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Story by Larry Holden

Inside the rough and tumble honky-tonk, two-stepping couples crowd the dance floor as Toby Keith and his band grind out solid country music. An icy night wind swirling in from the Oklahoma prairie pushes under the door, causing dust motes to do their own whirling dance.

Suddenly, tempers flare. The harsh scrape of chairs scooting back cuts the air. A flurry of fists follows. Toby frowns, sets his guitar on the stage - and jumps smack dab in the middle of the brawl!

Snapshot of a hot-headed kid, ready at the drop of a Stetson to throw his 240-pound, 6-foot-4-inch body into a fray? "I worked a lot of tough taverns back in the mid-'80s and fights broke out all the time," recalls Toby. "A fight would cause folks to head for the door. If they left early, the owner would lose money and may not pay the band as much as he planned. So, even as a big 21-year-old, I'd try to break up every fight."

Translation: Toby Keith's a survivor who will at all costs protect the livelihood that takes care of his family.

That relentless trait drove him to excel when he toiled in the oil fields, when he was initially rejected by Nashville and even when award show after award show snubbed him.

Read More in the Current Newsstand issue (Aug 21st)