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Interview With Country Singer Toby Keith

Aired January 21, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Toby Keith. The patriotic, outspoken, controversial country superstar is here to tell it like it is. And he'll take your calls and perform live. Toby Keith, and we're talking with him for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
And we welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the 2003 American Country Music Entertainer of the Year, currently nominated for two Grammys. His latest album, "Shock'n Y'all," is No. 1 on "Billboard's" country chart and No. 5 on "Billboard's" Top 200 chart. "Shock'n Y'all" was named the favorite country album at the American Music Awards. And later on, he'll sing the famed "American Soldier" at the end of the program. It's great to finally welcome Toby Keith.

First, what happened to your finger?

TOBY KEITH, SINGER: Well, we play basketball. We have a nice little four-on-four game every day, and I took a ball off it and dislocated it. And my booking agent was standing close by, and he pulled and popped it back in. And it hurt like the dog, but -- so it's -- I can play a little guitar, but I just don't have all the use of my fingers today. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so...

KING: So when you sing later...


KEITH: We're still going to sing anyway. I just brought a guitar player with me.

KING: You can still sing?

KEITH: Oh, yes. I didn't hurt that.

KING: You basketball every day?

KEITH: Every day.

KING: Well, how does that work? You're on the road -- what do you...

KEITH: We carry goals with us, in case the gym's not close, you know? And then we've got a real tough little four-on-four game. You know, there's 70 or 80 people out there on the tour, and we find the -- you know, seven or eight guys that can really play, and we get it on every day for a couple hours.

KING: You carry nets with you and you... KEITH: Yes. In case there's not a gym close, you know?

KING: You are not an overnight hit, are you. You struggled a little bit.

KEITH: Well, yes. We had some -- we had some real mediocre years there, after I came out, where I got bounced around inside some different labels and inside the umbrella and watched -- in fact, I had one album that had three different No. 1 -- three different songs, two No. 1s and a 10, be worked (ph) at the radio by three different labels, off the same album. You know what I mean? I had three different regimes work three different singles off the same album. So it was -- it got crazy, and I...

KING: Tough going.

KEITH: Oh, no support at all. Just...

KING: Where did you start? Where -- did you start in Nashville?

KEITH: Well, I was at Oklahoma, playing nightclubs, and Texas and...

KING: You're an Oklahoman?

KEITH: Yes. Yes. I live in Norman, Oklahoma. And I was raised and -- born in Clinton, Oklahoma, in western Oklahoma, and I -- and I started playing and performing a lot down in Texas and all over.

KING: So you didn't go to the conventional...


KING: ... Nashville route.

KEITH: No, they came -- kind of came to me, in the end. Yes.

KING: Do you record there?

KEITH: Yes, I record there. And all my music business is done there.

KING: Why is that the centerpiece?

KEITH: I don't know why. It's the -- you know, it's the country music capital. But it's...

KING: I mean, are the musicians better? Are they...

KEITH: Well, that's where everybody congregates. Everybody gravitates towards Nashville. Now, there's obviously great players out here in California. I use some of them sometimes. Great players in New York, you know, Miami. Every place has their own little group of great musicians you can find. But Nashville has probably the best songwriters in the world.

KING: What made it for you, Toby? What was the turnaround?

KEITH: I think my songwriting finally got exposed to the masses, when we busted through that critical mass with -- and started reaching them with my songwriting.

KING: What was the first hit?

KEITH: "Should Have Been a Cowboy" was the first one, in '93. And we sold million albums on it and started off really good, and then the bouncing around through the labels and stuff, got real mediocre through the mid-'90s and the late '90s. And then I left a label, and James Stroud (ph) picked me up at Dreamworks and...

KING: He's still there, isn't he?

KEITH: Yes. Picked me up and took me to -- took me to -- just opened me up and said, you know, Go lay it on them, boy. Show them what you got. And we had a song called "How Do You Like Me Now," and it just changed everything.

KING: He's a great man, James Stroud.

KEITH: Yes. He's a great producer.

KING: Great producer. Knows the business well.


KING: Did it change you much to finally make it?

KEITH: It didn't change me as a person. I think it helped me to be grounded -- it helped me be grounded longer by struggling like we did. And you know, I had to work -- I didn't get a record deal when I was 21. I was in my late 20s when I got a record deal. So I had to work and have a real job and struggle and have people to tell me, you know, Quit singing because you need to go get a real job. You know, you're getting -- you know, You need to go get your family and everything and...

KING: Did you ever think of quitting?

KEITH: No. Never did.

KING: Never did.

KEITH: Never did.

KING: What kind of real jobs did you have?

