Contact Jeff

Agent Details

Jo Butler 
The Cameron Creswell Agency
(02) 9319 7199

Fortunate Son: The Unlikely Rise of Keith Urban

Book Extract
January 1, 2009

"If you only ever read gossip magazines, you'd be forgiven for assuming that Keith Urban is nothing more than a put-upon cuckold. Ditch Woman's Day and get the real skinny on the Aussie country star." Rolling Stone

"it's easy to underestimate the popularity of country music in the US. Keith Urban is one of its most commercially successful practitioners, having overcome his early outsider status in an insular scene, plumbed the depths of rejection and drug addiction and a split with his first manager, who is still waiting for a million-dollar payout he feels is owed to him. While former Rolling Stone scribe Apter overestimates Urban's talent, he is at his best laying bare the profit-obsessed machinery of the Nashville hit machine. This is a most readable biography." The Sun-Herald

"What did Keith Urban ever do to Jeff Apter? Surely nothing to warrant the mullet sporting gap-toothed snap in this bare-all bio's centrefold! It's unforgiving, as are all the normally hush-hush details of his life splattered across its pages." OK! magazine

"LOVERS of fine music and good humour will all know the most famous of country music jokes. If you play a country music song  backwards, the truck gets repaired, the dog comes back to life and the wife returns home. Country music fans will neither know the joke, nor if told it – slowly please, with emphasis on the punch line – understand or get it.

Having said that, there is no denying that Australian country music singer Keith Urban has established for himself, over the last 10 years a formidable presence and standing in the United States country music scene, although that presence and standing has not been converted with the same degree of success to the Australian music scene. From 1999 until 2008, Urban has had no less than 17 top 10 US country hits, and 4 top 10 albums.

Jeff Apter's Fortunate Son (Fortunate Son being a Creedence Clearwater Revival song, that band being one of Urban's early influences) charts the rise and continuing rise of Urban's fortunes from obscurity in Caboolture (Urban is in fact New Zealand-born, but spent his early years in Caboolture) to genuine country music fame in the US. As noted, that fame has not translated to Australia. In Australia however, Urban is perhaps best known as the (somewhat shorter) other half of actress Nicole Kidman (now somewhat nauseatingly collectively referred to as `the Kurbans').

Fortunate Son also sets out in considerable detail Urban's battles with substance abuse, including both crack cocaine and alcohol. Urban has been in and out of rehab battling his substance abuse, including a stint in October 2006 subsequent to his marriage to Kidman. For Australian country music fans, what comes out most strongly from Fortunate Son is Urban's love and reverence for Slim Dusty, which love and reverence was apparently reciprocated. Certainly, as Apter notes, "the Dusty seal of approval definitely helped (Urban's) progression through the local country ranks", and there is no doubt that Urban and Dusty had a genuine affection for each other. As Apter drily also notes "both enjoyed a beer, too, which only helped the friendship develop".

In contrast, Urban's relationship with John `True Blue' Williamson was much more problematic and ill at ease. Apter notes that "Williamson maintained a strong anti-Urban line, sometimes speaking out publically about Urban's `defection' to America, much to the chagrin of Urban's family and others".

Unfortunately, the book suffers from sloppy fact-checking. The former Sherbet musician who subsequently established himself as a leading country music producer was not Clive Shakespeare, but Garth Porter. Richard Clapton did not ever release an album by the name of Capricorn Dancer

In fairness to Apter, a well respected Australian music writer, aside from his substance abuse and marriage to Kidman, there is little to the Urban story that is much more than the standard `country boy made good' storyline. Indeed, only but the most ardent Urban fan could name, let alone sing (hum?) an Urban song. Apter does not assist his cause with factual sloppiness, and on the one hand praising Channel 9's Richard Wilkins as being "probably Urban's biggest mainstream media supporter", and on the other hand referring to him unnecessarily and flippantly as "Channel 9's human haircut", grates somewhat.

Notwithstanding its faults, Fortunate Son is well-paced and readable, and displays on the part of the author a genuine love of Urban's music. The book can be recommended on that basis alone. 

Finally, how many country music singers does it take to change a light bulb? Three – one to change the light bulb and two to sing about the old one."

In four words: Essential for Urban fans. Townsville Bulletin

"I liked the book. Very much. As a long term fan I knew of Keith Urban's struggle and the hurdles he's faced. We've all heard the stories about the drugs and the grog, but I wasn't aware of the extent of the turmoil engulfing Keith's record company at the time. No wonder he fell of the rails. It's by no means a gossip piece. It tells of the rise of a country star and how the incredible lows, and highs, influenced the man and his music. The discussions of Keith's ablums were of particular interest. It raises the question - just how far has Keith compromised his music to sell more albums?

