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Toby Keith: How do you like him now?

By Ross Raihala

Knight Ridder Newspapers

In a career that has already seen him play the boozy troublemaker, a Ford truck pitchman and the outspoken patriot, Toby Keith has two new roles on tap for 2006: record-label mogul and movie star.

The 44-year-old Oklahoma native whose motto is "How Do You Like Me Now?" is starting the year, and his new Show Dog Records label, with a bang.

"None of the Nashville labels think I'm going to make it," said Keith during a phone interview. "But I feel very confident about my new label, because I'm signed as the first act. And as long as I continue to sell records, the label is going to be outstanding."

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Rebellious underdog is yet another side of Keith's public persona. He spent the '90s as a mid-level hat act who publicly battled with his record label over creative control. After leaving in a huff, he signed on with the new DreamWorks Nashville and released a series of albums that transformed him into one of the genre's major players.

Radio-friendly singles like "Who's Your Daddy?" and "I Love This Bar" helped him cross over into the mainstream consciousness. But it was his controversial 2002 hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (the Angry American)" that made him a household name.

Just when Keith seemed unstoppable, DreamWorks Nashville closed shop and was absorbed by the company Keith had abandoned in 1999. After last year's "Honkytonk University," Keith decided it was time to strike out on his own.

"There were a lot of reports I was just huffing and puffing and trying to renegotiate my contract, but that was never my intention," he said. "It was always my intention to open my own record label.

"These labels have big budgets, and they have to spend those budgets to justify getting that much money again next year. So they may get $10 million and (waste) $8 million of it. I figure if they can blow all that money unnecessarily and still make a profit on my record sales, how much can I make if I really strip it down and run it like a smart business?"

He's about to find out. Due out in April, "White Trash With Money" will be Keith's first album for his own Show Dog Records label. He's also set to release a single from his longtime friend, collaborator and current tourmate, Scotty Emerick. Keith has more projects in the hopper, too.

Then there's the whole movie thing. His deal with Paramount Pictures kicks off later this year with the release of a feature (working title: "Broken Bridges") in which Keith stars alongside Kelly Preston and Burt Reynolds.

"I saw a 90-second trailer for the movie the other night, and it was really breathtaking to me. It was such a good experience, we've already agreed to do another one, and I'm writing the script. It's something I think I can have some fun with. Now, I can really do whatever I want to."

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