Life hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Keith Urban. But the small crowds, metal-band mishaps and criticism from a label executive all led him to where he is today. And as a featured speaker at South by Southwest in Austin on Friday (March 16), Urban opened up about some of the events that shaped him.
A couple of his first gigs — one at Austin’s Stubb’s Bar-B-Q and one at the baggage claim in the Tamworth airport in Australia — weren’t exactly packing people in. Urban estimated that about five people showed up.
Then there was the time that he became obsessed with bluegrass guitar picking, and the metal band he was in at the time, Fractured Mirror, had to let him go. “We played Judas Priest and Saxon and Whitesnake and threw in some AC/DC in there. I didn’t know anything about that music. I was playing a solo and started playing chicken-pickin’ through the (amplifier) stack, and the band was like, ’What the?’ So they fired me,” Urban said.
And then there was the career moment when a Sony Music representative told him why he wouldn’t sign him. “’You’re not doing anything wrong, you’re just different. It’ll be your biggest curse until it becomes your biggest blessing,'” he recalled of the advice that taught him to keep on keeping on.
But his 75-minute Q&A wasn’t all humbling life lessons. One of the high points happened when he was only five years old, and he had his first country music epiphany.
“My dad bought my brother and us little Western shirts with bolo ties and off we went to see Johnny Cash. What I remember from that concert was how loud the crowd was. It was a 5,000-seat venue which, when you’re tiny, might as well be a stadium. I remember just the roar of everybody when this guy walked on stage,” he said, “and that’s never left me. The power of that, when he played the guitar and sang, was just an extraordinary thing, the connection he made with everybody. It was that recognition of this is the thing I’m meant to do.
“As a man who can’t bring a child into the world, I can bring a song into the world. I’m just trying to put some good in the world. That’s all I’m doing.”