Following the news of Toby Keith's death at the age of 62 on Feb. 5, 2024, many people are looking back at his enormous legacy in the world of country music. While his outspoken political views undoubtedly made him controversial, some people are highlighting one slightly unexpected way that he fundamentally transformed the world of music.
As it turns out, Toby was fairly instrumental in creating the supernova that is Taylor Swift. Here's what we know about the role Toby played in Taylor's discovery, and whether he was actually the one who signed her to her first recording contract.
Did Toby Keith sign Taylor Swift?
In 2005, Toby was already an established star, and Taylor was still just a high school girl with a guitar and a dream. It was also that year that Toby launched Show Dog Nashville, a record label that worked closely with former Dreamworks executive Scott Borchetta's label Big Machine Records.
“I would encourage people to think of this as one label with two A&R sources,” Scott said at the time
"Toby’s the lead act, and we’ve got an incredible opportunity with all the resources that he brings and the music that he loves and his vision for what he wants to do," Scott continued.
While Toby wasn't the one who signed Taylor (that was Scott), he was instrumental in launching the label that would ultimately propel her to stardom. At the time, Taylor said that her partnership with Toby had been key to her emerging from total obscurity.
“You’re in the room with him and you can feel it,” Taylor said when she was still just 15 years old. “There’s a power there and you’re just like ‘Oh my God!’ I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I don’t see him and go, ‘Oh my God, that’s Toby Keith!’ Most people find out what they are going to do when they are in college and that’s great, you know, but for me it just came a little earlier."
While the two labels eventually became more separate, Toby retained a stake in Big Machine Records, which meant that he made money off of Taylor's enormous success.
While Big Machine was instrumental in lifting Taylor up and transforming her into the star she became, it's also at the heart of one of the biggest controversies in her professional life.
Big Machine owned Taylor Swift's masters.
Taylor completed her contract with Big Machine in 2018, having released six albums with the company. After that, Scooter Braun purchased the company, and her original masters alongside it. This ultimately led to a public feud between Scooter and Taylor, and was the reason she decided to re-record her first six albums so that she could own the master tracks for them.
All of that's only tangentially related to Toby. What's most crucial, though, is the role his record label played in helping to get Taylor signed, and the role he seems to have personally played in mentoring her during the early, country-inflected stages of her career.