When a devastating tornado rolled through Moore, Okla., on May 20, the community’s most famous native wasn’t in town. But he was certainly monitoring the situation.
Toby Keith was in the middle of a recording session at Ocean Way on 17th Avenue South in Nashville, and in between takes, he was nervously spellbound by footage of the twister.
“My assistant pulled an iPad up,” Keith told reporters at a round-table event. “I come behind the console, and he held up the iPad that had a local weather app rolling, live stream, and [the tornado] was crossing I-35 and headed, literally, about a mile-and-half from my sister’s house, going right down her road. I’m having to sit in the studio trying to see it.”
That “tornadic event,” as they call it on the Weather Channel, had a long-lasting effect on Keith’s year. Most obviously, he rallied a bundle of artists–including Garth Brooks, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Dunn and Trisha Yearwood–for a July 6 concert in Norman that raised $ 2 million for the area.
But the disaster also impacted the rollout of Keith’s latest album. His attention to Oklahoma forced Keith to delay recording. His Show Dog- Universal label still needed a single, so they picked “Drinks After Work”–one of only two tracks that were finished at the time–and released it as the first single and title track.
The second single–”Shut Up and Hold On,” shipped to radio via Play MPE on Oct. 28, one day before the album’s release–has its own connection to the tornado: It was the song Keith was working on as the footage from Moore shot across the iPad screen.
“Right in the middle of this song, he’d run out of the room,” recalls co-writer Bobby Pinson (“Made in America,” “It Happens”). “He’d sing his part and then was out watching the twister happen. So while this was happening, I kept [working] and going, ‘Come check this out, make sure this is good,’ but he was distracted because the wind was blowing through his hometown really hard. So it was a really interesting time doing this track.”
Complicating matters, Pinson–billed in the album’s credits as “wranglerproducer”– was taking an approach with “Shut Up” that left Keith scratching his head.
“I had this idea of slowing the track down, so we played it at 10 paces faster than we were supposed to,” Pinson explains. “Then we slowed the track down back to the tempo we wanted, and that’s what gave it that slap. That’s why the drums slap the way they do.”
Pinson took plenty of ownership in the process–appropriate, since the idea for the song originated with him. Many of Keith’s titles sound to Pinson as if they could have been bumper stickers, so when the phrase “Shut Up and Hold On” came to him, Pinson recognized it as a title he should save for his next songwriting session with Keith.
If Pinson had any doubts about it, they were assuaged when he came across an actual bumper sticker that read “Shut Up and Hold On.”
“Me and my buddies have this thing called ‘Truck Stop Shopper,’” Pinson says. “We’ll go out on the road–my band, whoever–and we’ll go into a truck stop and spend $ 5 and see who can come out with the craziest item. The winner gets all the items. This is what we do when we’re bored on the road. I was at a truck stop, and lo and behold, I found that bumper sticker and that was my prize and I won. But I had a song called that, so it’s kind of cool.”
Pinson and Keith wrote “Shut Up” on Keith’s bus during a stretch on the 2012 Live In Overdrive tour. Pinson had that bumpersticker title and perhaps a piece of the melody; Keith had inspiration.
“He took the melody and kind of ran and just made it his own,” Pinson says.
The fast-paced chorus employs a fairly flat melody, balanced out by contrasting, one-octave vocal intervals in the verses.
When it came time to record “Shut Up” in May, they purposely tackled it on the heels of “Drinks After Work,” a song that had employed a little more programming than Keith typically uses.
“While we got all the toys out, we did, ‘Get in, sit down, shut up and hold on,’ and it started leaning that way, too,” Keith says.
The tornado, of course, took Keith’s attention, so he entrusted the song to Pinson, who was itching to turn it into something out of the ordinary.
“Bobby Pinson just got obsessed with trying to see how much he could pile on top of this thing,” Keith says. “He just kept working and sending me different versions and tweaked it down. It fnally went from being one of those songs that I’ve written 20 times in my career to being something really cool that blows up in the speakers.”
