Skip to comments.Toby Keith not just a knee-jerk patriot
Posted on 01/20/2006 1:17:45 PM PST by WestTexasWend
Toby Keith has been the poster boy for patriotic country anthems these past few years. But dig below the surface and you might be surprised at what else he has to say.
Toby Keith did not exist to a large chunk of the country before 2002.
For anyone who has been in a coma these past four years, that's when Keith became a household name thanks greatly to the controversy surrounding hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (Angry American)," his reaction to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Fans called it patriotic. Critics (including the author of this story) called it simplistic jingoism. Since its release, Keith has been known as the "we'll put a boot in your ass guy," the tough-talkin' poster boy for patriotic country anthems. (And, like, the Ford truck guy.)
Of course, diehard country fans know there is more to the man headlining the Tacoma Dome Saturday; that he's been a bona fide hit maker since he called for "A Little Less Talk and a Little More Action" back in 1993.
Keith himself called from his Oklahoma ranch to reinforce that notion in the days leading up to the show. But first, Keith had a bone or two to pick with the folks that run the big awards shows; that in the context of the award he just snagged for music video of the year at the CMA Awards and his nomination for best country male vocal performance (both for "As Good As I Once Was") at the forthcoming Grammy awards.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
The News Tribune: You won a couple of awards at the CMAs and you're up for an award at the Grammys. Are awards and important thing for you?
Toby Keith: "Well, I don't know. I've won enough awards. I've probably won 40 or 50 awards in the last few years. Awards (are) really nice to receive. But I haven't found that they're good or bad for you. If I've been nominated for eight things at a CMA Award or somethin' and lost 'em all, I went out on the next day, and it didn't effect what I did on the road or album sales or nothin'.
"They just are what they are. They only have as much merit to me as the grading process that takes place in 'em. [He pauses.] I've got lots of stories about award shows, man." [Sardonic chuckle]
TNT: That's as good a follow up question as any. Give me an example.
TK: [He uses the hit "Beer for My Horses" as an example.] "OK, you're nominated for a Grammy. You go out and you write a song and then you get Willie Nelson to come in and sing with you on it. And everybody says Willie hadn't been on the radio in 20 years, and it's a bad idea. You say no it's a good idea; you stick to your guns and you do somethin' really cool and traditional. It goes No. 1 and it sits there six weeks. And it's both of ours; both of us have had a five-week No. 1, but neither of us has had a six-week No. 1.
"So on my album, as always, we don't' get nominated for the Grammys. The next year, Willie's got a TV show on USA Network called 'Angels and Outlaws.' So I go on there and sing with some of these same musicians that worked in the studio with me.
"We do the very same version off of my album for Willie's TV show, and we just taped it live. Well, then he puts an album out of the whole show ["Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin'," released in 2003.] And it's the same music, same songs, same lyrics - same places I sing, same places he sings. But it's on his album. Then it gets nominated for a Grammy. It's like what changed? [He chuckles.] Where did we all of a sudden get our credibility from?
TNT: Is that something that makes you cynical about the whole process?
TK: "Now we've talked about the Grammys, that's one instance. But it's like the CMA's. We sold 20 million records in four years. We're the most played artist three years in a row. We're the No. 1 ticket seller three out of four years. And I'm the most nominated artist at the CMA's three years in a row, either eight or nine nominations. And all three of those hottest years where it was just off the hook in sales and everything; two back-to-back four million sold with two 3 1/2 million on each end of it, book-ended, in country only, no pop play; no little ballad sneaking across here in the (adult contemporary) market (like) Shania (Twain), Tim (McGraw), Keith (Urban), Kenny (Chesney) - all of 'em get pop play and country play. I just get country play, OK. All that being said, how many awards you think I've won?
TNT: [Unsure] Hmmm. Trying to think off the top of my head.
TNT: What do you think is behind that?
TK: "I don't think anybody's putting a finger on me. I just blame it on the system. I decided a long time ago that those things don't effect what I do in my day to day. My deal is to go and make great music, put it out, get it played and then sell it.
"I've got my own record label now. I don't have anybody to blame but me. I don't have anybody to handcuff me now. It works on both ends. Now I'm free to do what I wanna do, and I just released my first single ["Get Drunk and Be Somebody" from the forthcoming release "White Trash with Money"] off of Show Dog Records, which is my record label. I'm the first country artist to do that. My co-producer is a female [referring to Lari White.] I don't know of anyone who has a female producer. So there's a lot of ground breakin' stuff goin' on."