KEITH: I worked in an oil field for my dad for about two or three years. I played two years semi-pro football mixed in there with it and had my band going on the weekends. So I had -- I was real busy.

KING: Wow. KEITH: And we just finally one day just come to a crossroad and said, You know what? We need to take this thing on the road and find out what we got.

KING: Do you write all your own stuff.

KEITH: Ninety-five percent of it, probably. Once in a while, I'll take -- if a good friend of mine writes a great song that I'm just flipped out over, that I think fits me, I'll cut it. But other than that -- I think the last couple albums -- I think there was one song on the last three albums that I didn't write. But I pretty much write everything.

KING: You ever write for other artists?

KEITH: Well, you know what? I think the other artists are -- I don't get too many outside cuts, but I think that's because people assume that if it's a good song, I'm going to cut it. So you know, they'd kind of be looking through my weaker stuff. So I've had a few cuts. Willie Nelson cut a song I had called "Tired."

KING: Willie?

KEITH: Yes. A great song, my favorite song I've ever written, called "Tired." Willie cut it. And I've had a couple little minor...

KING: "Tired" is your favorite?


KING: Why?

KEITH: It's just written from a poor-boy, hard-working man's point of view. And it's crafted like a songwriter would want it. I think another songwriter would listen to that and go, I wish I would have wrote that, like I do other songs.

KING: How did you get on the patriotic kick?

KEITH: My dad had a -- was always just waving the flag about veterans. He just -- it's strange because he was a hard-core Democrat, except when it came to the military. He was just...

KING: He had served in the...

KEITH: Yes, he served and had his -- lost his right eye in some kind of combat training exercise. And he was in for two years and they brought him back, and he was on disability for his whole life and worked in the oil field and -- you know, with one eye. And I was 17 or 18 years old before I realized he only had the one eye.

KING: Really? He had a glass eye?

KEITH: No, he just -- it was -- it just didn't work. It was...

KING: Oh. KEITH: It was -- just wasn't functional. And so finally, when I got up one day, I asked him, you know, What's wrong with the one -- why is the one eye discolored? And he said, Well, I can't see out of this one. And then I checked his driver's license, you know, and he showed me his driver's license. And I guess he had the disability on there.

KING: Impaired, yes.

KEITH: But he -- you know, he never complained about it. He was-...

KING: But he gave you the patriotism?

KEITH: That flag just flew -- you know, in the '70s, '80s and '90s, it wasn't even real patriotic to wave a flag. It was just kind of like some people did it, some people didn't, and it just -- you seen them, and there was no big deal.

KING: You never were a Democrat, or did you -- were you a Democrat or...

KEITH: I was raised Democrat, but this Democrat today is not exactly the Democrat that -- it's not your daddy's Democrat. You know, it's -- the parties have changed. So I vote -- I vote more for the person instead of the -- instead of the party.

KING: But you certainly have a philosophy.

KEITH: Absolutely.

KING: Yes.


KING: Our guest is Toby Keith. We're going to go to break. We'll be taking your calls. Toby's going to sing for us later. As we go to break, that first hit, "Should Have Been a Cowboy." Watch.




KING: That was in Bosnia, right?

KEITH: Kosovo and Bosnia, yes.

KING: "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."


KING: Did you write that song after 9/11?

KEITH: About five or six days after 9/11. KING: And is it true you wrote it quick?

KEITH: Twenty minutes.

KING: Tell me the setting.

KEITH: I with in my gym. I was building a house and...

KING: Where were you on the morning of 9/11?

KEITH: I was at a thoroughbred horse sale in Kentucky and...

KING: Do you own horses?

KEITH: Yes, I own thoroughbreds. And the FBI, I guess, had come in, and there was two Saudi Arabian princes that come in and buy horses at these sales, and they had big 747s there at the Lexington airport. And on my way to the sale that morning, they were -- the police were all around that -- those...

KING: Looking at the planes.

KEITH: Shutting those planes down. And I got to the sale and found out what was going on and watched it in horror and disbelief, but went back home and was working out of my gym. And my dad had passed away six months prior to 9/11, and I -- being raised from that veteran-supporting father, I thought, Man, you know what? We got a lot of troops that are getting ready to go do some military, whether I like it or not or whether you like it or not, or whoever. And I thought, I'm going to be playing a lot of these installations and on this USO tour, I feel a morale thing coming over me. And the thing just fell out, and I wrote it, and honest to God, never really intended -- I knew it wasn't written for everybody, but I knew that there was a certain amount of people it was written for.

KING: Did you sit down and literally, like, write it? How do you write? Do you write with a pen?

KEITH: Most of the time I don't write it down, and this one, I happened to write it down. And it was written on the back of -- do you know what fantasy football is?

