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Josh Turner rides the long black train

By Brian Baker, December 2003

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The song features Turner's lively baritone with echoes of music of yesteryear with very strong gospel and bluegrass influences. A catchy chorus helps. Randy Travis is an obvious vocal reference point. Not a surprise, considering "Storms of Life" was the first country album Turner ever bought.If Turner had done as intended, no one would ever have heard the song.

"The ironic thing is I wrote 'Long Black Train' just for me," he says. "After I wrote it, I didn't think anyone would want to hear that song. It was so old fashioned. So Old Timey. I didn't realize how good a song it actually was until I started playing it for people and seeing their reaction. The more I played it, the more people wanted to hear it."

"I got to play the song over and over again, and it started opening doors for me. It got me my publishing deal. It got me my record deal. It was the first song I sang on the Opry. It's been a blessing for me and my career."

Turner's debut came out in October on MCA, produced by Mark Wright and Frank Rogers, best known for his work with Brad Paisley.

Turner, 26 on Thanksgiving, says his intent in putting out the 11 songs was to "make an album that really spoke volumes of who I am. I tried to find songs that had lots of different things. 'Long Black Train,' a traditional song, to 'In My Dreams,' a great ballad that speaks of a devotion to (one's) wife and children and his home life, which I think is a very important thing...'What It Ain't' is an uptempo number that was very well written...You go from song to song, and I find things to relate to."

"There are so many levels to a person's personality and character, and I'm that kind of person. I just wanted to showcase that different level and aspects of Josh Turner. I tried to create an album that had positive feel to it and a voice of hope regardless of what the songs were about. I know with Johnny Cash's music (the two had a conversation while Turner was in college), no matter what the song was about, there was some kind of thread of hope in there. It was just that determination to want to keep going. That's a big part of my music too."

"Backwoods Boy" was pretty easy for Turner to relate to because it's his story. Turner wrote about going hunting for some deer with the refrain "cause I'm a backwoods boy/grew upon a dirt road/I'm a Backwoods Boy/With no better place to go."

Turner grew up in the tiny town of Hannah, S.C. in the northeastern part of the state.

"We don't have a zip code," he says. "It's very small. It's in the hundreds. It's just a small farming community. We have a few churches and a general store, and that's about it."

"It was a great experience," he says. "I could not have asked for a better place to grow up. I grew up way out in the country (away from)) the big cities and all that noise, confusion. I grew up hunting and fishing, spending most of my time hunting outdoors. We have never had cable or satellite there. We still don't. We didn't let video games or TV do the thinking for us."

"When me and my friends got together, we'd get swimming in the river, fishing and hunting. We'd go mud bogging as we call it in South Carolina. You'd get out there with four wheeler pick-up trucks and go bogging through the mud."

His uncle and brother worked an agricultural farm where tobacco was the cash crop. They also grew soybeans, which didn't require a lot of labor, corn and cotton. Turner worked there during summers.

"Music had always been part of my life," he says. "I was singing in church. I was singing solos and in youth choir. I started a young men's quartet. We started all those hymns and gospel songs. That was a great experience because I got to sing bass. I got to learn parts singing. I sang lead from time to time. I really developed my lower range at that time of life. Thankful Hearts was the name of the band. We went to all kinds of different churches throughout the state."

He listened to the music of his small Southern Baptist church upbringing, but outside of church, he grew up listening to traditional country and bluegrass music.

"I think the very first (country music) I ever heard was at my grandma's house," he says, adding, "She loved music. I always remember her singing in the house. The Stanley Brothers, the Osborne Brothers, a lot of gospel quartets and old Opry stars, Waylon and Johnny Cash."

Turner says he liked the honesty of the songs. When he was about 13, he started singing country songs to instrumental tracks. By the time he was about 17, he started writing songs and playing guitar.

Turner attended Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C. for two years.

While in college, he was part of a show in Myrtle Beach, S.C., High Steppin Country, but he had to quit in 1996 due to a lesion on his right vocal cord. He received vocal therapy at the famed Vanderbilt Voice Clinic.

"I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was in high school. I wanted to make a living making music. I knew in order to do that I had to come to Nashville. My parents wanted me to finish college. I said I might as well finish college in Nashville and chase my dream while I was at it. I knew Francis Marion didn't have any music I was interested in."

After his vocal problems cleared up, Turner went to Belmont in 1998. Three months later, he was discovered by Mercury label exec Keith Stegall, best known as Alan Jackson's producer.

While that didn't totally pan out, Turner made a connection to get a publishing deal and the publisher, who also doubled as his manager for a while, helped secure a record deal with MCA.

Turner played for Wright and later for then label head Tony Brown. "I never did a showcase," Turner says. "They just signed me."

Turner started making a record in 2000, and three years later he's on the charts.

"It's been exciting," says Turner. "It's just a dream come true. I just kind of revel in that I actually cut a record on a major record label. I have a video there that's playing probably worldwide. There are a lot of people who have heard my songs and been affected by it. It just conveys my music and my message to a lot of other people. It's a dream come true."

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