Everyone who thought they knew what to expect from Toby Keith probably had to adjust their thinking in 2010. The Oklahoma-based singer/songwriter opened the year cresting the charts with "Cryin' For Me (Wayman's Song)," his most emotionally raw performance ever. Twelve months later he's in the same position with the cinematic "Bullets In The Gun" and, improbably, enjoying a Grammy nomination for "Cryin'."
Even Keith admitted being unsure what to make of the Grammy nod while speaking to press backstage at his high-profile performance on FOX's American Country Awards. Recording Academy voters clearly looked past Keith's longstanding criticisms of industry-voted awards shows to recognize a heart wrenchingly honest composition and performance and, even more, to honor the subject of the song, the late NBA great, jazz bass player and close Keith family friend Wayman Tisdale.
And the Grammy community wasn't the only constituency embracing Toby Keith in fresh ways. The aforementioned American Country Awards presented him with their Video Visionary award, and the broadcast's montage of clips put a unique perspective on just how imaginative and fun his videos have continually been. He punctuated the moment with a performance of his latest single, "Bullets In The Gun."
The song is the title track from his current album, and was Most Added upon its debut at radio and ended the year near the top of the charts. The album itself debuted at No. 1 on the all-genre album charts in October. A Deluxe Edition of Bullets In The Gun nodded at Keith's prowess as a live performer by including four recordings from his much-discussed impromptu New York City club performance in June. The Incognito Bandito show found Keith and an A-list band performing an eclectic mix of covers for a rapt audience of fans and media tastemakers.
On the other end of that spectrum, Keith also performed on the 37th Annual Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on July 4, broadcast on CBS. The Independence Day show fell in the midst of his Ford Trucks-sponsored American Ride Tour, which concluded as one of Pollstar's top-ranked outings of the year. His live and broadcast exposure also extended to appearances on the Today Show, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, multiple magazine covers and, in addition to the ACA show, a performance on April's Academy of Country Music Awards. Keith played "Cryin' For Me" on the CBS telecast, and the performance landed on iTunes the following day, with proceeds benefiting Stand Up 2 Cancer.
Toby's very personal connection to that cause is echoed in the very personal way he approaches service to others. Keith doesn't pay lip service to supporting American soldiers, he visits them every year – personally going to Forward Operating Bases in the Persian Gulf, Korea and elsewhere this year alone on his eighth USO Tour. At home, his annual golf tournament event supports the Toby Keith Foundation and its efforts to spearhead construction and operation of OK Kids Korral, a home for pediatric cancer patients and their families near OU Medical Center Children's Hospital.
Those good works are among the best things to come from a career that Toby Keith will tell you is built entirely on his songwriting. So perhaps his greatest non-charitable accomplishment of 2010 was having his Tokeco Tunes publishing company named the No. 6 publisher in Billboard's year-end list. His was the highest-ranked independent publisher, in and among industry powerhouses like Sony and EMI.
And it is that songwriting base from which Keith will launch an equally ambitious 2011. His I Love This Bar & Grill restaurant chain will expand to its eleventh location by spring, just a few short years removed from its initial launch at the flagship in Harrah's Las Vegas. He'll also keep a promise in 2011, as the debut album from his daughter Krystal will be released. Toby promised to help her get a shot at a music career if she completed college, and he's not only making good on the pledge, he's producing the album. So stay tuned to Toby Keith in 2011. After 18 years as the most consistent hitmaker in music, he's still surprising people.