KING: Sure.

KEITH: Do you play the pool around here?

KING: Yes. We do.

KEITH: Well, we had a fantasy football league out on the road and had their standings and stuff, and I just ripped one of those and flipped it over and just went to writing a bunch of lyrics down. And they're sideways and up across the top. And when I was done, I just pieced it together and -- and...

KING: Wow. How do you usually write? KEITH: Just keep most of it in my head. I usually start with a melody and an idea and just start letting it grow from the middle out and...

KING: Do you read music?


KING: So you have to -- someone has to...


KING: ... write out the notes.

KEITH: Well, there's really no notes when you sit down with a guitar and you sing the melody and the -- you sit down with a guitar and you sing the melody...


KING: But when it's published, don't there have to be notes?

KEITH: Yes, they'll go publish it later.

KING: But you can't read a note.

KEITH: No, I can't read...

KING: All right, that song took off. Was it a hit or did the fact that Peter Jennings didn't want it played on the special they did make it a hit?

KEITH: I would say that it was already a hit because his 4th of July special -- I came back from Kosovo and Bosnia, and the song was being released about that time (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the 4th of July special was six weeks later.

KING: So it was already, like, on the charts.

KEITH: It was already building, and the people that produced that show said, We want you to open the show with this. And I couldn't close the show with it, like they originally wanted me to, because I was going to be with you that night at the 4th of July...

KING: That's right.

KEITH: In Provo.

KING: This was in Provo, Utah.

KEITH: The 4th of July celebration.

KING: They put on this "Stadium of Fire," one of the wildest shows...

KEITH: Unbelievable. KING: ... of all time, the best fireworks show in America.

KEITH: It is.

KING: It's incredible. And They put it on in Provo every year, and I go up there because I got family in Provo. And...

KEITH: I was committed to...


KING: So you couldn't be there live to close it.

KEITH: So I said, I can maybe be there early enough, if you can get me on the front of the show. And I think they wanted me to come to Wyoming to perform for that special. And I went to Kosovo and Bosnia, and when we got back, the scheduling had all changed. And they said, Now you're not on the show no longer. And I made a bunch of big jokes about it and laughed and -- because I really didn't want to have my day that full, to be in Wyoming singing and then try to get down there and do this Utah thing. And I made jokes, and the press took off running with it and said, Why did you get kicked off the 4th of July show? And why is the best American song out right now not going to be performed? And it just become a big fiasco.

KING: Why do you think it wasn't?

KEITH: Probably too angry for -- for his -- the producers all were for it. I've talked to the producers since, and they were all for it. And I believe -- I know these producers. They do other shows. And they were trying to just create ratings for the show. So I know they wanted it on there. And he's the one that nixed it and I...

KING: Did you get to talk to him?

KEITH: No. And I never had any problem with him -- with him nixing it. But the problem I had with it was the next day or two in the press, they released a statement saying we were never truly -- really booked on the show. And they tried to make us out to look like we were just trying to create press for the thing. And I said, You know what? Let's just take the -- I wanted to just take the confirmation sheets that we had...

KING: Sure.

KEITH: ... and just turn them over and say, There you go. But I never could get anybody interested in -- in showing them. They wanted to interview and get a five-minute interview with you on this -- on CNN, or whatever, but they never wanted to go into any depth and show the...

KING: So you had a confirming letter?

KEITH: Oh, yes. I had a confirmation. Still got it. I got a confirmation sheet that says we were confirmed for the show. Went to Kosovo and Bosnia, we came back, and it was -- we were done.

KING: Do you think you were -- that they thought you were war- mongering or endorsing war?

KEITH: Probably. But you know what? I got accused of it in the Iraq war, too. I didn't write any songs for the Iraq invasion. This song ended up written on -- "Red, White and Blue" got -- "Courtesy of Red, White and Blue" got wrote on tank turrets and -- and on, I guess, on bombs, they said. And the tank that took down the statue in Saddam Hussein City, with him on the horse and everything, they said on the news was this -- was titled -- the tank's name -- nickname was "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." I've seen pictures of some of that stuff. But -- and I'm proud that the military bond that I've enjoyed over the last two years with all these families and stuff, the prisoners of war and things like that, are -- is a great thing. But you know, it was for the Afghanistan...

KING: Did you...


KING: Did you react harshly when one of the Dixie Chicks called it an "ignorant song"?

KEITH: Yes, well, that was the first time anybody'd lashed out at it. And see, I knew going in that it wasn't going to written for everybody. And it's something from my heart. It's something that meant a lot to me. It was the way I was raised. It's my dad. And I knew it wasn't written for everybody.

