Toby Keith is the reigning Academy Of Country Music Entertainer Of The Year; he was named the most successful country artist of the new century by United Stations Radio Networks; and he was 2002’s #1 concert-ticket seller in country music, according to Pollstar. His achievements in songwriting (12 of his 16 #1 hits have been self-penned), radio airplay (eight Billboard country #1’s and eight R&R country #1’s from his DreamWorks Records alone), and sales of more than 13.5 million speak for themselves.
SHOCK’N Y’ALL (DreamWorks Records), Toby’s latest offering, is in stores Nov. 4, 2003. It’s classic Toby: real, honest and heartfelt, with a dose of his trademark humor.
Like his three previous albums for DreamWorks – How Do You Like Me Now?!, Pull My Chain and Unleashed – the disc was co-produced by Toby and his longtime producing partner, DreamWorks Nashville principal executive James Stroud.
SHOCK’N Y’ALL was recorded at Shrimp Boat Sound Studio in Key West, Fla., Jimmy Buffett’s homebase. “Jimmy doesn’t rent it out much, but he kindly opened it up to us,” Toby explains. (The singer-songwriter-producer was only interrupted in the studio once – when President George W. Bush invited him to an address at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., site of U.S. Central Command and headquarters of General Tommy Franks. Toby performed a short acoustic set there for the troops and their families.) Surrounded by musicians, Stroud and tropical isolation, Toby roared through recording the album.
“We were writing songs on the road, and there’s real attitude and a rockin’ edge driving this album more then anything else,” Toby explains. “There’s not an honest-to-God ballad on the whole thing.”
What there is on SHOCK’N Y’ALL are a dozen of these rockin’ tunes, including first radio track “I Love This Bar,” which is currently in the Top 5. It debuted on the R&R country chart with 103 adds and is the most-added country radio track so far in 2003. Also included are two of Toby’s infamous – and long awaited – “bus songs,” “The Taliban Song” and “Weed With Willie.” Written with Toby’s guitarist and frequent songwriting partner Scotty Emerick (a solo artist in his own right), the bus songs are humorous pieces the two concoct on the road for their own amusement. These tunes have proven to be a hugely popular part of Toby’s live set. “‘I’ll never smoke weed with Willie again,’” Toby laughs, citing the song’s chorus. “I think every time I’ve stepped on Willie’s tour bus I’ve heard someone say that.”
The album’s title is equally tongue-in-cheek. “We were looking for album titles while the war was going on,” he relates. “Then the ‘shock and awe’ campaign started, and it became such a famous phrase; I thought it would be funny to take that, add a ‘y’all’ on the end and throw a little hillbilly at ‘em.”
Toby has always had a knack for combining his oft-noted sense of humor with honest, piercing insight. On tracks like “American Soldier,” “Don’t Leave, I Think I Love You” and “Nights I Can’t Remember, Friends I’ll Never Forget,” he showcases his considerable, markedly sophisticated chops as a storyteller.
Growing up in Moore, Okla., Toby first picked up a guitar when he was eight. During stints working at the rodeo and in the oil fields, he formed a band called Easy Money to gig at local honky-tonks on weekends. When the oil industry hit a slump, he played football for the Oklahoma City Drillers, a semi-pro team, still playing with his band all along. While on the Drillers’ roster, he tried out for the Oklahoma Outlaws, of the ill-fated USFL.
When the league went under, Toby took the opportunity to focus all his passion and determination on his music career. He hit the road with Easy Money, touring the circuit exhaustively and shopping his demo until he landed a deal with Mercury Records. At Mercury, Toby released his self-titled debut and earned three #1 hits: “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” “Wish I Didn’t Know Now” and “A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action,” as well as the #5 hit “He Ain’t Worth Missing.” Toby Keith went double platinum.
Toby kept on touring and winning fans across the country. He recorded two more albums – Boomtown, which went gold, and the platinum Blue Moon – while racking up hits like “Who’s That Man,” “You Ain’t Much Fun,” “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine On You” and “Me Too.”
Then he met James Stroud. The two recorded Dream Walkin’ together, which yielded the #1 hits “Dream Walkin’” and “We Were In Love,” as well as “I’m So Happy That I Can’t Stop Crying,” a Grammy-nominated duet with Sting that hit #2. When Toby made the difficult decision to leave his record label, he sat tight until the right opportunity came along.
That opportunity presented itself in 1999, when he signed with the Stroud-led DreamWorks label. (It’s worth noting that the ACM named Stroud Producer Of The Year in 2001 and that albums he’s produced have sold more than 50 million copies; he can also boast more than 70 #1 country singles.)
That partnership has never flagged, and it has perhaps shone most brightly with Toby’s previous, and most successful, album to date, Unleashed, which went triple platinum based on #1 hits like “Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American),” “Who’s Your Daddy?” and the Willie Nelson duet “Beer For My Horses.” Rolling Stone opined, “Unleashed puts the grits and gravy back into mainstream country” (Aug. 22, 2002), and the Associated Press asserted, “With his name on every song, Keith underscores his diversity as a compelling writer and singer who delivers the goods” (July 24, 2002).
“I had to work hard to get here,” Toby says of his long and steady climb to the top. “I appreciate it a lot more for all the hard work it took.” He readily admits he’s hit his stride – but not his peak. And with SHOCK’N Y’ALL, he has no intention of slowing down. “When you write your own music and have a personality people can sink their teeth into as much as your music, you can stick around for a long time,” he reflects, before adding with a grin: “That’s just what I’m planning to do.”