HOT TALK: Keith Urban’s Living the Good Life

So What's With That Old Jacket?

(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)

Keith Urban Talks About New Album, Tour, House
The day after his No. 1 party for “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” Keith Urban met with reporters in a conference room at Capitol Records to talk about his career. Dressed in jeans and a vintage corduroy jacket (see below), he spoke of his holiday and touring plans, songwriting, his next album and the house in Nashville he just bought. What he wouldn’t talk much about was the screening he’d just attended of the controversial new Mel Gibson movie, The Passion. Gibson himself had brought the movie to Nashville to show to an audience of carefully selected show-biz folks. Urban said Ricky Skaggs had invited him. The price of seeing the movie, Urban explained, was signing a form agreeing not to discuss its contents with the uninvited.

He said he was going to spend Christmas on the beach in Australia with his parents and recalled that his most memorable Christmas gift was a yellow Tonka truck he got when he was 6. “Those things last forever,” he marveled. In January, he said, he’ll be shooting the video for his new single, “You’ll Think of Me,” which deals with the pain of breaking up. “I’ve been the guy in that song,” he said. In February, he’ll begin recording his next album, again working with producer Dann Huff. Explaining his approach to recording, he said, “I always go for inspired attempt over soulless perfection.” He’s already started writing songs for the album and has lately co-written with John Shanks, Darrell Brown and Deana Carter. His song with Carter is called “Comin’ Home.” “I don’t know if it will make the record,” he mused, “but it’s definitely a contender.” He said he found it almost impossible to write when he’s on the road. Urban will team with Kenny Chesney again for a series of concerts in March and April.

After 11 years in Nashville, Urban has finally bought a house, the first he’s ever owned. In choosing his home, he said he asked himself, “Can I write songs here? Can I make music here?” He plans to build a studio in the house, which he describes as spacious, well illuminated by natural light and, best of all, sparsely furnished. “That [studio] will come before anything gets furnished,” he promised.

Keith Urban, Part II: The Jacket
I could easily imagine someone wearing a Keith Urban jacket, but, why, I asked myself, was Keith Urban sitting here at a press conference wearing a Daniel Nye jacket? Hearing no answer, I decided to put the question to Urban. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t really a Daniel Nye jacket. It was a blue corduroy Future Farmers of America jacket with Nye’s name stitched prominently across the right breast, just above two mysterious looking medals. “I found it in a thrift store and really loved it,” Urban told me, shuddering, I suspect, at the low estate to which entertainment journalism had fallen.

This is as good a place as any to confess that I have a nostalgic obsession with FFA apparel. You see, I was once an FFA lad myself, back in the days when plows were fashioned out of pointed sticks. In that innocent time, getting a new FFA jacket was tantamount to getting a girl — albeit briefly. It worked like this: There you’d be, strutting around in your newly-acquired finery, when a lass who had heretofore spurned you on every conceivable occasion would wiggle up and ask if she might wear your jacket for a while. Of course, she could. For this one delicious moment of contact, you would have gladly allowed her to shred it into pom-poms. Then she would slip the jacket on, roll the sleeves up to her exquisite elbows and prance away down the hall, leaving you stunned at your locker. It was almost like being engaged. Alas, the glamour of corduroy is finite. So by late afternoon she would have tossed your jacket back to you without comment and pivoted away forever, leaving the sleeves still rolled up and bearing just enough of her scent to incite some of the richest fantasies you would have for the rest of your life. But I digress. My subject was Urban’s jacket.

After the press conference was over, I edged up behind the singer and jotted down the name and the state of the FFA chapter Nye belonged to. (This information was inscribed in gold thread on the back of the jacket. It said “Gloucester” and “Virginia.”) That was all I needed. After a bit of Internet snooping, I located a Daniel Nye who lived in Deltaville, Va., on Chesapeake Bay. I phoned him and quickly confirmed that the jacket in question had once been his. He acknowledged he had heard of Keith Urban, knew he was from Australia and rather liked the song “Raining on Sunday.” Now 42 years old — he graduated from high school and the FFA in 1980 — Nye admitted that his musical tastes now run toward the singers he heard his parents listening to in his youth, cats like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. “Except for rap, I have an across-the-board enjoyment of music,” he said. Then he joked, “I like anything that’s not going to make me beat my wife.”

So how did this wonderful garment get away from him? “I’ve been carrying that foolish jacket around for 20-some years,” he said. “It’s funny I’d give it away now. I believe it would have gotten [to Urban] in the past year. We moved into a new house [and] decided we would look through our closets and not take anything extra that we didn’t want to move. We normally take anything like that to [one of the thrift shops operated to benefit] the King’s Daughters Children’s Hospital [in] Norfolk. & If he got it at a thrift store, it was probably somewhere in the Hampton Roads area — Norfolk or whatever. I don’t know if he played Richmond. It could have gone as far as there.” Nye remembered the medals stitched on the jacket and thought one of them might have been for public speaking. He couldn’t recall anything about the other. “I can’t believe I purged that jacket,” Nye continued, ” because it was such a personal item.” Said his wife, “This is hysterical. I’d like a picture of that.” Let the record show that neither Nye nor I had a future in farming. He’s a trim carpenter, and I ask famous people silly questions for a living.

