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Keith, Toby

Toby Keith

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

When singer-songwriter Toby Keith first hit the country charts with the 1993 hit single "Should've Been a Cowboy," the talk around Nashville was that if you looked closely, you might just see a coating of dust on his cowboy hat. Not the smoky dust of the local dancehall, but the dust that comes from riding and roping and hard work. A former rodeo rider, oil rigger, and football player, the burly Keith wielded his deep, dusky baritone to good effect on songs that ranged from rollicking barroom romps to heart-tugging ballads in the best country tradition. His easy way with audiences gained him a following that grew to encompass both aficionados of traditional honky tonk and fans of Southern rock. Keith stirred plenty of controversy with his warlike 2002 hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," and rode the controversy to still higher levels of public recognition.

Keith was born Toby Keith Covel on July 8, 1961, in Clinton, Oklahoma. As a young man and aspiring song-smith, he took his musical lead from Southern rockers like the members of the Marshall Tucker Band, as well as country great Merle Haggard. A stint working for a supper club run by his grandmother (described in his 2005 hit "Honkytonk University") gave Keith his first taste of show business when the club's house band let him sit in with them on stage after his work was done in the kitchen. Although Keith and several friends had formed bands during their high school years, the young Oklahoman's musical aspirations were put on the shelf for several years in favor of making a living. He went to work test-driving bulls for a local rodeo outfit; from there, it was on to four years in the oil fields of his home state. Keith also served a two-year stint as a semi-pro football player with the Oklahoma City Drillers—part of the now-defunct United States Football League—before his desire to play a guitar lured Keith off the field and back onstage.

Went to Nashville for a Contract

Backed by a group of fellow rodeo riders who made up his Easy Money Band, Keith toured the country dancehall circuit of the Western states for almost ten years before making it big in Nashville. "You're up against the best bands in the world out there," Keith explained to Country Music's Bob Allen, about life on the circuit. "The competition's fierce, and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. I'm not bragging when I say that the Easy Money Band and I can hold our own against any of them." By 1991 Keith had decided to take his best shot at a Nashville recording contract. "I knew either way I wasn't gonna starve," he told Allen. "I was very successful with my band, and eventually, if I didn't get a record deal, I would've opened a nightclub somewhere and made a lot of money."

Visiting Music City, Keith recorded some demo tapes and made the rounds. While representatives of Liberty Records expressed enthusiasm, they were more inter- ested in his talents as a musician and vocalist than as a songwriter. As a combination of talent, timing, and confidence would have it, one of Keith's demos eventually fell into the hands of a producer at Mercury Records. After one listen, he promptly scheduled a flight out to Oklahoma City and offered Keith a contract.

Released Debut Album

Keith's self-titled debut album was released by Mercury in 1993. Toby Keith contained all original material, which, Keith explained to Bob Paxman in Country Song Roundup, was inspired by "things I see and what happens to others." "Should've Been a Cowboy" was released as the album's first single. Initial fears that the song would prove to be nothing more than a radio novelty song were eventually put to rest, as the song made a slow and determined five-month climb into the number one spot. The album's other top ten hits, like "Wish I Didn't Know Now" and "He Ain't Worth Missin'," added the energy to push Toby Keith all the way to platinum. Keith would score a total of four songs in the top ten, thanks in part to his determination, which was reflected by a heavy touring schedule that kept the singer away from his wife and two daughters throughout most of 1993. "Should've Been a Cowboy" had yet another incarnation: as the adopted anthem of the Dallas Cowboys football team, thereby bringing Keith's past careers as football player and self-professed "cowboy" together with his future as a country music recording artist.

Christmas Songs

While achieving a more modest success than its predecessor, Keith's 1994 album Boomtown went gold with hits like "You Ain't Much Fun" and the poignant "Who's That Man." As the album's first single, "Who's That Man" moved into the number one spot on the country charts. Again writing or cowriting most of the songs on the album, Keith proved that he was more than a one-album artist. Even while noting that Keith's talents were not of the same caliber as those of the singer's idol, Haggard, or of superstar Randy Travis, Allen observed that with Boomtown, Keith "seems like a grizzled musical genius when measured against the flock of baby-faced teenyboppers in cowboy hats who've recently stormed the country charts."

For the Record …

Born Toby Keith Covel on July 8, 1961, in Clinton, OK; married Tricia; children: Shelley, Krystal, Stelen (son).

