A Conversation With Toby Keith: Day 1
Toby Keith believes in betting on himself. Does that make him a bad guy? He doesn't think so.
For his new album, 'That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy,' out Tuesday, Keith wrote all the songs and produced the recording sessions. The album comes out on his own label, Show Dog Records, which he started after a dozen years recording for major labels. He has his own restaurant chain, so, had he wanted, he probably could've catered the sessions, too.
"I didn't set out to do all these extra things, and I never knew my brand name would be as successful as it is," the 47-year-old singer tells The Boot. "You come to town, you look at the system. They tell you, 'We want you to be a poster boy. We want you to do these kinds of songs. We want you to politick. We want you to shake hands. We want you to do a luncheon for the CMA. We want you to go over here and do this for BMI.' It keeps you in good graces, so you start doing that.
"Your industry can get behind you and crank you up and make you a household name, help you get there. Or you can be abandoned like I was."
The one thing that Keith has had a hard time doing on his own is winning awards from the country music industry. He's been nominated for 27 Country Music Associations awards, winning only two -- 2001's Male Vocalist of the Year and a music video trophy in 2005 for 'As Good As I Once Was.' Keith was shut out at this year's CMA nominations, despite being named Forbes magazine's top-earning country star, pulling in an estimated $48 million in 2007.
Keith first hit the country charts in 1993, with 'Should've Been a Cowboy,' which quickly went to No. 1. The four singles off his debut album were all Top Five hits. But the Country Music Association's Horizon Award -- the equivalent of a new artist honor -- went to Mark Chesnutt in 1993. John Michael Montgomery won it the following year. Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and Martina McBride all lost during that time frame, too. But Keith didn't even get nominated.
"The easiest award to win and be nominated for is to be very successful your first year or two and be a newcomer, be on one of the newcomer awards -- Horizon, New Male, whatever, right?" Keith says. "I had three No. 1s and a Top Five, sold over a million records on my first album. Had one of the most-played songs -- 'Should've Been a Cowboy' is headed toward 6 million spins. And not one award. Not one nomination. Not one help from the industry."
In fact, Keith didn't earn his first nomination from the CMA until 2000, after 'How Do You Like Me Now?!' hit.
"I decided somewhere along '95 or '96, 'Man, I've got to go bet on me. I'm not going to leave it up to this industry that I'm in to give me any support,'" he says. "Once it started becoming successful, we just started rolling with it. It got bigger and bigger and stronger. And then the music finally turned over for me, and some of the stuff I had bet on started working -- 'How Do You Like Me Now?!' and some of those things. We became a headliner around 2000, somewhere in there. Now they'll support me, right?
"So I go, and I'm nominated for seven or eight awards. It's, like, okay, I went and did this myself, I got here. But the conglomerates and their bloc voting and corrupt stuff like that, made me go sit on the front row and be nominated for eight or nine things and never win anything. I was, like, 'It still doesn't work!'
"I'll never be bigger than country music, but I can always try to be as big as anybody in that business. So I've got a clothes line coming, I've got a liquor coming, I've got my own movie production company, I've got my own record label. And, you know, I just feel like once I see the gears turning on something -- like I did on 'Broken Bridges' movie -- once I see the gears turn and see what it takes to make one, then the next time out, I just went, on 'Beer for My Horses,' and I just said, 'Here's my director,' hired a producer, hired a casting agent, wrote my own script, said, 'Here we come,' and here we go.
"It's just betting on yourself."
In celebration of Keith's 'That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy' release, The Boot will have more of this exclusive interview every day this week. Come back tomorrow to hear more about his new music. Then later in the week, Keith tells a funny story about Kenny Chesney, explains how he used left-wing blogs to market his movie and talks about collaborating with some rather unlikely artists.