"Well, I found out he's got a jazz background (hence the jazzy sound of "The Critic")," Keith says. "The guy isn't even qualified to do country. Those guys like that get upset over 'The Critic.' The guys who look at it as a funny piece of work, they know they're better than that and they do a good job for their listeners and readers."
For the record, Keith says he reads little of what's written about him."I don't read too much of that stuff," he says. "About six or seven years ago, I decided that the good stuff never made me feel better and the bad stuff made me feel bad. Another thing, if somebody raves about your record, you're probably not that good, and if somebody hammers it, you're probably not that bad. Who's to say where I'm at, and I know I'm in the middle somewhere."
"You know, if a guy keeps saying you're through, you're over, you suck, you're pitiful, you're bad, and you're going in and selling out arenas and selling four million albums, how can his editor allow him to keep his job?"Keith's already fielded questions from the media regarding "The Taliban Song." With a chorus that features the line, "ride camel ride," and mentions that the Taliban "run like rabbits" when the bombs fall, Keith may well receive more criticism for the tune.
"I did an interview with a major network, and they said that was stereotypical, and it would set our U.S. relations back. I said, 'You know what? Everything we sing about is free drinking, dancing, going to Disneyland. You sing about any of that, and that's what they hate about us already anyway, the militants.'"This isn't a song about me. 'Well, you say that he saddled up a camel and rides. Isn't that stereotypical?' Yes. If you were doing a Western movie, would you put a cowboy on a horse or on a llama? This guy is riding out of there because he doesn't want the Taliban in Afghanistan any more than we do," Keith says. "I'm with the little guy trying to get out of there instead of being against him. But I do have to paint a picture so everybody will know what it looks like. They just can't see that, man."
They should see this. Married since 1984, the father of three kids has managed a limelight-less home life while nailing down 17 number 1 singles. Unlike peers aplenty in country music, Keith calls Oklahoma home instead of Nashville.
For that, his often controversial nature and overall style, Keith's rightly been hailed as the contemporary keeper of the outlaw country flame. He follows that which was started by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings in the 1970s. Why, Keith even had a number one single with Nelson earlier this year on the rowdy rave-up "Beer for My Horses."
Now he and Nelson write songs together from time to time. Keith penned "Weed with Willie" for "Shock 'N Y'all" about an all-too memorable trip aboard Nelson's bus.
"Ya know, I've never been on his bus that somebody hasn't walked off going, 'Man, I ain't ever doing that again. Holy crap, I ain't doing that again,' and it's usually the same guys over the years," Keith says. "You know he uses industrial strength pot. You can't even fake it around there. I had a woman tell me she got up there (on Willie's bus), and she don't smoke, she got up there for 30 minutes, came off and was wondering why she felt different. I said, 'You're just breathing the air on there. They don't mess around.' I'll tell you what. It'll take your head off. Son. It's Willie."
What a life. Any old week goes by and Keith's hanging with Willie Nelson, performing for President George W. Bush, singing during halftime on Thanksgiving Day at Texas Stadium of the Miami Dolphins versus the Dallas Cowboys game or flying off to Bosnia or some such locale. Keith's big.
Go see a Toby Keith show sometime. His impressive catalog of hits is plentiful enough for him to stage a show that dips nary an inch in quality over a two-hour span.
"We have a lot of fun," Keith says. "We make the crowd laugh and rock. That's the way I want to go to concerts. I don't want to go and just set there and listen all night. I want to get up and have a good time. So do my fans."
Keith said that he has already written songs for the next album.
"Oh man, I've got a lot of stuff. I've got a song called 'I Know She Hung the Moon.' I've got one called "What's Up with That?' I've got a song called 'Big Blue Notes.' There's just all kinds of stuff. I'll write 15, 16 songs a year, and when we get ready to go in I'll take my top 12 or 14 favorites, we'll go in and sit down and start at square one."
That's exactly how Keith approached the making of "Shock 'N Y'all."
"The first time I sat down on this album, I had 'I Love this Bar,'" Keith says. "That was the first song we recorded. After you do your first three or four favorites and get 'em nailed in the studio, and you know you've got 'em, you can just smell 'em. Cookin' hot and then you just add to it and try to figure out how you want the album to sound."