Toured Western dancehall circuit with the Easy Money Band, beginning 1982; signed with Mercury Records, 1992; released debut album, Toby Keith, 1993; moved to sister label Polydor, 1994; toured with Sawyer Brown band, 1994; released four albums on Polydor, 1995-97; signed with DreamWorks Records, released How Do You Like Me Now?, 1999, and Pull My Chain, 2001; recorded hit single "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)," and related album Unleashed, 2002; Shock 'n Y'all, 2004; Honkytonk University, 2005; formed own Show Dog label; released White Trash with Money, 2006; released Big Dog Daddy and A Classic Christmas, 2007.

Awards: Billboard, Best New Artist Award, 1993; Country Music Association, Male Vocalist of the Year, 2001; 12 Broadcast Music, Inc. Awards, including BMI Songwriter/Artist of the Year, 2001; Academy of Country Music, Male Vocalist of the Year, and Album of the Year, both for How Do You Like Me Now?, 2001; American Music Award for best country album, for Unleashed, 2003; People's Choice Award for favorite music video, for "I Love This Bar," 2004; Country Music Television Flame Worthy Awards, for video of the year for "American Soldier," and collaborative video of the year for "Beer for My Horses" (with Willie Nelson), 2004; four Academy of Country Music Awards: Album of the Year, for Shock 'n Y'all (with James Stroud); Video of the Year for "Beer for My Horses" (with Nelson); Entertainer of the Year; and Top Male Vocalist, all 2004; American Music Awards: Favorite Male Country Artist and Favorite Country Album, both for Shock 'n Y'All, 2004; Country Music Television Award for Hottest Video of the Year, for "Whiskey Girl," 2005; American Music Award, Best Male Country Vocalist, 2006.

Addresses: Record company—Show Dog, 4th Fl., 2303 21st Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, Web site: http://www.showdognashville.com. Web site—Toby Keith Official Web site, http://tobykeith.musiccitynetworks.com/.

In addition to Toby Keith and Boomtown, Keith also released a collection of holiday-inspired songs under the title Christmas to Christmas (1995). The collection of 12 non-traditional songs included four tunes written or cowritten by the singer, and the songs ran an emotional gamut from the honky-tonk "Santa's Gonna Take It All Back" to the poignant "Mary, It's Christmas." "It doesn't have any traditional Christmas songs on it," Keith explained in a Polydor press release, noting the album's unique approach. "Instead of this just being a Christmas album, I wanted this to be an album like I usually do, but with a Christmas theme," the singer/songwriter added. "This sounds like anything else of mine that you would hear on the radio. It just happens to be about Christmas."

A summertime tour with country music superstar Reba McEntire the following year expanded his already considerable fan base. "I think any time anybody can get on a tour like that … you have to take it," he told Deborah Price of Billboard magazine. Blue Moon was released to tepid reviews in 1996. People singled out one song on the album for praise, calling the album-opening track "The Lonely" a "haunting, hard-to-forget lament … [that] makes everything following it pale in comparison."

Keith's next album, Dream Walkin' (1997), earned much more favorable reviews. The All Music Guide praised Keith for sticking with what he was good at: "Although Toby Keith doesn't depart from his trademark new traditionalist formula on Dream Walkin', he comes close to perfecting it." Despite good reviews and steady sales, Keith's relationship with Mercury Records began to sour. He left the label in 1999 and immediately began courting offers from other major labels. He signed with the Steven Spielberg-founded Dream-Works Records in 1999 and released his next album, How Do You Like Me Now?, on the label. The title track off the album proved to be Keith's biggest hit to date, occupying the top spot on the Billboard charts for five straight weeks. Keith's second album on the label, Pull My Chain, was released in August of 2001.

Controversy Surrounded Song

Keith became embroiled in a controversy surrounding a track to be released on his upcoming album Unleashed in the summer of 2002, when he was removed from an ABC television special, In Search of America: A July 4th Musical Celebration, at the request of host Peter Jennings. Keith was to perform "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue," a song written after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Jennings objected to the confrontational and at times jingoistic lyrics of the song: "You'll be sorry you messed with the U.S. of A./ 'Cause we'll put a boot in your a**/It's the American way." Many fans were outraged at Keith's removal, bombarding the ABC offices with letters and e-mails protesting Jennings's decision. The controversy stirred up interest in Keith's upcoming album, helping Unleashed debut at number one on both the country and pop charts when it was released in July of 2002.

