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Toby Keith

Toby Keith

Toby Keith was born with the name Toby Keith Covel on July 8, 1961, in Clinton, Okla. The family moved to Oklahoma City when Keith was young, and it was there he became interested in the musicians who worked in his grandmother’s supper club. He
got his first guitar at age 8, but it would be years before Keith would pursue music as a career. At 6-feet-4 inches, Keith worked in the oil industry and played defensive end with the Oklahoma City Drillers United States Football League (USFL) team.

In 1984, he turned to music full time, playing the honky-tonk circuit in Oklahoma and Texas with the band Easy Money. A demo tape made the rounds in Nashville, but there were no takers. After catching a show in Oklahoma, Mercury Records President Harold Shedd signed him to Mercury Records. His 1993 debut single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” went to No. 1 on the Billboard country singles chart, and his self-titled debut album was certified platinum.

When Shedd left Mercury for Polydor Records, Keith went with him. He released a second album, Boomtown, in 1994. The gold-selling collection produced the No. 1 hit “Who’s That Man” and the Top 5 hit “You Ain’t Much Fun.” The platinum-selling Blue Moon followed in 1996, featuring introspective tunes like “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine on You” and “Me Too.”

When Polydor closed its Nashville operation, Keith returned to Mercury Nashville, releasing Dream Walkin’ in 1997. The bittersweet ballad, “When We Were in Love,” went to No. 2, as did a cover version of rocker Sting’s divorce ode “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying.” The duet earned the unlikely pair a Grammy nomination, and Sting joined Keith for a performance on the 1997 CMA Awards telecast. Keith’s Greatest Hits, Volume I followed in 1998, although its lead single, “Getcha Some,” failed to crack the Top 10. (It has since sold more than 2 million copies.)

Unable to see eye to eye with Mercury, Keith moved to the fledgling DreamWorks Nashville label in 1999. There he worked with label head and producer James Stroud on the studio album How Do You Like Me Now?! The lead single, “When Love Fades,” was a modest hit, but the title cut was a five-week No. 1 hit. Another single, “You Shouldn’t Kiss Me Like This,” also went to the top spot on the singles chart for three weeks.

The double-platinum success of How Do You Like Me Now?! also earned Keith some long-awaited award nominations. Keith won two Academy of Country Music awards in 2000, for male vocalist and album. In 2001, he won his first CMA award, for male vocalist. His 2001 album, Pull My Chain, produced three No. 1 hits, “I’m Just Talkin’ About Tonight,” “I Wanna Talk About Me” and “My List.” (The latter two spent five weeks each at No. 1.) He was also nominated for six Academy of Country Music awards in 2001, though he didn’t win any.

On March 24, 2001, Keith’s father, H.K. Covel, was killed in a traffic accident in Oklahoma. Covel’s truck was sideswiped by another vehicle, which caused his truck to swerve into another lane, where it collided with a charter bus. Within six months, the events of 9/11 prompted Keith to write “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” a song about his father’s patriotism that pulled no punches. As the lead single from the 2002 album Unleashed, the song peaked at No. 1 over the Independence Day weekend.

Keith had been invited to sing the hit during an ABC special hosted by Peter Jennings, but the offer was rescinded because the song didn’t fit the format of the show, according to Jennings. Keith’s fans were in an uproar. Shortly after that, the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines told a Los Angeles newspaper that she considered the song “ignorant” and that “anybody could write ‘boot in your ass,’” a memorable lyric from that song. Both events made headlines around the country, and Keith found himself on several news programs, which introduced him to a more mainstream audience.

The 2002 album Unleashed sold 3 million copies, due to the feisty “Who’s Your Daddy?”, the hugely popular Willie Nelson duet “Beer for My Horses” and relentless touring. He also joined Nelson, one of Keith’s heroes, at Farm Aid 2002 in Pittsburgh.

Nominated for numerous awards, Keith opened the 2003 ACM ceremony with Nelson, singing “Beer for My Horses.” Later, toward the end of the telecast, the Dixie Chicks were beamed in from an Austin, Texas, performance, with Maines wearing a T-shirt with the letters “F.U.T.K.” When Keith was absent when his name was called for entertainer of the year, many figured he’d left in anger. But he later remarked that he was on the bus writing a song with Nelson. Later in the year, he was nominated for seven CMA awards, but again, won none.

Keith released the album Shock ‘n Y’all in 2003, and it debuted at No. 1. A year later, he offered Greatest Hits, Vol. 2, although none of the songs on Shock ‘n Y’all — including “American Soldier” and “I Love This Bar” — appeared on that collection.

In 2005, he issued Honkytonk University and completed his contract with Universal, which had absorbed some of Dreamworks’ roster in a corporate merger. Rather than sign to another label, he started his own, Show Dog Records. He released the imprint’s first album, White Trash With Money, in 2006.

His non-musical pursuits include working with Quarter Horses and lending his name to a chain of restaurants, called I Love This Bar and Grill. He starred in the Paramount/CMT film Broken Bridges in late 2006 and released the soundtrack on Show Dog

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