Toby Keith: Voice Of The Patriotic

Country singer Toby Keith has never backed off from a good fight and after 9/11 he had his fighting words ready.

In the fiercely patriot song, "Courtesy of the Red White and Blue" he tells all terrorist foes of America that "we'll stick a boot in your ass."

It received a lot of criticism.

"Instead of people just saying, 'Hey, I don't like that song,' all of a sudden they call you names. 'You're a redneck, you're a right-winger, you're automatically a Republican. You're automatically all these things," he told CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

For the most part, the 6-foot-4-inch Keith sings about women and drinking and has sold upwards of 25 million albums. He also owns a growing chain of restaurants and this past week released his first movie, which is about a fading country singer.

First and foremost, Keith considered himself a songwriter.

"God's gift to me was to be a writer," he said. "And that's what I do best of all. And I'm as gifted at that — as anybody."

Keith grew up in Oklahoma and played football in high school and had a short stint as a semiprofessional player. He worked in the Oklahoma oil fields until the jobs there dried up and all the while he struggled to make it in country music.

His first record "Should've Been a Cowboy" was released in 1993 went to number one on the country charts.

But the song that made Toby Keith a superstar was his emotional "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue." Keith says he wrote that song in 20 minutes, just days after the attacks — partly as a tribute to his father, who was a veteran. It's subtitled "The Angry American," and it doesn't mince words.

The song brought him a great deal of attention and he had a full-out feud with Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, who called it "ignorant."

But Keith rode the song-and the controversy-all the way to bank and once again he had a number one hit. He followed that with "American Soldier," which has become a favorite of U.S. forces overseas, many of whom have gotten to know Keith. He spends a couple of weeks a year visiting them in USO shows.

"I just get to shake — pump their fists and thank 'em for — for what they're doing," he said.

His connection to the military is evident in the fans who came to see him just a few days ago in West Palm Beach, Florida.

"I wanna thank the boys and girls proud enough and brave enough to wear our country's uniform wherever they are in the world tonight," he said at the show.

But even Keith is having problems with the war in Iraq, but maintains that he is 100 percent behind the troops.

"When the Iraq war started, I was a little mad because we didn't finish what we started in Afghanistan," he said. "Our troops had to move on into Iraq. Our government asked them to go do it for whatever reason. We won't know for probably 20 or 30 years whether it was the right thing to do or not."

Although Keith has supported President George W. Bush, he says he is not a conservative.

"It's amazing how many Republicans call me for support. And then they go, 'You're a Republican right?' And you go, 'Well I'm actually a lifetime Democrat,'" he said. "And then they go, 'Oh, sorry.' And the Democrats want so bad — the real liberals really want to hate me. And then they go, 'I still hate you, but I can't believe you're a Democrat.' So I'm not a real political guy. I'm a very patriotic guy."

Keith says he trusts one person's instincts: his own. He runs his own record label now. And despite all the "drinkin' and cheatin'" songs, he's been married for 22 years, and has three kids. His latest album is called "White Trash with Money," inspired by an experience of his daughter's.

"Some sorority chick called my daughter a — said she shouldn't be in the sorority cause she's just white trash with money," Keith said. "And she laughed. And my wife was all upset. But I thought it was a great album title."

It's another example of the fight-back spirit he's carried through his life. Ask him about 9/11, and he's just as angry as he was when he wrote his most famous song almost five years ago.

And part of that patriotism is the fighting spirit he's carried through his life. He's just as angry about 9/11 today as he was when he wrote his most famous song five years ago.

"We're at war with the terrorists," he said. "And that if we don't try to do something about it, then it's gonna keep happening here until some of our freedoms are lost."

He ends every concert these days with his songs dedicated to the troops and 9/11: "American Soldier" and "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue."

"If you believe in it enough, it's worth fightin' for," he said. "And if you're not gonna fight for it, then you deserve to be dictated to, you know — and I'm not willing to do that."
  • Caitlin Johnson

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