By CAROL COMEGNO
Red, white and blue words rang out over the battleship USS New Jersey Tuesday night when country music star Toby Keith sang his controversial patriotic hit record to promote the release of his latest album.
A crowd of about 500 responded wildly as Keith played his guitar and sang "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," standing on an upper deck of the historic ship. It is the lead song in his new album, Unleashed, which was released Tuesday.
Keith, Country Music Awards male vocalist of the year, told the crowd on the pier along the city waterfront he wrote the song for his deceased father, an Army veteran, as a patriotic American. He also said later in interviews he was angered and frustrated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as many Americans were.
He said he disregards the recent criticism of the song by television anchor Peter Jennings, a Canadian, and because his public, whom he calls his "big dog warrior fans," like it.
Jennings had said the phrase "we'll put a boot in your a--," referring to Osama bin Laden, was too controversial and might be objectionable to some. His remarks apparently prompted ABC-TV to cancel Keith's planned performance July Fourth on an Independence Day celebration it was airing.
Fans Bill Coe and his wife, Teri, of Cinnaminson, like most others in the audience, loved the song and had no problems with the words.
"Toby Keith is down-to-earth like real people. Even my mom and dad listen to the song," said Bill Coe, 42, a state corrections officer.
Leslie Daniels, 38, a fan from Northeast Philadelphia, who wore a cowgirl hat, said she adores the song because it begins with words about family togetherness.
"The words to that song are rather tame compared to some of the sitcoms ABC has on, wouldn't you say?" she said.
Thunder cracked as Camden Mayor Gwendolyn Faison presented Keith the key to the city and he began the song. Later, it rained as he stood on the ship's deck signing autographs for hundreds of fans.
The battleship was chosen for the event by Philadelphia country music station WXTU-FM because it is a patriotic symbol, said station disc jockey Cadillac Jack.
Scott Borchetta, senior executive of promotion for recording company Dreamworks of Nashville, said the company wanted to kick off the album in the Washington, D.C., area and Philadelphia.
Keith said he was amazed at the size of the 887-foot-long ship.
He said not know anything about the historic ship until earlier Tuesday when he was a guest on the Oliver North radio talk show.
"He was telling me how the guns fired from the ship saved him and his unit when they were fighting in Vietnam. That was something," Keith said.
Reach Carol Comegno at (609) 267-9486 or firstname.lastname@example.org