And General Jones (ph), who was the commandant of the Marine Corps at the time -- I met with him and he said, You know what? He said, We need this song. I played it at a theater out close to the Pentagon for him and a bunch of Marines that were getting ready to ship out. And he said, Where did this song come from? Which album is it on? I said, Well, it's not. And he said, You can do me a huge favor and you can do this -- our corps a huge favor by letting everybody get to this. And I said, By how? And he said, Release it right now. Just stick it out and let everybody hear it. They'll play it.

And I prayed about it, talked it over with my manager and my family. I said, Do you want to fight this fight? Because it's going to be a fight. And that was the first lashout I got against it.

KING: Were you surprised that the Dixie Chicks, pretty good entertainers themselves...

KEITH: No, and you know, it's probably up fair what the -- you know, to some extent, what the industry did to them. But you know, I just have never been one to criticize other people's music. And there's been a couple of different artists -- and I'm not going to give them any credit here because they're so below my radar, it doesn't matter. But there's a couple of other artists that thought they would raise up and try to get their name on the map by kicking at me. You know, nothing they would ever come up and say to my face, but stuff they would do in the press and behind the -- hidden -- hiding behind the typewriter. But it's -- I don't think you can critique another songwriter's work, no matter what it is. Just because I don't like it, I'm not going to critique your work.

KING: Our guest is Toby Keith, the 2003 American Country Music Entertainer of the Year, singing a song about himself, another big hit. Watch.




KING: That's Toby Keith with -- now, Willie Nelson and you do not share the same politics.


KING: Willie Nelson is a very, very liberal guy.


KING: And you could be called on the conservative end.


KING: Yet you get along and record together. How'd that come about?

KEITH: That's a great thing. He's one of the most compassionate people...

KING: Yes, he is.

KEITH: ... you'll ever meet in your life, and very free, loves to tell jokes. Everything else, he would tell you, we have very much in common. But...

KING: You're funny -- you write a lot of funny stuff.

KEITH: Yes. Yes.

KING: So "Beer for My Horses" -- how'd that come about?

KEITH: Well, me and a friend, Scott Emmer (ph), wrote the thing, and it just -- the second verse sounded like it needed to have Willie on it. So I went and hung out with him and asked him if he would write -- if he would sing the second verse. He said, Absolutely. And so we had a great friendship, bonded. And he -- I think the thing was No. 1 for six weeks or something. It was one of our -- both of our biggest -- longest tenures at No. 1 ever, I think.

KING: Why do country singers, more than any other, like singing together? KEITH: I don't know. I don't know. It's just I think you become friends. I think in order for that to work out, you have to first like each other, you know? And he has paid me the highest, ultimate compliments ever. And you know, you -- when you're on top and you're doing really well and you're successful, you're going to have people try to take you down and everything. And five or six of the biggest people in this industry -- Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett, you know, people like that, all -- Glen Campbell, Buck Owens are all big fans of what I do and big fans and call up and -- you know, I've had dinner with these people and I've had -- and hung out with them, and they send me nice cards and they're very respectful of what I do. And they think I'm one of them, and that just -- that's the ultimate honor.

KING: Are you a fan of the older...

KEITH: Oh, I love that stuff. All that Buck -- I was raised on Hag and Willie, so -- that was -- you know, my dad listened to Bob Wills (ph), which was the old Western swing stuff. And the -- to me, that was the older guard, and the new hip stuff when I was a kid was Hag and Willie. So you know, it was -- any time they did a duet, that was like a dream come true.

KING: Who do you like today?

KEITH: Of the modern guys? I look for people who are singers/songwriters. You know, there's -- probably the most -- people that I listen to the most aren't very successful. They're the songwriters that I don't know our industry has enough of anymore. In the old days, all the big names -- Dolly, Willie, Merle -- all the biggest names were singer/songwriters.

KING: You know...

KEITH: I don't think that happens anymore.

KING: From talking to you, it seems like you like writing better than singing.

KEITH: I do. Yes.

KING: I mean, you like singing, but you like writing.

KEITH: Writing is what I'll do the rest of my life. I can't always say that I'll be 6-4, 240 and be able to sing. I don't know. Have any stature and be able to sing at all. But I can -- you know, I know I can always write if I have a sound mind.

KING: Do you ever run dry?

KEITH: Not like where it's completely dry.


KEITH: I'll write in bunches. I'll write three or four great songs I think are great, and two or three mediocres, and then I'll lay off a while and absorb life a little bit and come back and -- I don't know. It's like picking fruit.

KING: Ever have a song surprise you?

KEITH: "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" was full of surprises. I mean, I...

