When Toby Keith was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame a couple years ago, he told the story behind his 1993 debut “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.”
And it went like this: Keith and his hunting buddies were in a bar after a day of hunting, and one of his friends tried to ask a woman to dance.
She said no. But then a cowboy did the same, and she said yes.
“And I’m like, ’John, you should’ve been a cowboy,'” Keith recalled. “Back in my hotel room, the guy I was rooming with was going to crash, so I took my guitar into the bathroom and shut the door. Twenty minutes later, I came out with the song, ready to record. It ended up being my first single.”
So when I had the chance to ask Keith what his songwriting life has been like in the 25 years since he wrote that song, he told me he still only writes songs with his tight group of hitmakers.
“I have my favorite little circle of about three or four writers,” Keith told me before he took the stage at the Naperville Ribfest just outside of Chicago on Friday night (June 30).
“It’s pretty much me and Scotty Emerick and Bobby Pinson and Rivers Rutherford. I don’t stray out far from the cats I use. Because I don’t write as much as I used to, because nobody buys albums anymore. They just buy singles.
“For 20 years, I would just write, write, write, all the time. We’d put a single out, then put another single out. But you just don’t need the volume of music anymore,” Keith said.
When he does venture outside that short list of writers, Keith said it’s usually only when he gets time with Eddy Raven.
“Eddy was kind of a hero a mine, because I sang a lot of his songs when I was cutting my teeth in the bars,” he said of Raven’s country music that was popular throughout the 80s. “And one time, when I’d said something nice about him, he said, ’I heard you said some nice things about me, and I’d love to write a song with you sometime.'”
The two singer-songwriters became friends and occasional co-writers, and Keith says that relationship has generated some of his favorite tunes, like “Cabo San Lucas,” “Club Zydeco Moon” and “South of You.”
“When I was trying to learn to write, it was those kinds of song Eddy was writing that I was trying to write. So I was like, ’How good’s he gonna be?’ Because now I consider myself a big time professional songwriter, and I’m not in awe of very much at all when it comes to sitting across the table from anybody writing a song. But he came right in with his chops and had some great ideas, and he wrote his butt off,” he said.
Keith’s tour continues on Thursday night (July 7) with a stop in Ontario before coming back to the states for shows in Michigan and New York.