The coolest thing about attending a celebration of Keith Urban's latest hit is the near certainty that you'll be treated to a live performance of the song being honored. And so it was Wednesday (Oct, 23) as a crowd gathered at the Hutton Hotel in Nashville to toast Urban's “Coming Home,” his 2018 pairing with pop singer Julia Michaels.
After Urban posed for pictures with the record label, publishing and managerial folks involved in propelling the song up the charts, he took the stage in the Hutton's Analog showroom and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, crooned the song by himself (although Michaels stood nearby) and explained its complex origins.
In effect, Urban was the sonic architect who called in a construction crew to build and finish the song. That crew included his co-writers Michaels, Nicolle Galyon and J. R. Rotem. The late Merle Haggard also got co-writing credit because it was the guitar intro to his “Mama Tried” that inspired the song. Urban's determination to get every element of the song just right had him flying back and forth from Nashville to Los Angeles until it all fell into place.
Michaels and Galyon were there to share the glory, but Rotem was unable to attend. Also among the celebrants was guitar god James Burton who played the original intro on “Mama Tried.”
“I always loved that lick,” Urban said. “I felt it was iconic.” As to the coming home theme itself, he said, “I thought about growing up in Australia and traveling around with Mom and Dad to all those festivals. . . . There's no short versions of the [song's] story.”
BMI's Mason Hunter, who emceed the ceremony, announced that Urban would launch his European tour in May and would again headline the All for the Hall concert, a benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, on Feb. 10, 2020 at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
Hunter introduced Michaels by pointing out that she co-wrote the theme song for the Austin & Ally TV series when she was 14 years old. She's also written songs, he said, that were recorded by Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato and Shawn Mendes, among others.
Galyon's hits include Dan + Shay's “Tequila,” Miranda Lambert's “Automatic” and Urban and Lambert's “We Were Us.” She has also founded the Songs & Daughters record label that features only women artists.
Sony Music's Josh Van Valkenburg praised Urban as “one of the most important entertainers to ever grace country music.” Troy Tomlinson, of Universal Music Publishing, said “Coming Home” is “important for a lot of reasons because it links country's foundational [roots] with contemporary music.”
Recalling that Urban had called him when he headed Sony ATV Music to explain how he wanted to credit Haggard for his part in inspiring the song, Tomlinson asserted that Urban's great respect for Haggard and insistence on giving him his due “tells you all you need to know about Keith Urban.”
Mike Dungan, chief of Urban's record label, UMG Nashville, lauded Urban's attention to detail in creating his songs and records. He announced that “Coming Home” was Urban's 40th single to reach the Top 10 and said his accumulated work amounted to “a Hall of Fame career.”
Pinnacle Bank is BMI's partner in promoting these song celebrations, and the bank's David DeVaul followed Dungan to the stage to say that Pinnacle would be making a contribution in the songwriters' names to Nashville's W. O. Smith Music School.
A singer and songwriter himself, as well as a 2014 American Idol contestant, DeVaul told the crowd he wouldn't reveal the name of the judge kicked him out of the competition, but clearly indicated it was Urban, who grinned in embarrassment.
There was more behind-the-scenery to come. Galyon reminded Urban that he had actually called to invite Shane McAnally to co-write with him but had settled for Galyon when McAnally said he was otherwise engaged.
“Not to embarrass him,” she added, “but I have waited in line for a Keith Urban autograph, and I have stayed up till midnight to buy a new Julia Michaels song when it became available -- and I did buy it.”
After thanking by name the legion of people involved in making “Coming Home” a hit, Urban explained that his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, wasn't attending because she had been relaxing in the Smokies with her sister and the children.
“She's the reason I have a home to come home to,” he said.
Top Row (L-R): Universal Music Publishing's Troy Tomlinson, UMG Nashville's Mike Dungan, Sony ATV's Josh Van Valkenburg, BMI's Mason Hunter and Warner Chappell's Katy Wolaver and BJ Hill. Bottom Row (L-R): BMI songwriters Nicolle Galyon, Keith Urban and Julia Michaels.
(Photos: Steve Lowry for BMI)