Walt Disney Television/Paula LoboWhen Keith Urban celebrated his latest number one, “Coming Home,” at the Analog at the Hutton in Nashville on Wednesday, no doubt there was no one sadder that one of his main co-writers couldn’t be there. That happens to be Merle Haggard, the Country Music Hall of Famer who died in 2016.

“Somewhat of this catalyst started when I was at a BMI dinner one year and Vince [Gill] got up and he talked about a lot of the young songwriters in town,” Keith explains. “He’s like, ‘You should write with some of the older songwriters as well, you know, because they’ve got an enormous amount of talent… And I was sitting there thinking, gosh, ‘I wish I could have written with people like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, so-and-so.” 

The Aussie superstar was so inspired, he did just that.

“I thought, if you take a sample from one of their records and took it into a writing session,” Keith recalls, “it would be the same as that writer coming and going. I got this little riff and then using that as a spark to start writing a song. And I thought that would be the same thing as that person being in the room and sparking an idea to write a whole brand new song.”

And that’s how a sample from Merle’s 1968 classic, “Mama Tried,” inspired his first number one since 1987. For the record, Keith asked permission — and received it — from Merle’s widow, Theresa, and his youngest son, Ben. 

Keith also insisted on giving Merle a writing credit on the song.

For the record, that makes it the only number one country song in history built on a sample.

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