Keith has been satisfied with his hard-won success. On his official Web site he reflected, "I've just been doing the same things I've always done; it's my surroundings that have changed. I've got a record company that gives me the freedom to do what I want, and the industry has accepted what I do. Because of that, in a very real sense, I've been liberated."

And that liberation seemed to help Keith. His next few albums were all successful. He won the American Music Award for best country album, for Unleashed in 2003. In 2004 Keith won the People's Choice Award for favorite music video, for "I Love This Bar." He also won two Country Music Television Flame Worthy Awards, including video of the year, for "American Soldier," and won collaborative video of the year for "Beer for My Horses," with Willie Nelson. Also in 2004 Keith won four Academy of Country Music Awards, including Album of the Year for Shock 'n Y'all with James Stroud, Video of the Year for "Beer for My Horses" with Willie Nelson, Entertainer of the Year, and Top Male Vocalist. He also won two American Music Awards, including Favorite Male Country Artist and Favorite Country Album, for Shock'n Y'All. In 2004 Keith toured to perform with U.S. troops stationed in Italy, Germany, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf.

Keith won the Country Music Television Award for Hottest Video of the Year for "Whiskey Girl" in 2005. Immediately afterwards he announced the pending launch of his new Show Dog label, marking the end of his affiliation with DreamWorks Records, which did not survive Keith's departure. In May of 2005 he released the album Honkytonk University, which opened at number two on the Billboard 200 chart and number one on the Top Country Albums chart. Then he made another tour to perform for U.S. troops, this time in Cuba, Germany, Belgium, and the Persian Gulf. In August, desirous of expanding his creative horizons, Keith signed a three-picture deal with Paramount Pictures. Production started in October for the first movie, Angel From Montgomery, with a plot centering on high school sweethearts who return home after the deaths of their brothers and are forced to deal with their own pasts and futures.

Keith's movie career failed to catch fire; the second release in his three-film deal, Broken Bridges (2006), was quickly pulled from theaters after negative reviews and tepid commercial action. His recording career, however, continued to gain momentum as it approached the 15-year mark. Although Keith eventually began to question the rationale for the Iraq war, the controversy over "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" continued to resound, and may have strengthened Keith's tough, outspoken image with fans, even as he avoided political material on Honkytonk University and its successor, 2006's White Trash with Money. The title of that album came from an insult directed at Keith's daughter by a member of a college sorority to which she had applied.

In 2007 Keith returned with Big Dog Daddy, which spawned one of the major summer anthems of that year with "High Maintenance Woman" (she "don't want no maintenance man," Keith observes wryly in the lyrics). Keith co-wrote that song and continued to play a major role in writing his own material. The Big Dog Daddy album reached number one on Billboard magazine's Country Chart, becoming Keith's fifth album to do so, and hit number one on its general Top 200 Chart, his third chart topper there. Neither controversy nor music industry shuffles could slow down Toby Keith's momentum, and indeed they seemed to make him stronger. At the end of 2007 Keith released a second holiday album, A Classic Christmas.

Selected discography

Toby Keith, Mercury, 1993.

Boomtown, Polydor, 1994.

Christmas to Christmas, Polygram, 1995.

Blue Moon, Mercury, 1996.

Dream Walkin', Mercury, 1997.

Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Mercury, 1998.

How Do You Like Me Now?, DreamWorks, 1999.

Pull My Chain, DreamWorks, 2001.

Unleashed, DreamWorks, 2002.

Shock 'n Y'all, DreamWorks, 2004.

Honkytonk University, DreamWorks, 2005.

White Trash with Money, Show Dog, 2006.

Big Dog Daddy, Show Dog, 2007.

A Classic Christmas, Show Dog, 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, August 27, 1994; February 17, 1996; October 9, 1999; June 4, 2005, p. 66; June 5, 2004, p. 7; June 18, 2005, pp. 45 & 60; September 10, 2005, p. 8; June 30, 2007, p. 53.

Country America, September 1993; October 1993.

Country Music, July/August 1994; January/February 1995.

Country Song Roundup, July 1993.

Dallas Morning News, September 6, 2002.

Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 1994.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 20, 1994; August 28, 2001; August 21, 2002.

New York Times, April 6, 2006, p. E1.

People, April 22, 1996; June 25, 2001; May 30, 2005, p. 41; June 18, 2007, p. 43.

PR Newswire, May 2, 2005; October 31, 2005.

USA Today, November 4, 2003, p. D5.

Variety, October 2, 2006, p. 116.

Online

ABC.com, abc.go.com/primetime/ama/nominees.html (November 15, 2004).

