By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE (Reuters) - Country music artist Toby Keith does not just want his fans to listen to his music. He wants them to drive his truck, drink his mezcal liquor, eat his food and bet on his race horses.
With estimated earnings of $53 million over the past year, Keith has built an unlikely empire through investments and endorsements in music labels, Wild Shot mezcal, race horses, Ford trucks and a southern food restaurant chain.
"I have 30 to 40 opportunities a year, but there's no way I'm going to endorse it just for the money. I get to be very choosey and selective. I have a great business team around me," Keith told Reuters.
It is a glimpse into the world of an artist Forbes called in 2013 "Country's $500 Million Man."
This year, the magazine estimated Keith's annual earnings placed him only behind country singer Garth Brooks' $90 million and pop singer Taylor Swift's $80 million. Keith even earns from Swift's revenue because of his stake in Nashville music label Big Machine Records.
But the core of his empire comes down to his music, and the loyal fan base he has built since his debut self-titled album in 1993.
At 54, Grammy-nominated Keith is onto his 18th studio album, the laid-back and often nostalgic record "35 MPH Town," due out Oct. 9.
The title track of the same name, a nod to the road speed limits of America's suburban and rural towns, was influenced by Keith, an Oklahoma native, and fellow song-writer Bobby Pinson reflecting on how things have changed since their childhoods.
Another track, "Rum is the Reason," infuses Caribbean island vibes, courtesy of singer Jimmy Buffet's Coral Reefer Band.
"I wanted the real steel drums, the whole thing about the Caribbean sound. That beat just makes you want to go out and drink something. It's festive," Keith said.
With more than 20 years in the music industry, Keith knows his fan base well and is not fazed by newcomers who may be vying for a stake in country music. He welcomes them.
"You won't hear me doing what they're doing, but you won't hear me being one of those guys saying, 'This ain't country,'" he said.
"There's two things I swore I'd never do: Mistreat an opening act and complain about the new generation. Let them do their thing."
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Cynthia Osterman)