. I’m an American. I can pick and choose when I can make my statements. Nobody should listen to what I have to say, anyway. They ought to worry about themselves.

“I know the troops really well. They come to my shows every night. They’re missing arms, they’re missing legs, burnt beyond recognition. They show up with a little old tore up, dusty CD cover and say, ‘I want you to sign this. At every checkpoint, we stepped out, we saluted and played this song.’ If it means that much to them, I don’t give a damn what anybody thinks about it.

But as far as Willie’s deal with John Kerry goes, people don’t know that I’m a registered Democrat. I’m very conservative, to say, the least, but I’m a registered Democrat, and my family has been all along. I have to go from election to election and pick the guy I believe in — and vote in my own manner. I vote for the guy who gets the job done.

“I don’t envy President Bush’s job. If he doesn’t do anything about terrorism and we stick our head in the sand and something else happens, he’s a goat. If he goes over there and it’s bloody right now, it looks bad again. He’s got a tough job. It’s a no-win situation. It always is with war.”