KING: You didn't expect it to take off?

KEITH: I didn't expect it to reach the masses like it did. I mean, I didn't expect it to get that much attention. I expected it to be a good song. My manager'll tell you different. He though -- you know, he thought it was -- from the day he heard it, you know? It didn't matter who you played it for, whether you played it for a liberal crowd, they still came up and respected it, you know?

KING: You going to go to Iraq?

KEITH: Thinking about it. I'd like to go play -- perform for the troops. I always do a USO tour. Maybe do Afghanistan or something, at some point.

KING: Toby Keith. We will take a break, and when we come back, we'll take your calls for Toby Keith, 2003 American Country Music Entertainer of the Year. He and Willie, as we go to break. Don't go away.




KING: That's an old one, right?

KEITH: Yeah, that's old.

KING: You're very religious?

KEITH: Christian, yeah.

KING: I mean, you go to church? You're...

KEITH: Absolutely.

KING: Cape Coral, Florida, for Toby Keith. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: I was wondering with all your popularity and focus on the public side, how do you stay so focus in your personal life? You're so down to earth and so real all the time.

KEITH: Oh, that's nice of you to say. I think it's just -- I've surrounded myself with a couple of my old friends out on the road. The guy who grew up across the street from me is working with my merchandise people.

KING: Keep your old friends?

KEITH: Yeah. So it's like, we got everybody out there, so it's like being in high school but having a little money.

KING: You never let it go to you, right?

KEITH: No, I don't think anybody can say I'm ungrounded. The first guy who took me to Nashville was a guy named Herald Shed (ph), who had great success producing in Alabama and K.T. Oslin (ph) and the first Shania Twain album, and he -- he told me from the get go, he said, you know what the main thing for longevity is to stay grounded. And every time I would move a little bit, he'd pull me back into focus.

KING: Is that true. North Hampton, Massachusetts, for Toby Keith. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Toby, how are you.

KEITH: Hi, how are you?

CALLER: Good, thank you for taking my call. You're an amazing artist. I can't wait to see you at the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) center in a few weeks. So my question is regarding your videos.


CALLER: They range from, you know, "My List," which is so serious to "Who's Your Daddy," which is so funny. Who comes up with these ideas?

KEITH: Well, my video director is Michael Salomon, and I am going to give him full props on being able to really showcase me the best. And but at the same time, I don't win very many awards and stuff, and he doesn't. He deserves a lot more of these video awards. We've had some of the top videos in the last four, five years, almost every year, and being that I don't win very many industry awards because I'm not for some reason -- I win all the other awards...

KING: You're not in the in-crowd.

KEITH: I'm not in the in crowd in Nashville, but I win like the VMAs and outside the genre stuff, but for whatever reason we struggle inside our own industry. But Mike never gets his due. We did win the People's Choice Video Award the other night.

KING: How important are videos?

KEITH: They're -- I think they're very important. As long as technology, you know, opens the space to reach people, I think they're great. Imagine how many records Elvis would have sold if there'd been videos. The king.

KING: Sayreville, New Jersey, hello. CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, Toby. I want to say I love you and I think you're a great inspiration to all of our soldiers.

KEITH: Well, thank you.

CALLER: I will see you three times on this whole tour.

KEITH: Oh, that's awesome.

CALLER: Yeah, it is pretty (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KEITH: Bless your heart. Do you have time to do anything else?

CALLER: No, I think I just kind of follow you around.

KEITH: That's great.

CALLER: My question is, what is like the hardest part of touring for you?

KEITH: Just all the travel and being away from home.

KING: Do you fly in and bus, right?

KEITH: Fly and bus three days or four and then fly back out. But it's, you know, it's actually as convenient as it can possible be that way, you know. If we're working Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you know, I'm really only gone 72 hours or something.

KING: Do you play all over? East, north, west?

KEITH: Everywhere.

KING: Out of the country?

KEITH: Some of our biggest dates are places that you wouldn't even believe. D.C. and Pittsburgh, places like that...

KING: Washington, D.C.?

KEITH: Yeah, Pittsburgh will be just most -- biggest concert of the year they'll have there.

KING: But the toughest thing is the travel, though.

KEITH: Yeah, it's travel.

KING: Get used to the bus?

KEITH: Yeah, everywhere we go, it's great.

The bus is home to me. I've got a real nice coach, and you know, people laugh a lot of times, but I have a real nice suite at a hotel and I'll just stay there on my bus half the time because I don't -- I've got everything I need in that bus.

KING: You and John Madden.

KEITH: Better television.

KING: Mesa, Arizona. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry.


CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: I want to let you know, I think your music is incredible. You're an awesome entertainer. My sister was in the military, and so was a good friend of mine, fought over in Iraq. My question to you is, what is your most favorite memory in entertainment?

KEITH: Oh, man. I don't think you can ever go back and do your first song again. "Should Have Been a Cowboy." I was a complete no- name and had struggled and played nightclubs, and come out with my very first song, "Should Have Been a Cowboy," and it went to number one right off the bat. You never get to do your first one again, and that was probably -- I remember watching that thing climb the charts, and then when it got there, it just -- it ended up being one of the most played songs in the decade of the entire '90s.

KING: You started getting big bookings.

KEITH: Yeah.

KING: I remember those first big checks. What that must have been like.

KEITH: I remember the first few big checks, but, you know what, I was so conservative with my money at the time that I never -- I fixed it where I never could see those checks. I put them up. I didn't go out and get -- buy elaborate things or anything.

KING: You didn't get the Ferrari.


KING: You're not a Ferrari guy.

KEITH: No, can't fit in a Ferrari. Not enough leg room.

KING: What kind of car do you drive?

KEITH: I have a Ford truck. They're going to love that.

KING: That shocks me. Wichita, Kansas. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.


CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: I think you're awesome.

KEITH: Thank you.

CALLER: When you perform at your concerts, what's your favorite songs to sing?

KEITH: Well, they're all like -- they're all my little songs, so they're like little children to me. I remember where I was when I wrote every single one of them. So they are all just -- they all have a fond memory. But all the big hits. Obviously, "Should Have Been a Cowboy" is fun.

KING: Did you ever have a song you thought couldn't miss and did? A song -- oh, I love this song. This song is number one. This song can't miss.

KEITH: Probably several of them. I probably wrote a bunch of them.

KING: Anyone jump to mind?

KEITH: I tell you the most disappointing one I ever had, was a friend of mine wrote a great song called "We Were in Love" and it was an unbelievable vocal performance, and it's probably the best vocal performance I ever put on an album. And we opened a first single off of a new album back in '94, '95 with it, and I just thought it was going to change my whole career. It didn't sell a five-gallon bucket full of records. It was number one, it was a radio hit, it's just nobody wanted to buy it.

KING: But they played it on the radio?

KEITH: Oh, yeah.

KING: Lowden, Iowa, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: Me and my kids absolutely love you. We love all your songs.

KEITH: That's great.

CALLER: My question was, how did you meet your wife and how long you've been married?

KEITH: Since 1984, and I met her, actually, at a dance hall. But it wasn't a place -- it was a place I played. But... KING: Were you playing that night?

KEITH: Yeah. I wasn't playing the night I met her.


KEITH: No, but she's met a lot of times when -- when I was playing. We were more at that time hadn't branched out, really started playing a lot of big nightclubs. We played little dives and stuff. So...

KING: So she's been with you through the whole racket?

KEITH: Yeah, not a great place for a lady to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Does she mind the fact that there are probably a lot of groupies in the world?

KEITH: No, no, she's a real strong woman. She's very, very in control of herself and everything.

KING: Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Hello.

CALLER: Oh, hello, Toby.


CALLER: Very nice to speak with you.

KEITH: Somebody from B.C.

KING: Yeah.

CALLER: Yeah, it's lovely out here.

KEITH: Yeah, I know it.

CALLER: Don't you think it's a shame when you -- when some of your material kind of gets censored by the government? Like what happened to you and the Dixie Chicks?

KEITH: Yeah, I don't think I was censored by the government.

KING: No one censored you.

KEITH: And Pete Jennings, Pete Jennings isn't running for any office, is he?


KING: Were you personally hurt when the Dixie Chicks made that statement? Emotionally hurt?

KEITH: Well, I step out -- I make a point. I've been asked through my career about controversial songs that other writers have written. So, by stepping out and, you know, like, there were some songs written that compared John Walker Lindh to Jesus Christ and things like that, and I was asked a million questions about those. And I'm not going to tear anybody up, because that's what they do, they write songs, and they have the right to do that. And that's their license as a songwriter to be able to do that. And this is, by God, this is America. So, that's your first -- that's your right...

KING: But it hurt you when they did it?

KEITH: Yeah, it did. It hurt. It hurt bad. But you know, there's a lot of mean people in the world. And you just -- it was my first attack, too. You know, I got several other attacks on that song later, and I handled them a lot better.

KING: Owosso, Michigan, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: Thank you for taking my call. And my question is, are you touring Michigan this summer? And on your new -- is your next video going to be track six with "Sweet."

KEITH: I don't know if "Sweet's" going to be the next song or not. We're just now getting "American Soldier" out. So we -- it's a little early for me to be...