ABCNews.com, www.abcnews.go.com/sections/Entertainment/GoodMorningAmerica/American_Music_Awards_031117-1.html (November 17, 2003).

Academy of Country Music, www.acmcountry.com/2004_acm_nominees.htm (May 27, 2004).

CMT.com, http://www.cmt.com/shows/events/flameworthy/2004/winners.jhtml (April 27, 2004).

CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/01/12/peoples.choice.ap/index.html (January 12, 2004).

Country Music Television, http://www.cmt.com/shows/events/cmt_music_awards/2005/ (April 15, 2005).

Hollywood Reporter,http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr/brief_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001022412 (August 28, 2005).

"Toby Keith," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (October 17, 2002).

"Toby Keith: Biography," CMT.com, http://www.cmt.com/art/search/art.bios.jhtml?ai_id=506011 (November 18, 2002).

Toby Keith Official Web site, http://www.tobykeith.com (October 17, 2002).

Toby Keith: Voice of the Patriotic, CBS News, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/09/10/sunday/main1990758.shtml (March 1, 2008).

—Pamela Shelton and James M. Manheim

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Keith, Toby

Toby Keith

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

Went to Nashville for a Contract

Released Debut Album

Christmas Songs

Controversy Surrounded Song

Selected discography

Sources

When singer-songwriter Toby Keith first entered the country charts with the 1993 hit single Shouldve Been a Cowboy, the talk around Nashville was that, if you looked closely, you might just see a coating of dust on his cowboy hat. Not the smoky dust of the local dancehall, but the dust that comes from riding and roping and hard work. A former rodeo rider, oil rigger, and football player, the burly Keith wields his deep, dusky baritone to good effect on songs that range from rollicking barroom romps to heart-tugging ballads in the best country tradition. His easy way with audiences has gained him a following that has grown to encompass both aficionados of traditional honky tonk and fans of Southern rock.

Keith was born in Clinton, Oklahoma, on July 8, 1961. As a young man and aspiring songsmith, he took his musical lead from Southern rockers like the members of the Marshall Tucker Band, as well as country great Merle Haggard. A stint working for a supper club run by his grandmother gave Keith his first taste of show business; the house band would let him sit in with them on stage after his work was done in the kitchen. Although Keith and several friends had formed bands during their high-school years, the young Oklahomans musical aspirations were destined to be put on the shelf for several years in favor of making a living. He went to work test-driving bulls for a local rodeo outfit; from there, it was on to four years in the oil fields of his home state. Keith also served a two-year stint as a semi-pro football player with the Oklahoma City Drillerspart of the now-defunct United Football Leaguebefore his desire to play a guitar lured Keith off the field and back onstage.

Went to Nashville for a Contract

Backed by a group of fellow rodeo riders who comprised his Easy Money Band, Keith toured the country dancehall circuit of the Western states for almost ten years before making it big in Nashville. Youre up against the best bands in the world out there, Keith explained to Country Musics Bob Allen about life on the circuit. The competitions fierce, and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Im not bragging when I say that The Easy Money Band and I can hold our own against any of them. By 1991, Keith had decided to give his best shot at a Nashville recording contract. I knew either way I wasnt gonna starve, he told Allen. I was very successful with my band, and eventually, if I didnt get a record deal, I wouldve opened a nightclub somewhere and made a lot of money.

Visiting Music City, Keith recorded some demo tapes and made the rounds with them. While representatives of Liberty Records expressed enthusiasm, they were more interested in his talents as a musician and vocalist than as a songwriter. As a combination of talent, timing, and confidence would have it, one of Keiths

For the Record

Born Toby Keith Covel on July 8, 1961, in Clinton, OK; married to Tricia; children: Shelley, Krystal, and Stelen (son).

Formerly played semi-pro football for Oklahoma City Oilers, United States Football League (now defunct); worked on an oil rig and as a rodeo hand; toured the Western dancehall circuit with the Easy Money Band, beginning 1982; signed with Mercury Records, 1992; released debut album, Toby Keith, 1993; moved to sister-label, Polydor, 1994; toured with Sawyer Brown band, fall 1994; appeared in film Burning Bridges, 1995; released Christmas to Christmas on Polydor, 1995; released three additional albums for Mercury/ Polydor, 1995-97; signed with DreamWorks Records, released How Do You Like Me Now?, 1999; released Pull My Chain, 2001; recorded hit single Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American), released album Unleashed, 2002.

