When Toby Keith Became TOBY KEITH!

“You can’t release that song, it’s too mean!”

The scene is a Nashville-area recording studio, circa 1998.

Toby Keith had written and recorded a song about his high school graduating class’s valedictorian…a beautiful young woman who never thought Toby would ever amount to anything.

It was to be on Keith’s next album, but his record company rejected the album…all except for two songs: “Getcha Some“…and “If A Man Answers.” The two new releases on what Mercury Records decided would be Greatest Hits Volume One, released October 20th, 1998.

And they were the two biggest stiffs of what had been, to that point, a successful…if not yet iconic, career.

Royally PO’ed, and tired of doing things Nashville’s way, Toby bought out the remainder of his Mercury contract. DreamWorks was only too happy to pick him up, along with those songs the old label rejected.

Like the song his former record company had called “too mean”. The song that would launch this 7-year hitmaker and 90’s radio staple into the stratosphere.

“How Do You Like Me Now?!” was Toby 2.0, first chapter. Other iconic songs would follow…

Even Toby’s ballads, a key component of his 1990’s radio success, picked up a new attitude.

And if all the above wasn’t enough…there was THIS.

And by THIS time, Toby Keith…er, TOBY KEITH, had gone from playing the old Ponderosa Park to setting attendance records at First Niagara Pavilion. “Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue” became an anthem for the 2003 Iraq War; soldiers painted it on the bombs that brought the Saddam Hussein regime to its knees.

Meanwhile, DreamWorks decided to stick to movies and sold their record division to Universal Music Group, who shut it down at the end of 2005. But since Toby was TOBY, he simply started his own “Show Dog” label and kept rollin’.

Here’s Show Dog’s first hit song. There would be many more.

It’s true as I write this, it’s been five years since Toby’s last #1 song (“Made In America“). His last trip to the Top 10 was in 2012. But Toby Keith’s legacy is secure. I think it was secure the moment “How Do You Like Me Now?!” hit #1, nearly seventeen years ago.

More from Charlie Mitchell
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