KING: That's on "Shock'n Y'all"?

KEITH: Yeah, "Shock'n Y'all." And...

KING: Are you going to play Michigan?

KEITH: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We'll play the Detroit area, the big amphitheater there. I think it's in Deer Creek or something. Yeah, we'll be there.

KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, more calls. Toby is going to sing for us at the end of the show.

As we go to break, here he's doing "How Do You Like Me Now?"






KING: Is that Dolly Parton?

KEITH: No. It was a -- we actually held a contest with some different radio stations and allowed some people to show up and be these characters that we created in that song and she was a Dolly look-a-like

KING: Have you sung with Dolly?

KEITH: No, but I've met her several times, very classy lady. I love her to death.

KING: She can write too.

KEITH: Yes, she can.

KING: Arden, North Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.


CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: I think you're the best country singer that ever was and I love you. How many kids do you have?

KEITH: I have three.

CALLER: Three. Boys? Girls?

KEITH: Two girls and a boy.

CALLER: How old are they?

KEITH: 23, 18 and 6.


KING: Oh, what happened between 18 and 6? Travel a lot.

KEITH: Just trying to get a record deal to get by, Larry.

KING: Do you have a question?

CALLER: I just wanted to know how many kids he had.

KEITH: I love that Carolina accent.

KING: Me, too. Virginia Beach, Virginia.

CALLER: Hi, Toby.


CALLER: I'm one of your warriors.

KEITH: All right!

KING: What does that mean? CALLER: And being from the Virginia Beach area, which is Norfolk Naval Station, we feel a lot of pride here. Are you doing another USO tour?

KEITH: Absolutely, we're in the works right now. In fact, I had a meeting last night with the people who are putting that together and it's pretty much now just crossing the T's and dotting the I's...

KING: You're going to go?

KEITH: I had so much fun in Kosovo and Bosnia with the troops and flying in with blackhawk helicopters and just meeting the guys and the girls and how appreciative they were. I had no idea, and have a whole new respect for the people that are away.

They're over there, away from their families for a year, a year and a half at a time and they're not sure if they're coming back. It just puts a smile on their face when they see America show up.

KING: What does she mean by warrior?

KEITH: When I first won my first big award for Album of the Year, "For How Do You Like Me Now," the thing that had kept me alive in the music business from '93 through 2000, through that seven years of unsuccessful mediocrity was -- I was handcuffed musically by my label, and the warriors were my fans -- my fan club that fought with radio, they called radio. They said, keep playing this this? We love it.

They had seen and heard the albums and the world hadn't heard them.

KING: Wow! That's incredible. Warriors.

KEITH: Yes. I called them when I won the award, I thanked my warriors for fighting for seven years for me.

KING: Moses Lake, Washington, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Toby. Hi, Larry. I was wondering, Toby, were you an athlete when you were growing up? One of the reasons I wanted to know was because I was going to put my life savings on the Seahawks for the Super Bowl, but since they're out of it, I'm not sure where to go now. So who should I bet on.

KING: Were you an athlete?


KING: You played semi-pro football? Did you play college ball?

KEITH: No, but I started playing little league stuff when I was like second grade.

KING: Baseball.

KEITH: Football, everything.

KING: Were you good?

KEITH: Pretty good. Still pretty athletic. I think everybody who would play with me would agree.

But who am I going to pick in the Super Bowl? Is that her question?

KING: New England 6.5 point favor.

KEITH: I think the two best defenses in football got there, so I think maybe give an edge to New England. I don't know if you cover the spread or not, but I think New England is probably better on offense maybe, I like...

KING: Low-scoring game.

KEITH: Carolina's running game. So, I think it's pretty good football game.

KING: Let me take one more call for Toby Keith and we're going to break and then he's going to sing. Youngstown, Ohio. Hello.

CALLER: How are you?

KING: Fine.

CALLER: How is Mr. Toby Keith tonight?

KEITH: Really good. How is Youngstown?

CALLER: Youngstown is just fine. You're one of my biggest and favorite musicians.

KEITH: I have a lot of friends there in Youngstown.

CALLER: Well, I'm so glad.

KING: What's your question, dear?

CALLER: My question is, are you ever going to record a Christmas-type album?

KEITH: I did, already.

KING: You have?

KEITH: Yes. It's called "Christmas to Christmas." And it was released back in the mediocrity.


KEITH: Mediocre time.

KING: Bring it back again? KEITH: It's been rereleased a couple different times. It did pretty well this Christmas.

KING: All new songs?

KEITH: It's all original songs. Two or three I wrote, maybe there's four on there that I wrote and then there's seven or eight that somebody else wrote, but it's all original stuff it's never previously been released.

