When the hitmaker wants to lay low and write songs, he doesn’t have to go far.
It’s been nearly 20 years since South Carolina native Josh Turner made his Grand Ole Opry debut to a fervent standing ovation. He was asked by the crowd that night to do an encore of the song he’d performed, a haunting redemption ode called “Long Black Train” that later introduced the wider world to his strikingly low baritone vocals and a songwriting voice that went even deeper.
Eight studio albums and many hit songs and live shows later, Turner has built quite the full life with his wife, Jennifer, and their four sons. He’s enjoying the fruits of his prolific musical efforts on their land south of Nashville but still active and wildly popular in country music. A member of the Grand Ole Opry since his induction in 2007, Turner has paid homage to musical heroes on his latest record, Country State of Mind, applying his own deeper-than-the-holler range to classics made famous by Randy Travis, Vern Gosdin, Hank Williams, and more.
The covers album didn’t just root from a desire to honor past legends, but also out of logistical necessity for the 43-year-old star. Recording the classics seemed like a good idea during a time when he couldn’t find the space to sit down and write original material.
Since 2012, Turner has retreated to a peaceful writer’s cottage on his property whenever he needed a creative respite. “No phones, no internet, no TV,” Turner says. “It’s just a place where you can go and there’s peace and quiet, and you can write and be creative and think and just not be interrupted or distracted.”
Many of his hits have been written in that space, a two-story, 1,750-square-foot model originated by Southland Log Homes. But it stopped being his writer’s retreat for a little more than a year when his entire family moved into the space while their home was being remodeled and renovated.
“I like for things to be kind of in order over there, which made us living in it really hard because I had to let all of that go [with four boys],” Turner says. “I can’t complain, because we were still able to live on our property, oversee the rebuilding project of our house, and get all that done.”
In the midst of the renovations and other projects, “I went about two years without really having a formal sit-down songwriting session.
“But it is good to have it back in a condition to where I can write in it and be creative again.”
Turner says he’s back in full songwriting swing in the cottage, as he continues to celebrate and tour on the release of Country State of Mind.
He should have plenty to inspire new lyrics considering the year we’ve all been through. And his cottage is more important than ever as a way to gain some perspective: He’s surrounded in the structure’s two-story great room by a cozy fireplace, personal mementos, quirky down-home décor items, and a vinyl collection full of the artists he says made him who he is.
Turner feels much more like a handyman these days, as well, having presided over many changes to his family’s property over the years. He admits it’s occasionally been a trial by fire.
“I’ve gotten good at different electrical stuff and plumbing stuff. I replaced an exhaust fan in our bathroom that I about lost my religion over.”
Country stars — they’re just like us.
Photography: Images courtesy Kenny Jackson/Josh Turner
From our January 2021 issue.