TNT: I imagine a lot of that gets lost because a lot of people focus on the one song. Is "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue" something you're tired of talking about?
TK: Nah. I don't ever get tired of supportin' my guys. The crazy thing about all of this is I probably got 30 No. 1 singles and sold 27 million records. That's leavin' a big mark behind.
"I have only one political song in that whole 15 albums. And it was No. 1 for one week. I've got six or seven records that have been at least four, five or six weeks on the charts. We've accomplished so much more and then I get painted with the brush (that) if it wouldn't have been for that song he wouldn't be where he [is] at. I'd already sold 11 or 12 million before that song come out, know what I mean.
"It's usually somebody who hasn't done their homework just goin' ahead and throwin' it up there.
[He recalls a magazine listing of highest grossing concerts with the qualifier "mostly in the red states" beside his name.] "That's real easy to throw that on there, but if you were selling nationwide door to door donuts, wouldn't most of 'em be sold in the red states considerin' it's four to one? Most of the country was red know what I mean?
"The irony of this whole thing is that most of my gross came from the blue states. [Note: 16,179 showed up to his last Tacoma Dome show in 2004.] I'm so big in the Northeast we do so much business up in there."
TNT: Given all that is it something that's frustrating for you. There's just that one song. Are you frustrated that people focus on the controversy with Peter Jennings and the whole Dixie Chicks thing?
TK: You know what, Peter Jennings and Dixie Chicks don't really come up that much any more. It's just that really narrow minded [He trails off.] To me they look at me as being narrow-minded and just having this little "Red, White and Blue" song. And it's really narrow-minded of them when they don't do their homework and know the scope of what everybody in my business knows I've accomplished - all my fans.
TNT: So you're kind of glad people have moved on from focusing on the one song. Is there a part of your songwriting that you think people can appreciate more now that they've moved on?
TK: "Nah, the real fans never did get glued to that. The real fans took everything song to song. That's the core that I'm after. That's my audience. And that's the only one I please.
"When I've got a guy at Rolling Stone or the LA Times or some New York paper or something ripping me on some stuff like that you can't fight all those fights. And they don't have enough information to assume anything about you. You know, they fire at you. That's part of bein' successful.
"I'll never be ashamed of that song. That song was written about 9-11 and the Taliban and al-Quaida. That had nothing to do with the Iraq war. I got lumped in with that. There's nothing I can do about that. I'm not gonna run around and try to put all those fires out. There are so many of those ignorant rants about that that you just have to . [Trails off]
"I've done 60 shows in Iraq. I go over every year for 15 or 16 days and play for our troops. Me and the USO have a great friendship. And Fox ran a whole thing on the entertainment that goes on with the USO, and they never even mentioned me. That's because I don't go out and crow about it. But that's something I dedicate my time to.
"I don't get paid. Most of the people go over there get paid; I don't get paid one nickel. I don't ask for no nickel. I don't ask for no special treatment. And I don't just go land in the green zone and play for the troops and just jump out. I go to Mozul, Tikrit, Fallujaa I go right into the heat and go find those boys. And I've played Afghanistan several times, too.
"It ain't somethin' I go out in every interview and crow about and say 'look at me.' That is my dedication to our troops. I won't be hypocritical about it. I was doing it before 9-11. I'll do it after the wars are over. When the next thing comes along I'll still be in there playing for our guys. It's my way of giving back to those people."
TNT: Are you surprised that there was such a big controversy? Do you resent the criticism you've gotten for the song?
TK: No I don't resent the criticism. I know why I wrote it. It was out of anger. And it was nothing more than (saying) 'let's round up the bad guys and bring 'em to justice.' That's all the song was.
"Somebody asked me in an interview one time on TV (if I support the Iraq war) and I said I support the troops wherever they are. I said I ain't got enough information to tell you whether or not we should be goin' into Iraq or not. That was before we ever went in there. And the LA Times runs a big story on me saying look at him runnin', tryin' to save his career now.
"You can never win. If you continue to bang the war drum, then you're a warmonger. But the second you go, 'Nah, I don't know about this here. I ain't in on this' then you're tryin' to save your career."
