Penthouse Retrospective

by Alanna Nash Originally Published: May, 2012

Toby Keith

Sure, Toby Keith has had a string of No. 1 hits, but what we — and he — want to talk about this Memorial Day is his work with U.S. troops and returning vets.

How Do You Like Him Now?

Toby KeithToby Keith’s current album, Clancy’s Tavern, inspired by his frequent childhood visits to his grandmother’s club, debuted at No. 1 last October. He was named Artist of the Decade at the 2011 American Country Awards. His hit single “Red Solo Cup,” the second off Clancy’s Tavern, was also the No. 1 country download on iTunes. Plus, Beverage Media magazine called his Wild Shot Mezcal “the number-one premium mezcal in the U.S. market.” He’s even been named the nation’s top-earning country performer by Forbes.

Yet Oklahoma’s favorite son likes nothing so much as to talk about his trips overseas to entertain U.S. troops, and about his work with returning veterans. Keith, 50, stepped into that work after his ubiquitous anthem, “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” — a virulent response to the September 11 terrorist attacks — proved a rallying cry for belligerent compatriots. Never mind that critics denounced it as “knee-jerk jingoism.”

Keith put his money where his mouth was, and after a 2003 trip to Baghdad, he began trying to improve conditions for Americans fighting abroad. On a trip to Afghanistan in 2007, he saw how troops in remote outposts lived between literal walls of sand, without creature comforts. That moved him to sponsor the USO2GO program, which distributes care packages to overseas U.S. bases. Keith is also a cofounder — with NFL players Tommie Harris, Roy Williams, and Mark Clayton — of Pros 4 Vets, which offers legal assistance and advice to Oklahomans who return from active duty.

As in his songs, in interviews Keith is forceful, outspoken, and passionate.

How did you get so involved with the USO?

Well, the first time I went over there was about ten years ago. I was just going to go for two weeks the year after my dad died, to honor him, and then I said, “Man, we’ve got to do this again.” I went the next year, and the USO said, “You could be a big force in the USO.” And so my agent, Curt Motley, became a board member, and he works tirelessly trying to get other entertainers to go over.

You made the news recently with your USO2GO program. How did that come about?

We were over there, and we saw that some of those FOBs [forward operating bases, or secured forward positions used to support tactical operations] had shitty conditions for R&R. Those boys take wire baskets and put cardboard in them, fill them with sand, stack ’em, and that’s their wall. And they put cardboard huts up to eat in, and put some tents up, and then they have a little room, maybe 20 by 30 feet, with some air piped into it, and they sit there trying to run a

DVD. So we put these care packages together that include things like DVD players and flat-screens and games and PS3s. The USO is a morale-lifter, and it brings a piece of home over.

Why do you keep going back? What does it satisfy in you personally?

There’s a big void there that needs to be filled. I’ve done 180 shows, and it takes that many to get the word out. And there’s such a big need for it. I go two weeks every year, and the USO board can use that as a tool to get other people to go. But you’ve got two strikes against you when you go. One’s political. A lot of people don’t want to associate themselves with it because of the political brush they’ll be painted with.

This interview with Toby Keith comes from the May, 2012, issue of Penthouse Magazine and defines “Hero” in a fashion approachable by us all. We applaud that.