Toby Keith’s ‘Beer for My Horses’: Story Behind the ’90s Hit Song

by Josh Lanier
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Toby Keith’s Beer for My Horses was the first big hit of his career. It’s his ode to frontier justice and poor choices for watering horses that inspired one of the worst country music singer movies of all time. But the story behind the song is an interesting tangle of drunk cowboys, rodeos, and a night that got the songwriter to swear off smoking weed with Willie Nelson.

Keith said the smash hit started out as a phrase he’d heard while working at rodeos in his youth. The cowboys there would walk around with flasks of whiskey in their back pockets, Keith said. They’d make toasts before swigging down the liquor. One of those toasts was “whiskey for my men, beer for my horses.” Keith said he stored it away in his mind until eventually a concept for the song formed. Fade in: Wild West …

“The big posse goes out and catches the bad guys and everybody comes back to lick their wounds, remember the ones they lost and celebrate with the ones that made it back. You raise your glass and say, ‘Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses, bartender.’ One of those conceptual deals,” Keith said according to SongFacts.com.

Keith reached out to his friend and fellow country singer Scott Emerick with the title. Emerick created the melody and Keith started working out the lyrics. That original concept stuck.

“The song was written prior to September 11th,” Keith reportedly said. “It’s about justice, but more so about the law of the Old West. It truly depicts how I feel about our justice system today.”

Toby Keith’s Meeting with Willie Nelson Inspires Song

Keith said he dreamed of getting Willie Nelson to sing the Texas portion of Beer for My Horses. But figured he had no chance of getting the Red Headed Stranger on board. The duo was able to score a meeting with him, however, after a show in Alabama.

They spent the night on The Honeysuckle Rose, Nelson’s bus named after his song and semi-autobiographical movie about his life. By the morning they were tired and too stoned from the ” really good stuff” Nelson used to smoke, Emerick said. But Nelson had agreed to sing on Keith’s song.

Emerick left with another hit song in mind. The experience had given him the idea for Toby Keith’s Weed With Willie, which is about all the things they’d rather do that smoke pot with Willie Nelson again. Though, the promise in the song’s chorus didn’t stick.

“I’ve smoked weed with Willie, like, 20 times. You have to, you know. When in Rome,” Emerick said, according to SongFacts. And it is really, really good stuff. “I think fans come and bring it to him.”

Keith said he recalled hearing the expression every time he was ever with Nelson on his bus.

“I’ve never stepped on Willie’s bus without hearing someone say the words to this song: ‘I will never smoke weed with Willie again.'” he said. “… Trust me, you don’t even want to mess around with that stuff if you’re not a professional, which I am not.”

Nelson said he gave up smoking marijuana last year for his health, he told USA Today. Though, he clarified later that he only gave up smoking the drug.

Outsider.com