Full speed in a 35-mph town

Published 10:33 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2015

By Frank Roberts

Normally, I don’t write about today’s country superstars, but Toby Keith is miles away from ordinary. His voice is strong and commanding. And his songs? He writes about 95 percent of the lyrics, and they are clever.

Every new release is better than the last one, each with a good country sound and words that are wild ‘n’ crazy.

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His latest, “35 mph Town,” continues in that vein, with lyrics about booze, Jesus, booze, the joys of small-town living. Oh, and booze.

Whether he’s singing or the object of an interview, there is no hemming or hawing. He is a reporter’s delight, pulling no punches, replying with honesty that would make most of today’s politicians envious.

His punchy lyrics are always fascinating. This is from his song, “Drunk Americans”: “We ain’t east, we ain’t west, we ain’t left, we ain’t right, we ain’t black, we ain’t white. We just came here to drink.”

Offended? Hang on and play the title cut about, among other things, “kids growin’ up without Jesus.”

Want history? Listen to “Rum Is the Reason.” We learn about Davy Crockett, Pancho Villa, Blackbeard, Stalin, and Hitler who “drank beer from a stein, eatin’ sauerkraut and weenies.”

Sure, there’s lots of drinking, but it’s all in fun, and you won’t find anything jazzier or crazier. Better to sing about getting loaded than to do it, I suppose.

Think of the many performers who sing about “decency,” and then wind up getting in trouble. And that covers all genres. I won’t name names, but there’s a boatload of them.

Keith has made many trips to the Middle East to entertain the troops there. His father was a vet, killed later in an auto accident caused by a speeding vehicle.

“My father,” he said, “taught his kids to respect veterans. It’s that respect that’s in place and ready to defend our nation, our freedom. I don’t apologize for being patriotic. If there is something socially incorrect about being patriotic and supporting your troops — If you feel that way, you can kiss my ….”

Outspoken? Oh, yeah.

There was the much-publicized brouhaha with The Dixie Chicks. Natalie Maines, the angry lead singer, said, “It makes country music sound ignorant.”

Keith pointed out that she doesn’t write her music, and he does write his songs. During some of his concerts, he has gone so far as to display a backdrop showing Maines with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The gals have not had a big hit since the feud began.

Keith, on the other hand, has had 20 No. 1 hits.

One of his biggest hits was “Cryin’ For Me” (Wayman’s Song),” a tribute to one of his dearest friends, Wayman Tisdale, an African-American basketball great, who was also an accomplished jazz bassist.

The duo got together for Barry White’s song, “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Like many country singers, Keith started his career singing in a honky-tonk, this one owned by his grandmother. Keeping it in the family, his daughter, Krystal has embarked on a well-received music career. She wanted to start her career after high school, but he wanted her to finish college first. Done.

All three of his children sing, and son Stelan is also a drummer.

One more note: The name “Toby” means “God is good.” Amen.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.