If you wanna talk about Toby Keith, then you have to mention that over the last two decades, the imposing Oklahoma native has emerged as one of the most bankable country artists on tour. CMT Insider host Katie Cook caught up with him in Sacramento, Calif., and asked why he thinks most country tours are succeeding this year.
“We hang on to our artists and we bring them along and we let them spill their life out in music and writing. You get a real solid base,” Keith said. “Willie and Dolly and Cash and Merle Haggard and those guys were around for 40 or 50 years, and they still have a fan base. I think it’s that loyalty to what you do in music that keeps this thing strong, because it’s certainly not the economy for entertainment right now.”
Keith will release a new album, Bullets in the Gun, on Oct. 5, on Show Dog-Universal, a label he helped launch. (One of his most recent signings is Trace Adkins, who’s opening Keith’s current tour.) In this interview, the patriotic singer talks about dodging tornadoes, losing his equipment in the Nashville flood and creating an emotional connection with his enduring hit, “The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue).”
Editor’s Note: CMT Insider airs Saturday (Aug. 7) at 1:30 p.m. ET. Get more show times.
Cook: In “Trailerhood,” you sing about a tornado coming through, and I know you grew up in tornado country. Have you ever experienced that firsthand?
Keith: Absolutely. When I was a kid, I saw them more than after I got grown. I was probably gone more after I was grown, but we used to see them all the time when I was a kid. Actually, probably about five years ago, I practically got trapped dead in one. I was going over to pick a car up at a collision center. My daughter had hit a mailbox. … The guy was racing around, and I thought it was because it was five o’clock and he was wanting to close. I go, “Man, I can come get this thing tomorrow, it ain’t that big of a deal.” And he goes, “No, I gotta get home and get my dogs in. There’s bad weather coming.” And I’m like, “I’ve been here all my life. This doesn’t look like that kind of bad weather.”
About that time the tornado sirens went off. I spun and I saw two hooks in the sky straight east of me. I know they travel from the southwest to the northeast, so I knew if that was them, we were safe because it was straight east of me. I go, “Which one do you think it is?” and he goes, “I think it’s this one right here.” He pointed straight to the southwest and here was this big wedge, big momma, just eating and it was coming right at us. I was caught in a cul-de-sac in an industry park, so I couldn’t go south. I couldn’t go east or west. I had to go north and then go east or west. That thing was right on top of me the whole time. By the time I got there, everything was bottlenecked. The traffic lights were knocked out, mass hysteria, confusion, debris. … I hit the ditch, flipped her in four-wheel and jumped the ditch and ran through the intersection. When I got back on the road and looked in my rearview, I saw cars spinning around. I saw telephone poles breaking off. It was taking a beating right there. I kept booking and I was really close in that.
Speaking of natural disasters, we had the huge Nashville flood recently. You were on a USO tour when the flood hit, but you did have damaged equipment. Were you nervous that you wouldn’t be able to kick off the tour in time?
No, by the time I heard the news that the flood was as bad as it was, we had already been notified that we had backup equipment on the way. We lost everything. Everything that’s on the road, we lost. We lost all the guitars, all the amps, B3s [Hammond organs], the pianos, everything. Everything. The trucks were on their side. They had floated up and flipped over. It was pretty devastating, but at the same time, no one got hurt in our bunch. Very grateful. Thank god that no one was injured in any of that disaster in our camp and it was just equipment. It got replaced and we move on down the road.
How does it feel to sing “Angry American” every night?
I’ve been doing it for seven or eight years. A lot of people come for it. No matter where you are in the country, when you play that song, it gets a rise out of people. As much controversy as that song caused when it came out seven years ago or whatever, when you see it show up on my BMI [royalty] statement, how much air spin it’s getting, people still play it. There’s still gonna be a Fourth of July and there’s still people out there who are patriotic, that have no political agenda and want our troops to do well. I take the brunt of blame and the beef from the naysayers, but the song represents a group of people out there, a big part of America who do want our troops to do good, and do support them, and who don’t have an agenda. It would be really hard to find somebody out there who hated that song that didn’t have an agenda.
Trace said you were singing it the other night and a woman in the front was bawling her eyes out.
It creates emotion with people who feel sorry for the way the troops are treated, and the way [other people] don’t respect the job that they have to do every day, and that our country asks them to go do. We live in a world where one president is hated more than any president in our lifetime and he’s replaced by another president who runs on the ticket of bringing the troops home. One can’t do anything right and one can’t do anything wrong, to the point of the first one is hated because of war policies — and the second one triples the forces in Afghanistan after running on the ticket of (saying) “I’m gonna bring the troops home.” And not only is everybody OK with it, they give him the Nobel Peace Prize. You just sit back and you go, what does America want? …
But as long as we have somebody in there that is defending our country to that level, then I’m all for it. He [President Obama] has convinced his voters and America that we should have tripled the forces in Afghanistan and Bush couldn’t get that done. So if he got in there and went against his voters because his Cabinet told him the consequences of not doing that, then you have to sit back and go, “A+ for you, pal,” because Bush couldn’t convince the world that we needed triple forces in Afghanistan.
Trace sits back and watches all this and he’s patriotic. And I’m patriotic. And we don’t have an agenda that everybody who attacks us does. Most of the people who sit in the audience don’t either.
Well, they’re not gonna mess with you anyway because you’re a bunch of big dudes.
I’m big enough to take it. I believe in what I believe in, and I don’t care what anybody thinks.