Singer and songwriter
Addresses: Contact—c/o Flood Bumstead Mc-Cready & McCarthy, PO Box 331549, Nashville, TN 37206.
Began playing guitar at age of six; won country music talent shows beginning at the age of eight; formed a band in Australia, 1988; moved to Nashville, TN, 1992; formed the Ranch (three-piece band), 1995; with the Ranch, signed record deal with Capitol Nashville; released The Ranch, 1997; released solo album, Keith Urban, 2000; toured with Brooks & Dunn's Neon Circus, 2001; released Golden Road, 2002; had two number-one singles from Golden Road: "Somebody Like You" and "Who Wouldn't Want to Be Me"; released Be Here, 2004; Golden Road was certified triple platinum in the United States, c. 2005.
Awards: Westpac starmaker award, Tamworth Country Music Festival, 1990; Horizon award, Country Music Association, 2001; new male vocalist award, Academy of Country Music, 2001; best male vocalist award, Academy of Country Music, 2001; album of the year award, Academy of Country Music, for Keith Urban, 2001; male vocalist of the year award, Country Music Association, 2004; album of the year award, Academy of Country Music, for Be Here, 2005; top male vocalist award, Academy of Country Music, 2005; album of the year award, Academy of Country Music, for Be Here, 2005; entertainer of the year award, Country Music Association, 2005; male vocalist of the year award, Country Music Association, 2005; best country album, Australian Recording Industry Assocation, 2005; Grammy award for best male country vocal performance, Recording Academy, for "You'll Think of Me," 2005; video of the year, Country Music Television Awards, for "Better Life," 2006; international artist achievement award, Country Music Association; Golden Guitar Award, best male vocalist and best instrumentalist.
Australian-raised Keith Urban became a break-out country singer in his native country before coming to the United States in the early 1990s to try his luck in Nashville, Tennessee. After briefly working with his band the Ranch, Urban found success as a country solo artist by the end of the 1990s and was poised to become an international country superstar in the early 2000s. His first three solo albums sold nearly six million copies in six years. Describing his appeal, Bruce McMahon of Sunday Telegraph Magazine wrote, "He is the complete package, a cowboy punk with style and substance. He's a songwriter who not only sings with conviction, but entertains and plays a mean guitar."
Born in New Zealand in 1967, Urban was the second son of Bob and Marienne Urban. When Urban was two years old, he moved to Australia with his family, which included his older brother, Shane. Raised primarily in Caboolture, Brisbane, Australia, Urban's parents ran a convenience store. Music and American culture were part of family life. Urban's father's side of the family was musical. His father played the drums, while his paternal grandfather was a piano teacher. Both of his parents were fans of country music, exposing the young Urban to artists such as Dolly Parton, Jim Reeves, Glen Campbell, and Ricky Skaggs.
When Urban was four years old, his parents gave him a ukulele. He spent about two years learning chords and watching other people to pick up what he could. Urban graduated to guitar at the age of six, taking music lessons from a local teacher. Within a year, the young Urban wanted to be a country musician in Nashville. At the age of seven, he began performing with the Westfield Super Juniors, a group created to show off talented youngsters. Beginning at the age of eight, Urban won country music talent shows. Country music was his only real interest as a child. He felt most at home performing, but was quite quiet off stage.
By the time Urban was 14 years old, he was working with a band on a steady basis. Throughout his teen years, he played in clubs every weekend, with his parents driving him to his gigs. Of this point in his career, Urban told Sandra McLean in the Sunday Mail, "I had been playing for such a long time, it didn't seem odd of me to do this. I always seemed to get on well with older people. I never associated with people my own age at school. I spent a lot of time on my own." Urban quit school after the tenth grade and played in pubs throughout Queensland. When he was 17, he joined Rusty and the Ayers Rockettes and played with them for a time. Urban's family totally supported him.
Country was not his only musical influence as he aged. While still in his teens, he heard Dire Straits for the first time and memorized every note on every album by the band. Soon, this rock influence crept into Urban's country sound, primarily in his guitar solos. He also liked bands like AC/DC and Fleetwood Mac, and was particularly moved by John Mellencamp's 1987 album Lonesome Jubilee.
Urban formed his own three-piece band in 1988. The group played in bars in Brisbane, before touring all over Australia. Urban often sang covers of songs from a variety of genres. In 1990, he won the Westpac Starmaker Award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia, leading to his signing a record deal with EMI. In 1991, released his first record in Australia, Keith Urban. The album produced four number-one singles there. Urban compared his sound at the time to the Eagles—like country, but with a distinctive amount of rock and blues influence. He already had a distinctive look with spiked hair.
As Urban's career was developing in Australia, he began looking to the United States for his next move. He first visited the United States in 1990, then made songwriting trips in 1990, 1991, and 1992. Urban wanted to move there as soon as possible, but it took several years to get the visas he needed. Urban left his band behind in Australia and made his move in 1992. He knew going to Nashville was risky. He was quoted by the Sunday Mail's McLean as saying, "I knew I would be a little fish in a big sea, but that's the appeal. You have so many people you can learn from and play with. I want to get to that caliber of player and writer."
For the first few years in Nashville, Urban worked on his songwriting and took on odd jobs. He also formed a new band, the Ranch, with Peter Clarke, an Australian drummer, and Jerry Flowers, an American bass player, in 1995. Though Urban liked performing with the band, Americans were a little more unsure what to make of them. As Urban described it to Angela Pulvirenti in the Sunday Telegraph, "Because we (Peter and I) were raised on the Australian pub scene, our performances were raw and confronting. Nashville wasn't ready for someone who sweated on his guitar and threw it around the stage."
The Ranch played all over the United States, and their exciting live show soon attracted the attention of local Nashville labels. However, it took time for their take on country music, labeled alt country, to be fully accepted. The band signed a deal with Capitol Nashville and released an album in 1997. Though the record did not receive support from the label, critics embraced it. Urban soon had a number of personal issues. He developed problems with his vocal cords which did not allow him to sing for several months. Urban also had relationship difficulties and developed a taste for cocaine in 1997 because of his lack of success and loneliness. He later went through rehab for drug addiction. Urban told Pulvirenti of the Sunday Telegraph, "You do it so long and you become depressed, then you become disgusted, then you become terrified you're going to die. I know it sounds ridiculously simple, but I got to the point where I knew it wasn't me, and I just stopped."
As Urban made his way through these troubles, country music was changing and he felt his new songs were not appropriate for the Ranch. Urban told Deborah Evans Price of Billboard, "The songs were more personal. It didn't feel like a band record this time around. And creatively, I think, the band was getting to the point where it just didn't make any sense to continue on. Jerry was writing more R&B-type songs and was really wanting to pursue his own thing, so I thought this would be the perfect time for us to part ways and move on and look back at the Ranch as being a good, fun project."
The Ranch then broke up, though they later regrouped and recorded another album in 2004 that was also not a success. After the demise of the Ranch, Urban did not have problems finding work. While working on his own solo career, he appeared on the records of other leading country artists, including the Dixie Chicks (contributing to Fly) and Garth Brooks (contributing to Double Live). Urban decided to approach his own sound differently with the support of his label, now headed by Mike Dungan, who did not push Urban to be anything but himself.
Urban soon had his own deal with Capitol Nashville. He released his first American solo album, Keith Urban, in 1999. Though he did not look like a traditional country artist, Urban found himself embraced by the country faithful. Urban was marketed to attract an audience similar to the Dixie Chicks as well as build on the base he already had. He had a number-one single with "But for the Grace of God," which was written with two members of the all-girl pop group the Go-Gos. Urban told Michael A. Capozzoli, Jr., of the Chicago Sun-Times, "There are songs on the album about losing love, but not being beaten down or downtrodden by that loss. I try to see the light, even in the darkest circumstance." The album peaked at number 17 on the Top Country Albums chart and was certified gold.
Urban received more mainstream attention by joining the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus tour in early 2001. However, his rising star dimmed for a short amount of time when Urban had a brief relapse in his drug use and when he developed more vocal cord problems. Urban had a hemorrhage in his cords, but they healed when he took a break from singing. He rebounded by releasing a more successful album in 2002, Golden Road. The songs continued to reflect a positive attitude. Urban wrote or contributed to nearly all the songs on the album, and acted as its producer. He told Phyllis Stark of Billboard, "I have a few sides to me, like every artist does. I have the real romantic side, which is very genuine. And I have a very rough, unpolished, raw side. I was hoping we could achieve both on this album [and] cover the gamut of my personality."
The first single from the album, "Somebody Like You," was number one for six weeks on country charts. In 2003, another track from the album, "Who Wouldn't Want to Be Me," was also a number-one song. Golden Road went platinum in the United States, selling more than one million copies in 2002, was still in the top 20 on Billboard's "Top Country Albums" chart in 2004, and triple platinum by 2005.
By 2004, observers believed that Urban was on the verge of superstardom as one of the top country artists in the United States, if not the world. That year, he released Be Here on Capitol. The album was also produced by Urban, who wrote or co-wrote nine songs. Be Here debuted at number three on the album charts, and spent some time at number one. Urban also had a number-one song with "Days Go By." Barry Gilbert of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote of the album, "Urban's music is propelled by muscular, memorable hooks and melodies and is supported by his guitar and banjo, which percolates right up in the mix and is becoming his signature sound. [The songs] are overwhelmingly positive, celebrating living and loving in the moment and being accountable, without being preachy or pandering." Be Here was certified double platinum.
Urban reached a milestone in his career when he was named Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association in 2004. This huge honor was but one of many major awards given to Urban in 2004 and 2005. Tabloids began following Urban in this time period because of his relationship with actress Nicole Kidman, bringing Urban a whole new following. Yet Urban remained humble. Just before the release of Be Here, Urban told Billboard's Stark, "When I look at myself, I see the guy that's still struggling." He also looked at his career in a similar light, telling Stark, "When [success] starts happening, you keep viewing yourself as the guy trying to get there. I don't think that will ever change, because there will always be new horizons."
Keith Urban, EMI International, 1991.
The Ranch, WEA, 1997.
Keith Urban, Capitol Nashville, 1999.
Golden Road, Capitol/EMI, 2002.
In the Ranch, Liberty, 2004.
Be Here, Capitol, 2004.
Billboard, September 25, 1999; October 5, 2002, p. 44; May 29, 2004; September 25, 2004.
Chicago Sun-Times,October 31, 1999, p. 9.
Ottawa Citizen, September 20, 2003, p. J1. Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), June 8, 2001, p. 17; October 28, 2005, p. 8.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 2, 2004, p. 8.
San Diego Union-Tribune, December 8, 2005, p. 4.
Sunday Mail (Queensland, Australia), August 19, 1990; July 21, 1991; September 17, 1995; October 31, 2004.
Sunday Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), September 29, 2002, p. 4; January 1, 2006, p. 9.
Sunday Telegraph Magazine (Sydney, Australia), November 27, 2005, p. 1.
"Keith Urban," CMT.com, http://www.cmt.com/ artists/az/urban_keith/bio.jhtml (April 11, 2006).
"Keith Urban,Internet Movie Database, http:// www.imdb.com/name/nm1236707/ (April 11, 2006).
"Urban, Underwood tops at CMT Awards," CNN. com, http://www.cnn.com/2006/SHOWBIZ/ Music/04/11/cmt.awards.ap/index.html (April 11, 2006).