There were plenty of reasons it sounded different. Keith, for starters, doubled his vocals, creating a little tension between the razor-thin dfferences in the takes. Kenny Greenberg took a pick to his electric guitar, creating a hiphop influenced, scratching sound during one instrumental break. And Charlie Judge plays Jew’s harp in the mix, adding a rural balance to a conglomeration that otherwise leans a little more heavily on tech-derived sonics.
Plus, Keith’s usual backing vocalist, Perry Coleman, was unavailable, so engineer Mills Logan called in Greg Barnhill, who came up with a raw, pleading edge on the harmonies in the bridge, which actually appears twice during the song’s three-minute ride. At the end, Logan turned the knob down on the tempo, creating a shut-down effect that survived the multiple versions they sent to Keith.
“Toby said it sounds like a 20-year-old kid mixed it,” Pinson observes. “It’s cool.”
“Shut Up and Hold On” debuted on Country Airplay this week. Keith holds out the possibility that his 2012 composition–recorded during the 2013 Oklahoma tornado–could be the opening blast on his 2014 tour.
“‘Shut Up and Hold On’ could be that song next year–when you open your tour, you come out and romp on that a little bit,” he says. “But you never know ’til you get there. I can’t predict the future. It’s not up to me what’s going to be hits and what’s not in the end. So we’ll just have to see.”
Toby Keith was hard at work on his latest album, Drinks After Work, when his home state of Oklahoma was devastated by tornadoes in May. His hometown of Moore, Oklahoma suffered mass damage as Toby watched from the studio, concerned about his family and friends. Suddenly, the record wasn’t important.
“I’ll always remember this album as the one I didn’t finish on normal time because of the tornadoes,” he said. “I was in Nashville the day the tornado hit. We were at Ocean Way Studios, and my assistant pulled an iPad up. It had a local weather app rolling a live stream. It was crossing I-35, and was headed about a mile and a half from my sisters house, going right down her road.”
Toby didn’t stick around Music City, anxious to check on his family and do what he could to help victims in Oklahoma. He needed a single, though.
“I said I had to cut and leave,” he said. “I left the next morning, and I didn’t have the album done. I didn’t get it done until later, but we needed a single. So, that’s how ‘Drinks After Work’ became the first single. We hadn’t picked a single, but we only had two things done. So, the album was put together in pieces.”
Toby hosted the Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert in July and raised approximately $2 million thanks in part to an all-star lineup that included Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood. Funds went directly to tornado relief through the United Way of Central Oklahoma’s May Tornadoes Relief Fund. He also finished his Drinks After Work album, which officially hit stores October 29.
Great American Country and our good friends at Show Dog – Universal Music are celebrating the release of Toby’s Drinks After Work by giving you the chance to win a trip to Australia to see Toby in concert through our Toby Keith Drinks Down Under Sweepstakes! One grand prize winner and a guest will fly away to Sydney, Australia for Toby Keith’s Hammer Down Under Tour. The rip includes airfare, hotel, concert tickets and a photo op with Toby.
Every year, Forbes puts together the World’s Highest Paid Musicians list, and just like last year, country artists Taylor Swift, Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith roll in near the top with a serious amount of cash.
Keith made an impressive leap from last year’s No. 10 spot, where he made $55 million in earnings. This year, the singer is the top country act on the list at No. 4, and he seriously rolled in the dough with an impressive $65 million total. That’s $10 million more than last year, and over the past five years, he’s earned $270 million, with revenue from his records, concerts, 18 restaurants opened, and one mescal line.
He was topped by Madonna ($125 million), Lady Gaga, and Bon Jovi. He can certainly afford a few million ‘drinks after work’ for the rest of his life!
Swift, not surprisingly, who landed at No. 7 last year, tying Paul McCartney, ranked at No. 7 against this year with $55 million — not bad for the 23-year-old, whose ‘Red’ record should have actually been titled ‘Green.’ In fact, she was also ranked in Forbes’ most powerful celebrities because she’s just so darn talented and, well, powerful.
