Music News & Reviews

Beer for his horses, whiskey for Toby Keith

Whiskey drinker and country music star Toby Keith will bring the party to the Washington State Fair on Saturday.

With hit songs like “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” and “Red Solo Cup,” Keith has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and was named Billboard’s Country Artist of the Decade in 2009.

The Oklahoma native has toured the U.S. and abroad over his 21-year career, playing shows for U.S. troops in the Middle East and venues in Europe. He plans on releasing a new album next month. He discussed his standout career with this newspaper:

Q: What is the new album about?

A: Well, I just do one every year. We put one out in October every year for 20 years.

Q: Can people expect to hear some of the songs from of the new album at your concert?

A: Well, you know, we might play one if they tell me that they’re getting ready to release a single off of it, but they haven’t told me that yet. So between now and the time we get up there, if they tell me we’ll release a new single here pretty quick I might start promoting it. But other than that, you won’t hear anything but hits.

Q: What should crowds expect to hear at the fair?

A: I’ve got 50 or 60 songs they would recognize, and I do about 25 of them. It’s just all the big hits, all the stuff that are really big impact songs. Everything from “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” to “Red Solo Cup” to “Beer for My Horses” and “(American) Soldier.”

Q: Talk a little about the song writing process for you, what’s that like?

A: I usually just start with an idea. Sit down and then start trying to circle it with thoughts and a melody. Everybody does it a little bit different, but that’s kinda the way I do it. I think once you’ve been a professional for years, I think you’re a great idea away from a great song. You know? I think that’s the important thing is to have a great idea.

Q: What are the best crowds to play for?

A: I do the mostly outdoor crowds, I do 90 percent of my shows outdoors. So they’re amphitheaters and festivals and stuff. But I’m mainly an outdoor guy. I have a real hard-hitting party crowd, and so when they show up they need a little room to breath, cause they get after it pretty good.

Q: Talking about that outdoor crowd, what’s the craziest thing that has happened on stage during a live performance?

A: I don’t know, you name it, it’s gonna happen. I don’t know, what’s the craziest thing? It’s all crazy, but most of them we can’t talk about in your article.

Q: If you could give one or two examples that you could talk about, what would they be?

A: It would just involve nudity. I’ve seen everything in the world, it’s crazy.

Q: What are one or two songs that really surpassed your expectations?

A: I didn’t expect a song called “Whisky Girl.” “Whisky Girl” was the last single they released off of that album and it was a big hit. It’s still a big hit today among the audience. I thought it was a good song, I didn’t know if it was a hit or not.

Q: You have done a lot of volunteering with the military, playing for military crowds. Why do you give back so much to the troops?

A: My father was military, and he lost his eye in the service, and he always asked me to do something for them. I went over to do one year of it, just so I did it, and saw the need for it, and just decided to volunteer every year for two weeks. So for 11 years we went over for two weeks. This is the first year we haven’t gone. They didn’t want us to go into Afghanistan and wouldn’t let us go into Iraq, so it wasn’t the same old trip.

Q: Why do you think people have connected to your music over the years and still connect to it today?

A: I just think writing music is first and foremost. If you look back through the years at the people that have withstood lots of decades of music. If you look back and said, ‘OK, Willie (Nelson), (Merle) Haggard, Loretta (Lynn), Dolly Parton. Look at all those guys’, and then you go, well, they made it a long time and they’re still making music. Well, they all had one thing in common: They all wrote their own music. I think when you write your own music, your fan base knows it, and I think your fan base feels it. I think that it gives them something they can sink their claws into and hang on to. Plus it separates you from everybody else. You write your own music your stuff sounds different from everybody else’s. Everybody else’s is a blend of all kind of songwriters’ stuff, and yours is just you, so everything you write is going to be in your wheelhouse. I’ve never written a song that I couldn’t sing. You don’t sit down write a song, ‘Boy, that’s a good song — wish I could sing it.’ But there are songs out there that someone else can write, that can fit you. So, it all kind of works hand in hand.

Q: In 2005 you opened your own bar and grill. Why did you decide to take the move into the restaurant industry?

A: A friend of mine who I’d worked with, he was an entertainment coordinator with Vegas casinos, he came to me and asked if I’d be interested, and I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely. I’ll check it out and see what you got.’ So then I stuck around with it and let some other owner operators open them up, and we’ve got over 20 of them now across the U.S.

Q: Anything else you would like to say about performing at the Washington State Fair?

A: I’m looking forward to it, and we’re definitely gonna kick it when we get there.