Toby Keith titled his new album Hope on the Rocks, yet his career is on solid ground.
Thanks to “Red Solo Cup,” his profile was elevated well beyond the country music ranks for the first time in several years. He was even offered a seat at the American Idol judges table, which he quickly declined. He’s not considering any sitcom or films right now, either.
“I don’t care about all that now,” he tells CMT Insider’s Alison DeMarcus. “I’ve got what I want every night. Look at that ’I Like Girls That Drink Beer’ video and you’ll see my crowd — and I have that every night. And as long as I’ve got that, the rest of it don’t matter.”
During this backstage chat, the outspoken country star reveals his inspiration for his latest single, the power of “Red Solo Cup” and an important anniversary that’s coming up in April.
CMT: In “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” you kind of imply that you don’t know many girls that drink beer. Is that true?
Keith: Well, here’s how the story started. A childhood friend of mine, who plays golf at the same country club I do, got married to his high school sweetheart, had a child. He worked 24 years for GM and she still works for AT&T. He got early retirement and he plays golf every day. Well, every time they go in the clubhouse, the girls are all holding umbrella drinks and she always goes, “Corona, I want a Corona.” Her name is Shari, so I named her Beer-Drinking Shari.
I make fun of her because all the girls have club specials and margaritas, and she’s like, “Two Coronas.” And she don’t just drink light beer. If there’s a robust beer, Modelo or something, she’s all about it, and she’s like, “Why do you always make fun of me for drinking beer?” And I said, “I ain’t on you. I like girls that drink beer.” And I went, “Oh, song title.”
“Red Solo Cup” was arguably one of your biggest hits and brought you a whole new audience and a new generation. Did it surprise you that it was so huge?
I don’t think we actually officially released it as a single. I think it went back door. I never thought [radio] would even play it, so I didn’t. We were going to send another single and let that be my viral freebee and then I play it at my show. I knew it’d be monstrous at my show because I’ve had other songs that weren’t on the radio that were big, like “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again,” stuff like that “Get Out of Your Clothes, Get Out of My Car.” They sing it word for word, and it’s never been on the radio. I knew it would be another song like that. It’s the only song I’ve ever had crossover and play on the pop stations. It died at No. 6 on the country charts. I wouldn’t have traded it for 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 that week.
And then we get to show, in the live video of “I Like Girls That Drink Beer,” that youth infusion. … It’s just dropped it back down where I feel like it’s 1995 all over again. It’s like, “Whoa, this is what it was like when I was three years in. This is crazy.” You can see how big the party is. That cup is so important. It’s become the icon of people pulling up at 3:00 at the tailgate parties. And they’ll put a big white flag in the ground [with] a red Solo cup in the middle of it. It’s like you know they’re drinking over there, so that’s where I’m going. You know there’s a party going on right there.
We’ve been talking about the new fans that you have and how you feel like it is ’95 all over again. Did that influence this album at all?
No. In fact other than “Girls That Drink Beer” there’s not really anything that’s … I mean, there’s some funny stuff on there, but it’s more like what I normally do. One of my favorite songs I’ve ever written in my life is the title track. “Hope on the Rocks” is one of those songs that you get done with and you stand back and you go, “You know what? Co-write this, buddy.” You know what I mean? It’s one of those that you play to any songwriter anywhere and they would play their best song for you. It would be one of those.
This spring is going to be your 20th anniversary since your first album was released. When you were making that first album, did you have any idea you’d be where you are today?
There’s no way to know that. I’d had my whole life to write my first album. I had my No. 1 and my third single out, and they go, “Hey, guess what? We need to start recording the next one.” I’m like, “Uh oh, I got to write another album. Well, how am I gonna write ’Should’ve Been a Cowboy’ and ’Ain’t Worth Missing’ and all that again? It took me forever to write the first one.”
So it was just like, “Am I going to be able to keep the well full enough?” So to be here 20 years later … no, there’s no way of knowing that. But there’s a date in April that my merchandise guy has. It was the first time I actually went out with a hit and played with my name on the marquee. So I’m trying to think of something to do real cool on that day but haven’t come up with quite the right thing yet. But I will.