Toby Keith first broke on the country music scene in 1993 with a self-titled album for Mercury Records. Eighteen years later, Toby is the head of his own record label and has been declared by Country Weekly magazine as one of the most influential artists in country music.

When pressed to explain how he made that list, Toby went right to what for him is the heart of it all. "I don't know, maybe it's jaded or old hat to sit here and say it's about the music, but my career changed when I started dressing out of my closet and releasing the songs I wanted to do," the singer tells The Boot. "I put my career on the line, but it makes you more confident when you bet it all and you win."

Pausing a moment, Toby refers to one of his career songs as a way of offering a bit of advice to young musicians. "I had the biggest 'how-do-you-like-me-now' moment and that makes you want to try harder to cut your own path. There's a lot of traffic in the middle of the road and I think that's a huge mistake. Artists will come to me and say, 'If I work with you, I'll bring you what we cut and let you hear it.' If we signed you, it's because you're a talented cat and you're doing your thing. I don't have to hear it. You know what your audience wants to hear."

The singer admits there has to be a plan to an artist's career but the bottom line is knowing the fan. "I always thought I knew what my audience wanted, so whatever I did along the way to sell the album or have the hits was me being me. So if somebody thinks that's influential, I don't know. I do a lot of things. I have a pretty good brand, from liquor to bars to a big concert tour, so I can see how that would affect the pop world out there. Past that, I don't know why they would say that."

A lot has been said about the opinions Toby has tossed out over the years, but the Oklahoma native insists he's no different than the guy who came to Nashville to make his mark in music in the early '90s. "I'm always the same guy. I fight when I'm supposed to, I say what's on my mind, and sometimes that upsets people. Nothing has changed about me, but once you get to a certain level where people care what you say, then it starts to matter. So nothing has changed there. I don't regret one single step I ever made."

Toby recently joined two non-profit organizations, Can-Do and Livin' the Music, in their relief efforts for the people of Haiti. The organizations are donating seven semi trailers, which were filled with food and medical supplies at a Nashville drop and shipped to Port-au-Prince on Feb. 2.