Story Behind the Song: Toby Keith, ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)’
Toby Keith scored a chart-topping hit with his single “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” when he released it as the debut single from his 2002 album Unleashed. Keith wrote the song in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11; however, he was unaware that his knee-jerk response to the nationwide tragedy — influenced by a personal tragedy, the death of Keith’s father, a military veteran — would turn into one of the biggest hits of his career.
At a media event, Keith shared the story behind “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” Read on to read his memories.
My father had begged me for years to go on USO Tours, and I was so busy — we were doing 130 shows a year — that I just didn’t have it in my schedule. Finally, he passed away in March [of 2001], and then 9/11 happened. I was like, “Now I have to go honor him.”
I was sitting out there, just a few days after the [Twin] Towers came down. I was working out in the gym, and I heard these talking heads say, “Well, I guess we could bomb them. That would be so the American way,” and I was like, “What just happened to us? Are we supposed to just stand by and let this happen? Could we not be mad as hell about this?”
I wrote [“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”] on the back of a Fantasy Football sheet that was laying there; I just turned it and wrote around the edges and, in about 20 minutes, wrote the lyric out and called it “The Angry American.” When I turned it in, they said, “Well, it really doesn’t say ‘angry American’ in there. Why don’t you call it “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue?”” So, I did.
I was at the Pentagon, playing for a bunch of Marines that were shipping out to Afghanistan for the first time … I said, “I’m going to play this song. The band doesn’t know it, but I’m going to play it on my acoustic …” And when I got done, [the commander] said, “You’ve got to release that as a single … That’s the most amazing battle song I’ve ever heard in my life.” And so I prayed about it and discussed it with everybody for a long time, because I knew it was going to cause a storm. But at the end of the day, I was like, “If it means that much to those guys, then I don’t care. I’ll do it.” And that’s when we finally decided we were going to release it.
[My dad] would be so angry right now to know that we’ve gotten so soft. He was a Yellow Dog Democrat; he was a lifetime Democrat. In fact, my brother, who is a preacher, he’s the first Republican who’s ever been in my family. So my dad, he always was like, “Everybody feels like everybody’s getting their toes stepped on these days. Everybody has to have thicker skin, and you can’t be that soft on things. You have to be stronger and know right from wrong, instead of right from left.” And I thought, man, when those buildings came down, he would be really angry.
[My dad] was a true patriot: He never complained about his eye, [which he lost while serving]. He never complained about the time he served or how they treated him after. He just went back to work. He was just a good, old, solid cat.
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