“American Ride” proved to be the fastest-rising single in a career filled with major accomplishments. It’s Toby Keith‘s single, of course, and the title track of the new album he released this week. Proving its staying power, the single is enjoying its second week at No. 1 on the Billboard country chart.
As it turns out, Keith already has enough songs written for his next album, although the song choices are always changing and there’s seldom a shortage of material. “By the time the album comes out, I’ve already got 12 or 15 on the next one already written.”
In a recent interview with CMT Insider producer Terry Bumgarner, Keith talked about the new album and offered his thoughts about his friend, basketball star and jazz musician Wayman Tisdale, who died in May following a battle with cancer. One of the highlights of American Ride is “Cryin’ for Me,” a song Keith wrote about his fellow Oklahoman.
CMT: The album’s title track is the only thing on the album you didn’t write.
Keith: Joe West and Dave Pahanish wrote the song. I had it for a little over a year, maybe two years, and sat on it … and kept thinking, “This is so me. Who else could cut this song?” This is a hit song, and the writer in me was going, “Hey, just cut the stuff you wrote, and you’ll be fine.” And the artist side of me was going, “How much fun it would be to do this?” The beauty of the song, it talks about all this crap you watch every day, these pandemic news stories on these entertainment shows now instead of the national news. You get these entertainment things, and these talking heads fire at you all the time from both sides. And they keep it stirred up, keep hate going and they are all about ratings.
You know, Michael Jackson died, and 21 days later, you’re still listening to what his doctor’s next door neighbor said he saw 16 years ago. And you’re like, “Let the guy rest in peace.” And all this stuff is coming — the swine flu and SARS. … Iran is getting a bomb, global warming. You just hear so much of that. … And that’s what it’s making fun of.
After listening to “Cryin’ for Me,” the song about Wayman Tisdale, I was wondering whether you wrote it for his funeral service.
Yeah. Wayman Tisdale was a three-time All American from Oklahoma and put basketball on the map at the University of Oklahoma. … He was the second player taken in the NBA draft — behind Patrick Ewing with the Pacers. He played 12 years in the NBA, had a great career. … He played bass, but he was left-handed, so he took a right-handed bass, flipped it over and played with the big string on the bottom. He played jazz. He was incredible. All the greats … wanted to jam with him because of his unusual style.
We started hanging out five or six years ago and became very close. He discovered he had bone cancer in his leg. They removed his leg from above the knee down. … The next morning after he got his leg amputated, he was ringing my phone — “Where ya at?” … I go up there, and he’s high-fiving, as always. He walked the walk. His dad and brother are reverends. And he was a charismatic, unbelievable person — the closest walking thing I’ve ever seen to Jesus, himself. If you’ve read much about Jesus Christ, you know how he carried himself. Wayman was the closest thing to represent Him. He was amazing, how he walked among the thugs and the heathens in this world of music and how he carried himself and how he responded to criticism and how he responded to somebody else’s short comings — and even his own.
He recovered and got his [prosthetic] leg going a couple months later and went out and did a couple of gigs. I let him use a couple of my buses to get him out on the road. Around April of this year, he and his wife, Regina, were in Vegas during the ACM Awards, and I let them have my seats. They sat out front and watched the show. I took him to dinner. Three weeks later, I got a phone call. He said, “I need to lease a couple of your buses again.” I said, “All right. When do you need them?” I left him a voicemail, and he left me one. That was a Wednesday night. Thursday morning, I got up, called him and left him a voicemail. Friday morning, I got a text message that said he had passed away. … We lost an incredible person.
So all the rest of Friday and Saturday, I just reeled around in a fog. I just couldn’t believe that the Lord had taken someone from us that was that good of a human being. He didn’t deserve that, but he was never not OK with it the whole way. He was at peace with it the whole way. So I wrote this song Sunday morning and tried to prepare myself to sing it his funeral. I couldn’t get it done, couldn’t get through it. It was too emotional for me. It took me a month or two before I could get in to record it. When I recorded it, the first thing I did that morning was I went and dialed his cell phone and listened to the voicemail one more time because I’d heard it so many times.
Did you ever think about maybe keeping the song private, or did you want to put it on the record?
No. At first, I just wanted to do it at his funeral, something really personal — a gift from me to the world, to the funeral in his world. That’s what he was to me, a gentlemen and just the perfect person he was. After I wrote it, I said, “I’ve got to record this thing.” So the beauty of it was Dave Koz, the jazz sax player, [bassist] Marcus Miller, another one of his jazz buddies, were all there playing at the funeral, so I asked both of them, “I’ve got this song for him. Do you guys want to play on it?” So Marcus played bass, and Koz is playing sax. It ended up being a really nice tribute.
What’s the biggest twist with this album?
Well, jazz stuff on “Cryin’ for Me” is something for me I’ve never ever done. We laid some chords in there that when Koz and Marcus Miller played on them, they would have stuff to work with from their world. I never put jazz changes in anything I’ve done, so that’s one of them. That other is the blues song ["If You're Tryin' You Ain't"] that’s straight-ahead Chicago blues,
Is it exciting to you when you get to do something a little bit different and branch out a little bit more?
I’m influenced by all kinds of music. I have a very diverse iPod. You never know if I’ve got it on shuffle You never know what you are going to hear next. I like all genres. If it’s good, then I like it. I’m into hip-hop, rap, country, blues, gospel, old school, new school … whatever … pop. If it’s really good, I like it. I don’t have to be told what to listen to. If I like it and it’s good, I’ll listen to it. Having that background, knowing so many songs, it keeps me from staying stale and playing the same thing. … Some radio station said the other night, “Who else would radio have trusted enough to cut ‘American Ride’? You’re the only guy that can get away with that.” That’s a great position to be in. You cut out a niche to where, when you bring something off the wall like “American Ride,” they go, “Yeah, we get you. We know where you’re coming from.”