The Aussie with the moxie dropped out of school at 15; had four No. 1 hits; earned five Country Music Association of Australia awards, including best male vocalist and instrumental; and has never had a day job. Recently, the 32-year-old made history as the first male country artist from downunder to have a top 10 country single in the States. "Your Everything," the second single from his self-titled debut on Capitol Nashville, put him over the edge.
He's also on the cutting edge of technology, telling POLLSTAR he lowercases his name as "a sign of the computer age," when logging on is usually done that way. His musical influences, however, have more history than the Net Glen Campbell, Jim Reeves, Ronnie Milsap, and Kenny Rogers. "They were all country-pop artists. What I'm doing is no different than what Glen Campbell did in the '60s," urban said. "But I hate that word (pop) because these days, it implies a bubble-gum aspect. ... It's a shame. ... The Beatles were a pop band."
Unlike the Fab Four, however, urban's 1992 move to Nashville garnered little fanfare. Still, he continued his craft, impressing others with his acoustic guitar playing and three-part harmonies. "I know who I am when I'm performing, and it's a huge part of my makeup. When that wasn't part of my life, I didn't realize how unbalanced I got," he said of the near-eight months of nonperforming after his Nashville-based trio, The Ranch, disbanded.
Earlier, the group cut an album at Warner Bros. Records Nashville, which had signed urban as a solo artist in 1995. "Touring was probably the number one reason I got signed in Nashville," he said. "The recording side of it has been the last 10 years but the performing's been the last 25, 26 years."
Warner wasn't the right fit for the band, he said, so it moved to Capitol. But eventually, "it was obvious that I needed to get back to doing what I was doing without having to allow for all the creative input," he said. The group disbanded in 1998.
As a solo artist again, he and tour manager Rikk Fulner concentrated on radio. His goal for urban: "Platinum, of course. I've worked with 16 bands in the last 20 years," he said. "The best way to describe keith is he's the real deal."
They focused on radio because, "What I noticed in The Ranch was we were playing great shows but no one knew our songs so people weren't coming. I couldn't stand continually performing, doing great shows with no one coming," the artist said. "When you take time to focus on writing and making sure you work radio so you get some songs that work there, people will come. ... I didn't want to do the 20-year constant touring to build up the audience.
"The problem we have is that I've already put in 15 years in Australia," urban said. "I thought, 'What am I going to do? Tour for another 15 years in the States when I know some of the songs that I've got would work on radio?'"
The strategy landed urban support gigs for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Chely Wright, and Dwight Yoakam. It also led to his guitar/vocal contributions on the recently recorded Paralympic Games theme song, "Wave to the World," with Dolly Parton, Charlie Daniels and others. There may be an Australian tour in October and next month, his third single from keith urban, "But For the Grace of God," and its video will be released. His first single, "It's a Love Thing," climbed to No. 15 on the charts.