At 1998’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Nashville, the annual gathering of DJs and other industry professionals, Keith Urban had been spotlighted during the New Faces show, as part of the trio called The Ranch. A year later, the group was no more but front man, singer and guitarist Keith Urban (or “keith urban,” as he was commonly referred to in print back then) was embarking on a solo career with Nashville‘s Capitol Records. Eighteen years ago today, on October 19th, 1999, Urban released his self-titled debut LP for the label.
In March of 1999, the New Zealand-born Urban was working on the album and playing intimate gigs around town. During CRS that month, he was showcased at an event at Spence Manor, the former four-star hotel – now converted to condos – on Nashville‘s then-bustling Music Row. Standing in front of the guitar-shaped “Webb Pierce pool” beside the historic building – so-called because it was a replica of the original pool on the country music legend’s Nashville property – Urban’s performance of “Shelby County Jail,” of which only half is captured in the above clip, is nothing less than stunning. Coincidentally, 40 years earlier, Pierce had a completely unrelated Top Ten hit with “Tupelo County Jail,” a song he co-wrote with Mel Tillis.
Penned with songwriter Vernon Rust, who co-wrote the bulk of the songs from The Ranch LP with Urban, “Shelby County Jail” was the pair’s first collaboration, written in the kitchen of Urban’s then-home in the Berry Hill section of town. The tune is the story of a man whose winning streak at a Mississippi casino raises the ire of the owner, who dispatches a local sheriff to locate the guy and return him, and his money, to the casino. While this is a seriously impressive performance, during this blistering guitar solo, Urban injects the tune with playful licks from the theme songs for The Pink Panther and The Addams Family. “Shelby County Jail” remains unreleased on any of Urban’s LP, but was an early favorite at his live shows. Vernon Rust has shared the song’s original demo, sung by the future superstar.
Produced by Urban with Matt Rollings, Keith Urban shares its title with a 1991 Australia-only LP by the singer. Four singles were issued from the 1998 album, with three of them, “Your Everything,” “Where the Blacktop Ends” and “But for the Grace of God,” all reaching the Top Five. The latter became Urban’s first Number One single. The album was certified platinum for sales topping one million.