Toby Keith doesn't court controversy, but he's never shy on any topic -- from collaborating with the Dixie Chicks, to financing his own feature film, to performing at the Republican National Convention.
Q How do you feel about performing on Labor Day at the Minnesota State Fair?
A That's a holiday. Entertainers don't mind. We're there to entertain while everybody else is not working. It doesn't bother me at all. I play on Memorial Day a lot, usually some military base.
Q That afternoon, there is a Labor Day rally in St. Paul featuring Steve Earle, Tom Morello, Mos Def and others. Would you go over and check it out?
A Sure. If everything lined up right, I wouldn't mind going over there.
Q Would you consider performing a song or two there with an acoustic guitar?
A Maybe. I'd have to see what kind of crowd it was. ... You want to play where there's people that respect what you do.
Q Have you been invited to play at the Republican convention?
A They've invited me over to play it. My boat's about to wash ashore on all the politics. I never was a very political guy, though "The Courtesy of Red, White and Blue" was political. I'm a lifetime Democrat in the first place. I probably should just be an independent and stay in the middle 'cause that's who I am. The righties think I'm a hippie, and the lefties think I'm a Nazi. It's hard when you're in the middle on the issues.
Q What's the story about you making a commercial with the Dixie Chicks?
A Al Gore asked me to make some save-the-planet commercials. He said, "Would you consider doing a commercial with Dixie Chicks? I'm doing some with Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell." I was shooting this movie ["Beer for My Horses"] when they called. So I gave him two dates, and they didn't get them worked out logistically. I don't know where that stands now. It could happen.
Q Speaking of "Beer for My Horses," it hasn't played in the Twin Cities yet. Why didn't the movie have wider distribution when it opened this month?
A Lions Gate came to me and said, "It's a $10 million movie. To put it in big-time release, it costs $300,000 per major city." I've got my money in it. They said, "Before you know what you have, do you want to go out and spend $20 to $30 million promoting the movie? Or do you want to put it in 100 cities and hope people will come? Or do you want to spend $3 or $4 million and blow it up in 12 giant markets?" This kind of movie hasn't been made since "Smokey and the Bandit" and all the stuff Burt Reynolds used to do. So if this doesn't fly, then you haven't spent $20 or $30 million trying to prove yourself wrong.
Q Your new single, "She Never Cried in Front of Me," has a different feel to it. There are more rock guitars on it.
A It was the first song that I've ever sat down at a piano and wrote. Me and [Nashville songwriter] Bobby Pinson were sitting there at the piano in my house. Something about writing on a piano changes everything that I've ever done. It brought a whole new approach to the melody. The lyric is as country as ever. But when we were done, we said: "What the hell is this?" I just threw 'em a curveball.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719