TRUCK DRIVIN' MAN

Toby Keith cranks out a new song and TV spots for Ford pickups

Toby Keith's dad is no doubt smiling proudly down on his son.

In Toby's recent No. 1 smash "Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American)," the singer/songwriter pays tribute to the unfaltering patriotism of his late soldier father, H.K. Covel. And in Toby's most recently penned song - for a series of Ford truck TV commercials starring Toby himself - he touts his dad's unwavering loyalty to something that's tried and true.

"Ford contacted me about doing some TV spots," explains Toby. "They said they wanted some attitude and told me I was their guy. So we signed up." Toby's deal includes ads for TV, radio, print and the Internet.

The Ford folks didn't have to acquaint the "How Do You Like Me Now?!" singer with their product.

"I'm a third-generation Ford guy," declares Toby, whose latest single is "Who's Your Daddy?," the second release from his Unleashed CD. "My grandfather and my dad drove Fords their whole lives.

"The good thing about doing commercials for Ford trucks," he continues, "is that I don't have to lie about what I really drive. I drive a double cab Diesel 350 Ford. And, prior to that, if I wasn't driving another Ford truck, I was driving a Ford Expedition or some other Ford vehicle. Nobody can dispute I am a Ford guy."

Ford Division President Steve Lyons agrees. "Toby Keith is a Ford truck man who our customers can connect with," he assures. "He personifies 'Built Ford Tough' both on and off the stage. We are really excited about this partnership."

Ford has been associated with country music since the 1920s, when Henry Ford hosted country dances and held fiddling contests in communities across America. And in 2001 Ford became a founding partner of Nashville's new Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, contributing the facility's Ford Theater, a state-of-the-art performance venue.

Already a strong presence on the tube with commercials for the long-distance company 10-10-220, Toby reports that his Ford TV spots start airing this fall. "I wrote an attitude-driven song called 'Ford Truck Man' for the commercials, filmed during a three-day shoot in southern California," he says. "The song rolls in the ideas of Ford trucks [and the company's themes] 'No Boundaries' and 'Built Ford Tough.' " And he also included something his dad used to say.

"My dad would be at the coffee shop," remembers Toby, "with his Ford truck parked outside, when one of his buddies would pull in with their new Dodge or Chevy. 'They'd say, 'Look at my new truck, H.K.' He'd say, 'What is that thing?' When they'd tell him the brand, he say, 'I'd rather know that I had a good friend that'd give me a ride to town in a Ford instead of making me ride around the block in a Chevrolet or Dodge.'

"I used that sentiment in the commercial's song with the lines:
I'd rather walk 10 miles, be down on my luck
Than have to ride around the block in another kind of pickup truck.

Toby confesses he strayed from the Ford way - once. But there was, of course, brash, inexperienced youth to blame.

"When I was in high school, my dad helped me buy a $1,500 beat-up Ford pickup with 130,000 hard miles on it," explains Toby. "It was an old oil field truck that had had the hell driven out of it. It was six cylinder, three speeds on the column.

"My dad was a mid-continent regional manager for a huge oil-field service outfit," he adds, "and one thing he did as manager was buy the fleets of trucks they used. And he always bought Fords. So what I got was an old truck that had been replaced by a new fleet truck.

"My dad had a friend at an auto collision shop who owed him a favor, so they knocked a few of the dents out, spray-painted it black and added a white pinstripe to it. From the moment I got that old truck, I kept thinking, 'If I can tear this up, I can go get me a nicer truck.' "

Turned out that was easier said than done.

"I couldn't ever tear that truck up enough to put it out of commission," declares Toby. "Everything I did to bust it was easy to fix."

So when Toby got out of high school and got an oil-field job, he plunked down a few paychecks for a shiny new pickup that wasn't a Ford.

"When my dad saw my new truck, he said, 'You'll learn. Why do you think we buy only Fords for working out in the oil field? They're built to take it. And we have less problems with them.'

"My dad was right. I had that truck tore up in a year and a half. It wouldn't take my abuse. I got tired of puttin' money into it to repair it. So I went down and bought a Ford truck - and I couldn't tear it up. And I've been a Ford guy ever since."

Toby says he couldn't possibly consider an endorsement deal, like the one he has with Ford, with any other truck manufacturer.

"Heck, I couldn't," he says. "No matter how much money it was. That's not my brand and that's not what I believe in."

Toby confides there won't be anything that'll ever change that belief.

"If Ford doesn't use me next year, there's nothing they can do that'll make me drive another kind of truck," he declares. "I believe in my heart - and I know from experience in my world - that Ford is the best truck to buy. If I'm gonna spend my money on something I don't want to work on all the time or worry about, Ford is what I buy."

Toby Keith is clearly - and proudly - a chip off the old H.K. block.

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