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Toby Keith’s New Ventures Run the Gamut

Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Toby Keith: singer, songwriter, producer, record label owner, actor, restauranteur, philanthropist … distiller! The country superstar was in Nashville last week to unveil his new Wild Shot mezcal, which is expected to hit liquor store shelves in May. Toby says he likes to chill and sip the new libation neat, but he will also be mixing it in margaritas in his I Love This Bar & Grill restaurant chain. In addition to introducing us to his mezcal, Toby tells The Boot about his latest music, his latest crusade for Veterans and his latest project: producing a “country as cornbread” singer who is very close to his heart.

The question on a lot of minds is, why mezcal?

There has been a surge in the mezcal market. It’s easy to get another tequila, but not many people are doing anything with mezcal. I saw the success my friend Sammy Hagar has had with Cabo Wabo, so instead of being a competitor in the tequila market, I wanted to do as I always do and get in on the ground floor where there is a lot of room for growth.

Will Wild Shot come complete with a worm at the bottom of the bottle?

Oh yeah, you don’t want to miss out on that! You don’t want to be the last guy holding the bottle either. They say the worm causes visions, but I think it’s just reaching the bottom of bottle. If you’re there when that happens, I don’t think the worm has that much to do with it. [laughs]

Your latest single, ‘Somewhere Else,’ has a different feel to it. You’ve described the guy in it as ‘the biggest loser in the world.’ What made you choose it as a single now?

‘Somewhere Else’ is the third single off my album ‘Bullets in the Gun,’ and it is my favorite thing on the album. It’s different from anything I’ve done, but at same time we didn’t feel it was the right song to pull as the first single. After touring and and seeing the reaction to it, it makes you proud as a songwriter when you get that melody and word play going on. It’s got a real homey, organic feel to the lyric, like you’re singing about your neighbor. It’s got a light feel to it, but it’s about a serious issue. It’s one of my favorite things I wrote last year and I am happy for it to get out.

The production sounds a little different for you, too.

When we were recording it, we wanted to take time to create its own vibe. We muted a harmonica and really spent a lot of time trying to create almost a percussion track out of the harmonic and drum sticks. I knew it would be single, so we spent more time than usual trying to create a different vibe for it.

Watch Toby Sing ‘Somewhere Else’ Live

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You’re nominated for ACM Entertainer of the Year. How do you feel about fans voting for the honor?

It’s wonderful to have fans vote on Entertainer of the Year these last several years. I haven’t been an award-friendly guy, and I kind of gave up on them years ago. I said all along if you let the fans vote, no one can complain. If you don’t get nominated or don’t win, you can’t gripe. There’s no place for politics playing into music. It’s a fan-based industry; we all survive off our fans. I told a young man that we just signed the other night that all we can do is put our music out there and then it’s up to the fans. Putting politics into it never made sense to me. If you don’t win or get nominated, then work a little harder next year.

What advice have you given that young artist? What would you have done differently in your career?

I told him I didn’t really have any advice because I did everything wrong! [laughs] First I would probably have moved to Nashville. Nashville kind of came and found me. I probably would have moved here and started networking. It might not have taken me as long. The other thing is I never would have done a co-publishing deal with my label. I’d have kept my publishing. It took me several years to get that straightened out. I think I could have done better in the business decisions that I made.

Is it harder to break a new artist today?

It is so difficult in these times with the saturation of the Internet to break an artist. It used to be if you found someone good, you could bring them to Nashville and expose them. Now there’s so much on YouTube and the Internet. The good thing is everyone can be seen now; the bad thing is everyone can be seen now. It’s difficult to stand out with a new artist. People have all that information coming into their house, and the new singers can create it in their basement. You look everywhere and see it. [Nashville] used to control what went to country radio and now it can come from anywhere.

Tell us about your latest patriotic venture with Pros 4 Vets.

The chapter I’m involved with is in Oklahoma. People who are involved are pro athletes and pro celebrities. Tommie Harris and Roy Williams are both All-Pro guys who played [football] at Oklahoma. They do Pros 4 Africa, where they go over to Africa and work with the poverty-stricken. The same guy who put that together is an attorney and he put together Pros 4 Vets, which offers them networking opportunities. A lot of vets coming home don’t have resources to network or the proper legal help. This organization is set up so they can come to a one-stop shopping place and find what they need as far as benefits, and know what they have coming to them. They also get advice, counseling and help. We’re gonna try to start some chapters in other states, too. If we can get someone from the Saints and Hornets in Louisiana, then I’ll call Trace Adkins and we’ll try to do a chapter there. We’re just trying to put together a little star power and get this thing going. It’s a great thing to be involved in. A lot of the veterans who are returning home need help to understand the different benefits they have. It’s up to the government to tell them what they need but we’re not too good at that, so this organization is trying to help them out.

Your cover band, Incognito Bandito, just made a rare appearance in Nashville. Do you think you’ll ever record an album together?

We put this band together after I was talking to all these studio musicians who play on my records. We just like to go out and play roadhouse songs that we all like to play and have fun. We’ve only played twice in the last six months, once in New York and the other night in Nashville. Just imagine if we were on the road for any length of time how smokin’ that band could be! It’s wonderful to be able to go spread your wings and play roadhouse music with that quality of a groove. I could see us recording something and putting it on CD. I love the Banditos; playing with them is as much fun as I’ve had in a decade.

How are the recording sessions going with your daughter, Krystal?

She’s been around music her whole life, so it’s been really easy for her to make that transition. I told my kids I’d help them if they wanted a career in music, but they had to go to college first. So she did that and now we’ve been in the studio. There’s nothing pop about her, she’s old-school country. My mother sounded like Patsy Cline when she sang, and that type of music really fits Krys. When I first started to figure out what direction I should be going with her, it was hard for me to get away from that. I thought, “I have to let her be herself and not think of it from a commercial side. I have to let her cut the best songs she can cut and let her do what she does best and not make something out of here that she’s not.” She’s a throwback to the old stuff.

Have you been writing songs with her, too?

The guys I write with have started bringing some ideas in, and we’ve been writing songs for her. It’s neat, I’ve never written songs from a girl’s eye. Writing songs about guys is easy, but we’ve written some nice stuff for her and she loves it. She’s like me, she sings hard, and she’s just country as cornbread. I have to let her go with that.

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