Country singer-songwriter Toby Keith is known for standing his ground on the direction of his music. But, in the profit-driven music industry, personal integrity has its costs. When Toby's former record label wanted him to imitate another country star, Toby bought back his contract. Since moving to DreamWorks Records in 1999, he's scored six Number One Country singles and won several major industry awards. VOA's Mary Morningstar has more on Toby Keith's newfound respect and latest album, Unleashed.
Toby Keith's new album, Unleashed, contains many personal songs. The most autobiographical is It Works For Me. Toby has never followed the changing trends in Country music, and he refuses to compromise his style for any reason.
The 41-year-old Oklahoma native arrived on the Country scene in 1993, and according to Billboard magazine, became the most-played new artist of that year. His self-titled debut album sold one million copies in the U.S., and produced the Number One hit Should've Been A Cowboy. But, it took seven more years for Toby to finally get the respect he felt he deserved from the music industry.
In the first week after being released, Unleashed sold more than 338,000 copies to debut at Number One on the Country and Top 200 charts.
"There's only been seven or eight Country acts ever even do it. And when you figure in some of them are getting a lot of pop [radio station] play and we're doing it without any pop radio play, that's a huge statement for my camp," he said.
Toby's major breakthrough came with How Do You Like Me Now, his first album for DreamWorks Records. It earned him last year's Academy of Country Music awards for Male Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year. Then came a Country Music Association win for Male Artist of the Year, and Toby was also named BMI's Songwriter/Artist of 2001.
Among the highlights on Unleashed is a duet Toby recorded with Country legend Willie Nelson. Toby talks about the experience of working with his idol.
"He's an amazing individual and an American icon," said Keith. "When you see Willie Nelson, you know who he is, and you know his music, and how great of a writer and artist he really is. To be able to call him a friend of mine and work with him in the studio just fulfilled a huge place in my heart that I needed filled."
Toby Keith co-wrote Beer For My Horses with his long-time collaborator Scott Emerick. In fact, Toby wrote or co-wrote all 12 tracks on Unleashed. That marks the first time he's filled an entire album with his own songs.
After a major media blitz that includes radio station appearances and CD signings at record stores, Toby will continue his U.S. summer concert tour. Shows are currently scheduled through late-September.
The first single from Unleashed is Toby's response to the September 11 attacks on America, and also a tribute to his father, who was killed by a hit-and-run driver last year.
Toby never intended to include Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue on his new album. He explained what changed his decision.
"General Jones, the commandant of the Marine Corps, I'd played for the Marines at the Pentagon and I laid this song on them and he came up after the show and said, 'it's your job as an entertainer to serve your country. If you want to serve your country, lift the moral of the troops and let them know the American people are behind them.' That really endorsed me recording the song at all," Keith said.
It took only nine weeks for the song to reach Number One on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart.