“Do you have birthdays in Australia?” the songwriter asked Keith Urban as they chatted together at a party.
“No we don’t,” Urban replied with tempered sarcasm. “That’s a uniquely American tradition.”
Americans may not know much about Australians, but more than half a million of them know that they like Urban. To celebrate that fact, Capitol Records threw Urban a “gold party” Thursday (June 21), at Nashville’s trendy Six Degrees restaurant.
Released in October 1999, Urban’s self-titled album had actually reached the 500,000 gold sales level in April, Capitol president Mike Dungan told partygoers. But he said Urban had been too busy [touring with Brooks & Dunn‘s “Neon Circus & Wild West” troupe] to have time for a celebration until now.
Among the hundreds on hand to applaud Urban’s achievement were artists Steve Wariner, Chris Cagle and Susan Ashton, Country Music Association chief Ed Benson, Grand Ole Opry Group president Steve Buchanan, former Arista Records president Tim DuBois, former Atlantic Records president Barry Coburn, Garth Brooks‘ brother and co-manager Kelly Brooks and Bluebird Café owner Amy Kurland.
Wariner, who co-wrote Urban’s current single, “Where the Blacktop Ends,” presented the artist a copy of the new model of his signature Takamine guitar. He said he knew of Urban’s guitar prowess long before he met him. It was a memorable first encounter, Wariner told the crowd. A very distracted Urban, whose equipment had been lost, was preparing to do a show with a borrowed guitar, Wariner says, when he walked up behind him. “I said, ‘Do you want me to tune that damn thing for you?’ Without turning around, he gave me a short answer, the last word of which was ‘you.’”
Dungan said that when he took over the reins at Capitol, he asked the staff to write, anonymously, their “honest assessment” of every artist on the roster. “One of the things I came away with,” he continued, “was that this staff honestly loved Keith Urban.” Dungan said he did not mean to “bash the previous regime too much” but that “this record was never set up right. It was set up to fail. This record should be platinum.” Pat Quigley preceded Dungan at the Capitol helm.
When Urban spoke to the crowd, he thanked Quigley for allowing him to use Matt Rollings as his co-producer for the album. Calling Rollings his “right spiritual guide,” Urban added, “We’re both very headstrong people, and we didn’t have a single disagreement.”
Dungan predicted great succcess for Urban. “Radio generally accepts Keith as the next superstar,” he said. So far, the album has produced one No. 1 hit, “But for the Grace of God,” and the chart singles “It’s a Love Thing,” “Your Everything” and the still-climbing “Where the Blacktop Ends.”
Meeting with reporters before the party, Urban said he was excited about receiving his first gold album. “It’s one of those things you always see in somebody else’s office. … There’s a part of me that expected this to come sooner.”
He spoke of the psychological similarities between Australians and American “country folk,” noting that both may appear distant and even arrogant. “It’s just because they’re guarded about their hearts.”
He admitted he feared being misperceived and stereotyped by his fellow artists on this year’s tour but that he ended up fitting in quite well. He said they routinely get together now and jam between concerts.
Citing his conversation with the songwriter about birthdays as an example of cultural misunderstanding, Urban said some of his clashes with Americans in the music business have been even more unsettling. “If you do something different,” he observed, “they’ll think it’s ignorance, not originality.”
Asked about his musical influences, Urban reeled off the names of Don Williams, Merle Haggard, Glen Campbell, Vince Gill, Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. He noted that many of his models were great guitar players who made their reputations as singers.
While he acknowledged that his songs may arouse speculation about what’s going on in his personal life, Urban said he’s not really aware of this possibility when he’s writing and recording. “It’s not until you hear your song on the radio that you feel like you’ve run out of the house without any clothes on.”