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Toby Keith: Everybody Likes Him Now

Posted in MusicWorld on February 24, 2002 by
Toby Keith is one of those music biz "overnight" success stories that took almost a decade to journey from dusk to dawn denouement.

After an award-challenged introduction to the music industry, Keith is finally winning plaudits from his peers. Fueling the fire was his smack-your-face smash "How Do You Like Me Now?!" The Academy of Country Music's top male vocalist and album of the year victor recently captured 2001 BMI Country Songwriter/Artist of the Year honors and the Country Music Association's Male Vocalist trophy, gateways to superstardom.

Toby's songs will never be described as lacking attitude. "I've got a track record for being that way," admits the 6' 4", 240-pound hunkabilly who has toiled as a semi-pro football player and honky-tonk singer. "'How do you like me now?' is something I always said when playing football after I knocked someone down."

The volatile lyrics and slam-dunk delivery encountered early resistance at some Nashville record labels. "You're going to have to prove to the radio people that there'll be negative calls on those type of songs," Keith notes. "About 50 percent love it, 40 percent are okay with it, and 10 percent hate it."

Toby credits two other Oklahoma wordsmiths for his concise, but powerful, phrasing. "Will Rogers appeared to be simple and say things in a simple way that everybody understood," Keith observes. "He didn't get above anybody's head, but he could talk to politicians and kings. That's what they said about my dad. His friends said he had a way of summing things up in a shorter amount of time than anybody they had ever seen."

Dedicated to the memory of his father, Toby's latest Dreamworks album, Pull My Chain, counterpoints sensitive love songs with his trademark cocky creations. There's also a bonus track, "Gimme 8 Seconds," co-written with Elton John collaborator Bernie Taupin.

Keith came by his writing talents naturally, self-taught. "I didn't think writing was something where you had to write like somebody," explains Toby, who's passing along the legacy. "My four-year-old and 15-year-old kids are writing songs all the time," he adds with fatherly admiration.

Toby lives on his farm near Oklahoma City with his wife and three children. He's a happy man with hits on the charts and awards on a run while raising 40 thoroughbred horses with derby dreams.

"You can go to the Kentucky Derby every year, and if you lose, no one pays any attention to you," Keith points out, comparing it to the music biz. "But if, all of a sudden, you get it right and your mares start winning, the other guys come over to see what you're doing right."

Those other guys must like him now.

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