Jeff's chatted with some major players in Keith's career. To be honest, I'm surprised they opened up as much as they did. It's an informative read. I've watched Keith's career for 15 years now. The book is on the money. Well worth reading." 

"This book is wonderful. I am reading it for the second time. Mr Apter has captured the journey that Keith has taken from when he was a young boy to where he is now. It is so well written that you feel the desire and the drive that has pushed Keith to make him the incredible musician that he is today. If you are a fan of Keith, you will want to read this book."

"While hardcore Urban fans won't be too surprised by some of its contents, anyone interested in this country superstar will find themselves asking how on Earth did Keith Urban actually survive the 90s? His record company's turmoil at the time, Keith's addictive personality, and Nashville's disdain for anything new culminated in an extraordinary series of events that eventually led to a little known but critically acclaimed album and the downfall (short-lived thankfully) of Keith Urban.

The book's well written, it doesn't gossip, it has spark (I found myself chuckling aloud at times), and it's about the eventual rise of a guy and how the highs and the lows affected his music. And how Jeff Apter got James Blundell to open up is beyond me. I dare say James won't be getting a BBQ invitation from the Kurbans too soon. In fact, Rob Pots (an agent and friend instrumental in Keith's career) won't be going to that BBQ either. I liked the book. And it's made me understand the music more than I used to."

"The title and cover of this book were perfectly chosen; Keith Urban is indeed ‘fortunate’. He was blessed with an insane amount of talent, a supportive family, he met the right people at the right time and was supported while dealing with addiction not once but twice. The picture on the cover is not of one of his trademark smiles in a photoshoot but him, alone, under one spotlight focusing on nothing but his guitar.

When I first heard about this project I was very sceptical. When someone manages to turn his life around I feel they should be allowed to move on from their mistakes so let me start by making clear what this book is not. This is not a rundown of the juicy tabloid stories or a lengthy expose on his not inconsiderable list of mistakes. Instead, it provides a detailed account of the insular and closed-mindedness of Tamworth, the equally unforgiving and judgemental attitude of Nashville, and Keith’s long struggle to conquer the former only as the means to the end of success in the latter. It is an interesting study of the Australian country music scene in the 1970s and 1980s and, through the words of those who were there at the time, an effective analysis of the way Nashville works. If you adapt and conform to the desired sound and look of the time you have a chance and having actual talent is just a nice bonus. Conversely, many very talented musicians never get a look in because they want to stick to their own style rather than “sell out”. This explains how the edgy country-rock from The Ranch turned into the country-pop of the keith urban album with such saccharine hyperglycemia-inducing songs as ‘Your Everything’ and ‘You’re the Only One’. This sacrifice of musical credibility was a way to get public recognition and success but I did start wondering how big The Ranch would be now had narrow-minded Nashville not starved the project to death for being a little bit too much this and not enough that.

‘Fortunate Son’ documents everything from Keith’s very humble musical beginnings in Caboolture, busking on the streets of just about every Australian city, entering and winning Tamworth’s Star Maker Quest (think American Idol or Nashville Star), first tentative trips to Nashville, the move there and how dramatically that went wrong and finally the long slow climb to the career he has now. It shows how Keith could at times put business before music, how success at (quite literally) any cost was the aim even if it meant changing direction to get it, how having people (such as Ansel Davis and Gary Borman) who can see you as a business client first and friend second are essential guides past the many traps of the music industry , how sometimes, sadly, talented artists cannot break into Nashville because they do not want to sacrifice their identity (step forward, James Blundell) and a lot more than my 800 word limit allows me to list.

This biography is written in a lucid and never-pretentious style and though in parts it feels a little rushed, this actually adds to the author’s credibility. He is not out to dazzle the reader with a vocabulary of obscure words or witty turns of phrase, this is just about telling the life story of an artist he obviously cares about and has nothing but the highest respect for. I did have some problems with this book. There is an apparent contempt for every other American country act (just a reflection of the author’s own prejudice against non-Tamworth material?) which is entirely justified when describing how Garth Brooks bullied his way past many music industry execs, but referring to Reba McEntire and Alabama as “bloodless crossover acts” is just a bit harsh.

Another problem is the shift in focus in the last chapter. After play-by-play accounts of every previous album, what a shame that LPATWCT becomes almost an aside while talk about Nicole takes over. Especially after the author just finished telling off magazines for ignoring Keith’s music in favor of his personal life. ‘Crazy Thing’ is an in parts quite clunky and uncomfortable album which by Keith’s own admission did not turn out as intended so it would have been interesting to find out more about it. Those who are fans of Keith just because he’s cute will probably find the dry facts of this book very boring but actually this is essential reading for KU fans who are interested in the long, arduous road he traveled down to get to where he is today. Anyone reading this, KU fan or not, cannot help but have enormous respect for what Keith has achieved. And long may it last."