Keith Urban Reflects on Career at Country Music Hall of Fame

New Exhibit Chronicles His Journey to Stardom

“It’s amazing the things my mom has kept,” Keith Urban remarked to reporters Tuesday evening (Dec. 1) as he sat in front of the glassed-in row of artifacts at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville that landmarked his career.

The impressive exhibit of awards, guitars, stage costumes, photographs and childhood memorabilia is called “Keith Urban so Far …” and will be on display through next May.

Seated on a high stool beside Hall of Fame editor Peter Cooper, the 48-year-old Urban spoke freely about the long and circuitous trail that led to his current eminence and celebration.

“It took so long to get going,” said Urban, who first journeyed to Nashville in 1989. “But you just keep going. They call [Nashville] a ‘five-year town,’ but I think it took longer for me.”

As he correctly remembered, 1989 was the year of the “hat acts” breakthrough, the year that saw Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt score their first hits.

“I was so out of place,” he said.

Urban said talent manager Mary Martin pointed out that tastes in country music change and urged him to hold on.

That wasn’t always easy, he observed. “When you think you’ve done your best and it still isn’t working, what do you do?”

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMHOF

Urban would not chart his first single as a solo artist until 1999 and not have his first No. 1 song until a year after that. (He did, however, chart two singles in 1997 and 1998 as a member of the band, the Ranch.)

Returning to the artifacts arrayed behind him, Urban said it was almost like they represented “two lives” – the one in Australia where he first gained notice as a musician and the other in Nashville where he had to start over.

Urban was born in New Zealand in 1967 and moved to Australia when he was two years old.

Inspired in part by his dad’s collection of American country music albums – particularly Don Williams, Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell – Urban plunged into music early.

One of the items on exhibit is a post card he sent his parents from vacation camp in Coffs Harbour, Australia, when he was nine years old. In it, he said, “I’m practicing every day and trying harder.”

Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMHOF

He explained that the stage costumes he wore as a child resulted from his dad’s insistence that he “look like a performer.” Besides, he added, the talent contests he entered sometimes gave awards for the best-dressed contestants.

“They feel personal,” he said of the array of instruments, mostly guitars but also a “ganjo.” A few of the guitars still showed the damage they incurred in the 2010 Nashville flood.

Urban said he had over 50 guitars that underwent “Cumberland [River] baptism,” of which “some survived, some didn’t.”

During 1993 and 1994, Urban toured as a guitar player in Australian star Slim Dusty’s band. And his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry occurred when he backed Dusty on the show in 1997. Urban became a member of the Opry in 2012.

He had high praise for Dusty as a mentor. He recalled sitting in front of his motel room and saying to Dusty with a sense of relief, “Three more shows and we’re done.” To which Dusty responded wistfully, “Yeah, three more shows and we’re done.”

“I never thought of tours the same way after that,” Urban said.

Asked by a reporter which of the objects on display meant the most to him. He hesitated for a moment and then concluded, “I guess the post card.”

“That was the wrong answer,” Cooper told him emphatically, pointing to a photo in the display directly behind him. “The right answer is your wedding picture with [actress] Nicole [Kidman].”

Urban waxed philosophical as the press conference coasted to an end. “When I think about this journey,” he mused, “I never had a plan. Maybe that’s why it took so long. I just showed up.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.