Toby Keith is clearly no stranger to the bar scene, with country hits like “I Love This Bar,” “Beers Ago” and “I Like Girls That Drink Beer.” However, he’s taken a different shot for his latest video, “Hope on the Rocks.”
“We’re trying to make it as moody as possible. As dark and deep as possible. And all the characters are here,” he told CMT Insider producer Terry Bumgarner during the video shoot in downtown Nashville.
“Usually, when we do videos, we try to leave it a little open-ended so when you first heard the song, whatever your first blush of the rose was, can still exist somewhat,” Keith added. “We’re trying to be more to-the-letter on this and recreate what exactly we’re trying to say in the song.”
In this interview, Keith explains the inspiration behind “Hope on the Rocks,” writing it by himself and placing it among his best work ever.
CMT: Let’s talk a little bit about where this song came from. In a way, it’s the dark side of “I Love This Bar.” It’s the other side of things.
Keith: Well, it’s a different kind of bar. It’s not the neighborhood bar that everybody has fun at. It’s kind of the neighborhood bar that all these loners come to because they want to be alone. …
When I got out of school and got a job in the oilfield with my dad, I had a house. And a couple of doors down was a young couple. I remember two or three times a year, we’d hook up, do a barbecue or we’d play cards or poker. And they got a divorce, and she instantly hooked up with another guy and took off. You’d see her around, and he kind of vanished. The house went empty, then I moved away. And last year sometime, or two years ago, somebody asked if me I knew some guy who used to live next to me, and they gave me his name. And I was like, “Man, I remember that name. … Whatever happened to that guy?” Well, he got a divorce and kind of disappeared. And I was like, “Whoa, I never thought of him anymore.”
There are people in your life you see at the diner, or you see at the Starbucks, then something happens, and you just don’t see them. They don’t give you two weeks’ notice and you forget about them. And it’s like, “Where’d they go?” Well, this bartender is like, “I’ll tell you where they go. They come right here. I’m the mentor, the father, the brother, the friend.” That’s what this song is about. There are eight or 10 characters, and this bartender is talking about how he babysits them.
These are really the lost souls of the world. I guess it’s the only place they can go, right?
Yeah, and I’ve said this for years: Neighborhood bars — not meat market bars but good friendly neighborhood bars — have a lot in common with church because their friends are sociable. If somebody’s down, they raise funds and take care of their own. They help each other. It’s a good, solid, social atmosphere. … They’re self-resourceful through benefits and fundraisers and helping each other move, helping somebody mow their lawn. You’re a plumber, so can you come over and help me fix my sink. And they network with each other and barter out stuff, and it can be a really good spot for somebody who’s down.
This is one you that wrote yourself. That’s not unusual for you, but most of the other songs on this album were co-written. Was this idea something that struck you at some point, or was it a time where you sat down and thought, “I’m going to write a song now, I’ve got to find an idea”?
It struck me when I started thinking about the lost people that disappear. “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” fell out in 20 minutes. “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” fell out in 20 minutes. Sometimes a song comes out, and you just want to grind away at it. I started grinding away on it and grinding away, and it took me three or four months to write it because I only had little bitty windows to talk about a lot of people. I wanted to be definitive and really tell you about who I’m talking about here so you would know how much desperation they’re going through. And it took a while to get it.
Is a song that’s hard to write like that more satisfying than a song that comes out easy?
They’re both satisfying. It’s just some are laid out in front of you, and you put them together. … It was such a big hook. I mean, when I hooked into the fish, I had him circle the boat, but I wasn’t going to just pull him in and call it good. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t leave any holes in the song. And I’ve told people since I wrote it, I said, “If I were sitting in the Bluebird Café writers round and there were five heavy-hitter songwriters there and they said, ’Tonight these five guys are going to play what they think is the best three songs they wrote in their career,’ I would sing this song as one of my three.
Because you’ve got more invested in it, does that make you a little more nervous about seeing what the reaction is?
No, because the other two I’d probably play weren’t even singles. At least this one’s getting a chance to be heard. “Nights I Can’t Remember, Friends I’ll Never Forget” is a great song, and it never got to be a single. So I know at least this one’s going to get a chance to be heard. I’ve had enough people listen to it and got the reaction and feedback that it wows a lot of people.