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Toby Keith says he’s misunderstood

The 45-year-old Oklahoman spoke recently about his music, his politics and why it’s not such a good idea to bounce song ideas off your spouse.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toby Keith called his new album “Big Dog Daddy,” and yes, it’s more bravado from the brash country star.

Keith, a pitchman for Ford trucks, was asked to come down to Dallas to unveil the new F-450 Super Duty. “I walked up on it, got in it and one of the Ford guys said, ‘Well, what do you think, Big Dog?’ And I said, ‘This is a Big Dog Daddy.”’

The line got such a laugh that Keith decided to write a song around it.

Of course, Keith being Keith (“How Do You Like Me Now,” “I Wanna Talk About Me”), he made it a first-person chest-thumper about a guy who’s “got ’em all screaming from here to Cincinnati.”

For the first time in his career, Keith produced most of the new disc on his own, and “Big Dog Daddy” might be the first in any musical genre to include a song about an oil pump jack.

Released on his own Show Dog Nashville Records, it finds Keith returning to more familiar territory after experimenting with horns and R&B rhythms on his last record. The first single, “High Maintenance Woman,” is No. 7 on the Billboard chart.

The 45-year-old Oklahoman spoke with The Associated Press recently about his music, his politics and why it’s not such a good idea to bounce song ideas off your spouse.

AP: This is the first album you’ve produced on your own. Is that something you’ve wanted to do for a while?

Keith: I never thought I had the time or energy. I’m at a point in my life where it’s time to do it. If I had gotten halfway in and felt I didn’t need to be doing this, I would called a friend and got them to do it. But it went well.

AP: Do you ask your family for their opinion on songs?

Keith: Once it’s done, I’ll play it for them. But I never let it influence what songs I record. What if you play something racy for your wife? To me, that muddies the process in what you’re trying to do creatively. If I play a song like “High Maintenance Woman” about a guy stalking a woman, and my family goes “I don’t know about that” — and I don’t record it — I’m not being very true to my music.

AP: Are they surprised by your choices sometimes?

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AP: You recorded two songs by outside writers on this album, “Love Me if You Can” and “White Rose.” That’s rare for you.

Keith: Both are so damn good I couldn’t resist. They’re very well-written. I’ve been sitting on “White Rose” for five or six years. Craig Wiseman wrote “Love Me if You Can,” and the amazing thing is it’s exactly where I stand, word for word. I couldn’t have written it any truer. When one of those comes along, once in a while you have to record it. I think your ego is too big if you don’t.

AP: You do a lot of shows for the troops overseas. Have you ever had any close calls?

Keith: I set the standard for other artists to go there. I want the troops coming home and talking about where they saw me and they can’t believe I was there. Maybe other acts will be inspired to do it, but I don’t want to scare them off either.

AP: How close to battle were you?

Keith: We spent three or four nights on the Pakistani border in small tents. Most artists have to worry about mortar attacks. We stayed at a camp where you had to worry about getting hit in the head by sniper fire. But you don’t have to do what I do. You can go to the green zones or stay in the country and go to the military hospitals.

AP: Do you consider yourself a traditional country singer?

Keith: I’m one of the only guys who’ve sold as many records as I have in our business and never had a crossover hit. Tim (McGraw) and Faith (Hill) and Shania (Twain) and Keith (Urban) and Kenny (Chesney) have all had crossover hits. I’ve sold 30 million records and written enough songs to be in the 50 million airplays club, which is the Bee Gees, Elton John, John Lennon. And not one time have I ever had a pop spin. So the pop world doesn’t view me that way. I take a lot of pride in that.

AP: People view you as being very outspoken. What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

Keith: I supported the ousting of the Taliban (in Afghanistan) 100 percent. My 9/11 song (“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”) was all about that. But the far left won’t allow that to be. They have to plug me into every pro-war thing they can find. I’m not a political person (Keith describes himself as a lifelong Democrat more interested in “right or wrong” than “left or right”). I get painted that way. I never said I support the Iraq war, but I never said I didn’t either.

AP: Do you support the war?

Keith: That war has been over since 48 hours after it started. Our military disarmed them in two days. The dictator has been ousted. They (Iraq) need to step up with their oil money and fund it on their own. I don’t say we shouldn’t be in there. I say we should be there and step back and let them have their own fight. The U.S. should stand back and make sure the Syrians and the Iranians and the Saudi Arabians don’t get involved and allow it to unfold.