Toby Keith Talks Legendary Influences, Country Music’s ‘Oscillating’ Sound
Toby Keith loves country music — the old-school stuff. The Oklahoma native grew up listening to artists who had already been around for decades, many of whom later influenced the way that Keith made his own music.
“When I was coming up, I was listening to the guys who had been around 20 or 30 years, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna be like one of those guys,'” Keith shared during his talk at the 2017 Country Radio Seminar, citing Roger Miller and Merle Haggard specifically.
“[Haggard] was tremendous, maybe the biggest influence on me,” Keith adds. “I can remember sitting in grade school — young grade school, too, like second or third grade — and my parents playing “Okie from Muskogee,” and listening to those songs. And then when the album played, you would hear “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” you would hear all those songs besides ‘”Okie from Muskogee.” And so when I first started learning to play the guitar, those were some of the most haunting … they were calling me to sing them.”
“Bob Seger always sounded like I could play his songs with an acoustic [guitar], but he was considered rock ‘n’ roll,” Keith muses. “The guys that were going to see Bob Seger were never going to see Haggard.”
In his early years in country music, Keith found that some of his songs, such as “I Wanna Talk About Me” and “How Do You Like Me Now?!,” were different from the music that other artists (Shania Twain, Lonestar and Kenny Chesney, to name a few) were making at that time, now almost 20 years ago. So, these days, the 55-year-old isn’t going to be critical of the genre’s newer sounds, even if he doesn’t personally like it.
“I don’t feel like “As Good as I Once Was” or “Shoulda Been a Cowboy” was much different from Conway [Twitty] and George Jones’ music. It sounded country to me,” Keith notes. “But I promised I was never going to be that guy. That being said, whatever it is today doesn’t sound like “Shoulda Been a Cowboy,” and I’m not going to cut that kind of music. Now, I’m not going to b—h about it; I’m going to keep cutting my kind of music, and if somebody wants to buy it they can …
“I’m just going to keep writing what I do, sing what I sing,” Keith continues, “and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, I really don’t care.”
Even if country music’s current trends are different from the country music of his childhood, Keith believes that the genre will eventually circle back to honoring the legends who paved the way.
“I want country music to be strong, and I think that, through the years, we’ve oscillated back and forth,” explains Keith. “It always comes back to country, so I’m hoping that more country will come to the forefront, because there’s a lot of country music fans out there, waiting.”
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