Other country artists to land on top of the money-heavy list are Chesney, who tied with Beyoncé at No. 25 with $53 million and Tim McGraw, who banked $32 million at No. 25. It’s safe to say that country music’s top artists are doing pretty well for themselves, since combined, the country stars made $205 million.
Today is Veterans Day, and Toby Keith has played dozens, if not hundreds, of shows for U.S. troops at home and overseas. And Toby is exposed to some tough stuff when he visits our fighting men and women.
“You walk in those MASH units, you can’t walk into a tent where a guy’s laying with his leg blowed off and go, ‘Hey man, how you doing?’” Toby told reporters recently.
“Normal conversation chatter doesn’t work, ’cause guess what? He ain’t doing very good. So, you have to go in and find something else new to stir the conversation, and those little things like that are really tough.”
Even the trips home can be emotionally challenging.
“Flying on airplanes out of Baghdad with a couple coffins wrapped in American flags—you talk about a somber reality check,” he said.
“You step on a cargo plane and know that I’m getting ready to go to Kuwait and go to Germany and I’m getting ready to fly back to Oklahoma, and that guy is going to Oregon in that box. . . .”
A wide grin stretching across his little face, Brock Hart dashed across the circle drive, a tiny marshmallow clutched in his tiny outstretched hand.
The country music superstar grinned back as he hoisted the 5-year-old into his burly arms and then shifted to shake hands with Jay Hart, the Edmond boy’s father.
“To him, Toby Keith’s just a person,” Jay Hart said. “A guy that he hangs out with and has marshmallows with.”
To Brock’s parents, Keith is the philanthropist-dreamer behind the OK Kids Korral, a home-away-from-home for Oklahoma families fighting pediatric cancer.
The Harts and Keith were reunited Thursday at the grand opening celebration for the 25,000-square-foot lodge on the south end of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. With 16 rooms, a gourmet kitchen, outdoor playground, indoor playroom and other amenities, the $9 million OK Kids Korral was designed to provide housing and respite for pediatric cancer patients and their families seeking care at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center and other nearby facilities.
“I can tell by looking at him, he’s doing a lot better. And he’s not been back in the hospital,” Keith said after Brock and his father joined him in the ceremonial ribbon cutting. “His dad said, ‘It’s bittersweet that we’re not gonna get to stay here, but it’s awesome that we don’t have to.’ You don’t want to have to come here, but if you do, then we’ve got the facility.”
On a May day in 2012, Brock, then 3, nearly upstaged the country music superstar at the groundbreaking for the OK Kids Korral.
“When we did the groundbreaking, Brock wasn’t eating much of anything, but he would eat marshmallows,” Jay Hart said. “Brock was sitting on my lap and then there was a little spot he was supposed to sit in and then Toby was sitting next to him. … Toby notices I’m feeding him marshmallows, so Toby reaches his hand out. Brock hands him a marshmallow, so through the rest of the groundbreaking, they’re just swapping marshmallows.”
The tiny toddler who happily helped Keith, Mayor Mick Cornett and other dignitaries with last year’s ceremonial turning of the earth looked much different from the action-packed boy he has become.
On Oct. 6, 2009, just a few weeks before first birthday, Brock was diagnosed with leukemia and spent the next four months in Children’s Hospital as he battled cancer and a life-threatening fungal infection. He endured 119 consecutive days in the hospital, seven weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit, a week on a ventilator, nine surgeries — and that was just in the first year and a half or so of treatment.
“It’s 13 different surgeries now,” said Brock’s mother, Vanessa Hart. “He just had his last one in September … he was seven months off treatment. This last one was to remove his port, which is where they get all their chemo through. He also had his feeding tube taken out; he’s had a feeding tube since he was 1, and he’s finally learned to eat enough that he doesn’t have to use it.”
