Toby Keith hatched a plan for remaining forever young — in spirit, at least — with his song “Don’t Let the Old Man In.” Keith recorded this slow-moving acoustic ballad that soundtracks a scene in Clint Eastwood’s American crime drama film, The Mule, in 2018.
The song was almost immediately lauded as one of the finest of his career. But did you know Keith wrote “Don’t Let the Old Man In” based on something Eastwood said to him in the middle of a golf tournament?
The Story Behind Toby Keith’s Dark Ballad
Two days before the legendary actor’s 88th birthday, Clint Eastwood shared a golf cart with Toby Keith at Eastwood’s charity tournament in Pebble Beach, California.
“We were playing golf,” Keith recalled, “and he was telling me about how he was getting ready to shoot this movie about an old man that ran drugs for the cartel, tried to help his family, and tried to help his community. And I told him, somebody said you have a birthday coming up Monday. And Clint said, ‘Yeah, on Monday I turn 88.’” Keith then asked him how he would celebrate it, and Eastwood revealed he would be spending his special day shooting his movie called The Mule.
Keith was surprised by Eastwood’s relentless energy. At his age and prominence, Eastwood could easily have retired. He no longer had to make or appear in films anymore. Keith wondered where that sort of energy comes from, what keeps him going.
“He said, ‘I just get up every day and don’t let the old man in,’” Keith continued. “And instantly, I wanted to write a song about that. So, I came home, wrote it, sent it to him, and now it’s in the movie.”
The legendary singer did his best to put himself in the shoes of somebody three decades older than him and envisioned the person’s spirit in the song “Don’t Let the Old Man In.”
“Don’t let the old man in. I wanna live me some more. Can’t leave it up to him. He’s knocking on my door. I knew all of my life. That someday it would end. Get up and go outside. Don’t let the old man in,” the song goes.
In what turned out to be one more stroke of serendipity, Keith was feeling unwell the day he was about to cut his demo. “I was sick as a dog that day. I was coughing and sneezing and thinking; this is terrible,” he remembered. “I gave it the best vocal I could that day, and I sent it off. It’s a real raspy, sleepy, tired, sick vocal. I said, ‘Well now you’ve got a reference, and I’ll go back and put a vocal on it for you.’”
Much to his surprise, Eastwood immediately called. “He said, ‘I’ve got a spot in the movie, and I’m putting it in there.’ And then Warner Bros. called asking did I read the script before I wrote this song because it fits perfectly.”
And to his even greater surprise, Eastwood did not want to change a single thing. “He wanted it sick and tired and dark like that,” Keith said. It turned out to be right in tune with that of the film.
Recently, as part of Keith’s ongoing Furniture Store Guitar Sessions — a series of videos made during this pandemic, where he played on an old guitar he randomly found at a furniture store in Mexico just before the lockdowns took effect — the video presented “Don’t Let the Old Man In” in a new light. You can watch it below.