Krystal Keith, Toby’s baby girl, proves she’s more than just a chip off the old block with ‘Whiskey & Lace’
Many, many years ago, Toby Keith said if you have to rely on your opening act to sell tickets, you probably oughta stop touring.
Well, the big guy who plays Blossom Music Center on Sunday, June 29, doesn’t NEED to rely on someone else – the lawn is already sold out and there aren’t that many pavilion seats left – but there sure as heck is a lot of interest in one of his opening acts: this 28-year-old chick named Krystal Keith.
Yep, his daughter. The same one who a decade ago cut her teeth dueting with the old man both on record and live to “Mockingbird.”
I’ll be honest: I was at that show and had two thoughts. First, any dad in a position to do something like that for his kid and make her dream come true would jump at it. Second, boy, she’s not very good.
The first part remains true. The second, not so much. Keith has matured into a solid singer, with a wide range. And, like her dad, she’s evolved into a songwriter capable of not just tugging at heartstrings, but playing them like a puppetmaster.
That is most true on a song she wrote to surprise her father at her own wedding four years ago, “Daddy Dance With Me.”
“He tried not to cry,” Keith said in a telephone interview from Nashville. “He talked through the whole thing because he was in shock.
“My pastor announced that I would be dancing to a special song I wrote for him,” Krystal said. Her words to the old man? “Yeah, you’re not the only songwriter in the family.
“I think the fact that I went out on my own and got it recorded behind his back showed him, ‘yeah, you can do this without me,”’ Krystal said.
The best part is that her first album, “Whiskey & Lace,” proves that the song wasn’t fluke. From top to bottom, it’s filled with good, catchy country songs. It’s much better than the average debut album.
“It was pretty amazing,” Krystal said. “We were in the studio for three years doing it. Every time I walked into the studio and saw the amazing musicians – Mac McAnally playing guitar!
“I always watched these guys play on my dad’s records,” she said. “I kind of had to pinch myself and remind myself how blessed I am.”
Most of the songs have a common denominator – the last name of the author or co-author.
“That was probably one of the first pieces of advice I got from him as a mentor,” Krystal said of her father. “I was 9 and he saw a little bit of creative writing potential. He doesn’t mind people singing other people’s songs, but he likes the singer to be the writer.”
Ergo, those writing credits.
“On my album, he wrote a few, I wrote a few and we pulled some from other artists,” she said.
A particular favorite on the album – aside from the cut of what’s become THE wedding song for country fans – is a tune called “Beautiful Weakness,” which features Toby, who co-produced the album with Mark Wright, in an unfamiliar role: background vocalist.
“I was in recording some other stuff and he said, ‘Let’s see what this sounds like having me do the background vocals,”’ she said. “When the track was finished I got to hear it all the way, well, every single time I hear it, it gives me chills.
“You can hear the family harmonies, that we’re related,” she said. “I love that he got to kind of make a cameo.”
He made a cameo in other ways, too. One of the songs on the album is a cover of Toby’s “Cabo San Lucas.” In his version, it’s a rowdy drinking song. When she does it, it’s almost a lament.
One of the best songs is the title cut, which is about a stripper doing what she can to make the cash to feed her family. And in true Keith family form, Krystal is one of the co-writers.
Nobody’s naïve enough to say that Toby didn’t grease the skids a bit for his daughter, but he didn’t make it THAT easy, either. He required her to finish college – the University of Oklahoma, of course. And that might have been his biggest favor.
“If I would have started my career at 18, the album certainly wouldn’t have any of the depth you would see from me today,” she said. “An 18-year-old just doesn’t have the life experience you need to write a deep, meaningful song.”
And you need deep, meaningful songs to be an opening act . . . or a headliner.