Although he will continue with regular clinic visits and checkups — he won’t be considered cured until he is cancer-free for five years — Brock got to ring the bell signifying the end of his cancer treatment in February. Among the friends and relatives who crowded into the hospital room was Toby Keith, who gave the boy a signed, child-size acoustic guitar.
“Hey, watch what I can do,” Brock said, aiming a small basketball at a miniature hoop and then laughingly chasing down his own rebound.
“I’m Westbrook. My dad’s Kevin Durant.”
On a recent afternoon at their Edmond home, the devoted Thunder fan also tossed around a neon green football with his dad, played with his toy fire truck and strummed his autographed guitar.
“Rock on, dude,” Jay Hart said.
Brock’s battle with cancer left more than just the scars where his port and feeding tube were removed. The fungal infection that almost killed him left him blind in one eye and forced doctors to remove part of one lung. He has a limited diet and sees a feeding therapist weekly because the development of his normal eating habits was waylaid.
Still, to see him run and play and even wrestle with his sisters, Jaycie, 7, and Reese, 2, feels like an almost indescribable blessing.
“When he had cancer, it really was like he was a different child,” Vanessa Hart said. “Watching him play is a joy to us. We don’t take it for granted because there was so long that he couldn’t play. He was too sick to play. So to see him get to do normal kid stuff, it makes us so happy.”
Bridging the gap
During the first four months of Brock’s hospitalization, his parents would meet on the crosswalk between the parking garage and The Children’s Hospital and trade places. One would stay with Brock at the hospital and the other one would go home and be with their oldest daughter.
“It was five, 10 minutes. Every now and then we would get Subway and sit … between the hospital and the parking lot in the walkway, and that’s where we would have dinner,” Jay Hart said.
They got involved with the Toby Keith Foundation and the building of the OK Kids Korral because they hope it will help others swap painful separations and sandwiches on the ground with more family dinners and playtime.
Along with 12 overnight suites, the lodge has four dayrooms for metro-area families like the Harts to have a respite from the hospital — together.
“It’s just amazing,” Jay Hart said Thursday after touring the OK Kids Korral. “If you look at what we went through at the hospital, and you think of all the aspects that ‘we wish we could have had the opportunity to do this,’ or ‘we wish this would have been available to us,’ yeah, it’s all here. Every bit of that is here.”
CINCINNATI — It was supposed to be a small, private concert for about 50 people at Toby Keith’s Bar in Cincinnati, but it turned into so much more for one local veteran.
Lady Antebellum was there to honor Gary Staten, who enlisted in 2009 and was in charge of loading bombs into planes.
“When they started talking, saying they wanted to recognize somebody in the crowd, all of us were thinking ‘they’re talking about somebody else’ but when they said Gary Staten, we were all like ‘excuse me, did we just hear you right?’” he said.
In November 2012, Staten was overseas in Afghanistan fighting for our country.
“Now is the time with the holiday season where everybody gathers together as a family and as communities in celebrating the season,” Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum told O’Rourke. “I think you definitely feel that emptiness a lot more during these winter kind of holiday months.”
Staten says his honorable discharge came at the worst possible time.
“We were struggling,” he said. “Nobody understood that the government shut down, I don’t get a paycheck.”
Staten said he went through the United Way for contacts and help.
Lady Antebellum is touring the country as part of ABC’s Home for the Holidays tour. They’re celebrating veterans through films that are written, produced and directed by veterans. For Lady Antebellum, there’s nothing better than hearing how their music touches others.
“There’s something really special about country music and its ties to men and women in service,” Band member Charles Kelley said. “One of the coolest things we get to hear is when someone says a certain song that they would listen to while they were over in Afghanistan and it helped get them through a time where it reminded them of home.”
Toby Keith has lent his voice to the NBA TV original film “OKC Thunder: Heart of the City,” which will chronicle the Oklahoma City Thunder’s efforts to help the city of Moore, Okla. after a tornado ravaged the area earlier this year. “OKC Thunder: Heart of the City” is set to premiere on Friday (Nov. 22) at 7:00 pm ET.
