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Toby Keith featured on the cover of Forbes' "Celebrity 100" issue

by Brandy McDonnell Modified: June 27, 2013 at 12:35 am •  Published: June 26, 2013

Oklahoma country music superstar and business mogul Toby Keith is featured on the cover of Forbes’ July 15 issue, which includes the publication’s annual “Celebrity 100″ power ranking.

The extensive article, titled “Toby Keith, Cowboy Capitalist: Country’s $500 Million Man,” details the Norman resident’s many business ventures, including his Wild Shot mezcal line, his longtime partnership with Ford Trucks, growing I Love This Bar and Grill restaurant chain and his partial ownership of the Big Machine Records label.

In addition, the Moore-bred megastar serves as principal of his Show Dog Universal and has written the vast majority of his many hit songs, as noted in this excerpt:

Keith’s commercial chops, overlaying a wide patriotic appeal, have created the most vertically integrated performer in the music business–and a one-man cash machine. FORBES estimates that Keith pulled in $65 million over the last 12 months–more than any musician not named Madonna, Lady Gaga or Bon Jovi, and easily outpacing masters of product extension like Jay-Z ($42 million), Beyoncé ($53 million) and Jennifer Lopez ($45 million).

The long-term figures are even more impressive. Over the past five years, FORBES estimates, Keith has never earned less than $48 million in a year. His cumulative take over that period: $270 million. Over his entire career–Keith has written a No. 1 country hit every year for the past two decades–his total earnings surpass $500 million.

The in-depth feature details Keith’s start in the Oklahoma oilfields and traces how he became a music and business superstar. Founding his own Show Dog Nashville label in 2005 was a pivotal moment in more ways that one:

Keith decided to share staff with another nascent label, Big Machine, run by an up-and-comer named Scott Borchetta. The singer bought a building in Nashville to house both labels. And rather than just operate like a co-op, Keith paid $400,000 for a stake in Big Machine that FORBES estimates remains around 10%.

It was one of the great investments in recent music history. Borchetta went on to sign Rascal Flatts, Tim McGraw and, most notably, Taylor Swift. Now Keith gets paid whenever Swift does. “Toby’s a really smart businessman,” says Borchetta, who knows because “I send him checks.” How big are the checks that Swift generates for him? “I know there’s an extra comma,” smiles Keith, “if you added up all the money I’ve ever made.”

From his unapologetically patriotic lyrics to his advocacy of the top-selling fried bologna sandwich on his restaurant chain’s menu, the article makes it clear that one of the keys to Keith’s success is his understanding of his audience.  As the article puts, he’s also “calibrated for maximum synergy”:

The mezcal was the last piece in a pretty tight puzzle. He plans to have 26 restaurants up and running by the end of this year, each serving Wild Shot and each with its own music stage featuring new acts from Keith’s label. “I can put them on that 30-city tour. I don’t have to look for a place to play. It’s cost-effective as crap,” says Keith. “They’re in Toby’s house. They’re drinking Toby’s liquor. That’s Toby’s act. And then we’re moving to the next town.”

Interesting tidbits: Keith owns the swanky Belmar Golf Club as well as a Lear 60 airplane that is painted in crimson and cream in honor of his beloved Oklahoma Sooners. Click here to read the full Forbes feature on the Clinton native.

The article also briefly mentions a couple of his charitable projects, including his under-construction OK Kids Korral lodge for Oklahoma children seeking cancer treatment at OU Health Sciences Center and his July 6 Oklahoma Twister Relief Concert at the OU stadium. The show, which also features Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Ronnie Dunn, Sammy Hagar and more, benefits The United Way Of Central Oklahoma May Tornado Relief Fund.

Keith and his $65 million in the past year ranks No. 43 on the actual “Celebrity 100.” Fellow Oklahoma country music superstar Carrie Underwood, who hails from Checotah, is listed at No. 46 with $31 million in the past year.

The top 10 on this year’s list: Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Steven Spielberg, Beyonce, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Roger Federer, Justin Bieber and Ellen DeGeneres. Click here to read the full list.


by Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Reporter
Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1...
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