This morning at about 4:30 am, I received a text from my morning show partner, Paul Shea, that Toby Keith had passed away on Monday, February 5th, 2024.

The passing of country music star Toby Keith, (Toby Keith Covel), hit me hard; as Toby represented to me a person who shared a journey that I also was on; writing songs, singing my heart out, and struggling to make it in 'Crazy Town;' Nashville, Tennessee in the 1990's.

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Following this man's journey through the years, I will always be touched by his perseverance.

I remember being in Nashville Tennesee, after one of my first big sessions recording there. We were having breakfast at Shoney's restaurant close to Music Row, and when we were leaving, someone was setting up a concert in the park around the corner.

I remember looking at the singer, who didn't look any too happy to be doing the pop-up show; but he performed for a full hour before disappearing backstage; probably in a hurry to head off to his next show. That singer was Toby Keith.

The years between 1993 through 1998 were a whirlwind for me. I was singing, writing music, rehearsing, recording, running back and forth to Nashville, raising a young child, working radio, and trying to get a record deal.

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I was lucky enough to have a man visit a club in Kenova, West Virginia who was willing to invest in my career. He updated our home studio to have the best equipment we could work with, and we recorded an album there. We then went to Tennessee, where a man named Paul Martin, added his talents of harmony vocals, instrumentation and a few of his talented friends like Chris Golden, (William Golden's son from the Oakridge Boys) who played mandolin, and drums and sang harmonies as well on my project.

James Prater, who had an office on Music Row, presented my album to Norro Wilson, who opted to take me under his wing. He had worked with country greats Shania Twain, and Kenny Chesney, who were all fairly new at the time.

My dreams were all coming true; until I lost my voice. Trying to play shows four nights a week in smoky bars, staying up til the wee hours of the morning driving my bandmates home,  and trying to care for my young child was too much for my vocal cords to handle.

My record deal lasted about three months; when we discovered that my vocal chords were not going to heal in a timely fashion.

I was devastated. The band continued without me, and I had to quit radio. I couldn't talk long enough to keep a sentence together without it breaking up. I started a career in banking at Bank of the Mountains in West Liberty. During that time, I had two more children, who are the light of my world.

I continued to watch Toby Keith's career and I sort of lived my dream by watching him succeed time and time again. Just when it appeared that a Greatest Hits album was going to be released, he released a new album. When he was at an award ceremony and won Album of the Year for "How Do You Like Me Now," I was elated! It was like he had won that for me; for all the people who try; who might be down on their luck, but don't give up.

Gradually over the years, I slowly started getting my voice back. I was able to sing to my little ones, and shortly before I moved back to Minnesota, I started playing music again with friends in Kentucky. Now I perform monthly at various locations, and a thankful for that hope in watching Toby succeed in his career. He always gave me a feeling that whatever I go through, there's a way out. Just keep reaching.

My mother passed away from cancer a few years ago; and when I found out that Toby Keith also had a similar cancer, it again hit close to home.

Watching him push through, scheduling concerts in December, 0f 2023, and putting up a big fight; he is an inspiration; just like my mother; to me.

It's hard to believe that he is no longer with us, but I will continue to look back at his career and life for inspiration.

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