Awards: Billboard, Best New Artist Award, 1993; Country Music Association, Male Vocalist of the Year, 2001; twelve Broadcast Music, Inc. Awards, including BMI Songwriter/Artist of the Year, 2001; Academy of Country Music, Male Vocalist of the Year, 2001; Academy of Country Music, Album of the Year for How Do You Like Me Now?, 2001.

Addresses: Record company DreamWorks Records, 9268 W. Third St., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, website: http://www.dreamworksrecords.com. Website Toby Keith Official Website: http://www.tobykeith.com.

demos eventually fell into the lap of a producer at Mercury Records. Upon one listen, he promptly scheduled a flight out to Oklahoma City and offered Keith a contract.

Released Debut Album

Keiths self-titled debut album was released by Mercury in 1993. Toby Keith contained all original material, which, Keith explained to Country Song Roundups Bob Paxman, was inspired by things I see and what happens to others. The story behind the albums runaway number-one hit exemplifies this statement. On a quail-hunting trip that had a stop in historic Dodge City, Keith and a few rodeo-riding friends decided to go out on the town one night. When one of his companions asked a woman to dance, Keiths friend received a classic rebuff. She just looks at him and says, No way! Keith recalled to Paxman. Then this guy in a cowboy hat swoops down on her, and he gets her to dance with him. One of our other guys looks over and says, Hey, man, you should have been a cowboy. Hearing those words sent Keith running for pen and paper and the song was written in under a half hour. I had the melody and everything at the same time, he recalled.

Shouldve Been a Cowboy was released as Keiths first single. Initial fears that the song would prove to be nothing more than a radio novelty song and merely sputter for a moment on the charts eventually ended: Shouldve Been a Cowboy made a slow, determined, five-month climb into the number-one spot; the albums other top-ten hits, like Wish I Didnt Know Now and He Aint Worth Missin, added the energy to push Toby Keith all the way to platinum. Keith would score a total of four songs in the top ten, thanks in part to his determination, which was reflected by a heavy touring schedule that kept the singer away from his wife and two daughters throughout most of 1993. Shouldve Been a Cowboy had yet another incarnation: as the adopted anthem of the Dallas Cowboys Football League, thereby drawing Keiths pastas a football player and self-professed cowboyin line with his future as a country music recording artist.

Christmas Songs

While achieving a more modest success than its predecessor, Keiths 1994 album, Boomtown, went gold with hits like You Aint Much Fun and the poignant Whos That Man. As the albums first single, Whos That Man moved comfortably into the number-one spot on the country charts. Again writing or cowriting most of the songs on the album, with Boomtown Keith proved that he was more than a one-album artist. While noting that Keiths talents were not of the same caliber as those of the singers idol, Haggard, or superstar Randy Travis, Bob Allen observed in a review for Country Music that, with Boomtown, Keith seems like a grizzled musical genius when measured against the flock of baby-faced teenyboppers in cowboy hats whove recently stormed the country charts.

In addition to Toby Keith and Boomtown, Keith has also released a collection of holiday-inspired songs under the title Christmas to Christmas. This collection of 12 non-traditional songs centers around themes of love, caring, and the spirit of giving; the 1995 effort includes four tunes written or cowritten by the singer and the songs run an emotional gamut from the honky-tonk Santas Gonna Take It All Back to the poignant Mary, Its Christmas. It doesnt have any traditional Christmas songs on it, Keith explained in a Polydor press release, noting the albums unique approach to the Christmas album genre. Instead of this just being a Christmas album, I wanted this to be an album like I usually do, but with a Christmas theme, the singer/ songwriter adds. This sounds like anything else of mine that you would hear on the radio. It just happens to be about Christmas.

A summertime tour with country music superstar Reba McEntire the following year expanded his already considerable fan base. I think any time anybody can get on a tour like that you have to take it, he told Deborah Price of Billboard magazine. The recognition you get off a tour like that, you cant get anywhere else. Blue Moon was released to tepid reviews in 1996. People singled out one song on the album for praise, calling album-opening track The Lonely a haunting, hard-to-forget lament [that] makes everything following it pale in comparison.

Keiths next album, Dream Walkin, released in 1997, earned much more favorable reviews. All Music Guide praised Keith for sticking with what he was good at: Although Toby Keith doesnt depart from his trademark new traditionalist formula on Dream Walkin, he comes close to perfecting it. Despite good reviews and steady sales, Keiths relationship with Mercury Records began to sour. He left the label in 1999 and immediately began courting offers from other major labels. He signed with Steven Spielberg-founded DreamWorks Records in 1999 and released his next album, How Do You Like Me Now?, on the label. The title track off the album proved to be Keiths biggest hit to date, occupying the top spot on the Billboard charts for five straight weeks. Keiths second album on the label, Pull My Chain, was released in August of 2001.

