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Toby Keith’s new album, Drinks After Work, features some stellar old-school country, including the swinging “Last Living Cowboy.” But Toby knows it’s difficult to get such traditional-sounding songs played on country radio.
“There are a lot of those types of songs . . . but you play that for [the label’s radio promotion staff], and they’re like, ‘Eh, it doesn’t sound like what’s going on the radio today,’” he tells Country Weekly . “Well, OK.”
Toby, who himself has explored various styles throughout his career—his 2001 No. 1 hit “I Wanna Talk About Me” features what are essentially rapped verses—has no beef with the direction of today’s country, but he won’t chase trends either.
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that,” he says. “Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now? But . . . I’m not going to change much. And when it quits working, I’ve got other stuff to do.”
Toby cites the title track of his last release, 2012’s Hope on the Rocks, as a great song that should have broken through. It peaked at No. 18 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
“It was a song that I just told the [label] staff, ‘We’re putting this out, so be ready to work it. . . . I gave you the ones that you wanted. You’ve had “Made in America” and “Beers Ago.” Now we’re going to do one that I want. . . .’ And they had hell with it. They really struggled getting it played everywhere. You know what it is? You can sit on the bus and sing it to two or three people who have never heard it, and they’ll just get goose bumps and go, ‘Damn, that’s powerful.’ But you start playing it to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and sh-t.’”
But Toby doesn’t blame that audience for not grasping the gravity of the song: They’re just not ready for it yet.
“And I wasn’t ready either,” he admits.
Read more of our candid conversation with Toby in the Oct. 28 cover story of Country Weekly , on stands now.