Fightin’ Words: Robert Earl Keen v. Toby Keith
Keen calls out the more mainstream country star, saying Keith "borrowed" from his most famous song, "The Road Goes on Forever."
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When TEXAS MONTHLY talked to Robert Earl Keen about his new album last fall, the Bandera songwriter was relatively coy about the song “The Road Goes On and On,” which appears to be directed at Toby Keith, whose 2010 hit “Bullets in the Gun” sounds pretty similiar to Keen’s eternal (and oft-covered) classic “The Road Goes on Forever,” both melodically and lyrically.
Among some of Keen’s lyrics from “The Road Goes On and On” include:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox (you’ll have to Google that) . . .
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
(An obvious reference to Keith’s song with Willie Nelson, “Beer for My Horses.”)
In the interview with Jeff McCord, Keen acknowledged that the song was about Keith, but said:
Well, it’s kind of difficult to talk about, you know? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song. We’ll just have to see what happens.
Now Keen is out on tour, with a date in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Mike Voorheis of the Wilmington Star-News got him to be a bit more blunt about it:
It’s not exactly 50 Cent vs. The Game, but Keen, who will play the Brooklyn Arts Center on Wednesday, Feb. 1, pulls no punches when he talks about Keith. Keen believes Keith stole the melody from his song “Road Goes on Forever” for Keith’s 2010 tune “Bullets in the Gun.” As soon as Keith’s song was released, Keen’s fans rose up in protest.
“I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do?'” Keen said during a phone interview last week.
So Keen responded the best way he knew. He wrote a song.
In “The Road Goes On and On,” he doesn’t mention Keith by name but he refers to his “goldilocks” and says his “horse is drunk and your friends got tired.” In the song, he calls Keith a fraud and sings, “I never liked you anyway.”
When asked if “The Road Goes On and On” was written for Toby Keith, Keen cleverly turns the question.
“I didn’t write it for him to sing it, I can tell you that,” he said.
And did it make him feel better?
“Absolutely,” Keen said. “I did feel like I had to say something. I had to do something.”
Keen also told Voorheis that Nashville’s biggest stars feel like they can “borrow and steal and bully people around. I hate it.”
Here’s Keith’s song:
And here’s Robert Earl playing both “The Road Goes On and On” and “The Road Goes On Forever:”