Country Throwback: Toby Keith Explains Early Days in Nashville in 2004 Interview

by Charles Craighill

It’s hard to think of Toby Keith as anything other than a superstar, so this Country Throwback might throw you off. In a 2004 interview at the BMI Country Awards, Toby Keith explained his start in Nashville. Before he had a record deal, before he had 20 Billboard Number One hits, Toby Keith came to Nashville as a songwriter.

“I’m a nobody,” he said. “I ain’t even got a record deal or anything, I just came to town as a songwriter.”

“First time I came to town, I didn’t know anything about it,” Keith said. “I knew I had a bunch of songs and I knew I wanted to play them for somebody, but I also knew I had to protect myself.”

“Take Your Best Shot, Cowboy”

Keith goes on to explain how he started out in Nashville. Before signing with DreamWorks Records, Keith felt like his creative expression was somewhat suppressed. “It’s what I’m raised on,” he explains. “It all comes up in what I write. And that was so dangerous I guess to the first regime I was under.”

However, once he started working with James at DreamWorks, they let him loose. From that point on, “it was an uncompromised effort to make American music the way I make it and let it hang out,” as he puts it. When he got there, both parties were struggling and had nothing to lose. Dreamworks felt that they had nothing to lose, so they let Toby Keith be Toby Keith.

Clay Bradley and Toby Keith

Toby Keith also explained a conversation he had with Clay Bradley of BMI that led him in the right direction. He knew he needed to protect himself, but he didn’t know how to do so. Clay Bradley sat him down in his office and told him that he needed to protect himself and get a publishing company. From that conversation birthed Toby Keith’s long and strong relationship with BMI.

As Keith puts it, “I’ve been affiliated with BMI ever since and they’ve always treated me the best.”