Songs, freedom, weed

Country superstar Toby Keith will bring his American Ride tour to Auburn's White River Amphitheatre on Saturday, with support from Trace Adkins and James Otto. And recently, he checked in to talk about new songs, creative freedom and why he missed Charles Barkley's birthday party. (Hint: He wrote a song about it.)

What is it about Trace that you’re bringing him out on the road again?

We grew up playing the same bars at the same time, and we got our record deals about the same time. So we’ve got a lot in common. It’s just taken us this long to work together.

He’s on my label. I want to promote him, and I don’t know if there was a tour available that was a better position for him. It’s a great time to get to hang out together after all these years. It just made a lot of sense.

How hands-on are you with running your label (Show Dog-Universal)?

When I had just Show Dog, I had to oversee it all. And I’m not a very political person. … I just don’t go to meetings and shake hands and butter people’s bread, you know. I’ll go tell everybody to kiss my ass.

Not that I think I’m bigger than country music or anything. It’s just that the industry has its own demons, and I don’t need those demons. But it was harmful to my artists because there’s always a record exec around that’s willing to do that dirty work, and I’m just not that guy.

(Keith partnered with friend Mark Wright when Show Dog Nashville merged with Universal South Records.) Now Mark can do the dirty work and deal with demons, and I can handle the creative side. … It’s as good as I can stand it, you know.

Can you point to something you’ve had the freedom to do now as opposed to before?

Mmm hmm. Like I took the guys who play on my sessions … and I formed a band called Incognito Bandito. We go out and play blues and country-blues in famous clubs like the Fillmore and places like that in New York City. We sneak around and do that.

Your music’s completely untouched. I go in, I do an album. I turn it in and then they put it out. My artists do the same thing. If they need critique or help or advice, I guess, then we’re there to offer our two cents. But I feel like you have to let the artist fail on his own first. For seven or eight years in this business I didn’t get that opportunity, because I was told what to release and when to come with it.

The new song, “Trailerhood,” is kind of a different song for you. Is that an example of something you couldn’t do before?

I built that freedom in even before I got on my own. I just kept bangin’ at ’em until I showed ’em that there was an audience for those kind of songs out there. That song would have never been a single eight years ago, nine years ago. It wouldn’t have had a chance. And “How Do You Like Me Now” broke that door down, and then “Beer for My Horses,” you know.

Is the single the title track from the next album?

Nah, there’s another song on there I wrote called “Bullets in a Gun” about a guy on his motorcycle who ends up in a bar on the U.S. side of the Mexican border, falls for a dancer. Her boss abuses her in front of him, and they rob the place and head into Mexico and get killed. It’s kind of a throwback to some old Texas songs I grew up listening to in Oklahoma.

Since it was so long (I thought) that it would never be a single. Now everybody that’s got their hands on it says this has got to be a single. So we may end up coming up with a single and doing a shorter version of it.

So is that part of the set list for this tour?

Yeah, I open with it.

You say you have a “tailgate session” during the set. In the past, I remember you having a truck built into the set.

Yeah, Ford sponsored us for seven or eight years, so they always build some kind of transformer truck or something that pops into a stage. And it comes out on a drum riser and we put the tailgate down. Everybody sits down around it, (plays) acoustic guitars. I’ll do “I’ll Never Smoke Weed With Willie Again” and stuff like that.

That’s always a fun one. When did that actually happen? That’s a true story.

It happened in Las Vegas on a Saturday night. I was in town laid over and had a show the next night and went out to hit the casinos at about six o’ clock. Somebody said that Willie (Nelson) was playing the Hacienda at 8. And I was invited to Charles Barkley’s birthday party at midnight at the Rum Jungle.

(Willie) spotted me and said come up here, and we did a couple of songs together. (Later, on the bus) he rolled up one. And you could put all the weed I smoked in my life in a coffee cup. It never was my high, you know. But you know, he’s famous for that, and just to say you did it with Willie is kind of cool. … It knocked me out. I missed Charles’ birthday party and everything.

Was he mad at you?

Nah, he understood. It was just one of those things.

And you got a song out of it.

Yeah, there you go.

Do you have other stuff we can look forward to? Are you maybe shooting a “Beer for My Horses 2” movie?

Nah, you know what, that took so much time and it was so little bang for your buck. It took me literally 10, 11 months to write it, complete that project and get it out there. And it’s just pretty much a CMT movie of the week now, I think. And I’ve got so many more things with my bar and grills and my thoroughbred horses and my golf course that I own and all that other stuff that’s more profitable and better suited for my time.

But I’m glad I did it. It was a great experience and I proved to myself that I can. We actually wrote that script, produced that script, acted in that (movie), wrote the soundtrack. And I can always look back on it and say ‘Hey, I did it.’

So maybe you’ll leave that to Tim McGraw for now.

Tim does it different. He does it the smart way. He just goes and works a few months or a few weeks on somebody else’s movie. And I’ve always been a creator.

If a big movie came along with a lot of big headliners on it and they wanted me to play a significant part, I would consider it. But as far as divin’ off and doin’ the whole project, I’m kind of done with that.

Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389,,


What: Country singer performs with Trace Adkins and James Otto

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: White River Amphitheatre, 40601 Auburn Enumclaw Road, Auburn

Tickets: $31 to $73