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Toby Keith & Friends Keep Bluebird Cafe Audience Laughing

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

Last night’s BirdSongs Series at the legendary Bluebird Cafe in Nashville may have featured hit songwriters, but very few radio hits were heard throughout the evening as Toby Keith, Bobby Pinson and Scotty Emerick took the audience on a ride through some of their lesser-known, but hilariously funny, tunes.

“I’ll bet you thought you were gonna hear some songs of the year, didn’t you?” Toby asked at one point during the three-hour show. “You can come to our show and hear the hits, but you won’t hear these songs anywhere else.”

The three men are songwriting buddies, and Scotty often plays shows with Toby. Among their co-writes are ‘I Love This Bar’ and ‘Beer for my Horses.’ Bobby frequently goes out on the road with Toby to write, and also travels to the country superstar’s Oklahoma home. They have penned ‘She’s a Hottie’ and ‘She Never Cried in Front of Me’ together, along with a list of other tunes.

“Songwriters are the lifeblood of this town,” Toby told the full house of music industry personnel and fans. Himself the reigning NSAI Singer/Songwriter of the Decade, the Oklahoma native went on to say, “When I think back on the music I listened to as a teenager, all my tapes were singer/songwriters like Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Hank Williams, Jr. The things that people wrote and sang themselves was what turned me on.”

The comaradarie of the three men was evident throughout the evening, starting with Bobby’s description of one of his first writing sessions with Toby. “I got a call one day and was told that Toby would like to meet me. So we got together the first time and wrote a pretty good song.

“Then I was at Toby’s house a couple months later and we wrote another pretty good song, and as he was walking out of the room he said to me, ‘Hey, tonight I want you to think about this — ‘she’s a hottie’ — and tomorrow we’ll work on it.’ I thought to myself, well two out of three good songs ain’t bad!”

Bobby said Toby told him to trust him on the idea and sure enough, ‘She’s a Hottie’ was a hit for the singer. Bobby couldn’t let the song go, however, until he sang a verse he says he was inspired to write when a deejay told him, “You know that song doesn’t reach all of the people in America.” Bobby said he went home and wrote another verse along the theme of ‘She’s a Fattie,’ which he promptly sang for the crowd, who responded with laughter.

Laughter was the common denominator throughtout most of the rest of the evening. Toby and Scotty performed ‘I Love This Bar,’ which of course had a verse that was not recorded for the general public. “Seems like we always have to have that other verse on a song,” Toby quipped as they sang about some other characters who also frequented the bar who were not mentioned in the original lyrics.

Not only have the three written extra verses on songs that would never get played on the radio, they have also written a few songs that probably will never make the airwaves. “I wrote this one somewhere between here and Buffalo, probably around Cleveland,” Toby remembered as he went into a tune about a guy who is hoping to get lucky after he’s taken a girl to dinner and dancing.

“That’s a sad ending,” Bobby commented after the story had the girl getting out of the car and leaving the guy behind to deal with her decision as best he can.

“You guys remember Charlie the Tuna?” Toby asked at another point during the evening. There was a resounding yes and Toby said he had always wanted to write a song about the once popular fish. “I had this wacked idea, so Scotty and I wrote this one.”

The opening line was “She climbed upon my bus …” and the lyrics went downhill from there. The hook line turned out to be, “Only the best looking tuna gets to be star kissed (Starkist).”

Another song Toby offered up was about helping out your best friend when they are in trouble. “Your best friend calls you up and says he needs you to help him out, because his girlfriend is coming to town and she’s bringing her sister. When you ask him what she looks like he says, ‘Well, she’s got a great personality and she loves to party.’ You know you’re a goner but you help him out anyway, and you swear him to secrecy about the girl you end up with.”

The songs might not have been hits, but the audience knew they were being treated to a rare performance by Toby and they loved it. Bobby’s humor and Scotty’s guitar playing added to the electricity of the evening.

In a more serious moment, Toby told about writing ‘Beer for My Horses’ with Scotty. “I used to rodeo and there was this old man who always used the phrase ‘whiskey for my men.’ Then there was this movie, ‘Cat Ballou,’ starring Lee Marvin, and in it he said ‘Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.’ I told Scotty the phrase and he was like, ‘What?’ So we’re out in the bus one afternoon after a show at this fair and we started writing the song.”

