The Meaning Behind Toby Keith’s Unwavering “American Soldier”

When it comes to songwriting, Toby Keith doesn’t have to force it. Instead, he follows a natural, yet specific process. “I start with an idea,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2004. “I say, ‘Here’s a setting,’ and the song builds from there. It’s pretty easy.” For his 2004 hit, “American Soldier,” the idea was to pay homage to the women and men fighting for the U.S.

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Though Keith didn’t serve in the military, his father Hubert Covel Jr. did and lost his right eye during the war. Covel died in 2001 at the age of 67 in a car accident. “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” was the prelude to “American Soldier,” the former song inspired by Keith’s father and his life as a soldier. But the country star says he wrote “American Soldier” for the many other men and women like his father who put their lives on the line to keep their fellow citizens safe.

[RELATED: The Meaning Behind Toby Keith’s Solemn Ballad “Don’t Let the Old Man In”]

The Meaning Behind the Song

Keith says the intent of “American Soldier,” which he co-wrote with Chuck Cannon and co-produced with James Stroud, was to capture the human behind the soldier. It was meant to be a tribute to these brave men and women, especially in light of how “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” riled up his critics. “This is a tremendous honor to the troops,” Keith told the Baltimore Sun about the meaning of the song. “We get so desensitized seeing them on the news every night that we forget that under the helmets is a mind, under the camouflage is a heart. They put it all on the line for us, man. The song was a tribute, but it also said to my critics, ‘Now get up and say something about this ignorant redneck now.'”

The country superstar says he was also inspired to write it after completing several USO tours performing for active military members and was touched by stories of how his music impacted them. “It’s written for all the times that I get to meet the troops on these USO tours and since courtesy of red, white, and blue, the P.O.W.s and the families and stuff that have come and brought me back my old CD covers and stuff that they had and shown how much support they had and this is my support for the American fighting men and women,” he explained on CNN’s Larry King Live in 2004.

“American Soldier” was released in 2003 as the second single from Keith’s album Shock’n Y’all and sat at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for four weeks. It also cracked the Top 30 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for ACM

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