URBAN, ALVIN PETER [AL]
URBAN, ALVIN PETER [AL] (1935–2012). Singer–songwriter Al Urban was born on a farm in Gonzales, Texas, on March 1, 1935. He was the son of Peter Paul Urban and Beatrice (Shelton) Urban. He started playing guitar in his mid-teens and was encouraged by a black farmer who lived near the Urban home. In the early 1950s, Al Urban formed his first band, the Daybreakers, and they were booked regularly at the popular Log Cabin Inn north of Luling.
In 1954–55 Urban recorded some of his songs at Bill Quinn’s Gold Star Studios in Houston for his own Dixie label. He returned to Gold Star Studios (see SUGARHILL RECORDING STUDIOS) in 1956 and recorded more of his compositions, including “Lookin’ For Money” and “I Don’t Want To Be Alone,” accompanied by Herb Remington on steel guitar, fiddle player Ernie Hunter, and pianist Doc Lewis. He took them to Charlie Fitch, owner of Luling-based Sarg Records.
At the time, rock-and-roll was the big music market, but Fitch liked what he heard and released “Lookin’ For Money” in November 1956. The record was sent to Billboard, where it received an encouraging review which described it as a “down home country job.” The reviewer added, “Tune has a blues touch and the artist shows a good understanding of the form.” Although sales were limited, the record did lead to Al Urban making several appearances on the Louisiana Hayride radio show. Two songs, “Run Away” and “Back To My Old Life,” recorded at the same time as “Lookin’ For Money,” were released by Urban on his APU label after Fitch decided not release them on Sarg.
On his next release for Sarg in April 1958, Urban had a distinctly rockabilly sound with “Won’t Tell You Her Name” and “Gonna Be Better Times,” also recorded at Gold Star Studios. Fitch also credited guitarist Hal Harris on the label in an effort to get radio plays on Baytown’s KRCT where Harris was a disc jockey.
Urban cut his last single, “The Last Heartache,” backed with “Street of Memories,” for Sarg in 1960, again at Gold Star. At this point, unhappy with Fitch’s handling of his recordings, Urban decided to part company with Sarg Records. (Years later he appeared in the PBS documentary Sgt. Fitch: The Legacy of Sarg Records, which premiered in 2009, and talked about his experiences with the Sarg label.) Urban created his own label, Fang, and released recordings on this and several other small independent labels, including Kash and Tennessee. He also performed live dates for a while but eventually became tired of the road and decided to concentrate on songwriting and working his cattle farm in Gonzales.
Urban found songwriting success in 1971 after meeting Charley Pride in Luling when Pride played the Watermelon Thump. Pride recorded Urban’s "I'm Beginning to Believe My Own Lies,” which was included on the Grammy award-winning album, Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs (1971). Another Urban composition, “When the Trains Come In,” is included on the albums A Sunshiny Day with Charley Pride (1972), The Incomparable Charley Pride (1972), and The Charley Pride Collection (2001).
Although he visited Nashville several times, Al Urban was never interested in moving there, preferring to live on his hometown cattle farm. He was a member of the East Side Baptist Church in Gonzales. He did perform shows occasionally and continued writing songs. In 2008 he released a CD titled I Just Dropped in to Say Goodbye. This collection of Urban originals includes his version of “When the Trains Come In.”
A heavy smoker, Urban contracted lung cancer and passed away on January 18, 2012, at the age of seventy-six in Seguin, Texas. He was buried in Gonzales City Cemetery and was survived by his daughter Sherian.
Aaron Allan, Telephone Interview with author, March 26, 2013. Andrew Brown, The Sarg Records Anthology: South Texas 1954–1964, Book accompaniment to CD box set (Bear Family Records, 1999). Gonzales Inquirer, January 19, 2012 (http://www.gonzalesinquirer.com/obituaries/article_ccca2560-4303-11e1-a7c8-0019bb2963f4.html ), accessed January 24, 2014. Charley Pride (http://www.charleypride.com/music/), accessed January 24, 2014.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Tony Wilson, "URBAN, ALVIN PETER [AL]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fur07), accessed August 22, 2014. Uploaded on February 19, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.