Controversy Surrounded Song

Keith became embroiled in a controversy surrounding a track to be released on an upcoming album in the summer of 2002. He was removed from an ABC television special In Search of America: A July 4th Musical Celebration at the request of host Peter Jennings. Keith was to perform Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue, a song written after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. Jennings objected to the confrontational and at times jingoistic lyrics of the song: Youll be sorry you messed with the U.S. of A./ Cause well put a boot in your a**/ Its the American way. Fans were outraged at Keiths removal, bombarding the ABC offices with letters and e-mails protesting Jenningss decision. The controversy stirred up interest in Keiths upcoming album, helping Unleashed debut at number one on both the country and pop charts when it was released in July of 2002.

The album and the controversial single were released around the same time as another September 11th-inspired tune by fellow country music singer Alan Jackson. While Keiths song stirs up anger and pride, preparing the country for a long fight against those who wronged the nation, Jacksons tune, Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) is a quiet, thoughtful reflection of feelings felt the day of the attack. Both songwriters were up for a number of Country Music Association awards, including Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year, in 2002, but Keith walked away empty-handed while Jackson took home the majority of the awards. Still, Keith is proud of the tribute he wrote, which he never intended to record in the first place. I really wanted it as an honor and a tribute to my dad, Keith told Dallas Morning News. I wanted to go out and sing it to military people. Heres something I wrote for you guys, for your duty. Keith is satisfied with his hard-won success. On his official website, he reflected, Ive just been doing the same things Ive always done; its my surroundings that have changed. Ive got a record company that gives me the freedom to do what I want, and the industry has accepted what I do. Because of that, in a very real sense, Ive been liberated.

Selected discography

Toby Keith, Mercury, 1993.

Boomtown, Polydor, 1994.

Christmas to Christmas, Polygram, 1995.

Blue Moon, Mercury, 1996.

Dream Walkin, Mercury, 1997.

Greatest Hits, Volume 1, Mercury, 1998.

How Do You Like Me Now?, DreamWorks, 1999.

Pull My Chain, DreamWorks, 2001.

Unleashed, DreamWorks, 2002.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, August 27, 1994; February 17, 1996; October 9, 1999.

Country America, September 1993; October 1993.

Country Music, July/August 1994; January/February 1995.

Country Song Roundup, July 1993.

Dallas Morning News, September 6, 2002.

Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 1994.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 20, 1994; August 28, 2001; August 21, 2002.

People, April 22, 1996; June 25, 2001.

Online

Toby Keith, All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 17, 2002).

Toby Keith: Biography, CMT.com, http://www.cmt.com/art/search/art.bios.jhtml?ai_id=506011 (November 18, 2002).

Toby Keith Official Website, http://www.tobykeith.com (October 17, 2002).

Pamela Shelton

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

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  • Chicago
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"Keith, Toby." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Keith, Toby." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/keith-toby-0

"Keith, Toby." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/keith-toby-0

Keith, Toby

Toby Keith

Singer, songwriter, guitarist

Went to Nashville for a Contract

Releases Debut Album

Christmas Songs

Selected discography

Sources

When singer/songwriter Toby Keith first entered the country charts with the 1993 hit single Shouldve Been a Cowboy, the talk around Nashville was that, if you looked closely, you might just see a coating of dust on his cowboy hat. Not the smoky dust of the local dance hall, but the dust that comes from riding and roping and hard work. A former rodeo rider, oil rigger, and football player, the burly Keith wields his deep, dusky baritone to good effect on songs that range from rollicking barroom romps to heart-tugging ballads in the best country tradition. His easy way with audiences has gained him a following that has grown to encompass both aficionados of traditional honky tonk and fans of southern rock.

Keith was born in Clinton, Oklahoma, on July 8, 1961. As a young man and aspiring songsmith, he took his musical lead from southern rockers like the members of the Marshall Tucker Band, as well as country great Merle Haggard. A stint working for a supper club run by his grandmother gave Keith his first taste of show business; the house band would let him sit in with them on stage after his work was done in the kitchen. Although Keith and several friends had formed bands during their high-school years, the young Oklahomans musical aspirations were destined to be put on the shelf for several years in favor of making a living. He went to work test-driving bulls for a local rodeo outfit; from there, it was on to four years in the oil fields of his home state. Keith also served a two-year stint as a semi-pro football player with the Oklahoma City Drillerspart of the now-defunct United Football Leaguebefore his desire to play a guitar lured Keith off the field and back on stage.

