Music Preview: Toby Keith wears 'white trash' label with pride, not prejudice

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Life's tough when you're "white trash with money."


Toby Keith is comfortable with his image.
Click photo for larger image.

Toby Keith

Where: Post-Gazette Pavilion, Burgettstown, with Joe Nichols & the Show Dogs

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Tickets: $29.75 - $67.25. 412-323-1919

Despite the wealth that's poured into Toby Keith's Oklahoma family since he placed five CDs at the top of the country albums chart, Keith says his eldest daughter, Krystal Covel, who performed with him at the 2004 CMA Awards show, "got turned down for every sorority she pledged for. She gets accepted to things because of me and gets hurt because of me."

Keith says the 21-year-old was arguing with a friend from a very wealthy family when the girl's mother intervened.

"She said [her daughter] should quit running with [my daughter]," said Keith, "because, she said, 'They're nothing but white trash with money, anyway.' My wife is very classy, and when she heard this she was mad -- I mean MAD. She said, 'I'll deal with the mother.' "

When they told Keith about the insult, however, he didn't show the outrage they expected.

"I started laughing," he says. "I said, 'Why are you offended? That's all I've ever been. If you think I'm white trash with money, well, I'm proud of it and I'll take it all the way to the bank. To prove it, that sounds like a great album title to me.' "

True to his word, Keith called his most recent CD "White Trash With Money," in part, to teach his daughter a lesson about life.

"If you're not happy with what you do and who you are," says Keith, "you'll never be happy."

No one's ever accused Keith of not being comfortable in his own skin. While country music prides itself on a tradition of humble stars who are quick to deflect praise, Keith swaggers in conversation behind the same spiraling ego that translates so well on stage.

And perhaps he deserves it. Toby Keith Covel was born July 8, 1961, in Clinton, Okla., and raised near Oklahoma City with his sister Tonnie and brother Tracy. He finished Moore High School and skipped college to work in the oil fields with his father. When the Oklahoma oil market collapsed, leaving him unable to support his family, he played tight-end with a semi-pro football team and started The Easy Money Band, which crisscrossed the country touring bars and honky tonks. His first CD, "Toby Keith" on Mercury Records, spawned the No. 1 country single "Should've Been a Cowboy." By the release of his fifth album, DreamWorks' "How Do You Like Me Now," Keith was a country superstar.

Still, he says, his wife has to nag him to get a haircut, he drives a pickup truck and hangs proudly to his self-described "white trash" origins. A part of that, it seems, is his overflowing confidence.

"Music is such a God-given thing to me," he says. "Song writing is my one talent in the world that outshines all of my other talents. It's such an easy process for me to write a song. That's what I'm good at. That is my gift."

Keith applied his gift on "White Trash with Money" with cowriters Scotty Emerick and Dean Dillon. Eighteen weeks on the Top Country Albums chart, it peaked at No. 2 and has already gone platinum on the strength of two hit singles, "A Little Too Late" and "Crash Here Tonight."

The "white trash" CEO of a growing business empire, Keith is top dog at his Show Dog Nashville record label, which released the new CD. He's the "white trash" restaurateur behind I Love This Bar & Grill, a chain named for his hit song, with locations in Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Las Vegas And he's the "white trash" star of an upcoming film, "Broken Bridges," which opens Sept. 8. The movie's soundtrack, including songs from the film by Keith, co-star Lindsey Haun and several other Top Dog artists, is the new label's second release.

Keith attributes his popularity in Pittsburgh to blue-collar appreciation of his "white trash" personality. For the second consecutive year, Keith will headline two consecutive nights at the Post-Gazette Pavilion.

"The last time we tried to play one night in Pittsburgh," he said, "we had to refund a lot of money to people who couldn't get in [because of long traffic lines]. I'm a lifetime Steeler fan -- a Terrible Towel-waving cat and as blue-collar as it comes. I've always felt that sense of 'this is your town' when I'm there. It's so blue collar there, so hard hat, they've just kind of adopted me as theirs."


John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.


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