HOT DISH: Keith Urban Battling His Problem

Country Star Deserves Time and Support to Beat Addictions

(CMT Hot Dish is a weekly feature written by veteran columnist Hazel Smith. Author of the cookbook, Hazel’s Hot Dish: Cookin’ With Country Stars, she also shares her recipes at

The late Benny Martin, one of the all-time greats, wrote hit country songs and sang country songs, but he was at his very best performing fiddle tunes or playing great bluegrass with Bill Monroe or Flatt & Scruggs. Benny, an admitted alcoholic, once wrote a song that best describes Keith Urban’s current situation. It’s summed up in this one very scary line: “One drink is too many for Benny, but a thousand’s not enough.” Bennie knew if he had one drink, it was over. He’d drink and drink — and just keep drinking.

Alcoholism, like drug addiction, is a disease. Having a cocktail after work is harmless and called Happy Hour, but we are prone to forget that it isn’t Happy Hour for the alcoholic. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but truth is, alcoholism can be an obit. Such was the case for the incredibly talented Keith Whitley and the greatest singer-songwriter who ever lived, Hank Williams.

I recall how a chill pierced my very soul when I heard Johnny Cash admit he had to fight amphetamine addiction daily. That great man said the first thought that crossed his mind when he awoke every morning was his desire for amphetamines.

I don’t know how or why Urban came to slide back into his old habits. His plate was so full. Was success and marriage pushing him over the edge? Was his very happy four-month marriage to actress Nicole Kidman and his career finally being in high gear totally overwhelming? Did this former abuser of alcohol and cocaine sneak back into his old habits alone, or is there someone in his life — a fair-weather friend who might have said, “Have one drink. It will make you feel better”? I’ve heard stories of how June Carter Cash worked with her angelic mom, Mother Maybelle Carter, and her dad, Ezra Carter, to chase away pushers trying to reach Johnny.

I am so sincerely sorry for Keith Urban. With a new album scheduled to be released Nov. 7, he entered rehab just as he was planning to head to the ARIA Awards show in his native Australia. He was also scheduled to perform on the CMA Awards in Nashville on Nov. 6. He has four CMA nominations this year.

For Keith to admit himself to a treatment rehab center and offer a public statement of regret is a good start toward his recovery. Only he can overcome this nightmare, but we can send our love and prayers to this wonderfully talented man who, like many others, happens to have a serious problem.

A Fab-o Night at ASCAP Awards
It’s always a thrill to go to the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Some of the best songwriters in the world were honored there Oct. 23 during ASCAP’s annual country awards presentation. Backless dresses and push-up bras worn by buxom women are a cinch to fill doctors’ offices with chest colds. There were plenty of pretty boys and girls but not nearly as many tuxedos as in years before.

Kenny Chesney looked hot in his tight black pants and a dark silk shirt — kissing on his date, pretty Vanessa, the model he’s been seen with before. “You gonna tell ’em we were kissing?” Kenny asked. “That’s my job, baby,” I replied. Kenny told me about his recent visit to The Ellen DeGeneres Show and how they talked about the huge color photo of Ellen and me at the studio. At the ASCAP event, Kenny picked up an award for co-writing “Keg in the Closet.”

I didn’t get to speak to my friend, Brad Paisley, who was presented a trophy for writing his hit, “Alcohol.” On the other hand, David Lee Murphy, who has a DUI hanging over his head, appeared to be cold sober when he accepted his award for co-writing Chesney’s hit, “Living in Fast Forward.”

“Jesus, Take the Wheel” was the winner of ASCAP’s biggest prize — the song of the year honor. Singer Carrie Underwood presented co-songwriters Brett James, Hillary Lindsey and Gordie Sampson the prestigious award. Hillary wore the prettiest dress of the night — a teal-colored, low-cut number that fit all the right places.

For the second year, John Rich was named songwriter/artist of the year. John’s 2006 song list includes “All Jacked Up,” “Big Time,” “Hicktown,” “Like We Never Loved at All,” “Mississippi Girl” and “Pickin’ Wildflowers.” Rich is rich — and getting richer all the time. Two Johns opened the show — Rich and John Anderson singing “Easy Money,” Anderson’s single that was produced and co-written by Rich, naturally.

Rivers Rutherford and Brett James shared songwriter of the year honors. ASCAP presented its 2006 Voice of Music Award to the incredible Jimmy Webb, who graced the crowd with performances of “Highwayman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.” Glen Campbell joined Webb on “Wichita Lineman.”

A superstar about to happen, Dierks Bentley got two awards for co-writing “Come a Little Closer” and “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do.” The crowd screamed when rock star Jon Bon Jovi accepted his trophy for “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” the hit he recorded with Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. Hanging in the Ryman and then moving across the street to the BellSouth building for a party dripping with wonderful food and drink were Mark Wills, Cowboy Troy, Carolyn Dawn Johnson and Billy Currington.

I ran into American Idol finalist Kellie Pickler in the ladies room. Dressed in red and looking every inch a star, Pickler is stunningly beautiful. We chatted about our home state, North Carolina. I told Kellie when she was booted from the show, I no longer watched Idol.

ASCAP vice president Connie Bradley, always the pro and always pretty especially in green, hosted the event. Rodney Crowell closed with one of the five most performed songs of the year — the Keith Urban smash, “Making Memories of Us.” It was a marvelous performance that left a bittersweet taste for me. Kenny Chesney and I love Keith and are praying for him. I hope you will, too.

While in town for the ASCAP Awards, Glen Campbell visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, presented a guitar to the new Musicians Hall of Fame and performed a concert at the Ryman. He also spoke out on behalf of Keith Urban, offering his help and comparing Keith’s problem with his own.

A final FYI: As I was leaving the party, I spoke with Sara Evans’ manager, Brenna Van Meter, who assured me Sara will be OK as she deals with her divorce. Praise be!

Billy Joe Shaver Marries Again in Vegas
I believe this is Billy Joe Shaver’s first non-Texas wedding. The songwriter of true-to-life blues and the man who proclaims, “If you don’t love Jesus, go to hell,” has married for a fifth time. Billy Joe married and divorced his late wife, Brenda, three times, but he married Wanda Lynn Canady again on Oct. 13 in Las Vegas with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons presiding over the ceremony as he spoke through his long white beard. This is the second time Billy Joe has married Wanda Lynn. He divorced her the first time.

Shortly after the ceremony, Billy Joe cracked a vertebra while Indian wrestling with a friend. Hopefully, the friend was not Wanda Lynn.

Here and There
The Dixie Chicks scored again when 16,447 fans ponied up $1,315,805 to see them in Sydney, Australia. I do believe I could make a heckuva living grossing these numbers — and so can they.

If you’re gonna be a country singer and plan to represent country music, for the love of Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, please do your homework and know the history. Representing country music at a recent show in Japan, a member of the group Cowboy Crush was heard to ask, “Who is Mother Maybelle Carter?”

See this week’s Hot Dish Recipe of the Week: Cream of Tomato Soup.