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Toby Keith Talks Song Choices for ‘Salute the Troops’ TV Special

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Toby Keith All-Star Salute To The Troops

Marine Lt. Col. Mike Corrado (L) and Toby Keith perform onstage during ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute To The Troops (Ethan Miller/Getty Images for ACM)

By Kurt Wolff

When Toby Keith was asked to perform during tonight’s television special ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops, the producers wanted him to pull out something unique. So he turned not to his catalog of hits, but to a collection of songs he’d been performing for the armed forces during his many years of USO tours.

“I have a bunch of material that I’d written over the last 11 years that I only perform for the troops,” Keith explained in an interview this morning (May 20) with CBS Chicago’s US99.5. “They’re little funny songs, but some of them are kinda dirty, and some of them are locker room. And I didn’t really have any venue to play them at over here [on U.S. shores].”

Gallery: See photos from the CBS-TV special ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops

Keith said that the producers already knew they wanted him to perform his hit “American Soldier” with members of the military. But, he said, they told him that they also wanted him to bring out one of the songs from his USO tours.

“I got a song called ‘Call a Marine.’ It’s kinda dirty, but…they said, ‘if you clean it up just a little bit, we’ll let you do it, and we want you to do it with this Marine.'” The Marine in question turned out to be Lt. Col. Mike Corrado.

“And he killed it, man,” Keith said about the performance. “I sang the verses, and then this guy took over and sang the choruses.” The show was taped last month in Las Vegas, and it airs tonight (May 20) at 9pm ET/PT on CBS.

The whole idea behind songs like “Call a Marine,” Keith explained, was to create an experience for the troops that was unique and special to their experiences. “They already know ‘I Love This Bar’ and ‘Beer for My Horses’ and ‘Shoulda Been a Cowboy,'” he said. “But let’s do something that’s written specifically for them.”

For instance, he brings up a song called “Ballad of Balad” that he says “is about an Army recruiter lying” to a new potential recruit. “He’s telling him, ‘You’re going to see the world, you’re going to get a job and a trade.’ And then first day over there he’s in combat. ‘You never told me I’d get my tail shot at!'”

Keith says that songs like this go over extremely well during USO tours. “They love those humorous kind of things that make fun of them but still them up on pedestals.”

Related: Watch country artists ‘Salute the Troops’ during May 20 TV special

At the end of the show, the tables are turned and it’s Keith who is honored. He’s presented with the Spirit of the USO Award, thanking him for the more than 200 shows he’s played for the troops overseas during the past 11 years.

“Yeah, that was a little bit of a surprise,” Keith admitted. “That was very nice of them, but that doesn’t count up to what the real military does.”

ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops airs tonight (May 20) at 9pm ET/PT on CBS.

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