The Story Behind the Song: Toby Keith, “Red Solo Cup”

Videos by American Songwriter

“Red Solo Cup”
Written by: Brett Beavers, Jim Beavers, Brad Warren, Brett Warren
Recorded by: Toby Keith
Peak Chart Position: No. 9 Billboard Country

So you, your brother Brad, and Jim and Brett Beavers started a band [The Warren Beavers] and wrote and recorded ten songs, one of them being “Red Solo Cup.” How did all that come about?

Brett Warren: Yeah, the Beavers had the idea. And you know, Tim [McGraw] said, “Do things that are different and special” and “Go outside the box.” He used to tell us, “Put your rock band back together, go play shows…” He sent us to London for a week, and me and Brad went up there and played pubs. He was always trying to push us creatively. And it was really cool. It wasent like, “Hey we want you to be the next you know [hot songwriter of the day].” He was sort of pushing us in another direction, which is odd for a publisher. However, it really seemed to work for us.

I mean, this is business. You want to get as much action as you can, but he saw enough to know that we were better when we were out on the fringe and were doing something different and always pushing the envelope. That’s sort of where we stayed, and Brett Beavers came up with this idea that we would form a fake college band called the The Warren Beavers … and everybody knows Brett and Jim Beavers and Brad and Brett Warren, and that we’re songwriters and everything, but we put together this fake college band and only we played the instruments. I played drums and sang. Brett Beavers was the only one that played acoustic guitar and banjo and sang. Jim had never played bass before in a studio. He played bass, and my brother played guitar.

So we proceeded to just go out and have fun like a college band. It was so bad that it was kind of charming. We would have never written a song, a love song about a cup, like a bar college song about a cup, if we hadn’t put ourselves in that mindset. If we were sitting there with three acoustic guitars trying to write, you know, “I Hope You Dance”— which is a phenomenal song — every day, it’s just, everybody was trying to do that. So we were putting ourselves in a different spot.

How did the song get cut? How did Toby Keith hear it?

Our songplugger Nathan Nicholson played “Red Solo Cup” for Trailer Choir. The singer of Trailer Choir said, “I love this song.” He called me and Brad and said, “This is the greatest song ever written. Can I play it for Toby?” And I said, “Sure, play it for him. He’ll love it. But he won’t cut it.” So two weeks later I get a call from Toby’s manager saying, “We’re cutting ‘Red Solo Cup.” We had nothing to do with that.

Getting songs cut is more difficult now than it’s ever been, and writing with artists seems to play a big part in making that happen — in addition to good old-fashioned song hustling.

It’s songpluggers. It’s your relationships. It’s teamwork. You’ve got to build a team. Sometimes it’s just a relationship that the songwriter has with an artist, and they write the song together. Me and Brad and Martina McBride and John McBride are great friends. I love them. If Martina never sang another note in her life, we would still hang out and have dinner. We’re just a great family. So we have that friendship, we brought that idea to her [“Teenage Daughters”], and we just sat down and wrote it.

There was never a demo of it or anything. We recorded a worktape of it in John McBride’s phone, and that was the only thing that was ever recorded until they made the record. But that’s one thing. You know, you work really hard to get into a spot where some artists will call you and say, “Hey I’m starting to look for songs.” Dierks Bentley will call and say, “Hey man, I’m starting to cut a record. You want to write? You got any songs that might be down my wheelhouse?” So you work your slot into that. Sometimes it’s staying aware of who’s getting ready to cut and kind of being opportunistic with dropping songs. It’s relationships directly with the artists, and it’s songpluggers, and it’s A&R people at labels. Sometimes you’ll know an A&R person and play it for them, or a promotion guy, or even a record label president, and they’ll go, “Man, this is killer. I’ve got to play this for such and such.” So it’s all of them. There’s not one way. It really is a team effort. That’s what’s frustrating and what’s genius about the music business. There’s not one set way to do things.


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