What does it say that the three top-earning country acts aren't up for the CMA's top honor?
"It's completely ridiculous," says Keith, who hasn't received a single CMA nomination since the year he opened his Show Dog Records label. "Know this: They can't fix it for me. Nothing's going to change on my end. That went away a long time ago. I got kicked in the beans a long time ago. I can forgive a lot, but I don't ever forget. There's some people in there that didn't have anything to do with it running [the CMA] now, but there's always going to be some people around there that had something to do with it. And they can all kiss my ass, because I am not a player. But I hope that we don't go down in vain, that at least it will help somebody in the future. It doesn't help our industry to have politics in it, you know? It doesn't help our industry to let our fans go, 'What in the hell?'
"You wouldn't believe how many FCMA signs you see at my shows. My fans hate the CMA. They won't support it. They won't watch their show. And they hold up signs and T-shirts all the time that have the letters FCMA on them."
By now, Keith has become accustomed to the CMA snubs, but what would he say to the members of Rascal Flatts, a perennial Vocal Group of the Year winner as well as one of the top-selling and top-drawing acts in the country genre right now?
"I happen to know those guys," Keith says. "They came out on my first headlining tour. I even brought them up at the end of my show, during the encore, and let them perform with me. I believed in those guys. Those guys came from where I came from, as far as their background and how hard they work, their work ethic. They're old friends of mine, and they always will be.
"But I don't have to tell them nothing I haven't told them all along."
If you're an arena-headlining country singer who's getting no love from the industry, don't expect much sympathy from Keith. After all, between 2002 and 2004, Keith received a total of 25 CMA nominations, and he went home empty-handed. Keith recalls Kenny Chesney coming to his bus once after a tough night at an awards show.
"He's got a tear in his eye, and he's emotional," Keith says. "He's so mad – and I'm not going to tell you what he said about his record label, but he was hot. I said, 'How many were you nominated for tonight?' He said, 'Two.' I said, 'How many were you nominated for last year?' He said, 'One.' 'How many the year before that?' 'Two.' I said, 'You're -- what? -- one for five?' He goes, 'Yeah.'
"I said, 'Dude, you're preaching to the choir here. You need to go bitch to the people who can fix it. You can't come over here on my bus and expect to get any sympathy from me.' So we drank a little bit, finished a bottle off, and then he wrote a whole bunch of nasty stuff on the bottle with a Sharpie, signed it, we dated it and everything. I said, 'Just don't support them! Don't let them exploit you!'"