Keith Urban paid tribute to his musical hero, Don Williams, in an intimate service remembering the late country star at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on Sept. 27. Before he sang, Keith detailed just how instrumental Don’s music has been in his life since his childhood in Australia.
Keith’s dad, Bob, was a huge fan of Don Williams’ music and bought every album Don put out. Every morning, Keith woke up to his dad playing Don’s music on the turntable.
Keith recalled, “They were the most dominant music in our house from when I was a little boy. I learned so much from those records.”
Through the years, Keith grew to rely on Don’s music as a steadying presence in his life. He studied everything about Don’s albums and dreamed of one day moving to Nashville to make music like his hero.
“Don is in an unusual place in my life because he’s like a father in a parallel universe,” Keith explained at the service. “That’s the clearest way I can describe how I feel about Don. It’s because that’s the man I grew up with.”
Keith continued, “I think it’s safe to say I live in Nashville now because of those records. Those are the records that I turned over, and on the back it said, ‘Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee.’ When I was seven, I told my parents, ‘I’m going to live in Nashville one day. This is where I’m going to live.'”
As Keith’s own star grew in the country music world, he got the chance to perform with Don at a fundraiser at Nashville’s Lipscomb University. Keith described seeing Don for the first time backstage at that show.
He said, “We’re in the loading bay, and I see, there he is. He’s standing right there, just hanging out. It was literally, for me, like seeing Elvis Presley. That’s actually him! That hat. Underneath that hat is him!”
Keith went on to describe how the shuffling rhythm in Don’s music informed just about every song he’s ever recorded. When it came time to perform a few of his favorite Don Williams songs at the memorial, Keith kicked off his performance with “Woman You Should Be in the Movies,” which he said was appropriate since he is married to Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman. He rounded out his musical tribute with “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend” and “Come Early Morning.”
The service began with the video Keith and Don shot together for their 2012 collaboration, “Imagine That.”
Other performers at the service included Ricky Skaggs and the Whites performing “Lord I Hope This Day Is Good” with members of Don’s band. The Isaacs also delivered a stunning take on Don’s song “Till All The Rivers Run Dry.”
Don’s duet partner on “If I Needed You,” Emmylou Harris, was in attendance at the service. Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Ray Stevens, Rory Feek and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach were also there.