Went to Nashville for a Contract

Backed by a group of fellow rodeo riders who comprised his Easy Money Band, Keith toured the country-dance hall circuit of the Western states for almost ten years before making it big in Nashville. Youre up against the best bands in the world out there, Keith explained to Country Musics Bob Allen about life on the circuit. The competitions fierce, and if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Im not bragging when I say that The Easy Money Band and I can hold our own against any of them. By 1991, Keith had decided to give his best shot at a Nashville recording contract. I knew either way I wasnt gonna starve, he told Allen. I was very successful with my band, and eventually, if I didnt get a record deal, I wouldve opened a nightclub somewhere and made a lot of money.

Visiting Music City, Keith recorded some demo tapes and made the rounds with them. While representatives of Liberty Records expressed enthusiasm, they were

For the Record

Born July 8, 1961, in Clinton, Oklahoma; married, wifes name Tricia; children: Shelley, Crystal.

Formerly played semi-pro football for Oklahoma City Oilers, United States Football League (now defunct); worked on an oil rig and as a rodeo hand; toured the Western dance hall circuit with the Easy Money Band, beginning 1982; signed with Mercury Records, 1992; released debut album, Toby Keith, 1993; moved to sister-label, Polydor, 1994; toured with Sawyer Brown band, fall 1994; appeared in film, Burning Bridges, 1995.

Awards: Best New Artist award, Billboard, 1993.

Addresses: Record company Polydor Records, 1222 16th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212.

more interested in his talents as a musician and vocalist than as a songwriter. As a combination of talent, timing, and confidence would have it, one of Keiths demos eventually fell into the lap of a producer at Mercury Records. Upon one listen, he promptly scheduled a flight out to Oklahoma City and offered Keith a contract.

Releases Debut Album

Keiths self-titled debut album was released by Mercury in 1993. Toby Keith contained all original material, which, Keith explained to Country Song Roundups Bob Paxman, was inspired by things I see and what happens to others. The story behind the albums runaway number-one hit exemplifies this statement. On a quail-hunting trip that had a stop in historic Dodge City, Keith and a few rodeo-riding friends decided to go out on the town one night. When one of his companions asked a woman to dance, Keiths friend received a classic rebuff. She just looks at him and says, Noway! Keith recalled to Paxman. Then this guy in a cowboy hat swoops down on her, and he gets her to dance with him One of our other guys looks over and says, Hey, man, you should have been a cowboy. Hearing those words sent Keith running for pen and paper and the song was written in under a half hour. I had the melody and everything at the same time, he recalled.

Shouldve Been a Cowboy was released as Keiths first single. Initial fears that the song would prove to be nothing more than a radio novelty song and merely sputter for a moment on the charts eventually ended: Shouldve Been a Cowboy made a slow, determined, five-month climb into the number-one spot; the albums other top-ten hits, like Wish I Didnt Know Now and He Aint Worth Missin, added the energy to push Toby Keith all the way to platinum. Keith would score a total of four songs in the top ten, thanks in part to his determination, which was reflected by a heavy touring schedule that kept the singer away from his wife and two daughters throughout most of 1993. Shouldve Been a Cowboy had yet another incarnation: as the adopted anthem of the Dallas Cowboys Football League, thereby drawing Keiths pastas a football player and self-professed cowboyin line with his future as a country music recording artist.

Christmas Songs

While achieving a more modest success than its predecessor, Keiths 1994 album, Boomtown, went gold with hits like You Aint Much Fun and the poignant Whos That Man. As the albums first single, Whos That Man moved comfortably into the number-one spot on the country charts. Again writing or cowriting most of the songs on the album, with Boomtown Keith proved that he was more than a one-album artist. While noting that Keiths talents were not of the same caliber as those of the singers idol, Haggard, or, superstar Randy Travis, Bob Allen observed in a review for Country Music that,with Boomtown, Keith seems like a grizzled musical genius when measured against the flock of baby-faced teenyboppers in cowboy hats whove recently stormed the country charts.

