Just after a few days of rehab, Brantley Gilbert told staff at the treatment center that he was leaving, even if it was against medical advice. Their response: There is someone we want you to meet. The next day, Keith Urban, a recovering addict himself, showed up to talk to Gilbert.
“I remember thinking, these (expletives) are pulling out all the stops,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said the drinking started when he was in High School. He almost killed himself when he rolled his vehicle while driving drunk.
Somehow he still found his way to Nashville with a songwriting deal.
For songwriting appointments, Gilbert almost always carried a laptop bag with two bottles of whiskey and a pistol in it. Well, that and whatever song lyrics he happened to be working on at the time.
His career took off with his first big single in 2011, but drugs and alchol were destroying his body.
Pancreatitis landed him in the hospital, and he went from there to rehab.
A week later, he was face to face with Urban and annoyed.
Still, Gilbert opened up when Urban asked him what his fears were about being a music star who doesn’t drink.
“I told him, I don’t think I can do my job. I don’t know if I can ever play a song at my shows without being (messed) up. Or writing, I was worried my songs wouldn’t be the same, that I wouldn’t be on everyone else’s level,” Gilbert said.
“It’s a drinking environment.”
Gilbert said Urban told him he once had the same fears and, in fact, Urban was really scared when he first started playing shows sober.
Eventually, though, Urban told him he was a better performer, a better writer, he had more fun, he was a better husband and a better man without drugs and alcohol.
During that conversation, something clicked for Gilbert.
“My whole world flipped,” he said. “At that point, I was like, ‘All right.’ ”
Gilbert stayed for another week at rehab before jumping on to Eric Church’s tour, where Gilbert helped Church sell out several shows.
He credits Urban, and his continuing friendship with the Aussie, for the transformation.
“If it weren’t for him, I don’t know if I’d be sober or be in this business anymore. I’d probably be dead.”
Gilbert said he hasn’t had any alcohol or pain pills for five years.
“I’m more comfortable in my own skin, and before, I needed a drink to get there. Now, it’s like, I am what I am, so let’s have a damn good time!”