By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
"Life has had in store for me way more than I ever imagined"
Keith Urban … People.com"
This week's chapter takes us on a journey exploring the road to country music roots and beyond. No less than four Grammy wins, 18 more nominations, five ARIA Awards, and 24 country Number One hits, this player has solidified his position as a music industry powerhouse. It hasn’t always been this way though, his journey has been littered with roadblocks and hurdles: the essential foundation of a storytelling country music spokesman.
A master of his style with fluidic efficiency an incredible songsmith and all-rounder that is equal parts singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and performer.
The individuality and charm of this week's player spotlight is his ability to write and formulate classic country arrangements, sounds, and expectancies with a heavy twist of rock-influenced guitar playing, this is what really sets him apart in the country music genre.
Let's tell a tale of Keith Urban. 🤘 🎸
The Nashville Aussie 🎼 🤠
We head back to 1967 and to 26th October, Whangarei, New Zealand. Keith Lionel Urbahn was born to parents Marienne and Robert Urbahn, his parents owned a general store and this would prove key to his musical development and interest down the line.
Keith's father Robert was also a drummer and played in a band enjoying the music from the foundations of Rock 'n' Roll from the 1950s, Bill Haley and the comets, Elvis, Buddy Holly.
As the 1970s came around Robert Urbahn moved into country music and this is cited as a key influence, Keith has stated many times that he's inherited his dads love of music.
The family moved to Caboolture, Queensland, Australia where Keith was raised as a youngster. The musical interest blossomed early on.
“Vintage Guitar: How did you start playing the guitar?
Keith Urban: My dad gave me a ukulele when I was four years old. I never learned to play any chords with it or anything – I just used to strum it in time to the radio. Dad was a drummer, and I kind of inherited his love of music.”
Coming back around we re-highlight the relevance of the general store and its relation to Keith’s musical progression. One day a lady came around to the store and asked if she could place an advert in the window offering guitar lessons, the Urbahn’s agreed on the basis that the lady would offer guitar lessons to their son Keith.
"It felt so right in my hands," Urban, 48, says of getting his first guitar at age 6. "My mum and dad bought it for me, I remember it so clearly. I was lucky to have parents who recognised my passion for music early on. I was committed to playing.”
"I feel really lucky that I had a great guitar teacher that just taught me basic chords so I could play songs," says Urban of his first guitar teacher, Sue McCarthy. "I didn't want to learn theory or how to read music, I didn't want to get overwhelmed by that.”
The Country Crusader
A devoted player early on with great focus as a youngster Keith made quite a name for himself in Australia initially.
1983, Urban was a contestant on the Australian TV talent show New Faces. A few years later, he began making inroads into the Australian country music scene, with regular appearances on the Reg Lindsay Country Homestead TV Program, Mike McClellan's Music Program, and various other TV programmes performing duets with local Brisbane girl Jenny Wilson. They won a Golden Guitar award at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Urban also performed regularly on stage at the Northern Suburbs Country Music Club in Bald Hills, where he was a member. He was in a band called 'Kids Country', which performed during school holidays at various venues and made appearances on the Reg Lindsey show and Conway Country.
As with every musician there is always a degree of homage and a point of reference, Keith states that Mark Knopfler and Lindsey Buckingham were his two key influences, both their songwriting ability and of course their guitar playing styles and techniques.
Growing as a player and artist and a recognised name now he released a self titled solo album after much work, four singles spawned from the self titled album in 1991. The same year saw the big move to Nashville Tennessee, Urban worked at a session guitarist for sometime until forming the band “The Ranch”
“Paying his dues again! Says Urban of this 1997 album cover with his then band The Ranch, "I remember it being the strangest time. I paid my dues in Australia all through the '80s and got signed to a record deal in 1990, had a band, a crew and audience and was doing great. But I wanted to go to America and I had to start all over again. We were right back into a little van, the three of us, with our sound man driving all over America. It was gruelling.”
The band were signed to Capitol Records Nashville and recorded one album which produced 2 singles that entered the country billboard charts. Towards the close of the century in 1999 Keith again laid down his hands and released a self titled solo album on the same record label. This release was met with commercial and critical success and saw Keith go platinum and artist and secure his first number one! Country music perfection. 💫
Going forward Keith has truly established himself as a well respected and recognised country artist, he's pretty expressed country songs with an essence of pop and rock really do create his own signature sound and delivery.
Not only is his song craft up there with the very best his lyrics and message never disappoint. He's toured with the biggest names in country music and has respectfully honoured their support. A number of highly regarded country classics along with some Grammy award-winning songs Keith goes from strength to strength as a solo artist and performer.
More recently we have seen some incredible collaborations that truly display his diversity and natural development within the genre. Most recently we find Keith collaborating with another guitar hero Nile Rodgers on their latest project.
The intro to the video shows a very unique instrument which is quite rare to come across, known as a “Ganjo” it’s basically a banjo with a guitar neck fitted, explained very well here by Keith himself as it's such a curious piece of equipment. ✌️
As an artist player and a personality he shows no signs of slowing down only going forward and he has so much behind him now he is truly a great example of a long-standing musician
“In 2012, Urban was invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. "This is a hallowed family institution at the deepest core of country music in its entire history," says Urban. "So to be asked into that family was just an extraordinary honour.”
Urban Strings - Country Craft
We come down to the best part here the overview and investigation of string choice, Keith is a fantastic guitar player both electric and acoustic he has a great feel gets a great tone and his delivery is spot-on, so what are the things behind the man?
"D'Addario strings are the BEST, period! They hold their tuning, last longer than others, and feel great under my fingers. What more could you want!”
Keith has that punchy open tone and requires a dynamic string, he plays both clean and driven so the string needs to be both durable and harmonic.
In the video below we get a snapshot back in 2011 of the live rig which appears to be ever-changing with only one or two staple pieces.
Key information in the video is D’Addario is the only string choice and there are suggestions of EXl110 for the Fender guitars and EXL115 for the Gibson’s.
In this later edition of a Rig Rundown Keith’s tech Chris Miller discloses that they have moved to D'Addario Pure Nickel across-the-board, 11-49 gauge. The choice was a tonal preference and the idea was to get a more classic sound slightly smoother less top and retro feel.
Currently we discover that Keith is very fond of the NYXL series along with the revolutionary Nickel Bronze strings for acoustics, as per his artist page on the D’Addario website.
"NYXL1149 are the BEST, period! These strings have everything I want in a string. They hold their tuning, last longer than others, and feel great under my fingers. What more could you want
The final defining tonal secret and key detail here is the plectrum of choice, I couldn't help but notice that the silver Herco made a bold appearance in both videos, also in the detail like many Keith utilises the plectrum sideways and attacks the strings with the grip, something I do myself after discovering it was a technique used by The Edge.
To some this would be a minimal detail or difference in tone but to the trained ear and longtime guitar player there is a massive difference in tone using the plectrum in this way!
A tonal secret to take away from this weeks Player Spotlight 😎
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