There are few safe bets in life, even fewer when it comes to entertainment. A new Toby Keith album, however, is as close to a sure thing as can be found. As he releases Hope On The Rocks, Keith is coming off yet another No. 1 country album Clancy's Tavern which included the biggest viral event in the genre's history, "Red Solo Cup." That effort was just the latest in a long run of chart-topping albums and singles that form an unmatched model of consistency. So much so as to fuel and attract other notable endeavors.
Keith's tours, and his long running association with title sponsor Ford Trucks, are annually among the nation's top draws. His I Love This Bar And Grill restaurants are perhaps the fastest growing of any such celebrity chain. And his signature Wild Shot Mezcal has almost single handedly stoked growth in an entire segment of the spirits industry. Those successes lead Forbes to regularly rank Keith as one of the top-earning musicians in the entertainment industry.
Remarkable as they are, however, those achievements pale in comparison to the singular vision behind an astonishingly focused creative process. The principle songwriter behind the incredible career of Toby Keith has been and remains Toby Keith to the tune of more than 75 million airplay performances, according to BMI. That number puts him among the top songwriter/artists of all time in any genre.
Clocks could be set by Keith's creative calendar. His devotion to and protectiveness of this music making structure even led him to recently turn down one of the biggest opportunities in entertainment. But his expertly constructed creative workflow did not come easily to its current fine-tuned state.
Songwriting, it turns out, is also a way Keith marks time. "You can look at a list of songs and may not know exactly when you wrote them, but you can remember where you were in your life," he explains. "If I look at my first album, I know that every one of my songs was written prior to having a record contract. I know what house I was living in. I look at my second album and think it could have been better, but I only had a year to write that one and I had my whole life to write the first one.
"By the time you get to Dream Walkin', you start to see improvement as I start settling in and figuring out how hard I have to work to produce an album every year. How much volume you need. Past that you start to see the albums true-up and become something that could have had five or six singles. When you cross into the 2000s and How Do You Like Me Now?!, you start seeing those monster back-to-back hits. You really see the writing hit its stride. So when I look at this album, people I trust are telling me it's the best group of 10 I've ever turned in. They feel like we could pretty much have a single on any of them. You'd have to be more blessed than I am to figure out how to accomplish that without doing it for 18 or 19 years."
In that sense, Hope On The Rocks is an accumulation of a career's worth of experience, craftsmanship and a deep understanding of how to channel inspiration. "I write all year and record at the end of the year," he says. "Once in a while an outside song like 'I Wanna Talk About Me' or 'Red Solo Cup' comes along and I've always said I'm not going to pass up a hit that sounds like I wrote it. But most of the time it's just me cutting whatever I wrote in the last year. So there's never a theme or a pre-conceived plan."