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Josh Turner is the man

By Jeffrey B. Remz, January 2006

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However, the process did not prove so easy. Stanley took ill in June 2005, requiring triple bypass surgery.

"It hadn't been that long since he had had it," says Turner. "He was still weak and still recovering from that surgery. It was just 1 of those things where I knew he was going to do a great job, but he just wasn't feeling 100 percent. I think he was a little nervous about it...We got in a circle, and I said a prayer for Ralph, and he got in there and just knocked it out. He sounded great. He was having a little bit of trouble knowing where to come in on certain places, but I got right in there beside him and helped him out. He did a great job. He was a pro...That really meant a lot to me."

"He respected me, and I, of course, respected him," says Turner. "Some of the first music I ever heard was the Stanley Brothers."

That would have been courtesy of his grandmother, Dora Turner. Sounds of The Stanley Brothers, the Osborne Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and gospel quartets wafted around her house.

"She was just a fan. She was just a really humble spiritual woman," says Turner. "She actually died in '87, the day before my 10th birthday. She really impacted my life in a huge way, just in those nine years. She only had a fourth grade education. She never had a driver's license. She gave birth to six children... loved music, loved life."

"She was big into bluegrass music and southern gospel and country music. She had a big record collection - the Stanley Brothers was the first record of hers that I heard, which is really the first record I remember hearing in my life. I have that hanging on my wall and had Dr. Ralph sign it."

"I still got the price tag, on it, $2.97," says Turner with a laugh.

"I was just a young boy that didn't know how to play an instrument. I loved music. At that time of my life, Randy Travis was a huge influence one me. He was a big hero of mine and still is. I worked so hard to mimic and impersonate him. I sounded just like him almost. The funny thing is the first time I ever sang a country song in front of a crowd, I was singing at a church benefit. I sang 'Diggin' Up Bones.' After I got done singing, people thought I was lip synching to Randy's version of the record. That's how much I sounded like him."

"The response from the crowd was really what inspired me to start thinking...okay, can I make a living at this? Can I go to Nashville and be a recording artist? That was a pretty cool night."

"I went around to different parties or beauty pageants or whatever singing with those karaoke tracks," says Turner.

"I've come a long way baby," Turner jokes.

After finishing high school, Turner attended Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. for two years.

He continued his singing there as part of a show in Myrtle Beach, S.C., High Steppin Country.

Turner quit in 1996 because of a lesion on his right vocal cord. Vocal therapy at the famed Vanderbilt Voice Clinic in Nashville helped clear up the problem.

With Francis Marion not having a program for his musical interests, Turner packed his bags for Belmont College in Nashville, which has a well-known music school, in 1998.

A short three months later, then Mercury label executive Keith Stegall, Alan Jackson's producer, had found Turner. "They offered me a publishing deal, but they didn't offer me a whole lot of money to go along with it, which at that time I didn't know because I was so na´ve. I was a student in college. Luckily, that deal...fell through. They ended up not wanting to sign me, so I was kind of relieved, believe it or not."

Turner signed another publishing deal "for so much more money," says Turner. "To do something you love for a living, there's nothing like that. It's just an incredible feeling."

"2001 was an incredible year for me. I actually started dating my wife that year, the first week of February. I was offered a publishing deal in May of that year. Then I graduated from Belmont in August. I signed my publishing deal in October. I signed my record deal in November, and I played the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in December. That was a good year for me needless to say."

Turner's publisher/manager at the time met with Pete Fischer, head of the Opry, about Turner playing there.

"I think Pete was really hesitant at first. I never thought I'd be able to get on the Opry at that point in time, but he consented and said let's have him on the Friday night before Christmas and have him sing one song. I went out there and got two standing ovations and an encore."

It would still be 1 1/2 years later before "Long Black Train" was released. The single turned out to be the only hit from a very strong debut album with the follow-up, "What It Ain't," reaching only 31 on the Billboard country chart.

Is Turner concerned about being identified only by the one hit song?

"I've faced that, and I've tried to break away from that. There have been people out there who think I'm a gospel singer. I've even had people who have called me a southern gospel singer, a contemporary Christian artist, a basically misidentified kind of thing. That's understandable when the only hit you've ever had is a gospel song. I'm on a country label. I'm a country singer. I make country records. Singing about my faith is a part of that. It's not something that needs to throw people off."

"The first record was kind of like a first date. It was a little awkward - but you were having fun, but the comfort level wasn't there. It was more of an experiment kind of thing where you're trying to find what the Josh Turner sound is. And I think by the time we made it to this record, we knew the good moments of the first record. We also knew maybe the non-Josh Turner moments of the first record."

With the new record dropping, Turner is looking ahead. "To start off with, when it came time to start making this record, I put a lot of pressure on myself to try and outdo 'Long Black Train,'" he says. "I realized that I would probably never be able to outdo 'Long Black Train' and everything that it had done. I just decided to let it be its own entity and to go and make another record...and make it the best that you can and have fun with it. That's what I did. I'm proud of what we have done, but I'm not worried. I'm not anxious, but I am excited, and I'm looking really forward to see how people respond to this."

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