Toby Keith earned a No. 1 hit with "Should've Been a Cowboy," the freshman single from his 1993 self-titled debut record. The Oklahoma native went on to score several chart-topping singles, release more than a dozen hit records, tour the world and, most recently, write and record a song, "Don't Let the Old Man In," for Clint Eastwood's latest The Mule movie.
But none, of that would have likely ever happened, according to Keith, if he hadn't written and released "Should've Been a Cowboy."
"I was a songwriter, and I wanted to be a songwriter whether I was a singer or not," Keith shared with PopCulture.com at a recent media event. The artist [thing], I just got lucky. I just wanted to be a songwriter. If [being an] artist would've never happened, somebody would've cut those songs. So that's what I wanted to do so no matter what, even if you got sick and couldn't perform or something, you'd still write songs. I know one thing, this song – everything I've done in my catalog, and I've recorded hundreds of songs I wrote and probably charted somewhere along a hundred or more – none of them probably would've ever been heard if it hadn't been for 'Should've Been a Cowboy.'"
"Because I watched – that's when that new country thing came in, and we had all these stations like new country this, new country that, all new country," he continued. "They were going through artists, like 200 signings a year, and nine were relevant. They were just flavor of the month, and if you didn't hit and stick pretty quick, they would move on. So that song, and a follow up single ('He Ain't Worth Missing'), gave me enough breathing room to find my way, whereas a lot of people didn't get that chance. So that is the foundation for every single thing all the way to 'Don't Let the Old Man In.'"
Keith wrote and recorded "Don't Let the Old Man In," after an inspiring conversation with Eastwood, during a golf tournament.
"We discussed this movie, and he said he was turning 88," Keith recounted. "Right walking off the green, he said, 'I turn 88 Monday.' I said, 'What are you going to do?' He said, 'I'm going to shoot a movie.'"
"'You're going to dedicate the next three months of your life to shooting a movie?'" questioned the singer. "'I'm sorry, but what keeps you going?' He goes, 'I get up every day and don't let the old man in.' I went, 'I'm writing this damn letter,' so I took it home. Of course, as the three days of playing went on, he told us what the movie was about."
Getting a song in a film by the movie icon wasn't even on Keith's bucket list, which is why he's still blown away that it even happened.
"Honest to God, I didn't even think, this Clint Eastwood thing made me get a bigger bucket," Keith conceded. "I felt like my bucket list, my bucket was full, and I couldn't want for anything. I'm so blessed, and I couldn't think of one thing [more]."
Download "Don't Let the Old Man In" on iTunes.
Photo Credit: Getty images/Terry Wyatt