Keith is a native of Moore, where a powerful twister touched down and caused enormous damage last May. Led by Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the NBA team (which moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008) visited Moore and helped contribute to relief efforts, along with conducting a training camp practice at a local high school.
Keith, whose family still lives in Moore, recently guided his new album “Drinks After Work” to a No. 7 debut on the Billboard 200 chart. The album marked the country veteran’s 14th top 10 entry on the chart.
“I’ll always remember this album as the one I didn’t finish on normal time because of the tornadoes,” Keith told Billboard of “Drinks After Work” earlier this month. “I was in Nashville the day the tornado hit. We were at Ocean Way Studios, and my assistant pulled a iPad up. It had a local weather app rolling a live stream. It was crossing I-35, and was headed about a mile and a half from my sisters house, going right down her road. I said I had to cut and leave. I left the next morning, and I didn’t have the album done. I didn’t get it done until later, but we needed a single. So, that’s how ‘Drinks After Work’ became the first single. We hadn’t picked a single, but we only had two things done. So, the album was put together in pieces.”
Singer, songwriter and entertainer Toby Keith is probably raising a glass after a week that saw his hard work pay off. Keith’s latest album Drinks After Work gives Keith his 14th Top 10 all-genre and 21st Top 10 in country.
Following the release of Drinks After Work, Toby surpassed the 20 million paid singles download mark. That figure does not include tracks from digitally downloaded albums.
Speaking of sales and album debuts, Drinks After Work bowed at No. 1 and No. 2 on the iTunes country chart in Australia – deluxe and standard editions, respectively. Those fans will be well acquainted with the album when Keith launches his first tour on the continent in March.
The Hammer Down Under Tour opens March 14 and will stop in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and at the iconic CMC Rocks The Hunter Festival. Joining Toby will be the Eli Young Band and Kellie Pickler.
Elsewhere, Keith is nominated as Favorite Country Music Icon for this year’s People’s Choice Awards, which airs Jan. 8 on CBS. In the meantime, he has already been chosen as one of Country Weekly’s Sexiest Men. Featured in the November 18 issue of the magazine, the fans’ votes placed him as one of the top picks of this year’s poll.
It’s all in a life’s work for Keith, who earned his place as one of the most successful and acclaimed recording artists and touring draws in history.
With years of planning and golf tournament fundraising behind it, the Toby Keith Foundation will finally and officially open the OK Kids Korral. The facility, which was a labor of love for Keith and his organization, is a cost-free, home-away-from-home for pediatric cancer patients and their families.
The Grand Opening Event is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21 at 11AM.
“We’ve been working on the Korral for 10 years and we’re finally going to open,” Keith said in a statement. “Thank you to all of those people who have supported us over the years. 10 years goes by fast when you are working toward a goal this big.”
The OK Kids Korral is located on the Oklahoma Health Center Campus in Oklahoma City in Keith’s home state. The location spans 25,000 sq. ft and is state-of-the-art, equipped with 16 rooms, including 12 overnight suites that offer sleeping accommodations for five people and four daytime suites.
There is also a neutropenic wing for children who have weakened immune systems, as well as a gourmet kitchen, an indoor play room with a Route 66 theme, an outdoor playground with a Oklahoma theme, a game room, a family resource room, a laundry room, a theater room and a reflection room.
Basically, it offers all the creature comforts of home and a safe haven for families. But it is also designed to offer a Sooner State experience, featuring images of local icons, like the blue whale from Catoosa and the round barn from Arcadia, as well as a one-of-a kind glass sculpture with Oklahoma’s 77 counties, state animals, a schooner and artwork from some of the state’s talented artists.
Executive Director Juliet Nees-Bright explained the function of the facility, saying, “Our whole goal is to provide lodging and peace of mind to children battling cancer. To keep them together, focused on healing and not spending hours commuting or going out of state for treatment.”
She furthered, “The families staying with us will be under unimaginable pressure. We simply hope that the care and thought we put in the house, brings them a little happiness and peace.”