The real story behind the song, “Beer For My Horses”

By on September 1, 2023

If you are a fan of country music, you might have heard the song “Beer for My Horses” by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson. The song is a catchy tune that celebrates the idea of frontier justice and vigilante action against criminals. But do you know the story behind the song? How did Toby Keith come up with the title and the lyrics? And how did he convince Willie Nelson to join him on the duet? Here’s a brief history of one of the most popular country songs of the 2000s.

File Photo: Toby Keith in Indianapolis in September, 2013. Used with Permission. (Photo Credit: Larry Philpot)

The origin of the song goes back to Toby Keith’s childhood, when he used to work at rodeos in Oklahoma. He recalled that some of the cowboys would carry flasks of whiskey in their back pockets and toast each other before drinking. One of the toasts they would say was “whiskey for my men, beer for my horses”. Keith thought that was a cool phrase and stored it in his memory for later use.

Years later, when he was working on his seventh studio album, Unleashed, he decided to write a song based on that phrase. He envisioned a scenario where a group of lawmen would chase down some outlaws and hang them from a tree, then celebrate their victory with drinks for themselves and their horses. He called his friend and fellow country singer Scotty Emerick to help him with the melody and the lyrics. They came up with the chorus:

Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singin’ whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

Keith wanted to make the song a duet with another country legend, Willie Nelson. He thought Nelson would be perfect for the part of the Texas ranger who joins the posse. But he didn’t know how to approach him or if he would agree to do it. Luckily, he got a chance to meet him after a show in Alabama, where Nelson invited him and Emerick to his tour bus, nicknamed The Honeysuckle Rose.

They spent the night on the bus, smoking weed with Nelson and playing him some songs. Keith played him “Beer for My Horses” and asked him if he would sing on it. Nelson liked the song and agreed to do it. He also suggested some changes to the lyrics, such as adding the line “We got too much corruption, too much crime in the streets” to the second verse.

The next day, Keith and Emerick were exhausted and high from the “really good stuff” that Nelson had. Emerick even wrote another song inspired by their experience, called “Weed with Willie”, which was about how they would never smoke weed with Willie again because it was too strong. Of course, they didn’t keep that promise and smoked with him many more times.

The song was recorded in 2002 and released as a single in 2003. It became a huge hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for six weeks and #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also won an Academy of Country Music Award for Video of the Year in 2004. The music video featured Keith, Nelson, and actor Corin Nemec as detectives hunting down a serial killer in Los Angeles. The song also made Willie Nelson the oldest person to ever score a #1 hit, at age 70.

The song also inspired a movie of the same name in 2008, starring Keith and Nelson as well as Rodney Carrington, Ted Nugent, Tom Skerritt, and Barry Corbin. The movie was a comedy about two small-town deputies who go on a road trip to deliver a prisoner to Texas. The movie was not very well received by critics or audiences, but it did feature some cameo appearances by other country stars like Mel Tillis and Mac Davis.

The song remains one of Toby Keith’s most popular and recognizable songs. It has been covered by several artists, such as Colt Ford, Trace Adkins, and Sammy Hagar. It has also been used in various media, such as an episode of Lethal Weapon in 2016. However, it has also caused some controversy over its lyrics that seem to endorse lynching and violence. In 2021, U.S. Representative Chip Roy of Texas quoted a line from the song during a hearing about anti-Asian hate crimes, sparking backlash from many people who found it inappropriate.

Despite its controversial aspects, “Beer for My Horses” is still a catchy and fun song that celebrates the friendship between Toby Keith and Willie Nelson and their love for country music. It is also a tribute to the old western movies and stories that influenced them. If you want to learn more about the song, you can check out these sources:

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