LOS ANGELES — Toby Keith is covered in dirt and working up a sweat, hoisting cement blocks on top of each other. It could be a scene from his Oklahoma farm, but this is Hollywood, so the sweat is water from a spray bottle, and the dirt has been artfully applied by a stylist.
CMT Insider recently caught up with Keith at a construction site in downtown Los Angeles where he was shooting the latest in a long line of Ford Trucks commercials as he prepared to kick off his Hookin’ Up and Hangin’ Out tour.
Keith is adding “movie star” to his resume with the CMT Films feature film, Broken Bridges. Thursday night (Sept. 7), Keith will be attending the film’s premiere at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. A special Broken Bridges premiere event will also take place Thursday at theaters in more than 100 U.S. cities and military bases worldwide. The film, which opens Friday (Sept. 8) in theaters throughout the nation, stars Kelly Preston, Lindsey Haun, Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds, Tess Harper and Anna Maria Horsford.
During the interview with CMT Insider, Keith talked about his continued musical success, his new video featuring actress Heather Locklear and the daunting prospect of taking on Tinseltown.
What did you think the first time you saw the new stage for your tour?
It was nice. Usually, we have got a lot of backdrops and a cluster of things, but this one is a real metallic-looking thing — real clean looking. There are lots of towers, and I love the new screen. We’ve had a screen every year, but this has been my favorite one. They get more creative every year, and they get some new toys. We’ve got some pyrotechnic stuff coming from the ceiling.
How hard is it for you and the band to know where all that pyro stuff is going off so you can stay out of the way?
They rehearse it well, and the boys who’ve been working on pyro have been with us for years. They know where everybody stands, they know what we do on certain songs. We do a full rehearsal, and most of that stuff isn’t going to burn you anyway, but you want to stay away from those concussions [devices used to set off the explosions].
Have you ever gotten into a song and been surprised by one of those effects?
Yeah, there’s a part in “Beer for My Horses” where we hit a big drum beat, and I always jump down and stomp down on my guitar. We had some guests on stage one night, and I got on the other side of the stage and did my jump over there. I went down, and about a foot in front of me, those concussions went up, and everybody oohed and aahed, but it was right there in front of my face.
Another thing I noticed about the new stage is there’s a place for your fans. Why was it important to have them so close to you?
Every year, Ford shoots a six or seven-minute movie that goes on before I hit the stage. We always try to reveal the new stage with this movie, so there’s a scrim and we shoot a movie onto it, and then whatever happens in the movie we bring to life as the scrim falls. It’s like the movie comes to life every time. This year, the movie has people standing up there, so for the first three songs, we’re letting fans get on the stage. We’d like for them to stay for the whole show, but we’ve got pyro stuff, so we’ve got to get them out of there. We’ve got stuff falling on those boxes where they’re standing.
How did you score Heather Locklear for your new video, “Crash Here Tonight”?
My stylist is a good friend of hers, and so she’s been trying to get her on a project for a long time, and we just didn’t have one that fit. “As Good as I Once Was” and “A Little Too Late” didn’t really fit what we wanted to use Heather on. Susie, my stylist, has been wanting to get Heather out here for a long time. So finally, I said, “You know what? We’ve got a video for ’Crash Here Tonight.’ It’s a love song. It’s just me and a girl sharing a glass of wine. There’s not really much to the treatment except the beauty of the cinematography.” I said, “It’d be really great if you could get her in on this one,” and she was in like that.” [Snaps his fingers] She did a great job, too.
Is she a country fan?
What were your thoughts when you saw the final cut of your film, Broken Bridges?
I couldn’t be happier with it. The music in it was my favorite project I’ve ever worked on. I mean, I haven’t been that excited about music and being that creative, even though I write all these albums, as I was way back on my first one because it’s new. You get to write things that fall out of the script. The script’s there, and things fall out of that script, and you get to write things that you’re not under the thumb of proper protocol. I don’t care what the fans think on this. I don’t care what the radio stations think. I don’t care what a label thinks. It’s, “What does this movie need for this song right here? This movie needs a song right here, so where does it go?” I wrote the title cut, “Broken Bridges,” and it turned out great. The little girl in the movie is just gonna be a big star — Lindsey Haun. I think she’s gonna be a big movie star and a great big recording star. She’s fantastic in this movie.
And she’s touring with you.
Right. She’s on our label, too. She’s on Showdog, but she’s already been in tons of projects with Disney, and she played Britney Spears in the Britney Spears movie, so she’s already done a lot of things to be so young. We knew she could sing. She has a musical background, and her dad played guitar for Yes and Air Supply. So she came right in and sang the song that I asked her to sing for the movie, and she nailed it and it’s great.
Are any other movies on the horizon for you?
I’m busy writing with a guy here … Beer for My Horses, which will be my next movie project. I’m writing that right now and looking to shoot it this winter.
You’re writing the script, as well? How do you find time to do all this?
Well, I’m not really at it that much. I just got back from Mexico, and I was in Hawaii a week, I’ve been off all summer so I’m chomping at the bit.
After having so many hits over the years, how hard is it for you to decide what songs go into your concerts?
Things like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and “A Little Less Talk,” “Beer for My Horses,” “Who’s Your Daddy?,” “How Do You Like Me Now?!” — that’s what people pay their money for. I remember going to concerts and paying big-ticket money to go inside and somebody getting up there and playing their newest album that you’ve never heard and then four or five hits, and you’re like, “That sucked. I wanted to hear all the stuff I paid to come hear.” I’m very careful to take care of that.