In addition to Toby Keith and Boomtown, Keith has also released a collection of holiday-inspired songs under the title Christmas to Christmas. This collection of twelve non-traditional songs center around themes of love, caring, and the spirit of giving; the 1995 effort includes four tunes written or co-written by the singer and the songs run an emotional gamut from the honky-tonk Santas Gonna Take It All Back to the poignant Mary, Its Christmas. It doesnt have any traditional Christmas songs on it, Keith explained in a Polydor press release, noting the albums unique approach to the Christmas album genre. Instead of this just being a Christmas album, I wanted this to be an album like I usually do, but with a Christmas theme, the singer/songwriter adds. This sounds like anything else of mine that you would hear on the radio. It just happens to be about Christmas.

Selected discography

Toby Keith, Mercury, 1993.

Boomtown, Polydor, 1994.

Christmas to Christmas, 1995.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, August 27, 1994, pp. 31, 38.

Country America, September 1993, p. 98; October 1993, p. 102.

Country Music, July/August 1994, pp. 48, 50; January/February 1995, p. 24.

Country Song Roundup, July 1993, pp. 16-18.

Entertainment Weekly, November 11, 1994, p. 74.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Polydor Nashville.

Pamela Shelton

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Keith, Toby

TOBY KEITH

Born: Clinton, Oklahoma, 8 July 1961

Genre: Country

Best-selling album since 1990: Unleashed (2002)

Hit songs since 1990: "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)," "Should've Been a Cowboy," "Who's That Man"


Arelaxed vocalist with a deep, powerful baritone, Toby Keith came on the country scene in the early 1990s sporting a tough, neotraditionalist sound built upon classic country instrumentation of drums, guitar, and fiddles. Changing his basic style little as the 1990s progressed, Keith proved himself a capable songwriter with the ability to probe the psychological underpinnings of his characters. While songs such as "Boomtown" (1995) reveal Keith to be a sharp chronicler of working-class social history, he also succeeds when exploring more conventional country themes of love and loss. The quality of Keith's work has been overshadowed by his controversial 2002 hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," a jingoistic response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Born in Oklahoma, Keith developed a love of country music while listening to the musicians who performed in his grandmother's nightclub as a child. After losing his job working in the Oklahoma oil industry, Keith gravitated toward a performing career, playing in local rock and country bands and recording for small labels. In the early 1990s Harold Shedd, a top Nashville producer who had worked with the hit 1980s country band Alabama, heard one of Keith's demo tapes and flew to Oklahoma to hear his band. Impressed, Shedd offered Keith a recording contract with Mercury Records. Keith's self-titled debut album appeared in 1993 and features the energetic, up-tempo hit, "I Should've Been a Cowboy." Like many of Keith's later songs, "Cowboy" expresses a longing for the past, finding comfort in lost traditions: "I should've been a cowboy / I should've learned to rope and ride." Keith's lyrical astuteness was further developed on his second album, Boomtown (1995), which, in addition to the social realism of the title track, features incisive ballads such as "Victoria's Secret." Narrating the story of a reputable housewife in the midst of an extramarital affair, Keith displays a talent for fashioning strong characters with distinct points of view. A gifted storyteller, he draws listeners into the woman's life: "Her husband's always working and he's never home / When he's there with her he's still gone."

Although Keith's rowdy sense of humor and detailed songwriting contributed to a long series of country hits during the 1990s and early 2000s, his career became identified with a single recording, "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue," subtitled "The Angry American" (2002). One of the most aggressively patriotic recordings to have surfaced in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the song drew widespread criticism for its right-wing slant and vulgarity: "We'll put a boot in your ass / It's the American way." Unlike Alan Jackson's more sensitively rendered "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning," "Red, White, and Blue" depicts an unsettling image of American bellicosity. The extensive popularity of the single helped make the album containing it, Unleashed (2002), Keith's biggest commercial success, although the remainder of the album's songs are marked by a subtler approach more in keeping with his earlier work.

Along with Mark Chesnutt and Collin Raye, Toby Keith was part of a wave of 1990s neotraditionalists who sought a return to country's tough-sounding roots. More than his contemporaries, who shifted their sound toward pop as country music became slicker in the late 1990s, Keith largely retained his rough-and-tumble style and flinty personality.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Toby Keith (Mercury, 1993); Boomtown (Mercury, 1995); Dream Walkin' (Mercury, 1997); How Do You Like Me Now? (DreamWorks, 1999); Pull My Chain (Dream-Works, 2001); Unleashed (DreamWorks, 2002).

WEBSITE:

www.tobykeith.com.

david freeland

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