31 Years Ago: Toby Keith Releases His Debut Single

31 years ago today was a monumental day for Toby Keith. On February 12, 1993, Keith’s debut single, “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” was released, kicking off a legendary career that spanned three decades.

“Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” written solely by Keith, was on his eponymous debut album, released the following April. The song was inspired by a conversation Keith had with a police officer.

“I think we were actually at the Long Branch Saloon or Miss Kitty’s Saloon — it was something to do with Gunsmoke,” Keith told Billboard. “This highway patrolman who I had met on the trip, his name was John, he jumps up. He was probably 45 or 50 back then, and he runs over to this 25-year-old cowgirl. He was going to show that he could bust a move. She turns him down. He comes over, and said, ‘She says she doesn’t dance.’ About 15 minutes later, a young cowboy comes in — and off they go on the dance floor. Everybody was making fun of him, and one of the guys said, ‘John, I guess you should have been a cowboy.’”

When Keith recorded “Should’ve Been A Cowboy,” it was early in his career, but even then, he had an idea that the song would be a hit.

“When they put that western baritone guitar on there, that’s when magic happened in the studio,” Keith remembered. “The session guys in the studio were going, ‘This song is a big hit.’ That’s what you want for your first one. I knew the second they put that guitar part on that it was going to be a single, but after a couple days, I was getting feedback from everyone that it was going to be a big hit.”

Keith had a total of 20 No. 1 hits throughout his lengthy career. Although he was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2021, he took time off to focus on his healing, but was planning a major comeback, including a tour in 2024.

“It’s on the board,” Keith told Taste of Country Nights, On Demand. “They have got a great plan together, and we’ve built a new set, and we’re getting the trucks and buses fired up. Our plan is to go forward, don’t let this stuff define our future — let’s go.”

In December, Keith performed three sold-out shows in Las Vegas, an early precursor of what the singer hoped would be a year that marked his return to performing.

“Get the band back in sync, get me rolling again,” Keith said ahead of his performances. “It’s the first time in my whole life I’ve been off over two years. I’ve never been off a year in my life. Through COVID, cancer, the devil’s been after me a little bit. I’ve got him by the horns right now. So instead of just sitting around and waiting, we’re gonna get the band back together.”

Keith passed away on February 5. His family just announced that they will do a private memorial, which will include his band and crew. A public memorial will be held in the near future.

“Should’ve Been A Cowboy” was included on Keith’s final album, 100% Songwriter. Purchase the record at TobyKeith.com