Look For Tillman Tribute Early Next Year
Producer Tracy Pitcox tells Hot Talk that The Influence, his all-star tribute album to the late Floyd Tillman, is in its final stages of production and will be ready for release in January or February. Recorded shortly before the Country Music Hall of Fame songwriter’s death in August, the album pairs Tillman with such admirers as Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Connie Smith, Hank Thompson, Mel Tillis, George Jones and Ray Price.

Dirk Powell’s Album Due Out in January
Dirk Powell, a familiar figure on the Nashville recording scene and a music advisor for the movie Cold Mountain, will have his own album out Jan. 27 on Rounder Records. Called Time Again, it features guest performances by some of Powell’s frequent studio buddies, including Tim O’Brien, Darrell Scott and Riley Baugus. Songs on the album, which Rounder describes as being in “the Appalachian tradition,” are “Waterbound,” “Goin’ Where I’ve Never Been Before,” “Mother’s Little Children,” “Prettiest Little Girl in the County,” “Texas Bells,” “My Love Lies in the Ground” (now that’s really Appalachian), “Honey Babe,” “Sow ‘Em on the Mountain,” “Sally Ann,” “Wish I Had a Dollar,” “Handsome Molly,” “Police,” “Zollie’s Retreat,” “Go to Sleep Little Baby,” “Three Forks of the Cumberland” and “When Sorrows Encompass Me ‘Round.” Powell also performs on the Cold Mountain soundtrack album.

Sing Me Back Home: BMI’s Acoustic Lunch of ’03
Songwriters from Murrah Music performed Dec. 10 at BMI’s last Acoustic Lunch before Christmas. Fittingly enough, most of the writers seemed to be thinking about home. I’ve been keeping track of these events to alert you to songs that you may soon be hearing on the radio. Phillip White, who co-wrote Rascal Flatts “I’m Movin’ On,” opened with “Things I Think About,” a sort of rural scrapbook of home and family scenes. Next came Luke Bryan’s “Right Back Here to Me,” a whimsical tale about a country boy outfoxing a city babe who’s stopped to ask for directions. He wrote the song with Rachel Thibodeaux. Jamie Teachenor followed White with the doleful “I’m Going Home” (“In this world of change/Broken promises, guilt and pain/One refuge still remains/I’m going home). His co-writer was former Little Texan Dwayne O’Brien.

Veteran songwriter Roger Murrah, who owns Murrah Music and who has one of the best voices in the business, trotted out a song he’d written with Teachenor and A. J. Masters that explores the cosmic similarities between “Fools and Bridges.” White returned with “Nobody But Me,” a co-write with Shawn Camp that says, in effect, “I’m your best prospect. Stay with me.” For his final song, Bryan explored a boy’s relationship with his grandpa in “That Old Tackle Box,” and Teachnor took a boy through peer pressure, recklessness, an unwanted pregnancy and parenthood in “We Were Just Kids,” which he penned with Murrah and Chris Tompkins. “Thanks for listening,’ Murrah told the crowd. “We’re going to keep on playin’ these songs until you cut ‘em.” He finished the set by singing “Living Like There’s No Tomorrow,” a song he and Jim McBride had written in the late 1970s and which Keith Whitley cut on his 1984 album A Hard Act to Follow. It was also a minor hit for John Conlee in 1987. “We want to get it cut again,” Murrah explained simply.

More Must-Have Albums
People keep writing in with suggestions of albums that should have been on Rolling Stone‘s recent and criminally incomplete best-of list. Deanna Stevens agrees that the tabulation should include Marty Stuart’s The Pilgrim. “It was released just a short while before my mother’s death,” she says. “I would play Marty’s music, and it seemed to soothe my mom. And the song ‘The Pilgrim’ allowed me to work through my grief. Marty will always be TOPS in my book!”

Mike Hyland, a furtive ne’er-do-well with whom I’ve shared many a drink (most of them at his expense), writes, “I’m sure those dweebs at Rolling Stone didn’t pick [the Statler Brothers’ Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School, did they?” No, they did not, and a more grievous oversight I have yet to witness. If you have not heard this album — which rips the very heart and vocal cords out of early live country music radio shows — then you cannot truly count yourself a fan. Get it now or live a lie.

Without you I am desolate. Comfort me by writing copiously to HotTalk@CMT.com.