Country great Toby Keith remembered for ‘independent spirit’

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Country great Toby Keith is being remembered beyond his musical influence. The legendary singer-songwriter died after a battle with stomach cancer. He was 62.

“We’ll be on Toby time,” Keith said with a laugh in an interview with News 2 in 2003.

The towering singer, clad in a cowboy hat, called his own shots from the beginning of his career. One may say Keith was always on “Toby time.” Not only did he crush the music industry, but Keith built an empire through investments in music labels, booze, and restaurants.

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“One of the things I always looked up to him for was really his independent spirit. He was one of the first guys in Nashville that ever started his own record label and put his own record out and owned his content, signed other artists and broke those artists. He was a real kind of a Renaissance guy,” country artist John Rich told News 2.

In 1993, Keith’s debut single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” placed him at the top of the charts and a list of hits followed. “I Love this Bar” and “Beer for my Horses” were among the more than 50 songs he crafted alongside Scotty Emerick.

“He was a true Oakie in every sense of the word, American patriot for our great country in every sense of the word, singer and songwriter in every meaning of the word, and a big brother,” Emerick said as he teared up.

Keith’s patriotism was clear in his post 9/11 songs, with his support for our troops extending well beyond a tune.

“I had the chance of going on all the USO trips with him, 230 something bases, bringing peace of home to all of our troops overseas,” Emerick explained.

Keith’s hits “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” served as symbols of his loyalty to our country.

“We end up always talking about ‘Red, White and Blue,’ but hey, that’s part of it. That was a very important song, and it was very important to a lot of people, and so I take a lot of pride in knowing that I was right about it,” Keith stated in an interview with News 2 in 2003.

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Confident, unapologetic, and witty, Keith’s unique musical style and one of a kind character left an immeasurable impact.

“The most impressive thing about Toby Keith is he never was anything other than Toby Keith. By that I mean he loved America, he loved our troops, he never apologized for his stances on anything. He wrote songs that were true to him and then sang those songs to the masses, and at the end of the day, that’s the essence of country music – write down the truth, then sing it loudly, and I always respected him for that and looked up to him for that. He was an icon. Man, a life well lived. I don’t know that you could impact more people than Toby Keith did in his 62 years,” said Rich.

Throughout his career, Keith earned the accolades to boast, from being awarded Artist of the Decade at the American Country Awards, to his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and most recently in September, receiving the People’s Choice Country Icon Award.

While “Toby time” may be up here on earth, loved ones know he paved his path above.

“The good Lord called him home much sooner than we wanted to, but he’s in good hands now,” said Emerick.

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Keith died peacefully Monday, Feb. 5, surrounded by his family, according to a statement posted on his website. The statement said “he fought his fight with grace and courage.”

“He showed a lot of strength, a lot of grit, and that’s one of the things I’m going to remember most is, you know, in the middle of it, even when he kind of disappeared from the public eye, he was still jumping on stage and doing what he loved and sharing that music with people, so that’s a good reminder to just keep going,” country duo LOCASH told News 2.

Keith is survived by his wife and their three kids.

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