In his first interview since he revealed his stomach cancer diagnosis in June, Toby Keith took a measured, but optimistic, long view of his future and eventual return to the road.

"I'm thinking about getting back to fightin' shape," the singer explains to CMT Hot 20 Countdown's Cody Alan. "I need a little bit of time to just rest up and heal up."

It was a reiteration of the message he shared with fans when he announced his initial diagnosis, at which point he revealed that he had been diagnosed in the fall of 2021, and had that he'd spent the subsequent six months "receiving chemo, radiation and surgery." At that point, Keith said that he needed time to recuperate, but that eventually, he was optimistic about being able to get back out on stage performing for fans.

Now, several months later in his cancer journey, Keith still sees a bright future on the horizon.

"It's pretty debilitating to have to go through all that, but as long as everything stays hunky-dory, then we'll look at something good in the future," he continues.

Though Keith has had a quieter year than usual, there have been a couple of bright spots for the singer and his fans. Earlier in November, while visiting Lexington for the 2022 Breeder's Cup, Keith popped onstage for a mini-set at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse. Just days later, he received the prestigious BMI Icon Award at the 2022 BMI Country Awards in Nashville, delivering a gratitude-filled, 12-minute acceptance speech and watching stars like Eric Church and Carrie Underwood perform in tribute to him and his music.

"When we were in the middle of it and doing all that stuff and building that catalog, we didn't know what we were accomplishing. We just had our heads down ... working," Keith explains in his new CMT Hot 20 Countdown interview, speaking about the long career that has led him to accolades such as the BMI Icon Award.

"The songwriting stuff was always the most important to me," he continues, adding that he first came to Nashville hoping that other artists would cut his songs. Soon, he became an artist himself. "In the end, it all worked out the best it could've."

50 Classic Country Artists Today’s Fans Should Know

Today's country music stars owe a debt of gratitude to the legends who formed and cultivated the genre, starting in the early 20th century. These 50 classic country artists remain relevant today. Some developed a style that's emulated on today's country radio. Others set a bar for vocal talent or songwriting skill.

This list of 50 influential classic country artists features country music singers who started their careers before 1990. It's ranked by each artist's current influence on the country music format today, not individual, lifelong impact. Tell us where we got it right or wrong on Twitter.

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