Toby Keith on His Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction

He Was a Songwriter First

No wonder Toby Keith belongs in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The man has stories to tell — and then some.

And most of them were inspired — in part — by his grandmother and the bar she ran when Keith was a kid. Billboard Country Update paints a pretty good picture of both the bar (Billy Garner’s Supper Club in Fort Smith, Arkansas) and his grandmother (Hilda Marie “Clancy” Martin).

Martin reportedly counted the bar’s receipts each night with a loaded pistol at her side. But more importantly, she made enough money to buy Keith a guitar.

“I’d stay with her in the summertime,” he said. “She bought me a guitar, and I learned a few chords and put it away, and came back as a teenager and picked it back up and started trying to write songs. And here I stand at the doorway of something really special.”

It makes me wonder if that supper club was where he wrote his debut single from 1993, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which went on to become one of the most-played country songs of the ‘90s.

This year’s other Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees are Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock, pop star Cyndi Lauper, Grateful Dead singer-guitarist Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, blues icon Willie Dixon and pop/rock songwriter Linda Perry.

When Keith is inducted on June 18 in New York, he says it will be one of his favorite accomplishments.

“That’s what I started out doing before I ever even went to Nashville,” he said of his days before Music City, likely when he was fronting his Oklahoma City-based band Easy Money from 1984-1988. “I just happened to trick ’em into thinking I was an artist, too.”

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.