In another moment of seriousness, Toby talked about his grandmother’s bar in Arkansas, and how he went one summer to stay with her. “She would take me swimming in the morning, and then come two in the afternoon she would take me to the bar and I’d play pinball all afternoon. Then the back room opened around five and better food was served in there, and a band came in and started playing around nine. So Scotty and I wrote this song about the bar, which we called Clancy’s Tavern, which Clancy was my grandmother’s nickname.”

Those serious moments, however, were few and far between. Up next, Toby and Scotty sang a song they wrote about the Taliban, then Toby sang one he wrote when he was in Afghanistan. “We flew into this area and we were driving to where they were going to put us for the evening and I saw this sign that said ‘Welcome to Ballad,’ which I pronounced like a song, a ballad. The military personnel with me were quick to correct me, saying, ‘No sir, it’s Bal-lad.’”

Toby says his immediate response was, “Well you need a song called ‘The Ballad of Ballad.’” During the next six or seven minutes he worked on the song, which is all about a young guy getting recruited to the Army.

One of the soldiers Toby met in Iraq, a sergeant, was at the Bluebird, and Toby introduced him to the crowd and asked him to explain a term in their Taliban song. Later Toby dedicated ‘An American Soldier’ to the men and women in the military.

“It’s very important that we thank the men and women every day who are in the military,” Toby said. “In my journeys, I not only get some great geography and history lessons, but I get to meet some great heroes who serve our country so we can sit here and have this kind of night. Until you go over there and see some other countries, you don’t know how good we have it here. I want to do this song for all of them.”

Toby also told the story of finding the original lyrics to ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.’ “My tour manager found it behind the refrigerator on a piece of paper that had Fantasy Football on the other side. I had scribbled down all the lyrics and made notes about this word or that word, and I dated it 9/20/2001. Part of it is faded and you can hardly read it but the other half is very clear.”

The sergeant commandeered the microphone later in the show to talk about what it means to the soldiers when Toby comes to play for them. “This man is amazing, he stays up with us, then he plays for us and then he gets no sleep that night either because he’s staying up to visit with us. Toby does it because he truly cares. All these guys that he brings with him are amazing.”

Bobby and Scotty performed some of their tunes that Toby had never cut, and a few they wished he would. Bobby took a stab at himself when he performed a medly of re-written lyrics to a few of his songs that had been recorded by Sugarland, including ‘All I Want to Do,’ ‘Already Gone’ and ‘It Happens.’ Scotty did a song he wrote with Dean Dillon, ‘I Ain’t Meant to Be No Drinkin’ Man,’ and another he wrote with Harley Allen, ‘Like My Dog.’ He also did the tune ‘Brothers By Different Mothers.’

“This is one of my best known songs but it never charted,” Toby said of ‘I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again,’ a song he said was written after he spent a little time around the music legend. “After getting to know Willie and the precious soul that he is — he never fails to come to my defense on political issues, and after spending a little bit of time with him we had to write this song.”

Before closing out the night, Toby said he had to do one more very special hit from his catalog. “I’ve gotta pay homage to this song, because I always do it in my show. I wrote it one night when I was in a hotel in Dodge City, where I was influenced by my surroundings. I had just signed my deal with Mercury at the time and I was working hard to write and get ready to record. This song has been very good to me, and if you are going to come out with something different in order to separate yourself from everyone else you better have something like this.”

The song was, of course, ‘Should’ve Been a Cowboy.’

Before the show ended, two Takemine guitars were auctioned for $5000 each. Toby had played one of the guitars throughout the evening and autographed both of them for the winning bidders.

The BirdSongs Series was created to help pay off the debt from the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International buying The Bluebird Cafe, one of Nashville’s best-known songwriting hotspots. The club is located in the Green Hills area of Nashville, and is one venue where fans can be assured they will be able to hear the performers as they do their original songs. Among those who have graced the club’s stage are Mary Chapin Carpenter, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Townes Van Zandt, John Prine and the Sweethearts of the Rodeo. Visitors to Nashville can find hit songwriters performing at the club just about every night of the week.

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