KING: What do you make over the argument about Iraq? It's obviously going to be big in the campaign.

KEITH: You know, I don't know. My stance on that has always been, I knew we were going into Afghanistan, no way around it. Without the Afghanistan country just turning over the Taliban and Osama and everybody to us, I knew there was going to be some conflict there, so I always feel for the troops and their families when they're going in.

And again, knowing their going into Iraq. It's not -- I've never had an opinion on it. I don't think that I'm supposed to have an opinion. I thought we were supposed to be in Afghanistan, but even though I was uncertain whether we were supposed to be in Iraq or not, I trust Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and the president, whoever that may be at the time of war, a lot more than I trust...

KING: So if your president commits to war, you have to commit?

KEITH: I'm an American and I have to support our troops. At some point the anti-war stuff in America gets to looking to our troops like anti-American stuff.

KING: What do you do if you're a citizen who honestly opposes?

KEITH: You can support -- I'm all for you supporting that up until the war starts. Once the war starts, I think everybody needs to support -- somebody's got a mother, daughter, brother, sister, son whatever over there laying on the line for us so we can stay here in this big Disneyland we live in. I think you have to support them. They don't want to be over there any worse than the anti-war people. They want to be home with their kids, but they're not. They're over there fighting and I think they need all the support they can get more so about whether we should be at war or not.

KING: Do you think you're going to win a Grammy?

KEITH: Probably not. I got to tell you a funny story. Willie has never been award-friendly either. And we're standing backstage at the CMA, because we just got through performing and they didn't have time to get us back to our seat. So we're standing backstage and they announce the duets of the year. And I'm like, oh forever at the CMA's, so I lean over and go, Willie I'm sorry, but my horse is as big as it was, it's probably not going to win the duet because I never win anything. He goes, you're crazy, I never win anything. And so then they announced the winner and it wasn't us, and we started to walk off. He goes, hey, if I can do anything else for you, call me.

KING: That's Willie. We'll take a break and Toby is going to sing for us. We'll ask him about the song, too. Don't go away.





KING: Toby Keith's going to wind it up for us. I'll be back at the end to tell you what's coming up tomorrow. This song you're going to sing is...

KEITH: American soldier.

KING: Little history.

KEITH: It's written for all the times that I get to meet the troops on these USO tours and since courtesy of red, white, and blue, the P.O.W.s and the families and stuff that have come and brought me back my old CD covers and stuff that they had and shown how much support they had and this is my support for the American fighting men and women.

KING: And it's in your new album.

KEITH: It's in my new album.

KING: All right. Here he is. Toby Keith. Don't go away.

KEITH: I'm just trying to be a father, raise a daughter and a son. Be a lover to their mother, everything to everyone. I'm up and at 'em bright and early, I'm all business in my suit, yes, I'm dressed up for success from my head down to my boots.

I don't do it for the money, there's bills that I can't pay. I don't do it for the glory, I just do it anyway, providing for our future's my responsibility, and I'm real good under pressure being all that I can be.

I can't call in sick on Monday when the weekend's been too strong. I just work straight through the holidays and sometimes all night long. You can bet that I stand ready when the wolf growls at the door. Hey I'm solid, hey I'm steady hey I'm true down to the core.

And I will always do my duty no matter what the price. I've counted up the cost, I know the sacrifice. Oh and I don't want to die for you but if dying's asked of me, I'll bear that cross with honor cause freedom don't come free.

I'm an American soldier, an American beside my brothers and my sisters I will proudly take a stand, when liberty's in jeopardy, I will always do what's right, I'm out here on the front lines, sleep in peace tonight American soldier. I'm an American soldier. An American. An American soldier.


KING: Hope you enjoyed tonight's edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Toby Keith, very, very impressive guy and what a singer. Tomorrow night, John Walsh, returns to these cameras. He's always interesting, never dull, the host of "America's Most Wanted."

Friday, there's a big hearing in the Kobe Bryant matter in Colorado and we'll cover that extensively as well. Right now, it's time to turn our attention to our road map man. He was in Iowa, he was in Washington, now he's in New York, then he heads for New Hampshire. The idea I think at CNN is to let's move Aaron around.

AARON BROWN, HOST, "NEWSNIGHT WITH AARON BROWN": That's right, keep him moving.

KING: Keep him hopping. You know, keep the crowds down and the chasers away. Anyway news night is next with Mr. B. Mr. B. what's on tap for the -- I like the shirt. I like that color blue on you.

BROWN: Thank you, and Larry, I like your shirt, too.

KING: Thank you, we like each other.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, have a good night.


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