[He gives a cocky chuckle] "Believe me. Last thing I ever worry about doin' is savin' my career. If anything was gonna happen to my career, I gave it every opportunity in the world and it hadn't happened."
TNT: There are a variety of people who have written about the war from a variety of perspectives. What do you think the role of an artist is?
TK: "You just have to know you're polarizing yourself. You stand a chance in your career of polarizing yourself, so you have to really feel in your heart that you're doing it for the right reasons, because there are gonna be a certain amount of people who go, 'Woah! I had no idea he thought like this. I don't think like that, so therefore I don't like his music no more.'
"It's the same as Elton John saying I'm gay or any of that. As soon as you come out and admit that this is the way that you feel about somethin', then there's gonna be people that say, 'I used to like him until then.'
"Everything I've approached, I've approached it in an honest way. I'm not a tremendously religious guy, but I have a lot of faith in prayer. So it took me a lot of prayer and a lot of time to put that song out because I knew what was comin'. I knew what was gonna happen. But at the same time, that's the way I felt about it, man. I felt the whole world just watched these two towers fallin' and all these people dyin'. We've gotta round up the good guys and go get the bad guys. And it's a shame that there are good guys yet to die. When you see those towers fall that's just the start of it. There's gonna be a lot of other good people on this earth die because those towers came down, because the United States of America will never bow down to that kind of terrorism, you know what I mean. They'll continue to stand up and fight it.
[Shifts talk Iraq war] I've gone over there two or three years in a row. Until you go over there and see it, you can't even argue with me. You have to go over and see with your own eyes and absorb what's goin' on instead of listening to any news report, good or bad. There are things that aren't being reported that are worse than [we think] they are over there, and there are things being reported that are better than we think they are over there.
[Referring to people who suggest we should pull the troops out:] I'm like have you been over there? Where are you getting' your information from to debate me on all this? You ever flown to Mozul for two hours and looked down seeing people waving at the helicopter all the way up there. How would that make you feel?
TNT: Can you point to things you've witnessed?
TK: "Once you leave the city limits of a town - once you leave the Baghdad city limits and you're flying across the countryside - you're never more than 1,000 feet up. You fly low 'cause you make a smaller target. So you're boogiein' along and you've got an hour and 45 minute Blackhawk flight to Mozul. So you're flyin' along. You got the doors open. You're buckled in, you're lookin' down. You're going across the farmers. Everybody knows who owns that helicopter. There's no doubt in any Iraqi's mind who owns those helicopters. So why in the name of God would they want to stand up in their working fields and lay their shovel down and wave at the chopper? Why? Aren't we the bad guy?
"So that let's you know two things. First of all, there's some good goin' on there. And second of all, not all Muslims are all bad. So the people who think that this is a nation of western haters or American haters, there are a lot of people there who appreciate that we've got guys in there.
"I think it looks like a disaster to me. And I don't know what the reasons are that we went in; I don't know, I never said I was smart enough to know that."
TNT: Do you mean the perception or the insurgency?
TK: I don't think anybody anticipated the insurgency being as bad as it is. It's hard to fight evil when it doesn't have anything to lose. In Afghanistan I watched women walk in groups from market and they've got their little toddlers 30 yards in front of 'em and I said, 'Colonel, why are they lettin' that traffic run by and leavin' their kids like that abandoned and lettin' 'em roam free in front of 'em.
They go, 'Land mines.' Baghlan is covered with land mines. So where the kids have walked it's safe for me to walk.
[Sardonic chuckle] You ain't gonna defeat that. I think the best thing that can happen is for them to get democracy and everything. But there's all kinds of tribes over there; it's like Indian tribes, like we have here in Oklahoma. And they can't even get along. It's like the country needs to be divided up into several states and let the Kurds have theirs and the Shiites have theirs and the Sunnis have theirs.
"But it's hard to force democracy, and it's hard to say, 'You want your lifestyle back? OK, we'll get out of here if you play by the rules because they don't have a lifestyle. They really don't."
TNT: You mentioned how people paint you with this broad stroke as being extremely right-wing and jingoistic. Can you point to a belief that you have that might surprise people?
TK: "This is my favorite one. I'm a lifetime registered Democrat. That completely freaks people out. I helped to campaign in Oklahoma [for Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.]
"Steve Largent, the hall of fame football player, was his running foe. And he was on the Republican ticket. And me and some other friends went around and did interviews and told the state of Oklahoma what we thought about Brad [and] how good he was gonna do. And he's done great.
"I always vote for the guy who can get it done. And it ain't nobody's business who I vote for, but I voted for Clinton twice. And that just blows people's minds when they hear that. And here's the thing. Just because you're pro-troops doesn't mean you're pro-war. And just because you're anti-war don't mean you're anti-troops.
"Just because you don't support the war people think you're anti-troops and you're a bad guy. And just because you go support the troops and rah-rah the troops up all of a sudden you're pro-war. Those are the two biggest misconceptions of the whole thing.
"The lifetime card-carrying Democrat, that kills 'em. The guys who hammer me would give anything if I would just turn coat; they want me so bad to be a Republican that it just kills 'em. But I'm not. It would make it so much easier to hate me, you know what I mean. It just destroys their attack on me when they find out I voted for Clinton twice and that I'm a Democrat."
TNT: Have your views on the war changed from going over there so many times?
TK: No, it's just a terrible place to be. Any war zone is.
"You know, when Clinton took care of [Slobodan] Milosovic I stood at this river outside of Sarajevo and was getting a history lesson. And they said Milosovic and his soldiers exterminated every male between the ages of 11 and 65, and they threw 'em in that river to get rid of 'em. And it dammed up that river.
"But now you go in there, you go out and you eat. You know, you see the bombed town, it's crumbled; you walk around, you see everything smashed. But you go around and you see good people trying to get up and build their lives. You go down Bill Clinton Highway, and you see Statues of Liberties on top of people's houses, and people are very grateful.
"I think this war we're in now, I don't think these people are grateful as a whole even though I see 'em wavin' at the chopper. I think there's a lot of people grateful that [the Saddam Hussein] regime's over. But I don't think they really appreciate the American blood that's been shed (for) their freedom. And even if we get out of there, I don't know if they won't just go back to the life they were in.
"They haven't gained anything since the Bible was written. You go over there and it looks like pictures out of the Bible. You see a guy with a stick walking across a field with no fences and a bunch of sheep out in the middle of nowhere. And you're just goin', 'Where's his house?' I've flown this whole country in broad daylight, and I haven't seen a house for an hour. Where's that guy live? So he is really a migrating shepherd with a stick and his stuff on his back, his belongings. You see that and you say that couldn't go on here. We call that a hobo here.
"I don't know if that country can be helped. No matter right or wrong, whatever the reasons they decided to go in there, I just don't know if that country can be helped. If you pulled out of there and just let 'em go, I think they would just go right back to where they were."
I can forgive him for being a Democrat. I'm sure that means something a little different in Tulsa than it does in Boston. He's more patriotic than a lot of Republicans I know.
Toby is an old-school Democrat. I wish there were more of them around.
The writer says that as if there is something wrong with it.
I would count him on our team, except for the two Clinton votes. It doesn't even sound like he regrets those votes either. That speaks volumes, IMO.
Is he a Democrat in the Zell Miller style?
Is he a Democrat in the Clinton/Carter mold?
That's the key..
He likes making money and knee-jerk patriots are his audience. He knows that and provide what "they" want. Any fan would have to be very misinformed to think he's one of "them". He sings for the troops because he knows where his bread is buttered.
He's providing a service, just like a streetwalker.
In the old days in OK, you never got to vote if you were registered (R), except once every 4 years in the presidential elections.
If the Rs managed to field a candidate, he darn sure wouldn't need a primary run-off with another R, and the D vote would be so lop-sided that most Rs didn't bother.
They do now! (But I'd love to know how many of them are still registered Ds.)
nah.... I think he just admitted that he wasn't "smart" enough to discuss policy decisions... that in and of itself shows that he is "smart". So what if he's a dem... I think they suck but it's just my opinion and I could be wrong... He at least goes over, supports our guys and let's the policy "discussion" stay in the States... you don't hear him bad-mouthing Bush or America overseas.
I think that's classy.
Give him time... he now "owns" a business. Just wait till he sees taxes, legal bills and regulations on his company devour profits.... he'll become a Republican.hahahahaha
Anyone who is an enemy of the Dixie Chicks is a friend of mine.