Three years since a battle with stomach cancer forced Toby Keith to step away from the spotlight, the country music superstar is slowly reemerging as he lets his fans know that he’s getting his groove back.
The “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” rocker appeared on an entertainment-focused show recently, opening up about his health struggles as well as the challenges of stepping back on stage after so much time away.
“I haven’t worked a handful of shows in the last three years, but I worked every year for 27-28 years,” Keith said on the Bobby Bones Show. “The only thing I had that concerned me was being away from it for three years and remembering all the words. They subconsciously come to you when you’re working, you don’t even think about it. You know them. Getting completely away from them and having to start back.”
Although initially worried that he would need a teleprompter during his two-hour sets, the addition proved unnecessary, he said. The bigger obstacle is rebuilding his stomach muscles to belt out his Grammy-winning hits over the speakers and roars of the crowd.
“The thing I had to overcome—the surgery I had on my stomach they had to stitch on my diaphragm. Not using it to sing every night, that is a muscle. So I had to really work that to get it where I sing really really hard and really really violent and loud, I didn’t have that last 10 percent on the bottom where I could just belt anything. Like when I sang ‘McArthur Park’ at Carnegie Hall, it’s like opera stuff. So, I don’t know if I could do that, but what I do on stage is no problem.
“I’ve had to work on that diaphragm, and it’s getting better all the time,” he told Bones.
Keith, 62, hit country music like a freight train in 1993, delivering his hit single “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” and topping the charts for two straight weeks. He, along with contemporaries like Shania Twain and Tim McGraw, pushed the country genre further into pop music, popularizing the ethos of beer-swigging, flag-clad Americana throughout the 90s and early 2000s.
Following the attacks on 9/11, Keith became an international sensation with his hit “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” where he famously threatened the terrorists behind the collapse of the Twin Towers.
“We’ll put a boot in your ass / It’s the American way,” he sings on the track.