Few artists in country music have been as outspokenly patriotic as Toby Keith. The Oklahoma native has released songs like “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” “American Soldier,” “Happy Birthday America” and more.
In honor of July 4th, we’re taking a closer look at Keith’s extraordinary life and career.
1. Music wasn’t his first job.
Before Keith made money as a musician, he worked in the oil fields. Keith worked his way up to management, following in his father’s footsteps. He might still be working in the oil fields if not for the unexpected upset of a business he loved.
“When I came out of high school and worked in the oil fields with my dad, there were three or four years the oil boom was going on, and I was in on the ground floor of a world-wide oil field service company that you could make millions of dollars at it,” Keith told The Boot. “Getting a jump on it at 18 and having a dad that had already [gone] up the ladder [helped]. He had worked his way up from a roughneck to mid-continent regional manager.
“I had the world set in front of me,” he continued. “I had all the private tech schools for that operation to go to, and three or four years in — just as I’m getting through the boot camp part of it and learning the ropes — the oil industry went away, and it would never come back like it was. That was devastating. All it does is make you appreciate when you do have it good. I went through it, and it makes me work harder.”
2. He wanted to be a professional athlete.
Keith also had aspirations to play professional football, and came close to achieving that dream. After playing football in high school, Keith played for the semi-pro team, The Drillers, a farm team for the United States Football League’s Oklahoma Outlaws. He also tried out for the Outlaws, but did not make the team. But with the end to both his oil field dreams and his sports dreams, Keith finally had enough time to pursue music, where he found plenty of success.
3. He got his first record deal thanks to a flight attendant and a demo tape.
Keith had tried on his own to get a record deal, to no avail. But when a friend and fan of his, who was a flight attendant, saw Harold Shedd, a label executive for Mercury Records, on a flight she was on, she gave him Keith’s demo tape. Shedd liked what he heard enough to go see Keith perform, and the rest is history.
4. Unlike most artists, he doesn’t live in Nashville.
Keith knows most of the business of country music, as well as the songwriting, happens in Nashville, but he is perfectly content to remain in Oklahoma, just one of the many ways Keith has eschewed tradition over the years.
“Most artists moved to Nashville,” Keith told Today. “I never did have an address there. I was there for one day and never felt the need for more.”
5. He has played for several President’s inaugurations.
Keith, who was once registered as a Democrat before switching to Independent, has played for both Republican and Democratic Presidential inaugurations, including for President Trump in 2016.
“I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military,” Keith told Entertainment Weekly. “I performed at events for previous presidents [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama and over 200 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan for the USO.”
6. His inspiration for “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” was personal.
Keith wrote “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue” after the September 11 attack, but the inspiration for the song goes back to earlier in 2001, when Keith’s father, H.K. Covel, a veteran, was killed in a car accident.
“I wrote [‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue’] on the back of a Fantasy Football sheet that was laying there; I just turned it and wrote around the edges and, in about 20 minutes, wrote the lyric out and called it ‘The Angry American,'” Keith said (via Wide Open Country). “When I turned it in, they said, ‘Well, it really doesn’t say ‘angry American’ in there. Why don’t you call it ‘Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue?” So, I did.”
7. He has performed on numerous USO Tours over the years.
Keith is passionate about supporting the troops serving overseas, which is why he has done so many USO Tours.
“My dad was a soldier and he taught his kids to be respectful and appreciate the military,” Keith told Diamond Resorts. “About the only person that could knock on our door that had a chance of speaking to somebody without getting run off was the Veterans Foundation.”
Keith’s father encouraged him to do a USO Tour, something Keith said he didn’t have time to do. But after his father passed away, Keith went once in his honor, and never looked back.
“We were filling such a void, I discovered while I was there. I said, ‘Well, hook me up next year,'” Keith said. “Next thing I know, we’ve been over there two weeks a year for 11 years, playing well over 200 shows.”
8. He’s been married for a long time.
Celebrity weddings seem notorious for not going the distance, but Keith’s marriage to his wife, Tricia, is an exception. Married since 1984, Keith credits his wife for believing in him and his music career, even when no one else did.
“Dozens of people told Tricia, ‘You need to go tell your old man to get a real job,’” Keith said (via Country Now). “It took a strong-hearted and loving woman to say, ‘He’s good enough at music that I’ve got to let him try. And it’ll be a great shot for both of us if he can make it work.’”
9. He’s rich. Like, really, really rich.
Keith has had a lot of success, which earned him a lot of money, but he’s also clearly good at managing the money he does make. According to Playback, Keith was, at least in recent years, the second wealthiest country music artist, with an estimated net worth of $515 million, beating out Reba McEntire, Shania Twain and even Taylor Swift, and topped only by Dolly Parton. His sources of income come not only from his career, but from a chain of I I Love This Bar & Grill restaurants, thoroughbred horses, an endorsement deal with Ford, part ownership in a record label, and more. Some predict Keith will be the first billionaire in country music, due to all of his numerous business deals.
10. His favorite food is a fried bologna sandwich.
Keith can afford to jet anywhere around the world to eat whatever he wants at the moment, but his culinary tastes are really much simpler than that. He says his favorite food is actually quite cheap — and easy: a fried bologna sandwich. In fact, he loves it so much, he includes it on the menu at I Love This Bar & Grill. But Keith’s version requires all-beef bologna, which you cut yourself, topped with mustard, mayo, and barbecue sauce.
11. He has his own brand of liquor.
Keith also likes tequila a lot, enough to inspire him to create his own brand, Wild Shot Mezcal — and yes, all of his bottles do have a worm inside of them.
“I have always been fascinated with Mexico and the drink Mezcal,” Keith told Tequila Unlimited. “It is a part of my life. Mexico is a theme that runs through many of my songs. The tradition and history of Mezcal is magical to me. Mezcal dates back to the 16th Century warriors celebrating the defeat of their enemies. There is an agave worm in every true bottle. And, the worm is not there for the look, it is there to be eaten. It is believed that the worm will bring a special experience and every individual will feel something different. I believed there was a complete void in the market place in getting this drink to the average person, so it seemed natural for me to start a business selling Toby Keith Mezcal.”