“Give A Cowboy A Shotgun” – Toby Keith Recalled Being Shot At When He Was Performing For The Troops In Iraq

Toby Keith Country Music
Sgt. Joshua LaPere/ Dept. of Defense

In the longest interview that Toby Keith had given since his cancer diagnosis in 2021, the “Big Dog Daddy” practically told all when he sat down with Bob Stoops a couple of months ago.

Stoops was the longtime coach for the Oklahoma Sooners, and it was there where he and Keith became good friends. That friendship allowed for anything and everything to be on the table when Stoops had Toby on Conversations with Coach.

Their conversation covered everything from Clint Eastwood to country music, and towards the beginning of the show, Stoops brought up some of Keith’s USO Tours. Toby Keith was always happy to play for and support the troops, if you couldn’t tell by his song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).”

He was about as patriotic as they come, which probably helps to explain why Keith being shot at multiple different times while he was over in Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t ever stop him from going back.

Stoops asked if the story about Keith’s helicopter getting shot at was true, and the “Big Dog Daddy” put it like this:

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“Yeah, and the reason we didn’t…we don’t really talk about it very much because we want people to go over there, you know? We don’t want to discourage anyone from going.

In 240 shows, when you are leaving fire bases and stuff, you’re just in a military helicopter. Nothing big, no RPGs or nothing, but small arms fire and stuff like that coming in and out.”

Classic Toby Keith – playing down the fact that he was possibly in danger just so other artists don’t get scared away from going overseas.

Keith immediately went into a specific example of his helicopter taking fire, saying:

“We came out of Mosul east and we were headed to Mosul west, and there are probably 3 million people there I think. So we were going to play the east side, then fly to the west side.

And we were flying sideways, and I’m looking (at the captain) like ‘Why the hell are we flying sideways?’ He had the headset on, I didn’t, so then we straighten back up, and he held his finger up and said ‘I’ll tell you when we get there.'”

Clearly Keith knew that something was wrong. You don’t just start flying sideways in a helicopter for the fun of it.

However, he trusted the service members he was with, and once they got to their destination, the captain told Keith what had happened, and the late great country star had the perfect response:

“He said we had come under small arms fire as we were leaving and I was like ‘Would have been nice to give a cowboy a shotgun or something.’ It was…they’re going to take care of you when you go over there. You’re in the best hands.

First two or three years, I didn’t go down range. I just played the Big Green zones and everybody can do that…but as the years progressed and I started to trust them, they’re like ‘You want to go down range?’ And I was like ‘Hell yeah, let’s go.'”

Stories like that just make you realize how huge of a loss Toby Keith was. He was truly one of a kind, and was passionate about helping and serving others…even if it meant taking a few risks.

You can view Stoops and Keith’s conversation below:

Releasing “Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue”

No artist did more to lift the spirits of our men and women in uniform than Toby Keith.

Toby, who passed away on February 5 from a 2-year battle with stomach cancer, participated in nearly 20 USO tours throughout his career, performing for over a quarter of a million service members in 17 different countries as they fought overseas.

After his passing, the USO reflected on the legacy that Toby Keith left behind:

“Toby’s commitment to supporting the people serving in our nation’s military and their families around the world made him a beloved figure within the military community.

Toby served as an incredible example of the USO mission of always being by their side. His legacy will endure through his music and the lasting impact he made on the lives of those he touched.”

Of course one of Toby’s signature songs was “Courtesy Of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” a patriotic battle cry released in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that seemingly united a country in mourning (and pissed off the Dixie Chicks).

But we were never supposed to hear it.

Toby wrote the song to perform for troops on his USO tours. And when he did, they went wild.

He had never intended to actually record the song. But then-Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones told Toby that he didn’t have a choice, calling it “the most amazing battle song I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops. If you want to serve, that is what you can do.”

Well with a charge like that from your military, Toby didn’t have a choice. He took “The Angry American” into the studio, and released it as the lead single from his album Unleashed.

The song went to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and has since been certified 4x platinum.

Of course it wasn’t without its controversy. Toby was scheduled to perform the song on an ABC patriotic special in 2002, but Canadian-born host Peter Jennings requested that he tone down the lyrics. Toby refused, and was removed from the show, later speaking on the controversy:

“I thought it was hilarious. My statement was, ‘Isn’t he Canadian?’ to a bunch of press. They laughed and then I said, ‘Well, I bet Dan Rather wouldn’t kick me off his show.'”

Then of course there was his highly-publicized feud with the Dixie Chicks (now just known as The Chicks) after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized the song in an interview with the Los Angeles Times:

“I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture – and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact.

Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass.’ But a lot of people agree with it. The kinds of songs I prefer on the subject are like Bruce Springsteen’s new songs.”

Keith responded by attacking Maines as a songwriter:

“She’s not a songwriter, so we can’t discuss the mechanics of the song.

Why don’t you just go down on Second Avenue and pick one of those homeless guys and ask him what he thinks about it? To me it’s the same.”

But that wasn’t the end of the beef: After her comments, Keith began displaying a doctored image of Maines and Saddam Hussein on the screen behind him at his shows.

And the feud came to a head at the ACM Awards in 2003, when both Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks were nominated for Entertainer of the Year.

During their performance that night, Maines took another shot at Keith by wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “F U T K.” You can use your imagination to figure out what that one stands for…

But the Chicks weren’t even at the ACM Awards that night – instead, they performed in front of a more friendly crowd, live from one of their concerts in Austin, Texas.

And it’s probably a good thing they weren’t in Vegas for the awards. On a night that featured tributes to our soldiers, bold proclamations from Wayne Newton celebrating the then-recent death of Saddam Hussein, and patriotic performances like Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten,” the Dixie Chicks didn’t exactly receive a warm reception at the ACM Awards.

In fact, it was downright hostile.

Every time the Dixie Chicks’ name was announced, the crowd in Vegas rained down boos. So when it came time to give out the Entertainer of the Year Award, presenter Vince Gill jokingly mumbled their name as he announced them as a nominee –  because he knew what was coming.

Sure enough, the audience erupted in boos, while nice-guy Vince made a futile plea for forgiveness. But when the camera quickly cut to the next nominee, Alan Jackson, he seemed to be enjoying the moment as he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes.

So who won the night’s top prize? Well, none other than Toby Keith – thanks, no doubt, in large part to “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” and his support for the troops.

And it’s thanks to the troops that we ever got to hear that now-classic song from Toby in the first place.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock