Country music singer-songwriter Toby Keith dies aged 62

6 February 2024, 19:24

Toby Keith
Obit Toby Keith. Picture: PA

He has played at events for presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump

Beer For My Horses singer-songwriter Toby Keith has died aged 62.

Keith, who was battling stomach cancer, died peacefully on Monday surrounded by his family, according to a statement posted on the country singer’s website.

“He fought his fight with grace and courage,” the statement said. He was diagnosed in 2022.

Sometimes a polarising figure in country music, the 6ft 4in singer broke out in the country boom years of the 1990s, crafting an identity around his macho, pro-American swagger and writing songs that fans loved to hear.

Over his career he publicly clashed with other celebrities and journalists and often pushed back against record executives who wanted to smooth his rough edges.

Toby Keith
Toby Keith worked in the oil fields of Oklahoma as a young man before launching his career as a singer (George Walker IV/AP)

He was known for his overt patriotism on post 9/11 songs such as Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue and boisterous barroom tunes such as I Love This Bar and “Red Solo Cup.

He had a powerful booming voice, a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and a range that carried love songs as well as drinking songs.

Among his 20 number one Billboard hits were How Do You Like Me Now?!, Should’ve Been A Cowboy, As Good As I Once Was, My List and Beer For My Horses, a duet with Willie Nelson.

Keith worked as a roughneck in the oil fields of Oklahoma as a young man before launching his career as a singer.

“I write about life, and I sing about life, and I don’t overanalyse things,” Keith told the Associated Press in 2001, following the success of his song I’m Just Talking About Tonight.

Keith learned good lessons in the booming oil fields, which toughened him up, but also showed him the value of money.

“The money to be made was unbelievable,” Keith said in 1996. “I came out of high school in 1980 and they gave me this job December of 1979, 50,000 dollars a year. I was 18 years old.”

But the domestic oil field industry collapsed and Keith had not saved. “It about broke us,” he said. “So I just learned. I’ve taken care of my money this time.”

Toby Keith
The singer had many Billboard number ones (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

He spent a couple of seasons as a defensive end for the Oklahoma City Drillers. But he found consistent money playing music with his band in Oklahoma and Texas.

“All through this whole thing the only constant thing we had was music,” he said. “But it’s hard to sit back and say, ‘I’m going to go make my fortune singing music, or writing music. I had no contacts’.”

Eventually his path took him to Nashville, where he attracted the interest of Mercury Records head Harold Shedd, who was best known as a producer for the hit group Alabama. Shedd brought him to Mercury, where he released his platinum debut record Toby Keith in 1993.

Should’ve Been A Cowboy, his breakout hit, was played three million times on radio stations, making it the most played country song of the 1990s.

But the label’s focus on global star Shania Twain overshadowed the rest of the roster and Keith felt that the executives were trying to push him in a pop direction.

“They were trying to get me to compromise, and I was living a miserable existence,” Keith told the AP. “Everybody was trying to mould me into something I was not.”

After a series of albums that produced hits such as“Who’s That Man and a cover of Sting’s I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying, Keith moved to DreamWorks Records in 1999.

That’s when How Do You Like Me Now?! took off and became his first song to cross over to Top 40 charts. In 2001, he won the male vocalist of the year and album of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, exclaiming from the stage: “I’ve waited a long time for this. Nine years!”

Keith often wore his politics on his sleeve, especially after the terrorist attacks on US soil in 2001, and early on he said was a conservative Democrat, but later claimed he was an independent.

He has played at events for presidents George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the latter giving him a National Medal of the Arts in 2021. His songs and his blunt opinions sometimes caused him controversy, which he seemed to court.

By Press Association

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