Fill up your cup for Toby Keith

Originally published 12:05 a.m., August 30, 2018
Updated 09:23 a.m., August 30, 2018

Staff report


The grandstand will be packed Monday evening when country music superstar Toby Keith brings his “Should’ve Been A Cowboy XXV” tour to the Canfield Fair.

The North American tour is Keith’s way of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the song that launched his career.

“Should’ve Been a Cowboy” – his debut single – was released in 1993 and quickly shot up to No. 1.

It was the first salvo in a landmark career by an artist who has always done it on his own. Keith writes, arranges and produces his music. And then he releases it on his own record label, Show Dog Nashville.

The engine that propels Keith’s music machine is his songwriting. To underscore that fact, the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York inducted Keith in 2015, as part of a class also included Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, and Willie Dixon.

While his awards and honors are too numerous to mention, the numbers that matter most are those provided by his fanbase. Keith’s albums have sold more than 40 million copies, and his tours have drawn more than a million fans each year for more than a decade.

That respect also extends to his fellow musicians. A few years ago, Keith was tapped as a last-minute stand-in for the late Merle Haggard, who was ill. Haggard asked him which of his songs he knew how to play, and Keith replied “all of ’em.”

There have been some other unexpected highlights along the way, including country’s most impactful viral event. The beer party video for Keith’s song “Red Solo Cup” has surpassed 48 million views and is well on its way to 49 million.

Keith’s most rewarding experiences, however, have come from giving back. His golf classics fund the Toby Keith Foundation and OK Kids Korral, a cost-free home for families of children dealing with critical illnesses.

His 11 USO tours to date have entertained nearly 256,000 troops and military families in 18 countries with more than 285 events, and have been recognized with the Spirit of the USO Award.

And when a tornado ravaged his hometown of Moore, Okla., in 2013, Keith was the face of the community and helped shoulder the cleanup with the OK Twister Relief Concert.

Monday’s concert at the Canfield Fairground will include all of his hits, including “Red Solo Cup,” “I Love This Bar,” “How Do You Like Me Now,” “Beer for My Horses” and, of course, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.”

The song came as genuinely as possible – straight out of night on the town.

Keith was at a bar with some hunting buddies when one asked a woman to dance. She declined. A cowboy approached the same woman and his dance request was accepted, prompting Keith to say, “John, you should’ve been a cowboy.”

That night, back at his hotel, Keith wrote the song in about 20 minutes, holed up in the bathroom as his roommate slept.

Keith’s most recent release is last September’s “The Bus Songs” album, a collection of humorous compositions that went on to set a Billboard Comedy Albums chart record for a country artist by holding the No. 1 spot for 11 consecutive weeks.

A bus song, Keith has explained, is one that you only play on the tour bus for laughs. They songs on the album were never meant to be recorded, but they became too popular not to.

“As long as I’ve been writing, there’s always been that one you had some fun with, but knew it wasn’t for anything else,” he said in a press release. “You’re sitting around, somebody’s got a little groove going and somebody says something funny or risque or off the cuff. And the song just peels out pretty quick. Everybody’s laughing and you’re really having more fun writing than the song is good.”

Bus songs have become among the most beloved tunes in his catalog for their spontaneity and humor.

“We started doing those songs in concert and it just grew from there,” said Keith. “They got no radio airplay, but everywhere we sang them, the crowd had already found ’em.”

Soon, Keith was adding a bus song to his albums as a “curveball,” further cementing their place in his canon. All the while, new bus songs were being written.

“There’s plenty we can’t even put on a record at all – so bad you can’t hardly play them anywhere,” Keith admits. “Eventually, though, you had enough that don’t go too far and people can laugh at.”