A Conversation With Toby Keith: Day 2
Toby Keith's new album, 'That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy,' out today, has already given him a No. 1 single, 'She Never Cried in Front of Me.' In the second part of our week-long interview with Keith, he talks about some of the album's other 10 songs, which were written in places ranging from Oklahoma to Afghanistan.
The album's title track is about a guy who thinks he's basically misunderstood, that he doesn't deserve the reputation he seems to have picked up. With descriptions like "I ain't dangerous, cantankerous -- just looking for a real good time," the guy sounds, well, a little like Toby Keith.
"You ask any guy's wife or girlfriend, and she can find some things she don't like about him, but that don't make him a bad guy," Keith tells The Boot. "When me and Bobby Pinson wrote the song together, we wanted to be as clever as we could in saying, 'Yeah, so what? I drink whiskey from a cheap paper cup.' And then, I'll drink a pot of joe after I sober up kind of stuff. So there's little things that you're probably not going to like about me, honey, but that don't make me a bad guy.
"We just wanted to be as clever as we could and really hook a great melody that sounds like me," he says. "My favorite line that seals it up is, 'I'm only good as I gotta be.'"
Though Keith wrote all 11 songs on 'That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy,' he did occasionally bring in some help -- like having one of the heroes of his youth, Eddy Raven, write 'Cabo San Lucas' with him.
"I'd always been an Eddy Raven fan, and when I did 'How Do You Like Me Now?!' I had people that had worked with him say the vocal reminded them of Eddy Raven. I said, 'Well, it ought to, because I sang about everything that he did, cover stuff.'"
Keith says that, aside from George Strait, Raven and Earl Thomas Conley were his two favorite country acts from the '80s.
"I always felt like they were a little ahead of their time and that's why they didn't get any more respect than they did," he says. "Country was still a little more traditional than it is today. Today, if somebody had five No. 1s off an album, and they were a mainstream act, they'd be blowing it up for millions of dollars. Earl Thomas Conley, he hardly ever gets talked about, the dude had albums that had five Number Ones on them."
After Keith and Raven hit it off as friends, they decided to write a few songs together. "He knew that I loved Cabo San Lucas," Keith says."He had a little idea about it. We sat down and put it in Eddy Raven mode. You could hear him sing this if I wasn't on the vocal.
"It's really cool to be at this position in my life. When you're sitting on top of your world and having so much good going on in your life, you get to start fulfilling some of these things that you always wanted to do but never got to do. Getting to hang out with him for a weekend and write was really cool."
Keith wrote another of the album's songs -- the bluesy 'Missing Me Some You' -- on one of his USO tours of Afghanistan, about six miles from the Pakistan border.
"I was at a base that was so under fire that they had no lights on the base at night," he recalls. "I always go outside and hang out with the troops a little bit when you're not signing autographs and doing all that stuff -- exchanging coins, patting each other on the back. When we're all just sitting around, enjoying our time, I'll fire me a big cigar. They'd let you do that, and they also gave you a little blue-light necklace that shines a little spot of blue at your feet, where you can go to the men's room.
"I was standing out there, and you could see a firefight going on in the mountains, and I said, 'What's the firefight just north of here?' The soldier says, 'That's not north, sir, that's east. That's the Pakistan border.' I said, 'Well, there's the North Star, right above it.' And he goes, 'How do you know that's the North Star?' I said, 'Because right there's the Big Dipper.' He said, 'Wow, I never noticed it, but the stars here look just like they do back home.' I said, 'Of course, they do.'
"We ended up talking – he'd been on 15-month deployment, he was getting to go home in three months. He hadn't seen his fiancée in 15 months. He reached down -- you know, they carry everything on them -- and dug into his battle gear and said, 'That's my baby, and I can't wait to see her again. I hope she still loves me.'
"I just took all that and absorbed it. Being as I went in a blues direction, I needed me a really blues hook, you know what I mean? When it rolled out -- 'Missing Me Some You' -- I knew it was something I wanted to finish."
'Missing Me Some You' has a vintage Muscle Shoals/Memphis feel. Like several other Keith recordings -- the Philly-soul inspired 'A Little Too Late' and the cover of Barry White's 'Never, Never Gonna Give You Up' that he recently recorded with Wayman Tisdale -- it shows a love of R&B that he doesn't often discuss.
"It's more a Stevie Ray Vaughan/Fabulous Thunderbirds kind of influence," he says. "I'm from Oklahoma. Texas wouldn't claim me because they only claim their own, but I played all the bars in Texas 90 percent of the time that I played. I was around Austin a lot, saw a lot of blues bands. My first booking agent and independent record deal was in San Antonio. And my grandmother's band played a lot of blues in their repertoire, when she owned her nightclub.
"So it would've been more a Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Fabulous Thunderbirds thing, from working so much in Texas. I'm only 190 miles north of Dallas. Working down there, that would've been where my influence came from."
Come back to The Boot every day this week for more on our candid conversation with Toby Keith.