The deep-voiced country crooner has a greatest hits album out today, so it's time to look back on our 2012 visit with him.
I've always appreciated the traditional stylings and baritone badassery of country singer Josh Turner. He's checked in consistently over the years with gorgeous collections of songs, painstakingly arranged, played, and delivered. He's a true artist. So it was a thrill 11 years ago when I got to meet Josh backstage at Billy Bob's just as he was about to release the album Punching Bag. I was happy to peel back the layers on the golden-voiced, humble-as-pie family man after a soundcheck, while his wife and kids chilled nearby.
Turner has a new Greatest Hits album out today — you've probably figured out by this point that I recommend it. All killer, no filler, as they say. Here's that 2012 feature. Enjoy!
Interview: Josh Turner Talks About Life On The Road And His New Album
The deep-voiced crooner chats with C&I; about 'Punching Bag' and more before a packed concert at Billy Bob's Texas.
BY HUNTER HAUK/C&I
Originally published in June 2012.
It’s a late-March afternoon at Billy Bob’s Texas, and there aren’t many folks inside the historic and huge Fort Worth honky-tonk just yet. I’m sitting alone in the music hall area, watching 34-year-old country star Josh Turner and his band kick off soundcheck for that evening’s show.
“Chp chp chp; psp psp psp. … Hey hey; ho ho.”
Dressed casual in jeans and work boots, Turner tests his microphone a few times and mills about the stage, chatting with his keyboard-playing wife, Jennifer, and other band members. Eventually, he grabs a guitar, and the band launches into “All Over Me,” the endlessly catchy summer jam from 2010’s Haywire. His bass-to-baritone voice is in top form, and the players behind him are already at studio quality – on the first soundcheck song. I proceed to surrender disbelief, and pretend I’m getting a private concert from one of country music’s most talented and prolific young traditionalists.
The next one they run through is “Time Is Love,” a sweet, mandolin-tinged new single from Turner’s upcoming fifth album Punching Bag (out June 12 on MCA Nashville). They nail it. Same goes for the final test run, the female-form-worshiping barn burner “Eye Candy.”
Fifteen minutes later, I’m ushered to a stark backstage waiting room to chat with the singer.
Up close – honestly? – he looks a little tired. That much, he confirms.
“Exhausted. In the last few days we played the Austin rodeo, then played two shows in San Antonio, then Bossier City, then here.”
Like many country stars, Turner spends much of his life on a tour bus. Unlike many country stars, he brings his three young boys along for the ride.
Q: What do the kids think of all this craziness?
Turner: They’re pretty flexible, with the things we put them through and the places we drag them to. We’re in a different place every day. There are so many different things to do, so many types of people to be around. In some ways it’s great, because they get to see the country we live in with their own eyes -- things a lot of children experience only in textbooks. So that’s great, plus there’s the fact that we’re together. But I guess the negative side is that we get run down.
By the way, his speaking voice is even deeper than his singing voice. I’m surprised it doesn’t rattle my recorder. And, for much of his already wildly successful career, that ability to go lower than everyone else has been Turner’s money-maker. It’s not only how low he can go, but what he can do when he gets there.
In four albums released since 2003, the South Carolina native has tackled soulful bedroom seductions (the monster hit “Your Man,” the Don Williams cover “I Wouldn’t Be A Man”), honky-tonk ditties (“Why Don’t We Just Dance,” “One Woman Man”), humorous story songs (“Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln”), and modern bluegrass (“Would You Go With Me”) with equal aplomb. It’s traditional, often spiritual country, though, that’s won him endless acclaim.
His first single, the haunting religious tune “Long Black Train,” got him standing ovations and encores at his Grand Ole Opry debut in 2001. He’s now one of the youngest members of the Opry.
Certainly willing to discuss the past accomplishments, Turner perks up more when talking about the present. He and his band have been gradually adding songs from the new record to their live list, kicking off sets with the instantly familiar title track about the punches life can throw.
Turner: We want to give fans a little taste, but not too much of a taste [before the June release]. Luckily, we don’t have to rush around and learn everything at once. That’s what we had to do for Haywire because the record was about to drop – we hadn’t had time to rehearse, so we went to a hall in Nashville, and I think we learned … good gracious, I think it was eight or nine songs at once. We had to figure out where they were going in the set, the video, the lights, the whole kit and caboodle.
Q: Tell me about writing the songs on ‘Punching Bag.’ I know you wrote or co-wrote most of them.
Turner: I have a log cabin on my property that I built. I call it my writer’s cottage, because that’s basically what it is. … It’s just a place where I keep all my music stuff. It’s where I do all my writin’, where I go to get inspired. It took two full years to build, from start to finish. Very stressful time.
Q: What was so stressful about it?
Turner: There was just a lot of unnecessary stuff that went on with inspectors, and permits, and ... The county we’re in [in Tennessee], there were just a lot of headaches we had to overcome. The contractor I used just builds log cabins, so I had to bring in a design company to get it the way I wanted it. So there was all that nitpicky stuff to deal with. It took two years, but it was all worth it once I got in there and had all those people out of my hair. I was able to get in there, set it up, and sit down and think, without TV and computers, without anything distracting me.
Q: What kinds of ideas do you start out with when you’re in your writing mode?
Turner: I’m always aware of things I experience or things people say. You never know when a song title will come about. One example is the title track for the new record – “Punching Bag.” It’s funny – I’ve had so many people already – who haven’t heard the song yet – ask me why I’d name the record Punching Bag. “What’s that all about?” And, I’d get to tellin’ them the story about how I had one of those days that we all have where nothing goes right, everything blows up in your face. It’s like you against the world. I had one of those days, and I came home and I was standing in the closet with Jennifer and just unloading on her about my day. And I finally told her, “Today, I just feel like a punching bag. I just feel like life is beating me up.” And when I said that, it just rang a bell. I punched it in the phone and didn’t think about it until I got together with my buddy Pat McLaughlin [who also co-wrote Turner’s 2007 hit “Firecracker,” among others].
Q: Was it music industry stuff getting you down that day?
Turner: Yeah. That particular day, it was music business stuff, which I absolutely hate. But it’s something I’ve come to terms with as far as being able to swallow. There are artists out there – who I completely empathize with – who don’t have the patience or understanding of the business side. They just want to make music. That’s what I want to do, too, but I understand that it’s a necessary evil. I try to have as much creative control as I can, but there are still things I have to go and do that I do not want to do. When you have to fly to New York and fly right back, and the whole time you are there you are talking and answering the same questions over and over again. … And, you can be in hair and makeup all day. You don’t feel like you can touch your face. You’re in tight jeans, and you can’t relax. … It takes a toll on your nervous system. [Laughs.]
Q: I’d imagine that making music in the studio is a much more laid back experience for you.
Turner: That is, for me, one of the most exciting parts of my career. At this point we’ve put together such a great group of studio musicians. They all get along, they understand who I am as an artist, what kind of sound I’m trying to execute and create. So, when we get in there, it’s just second nature. I think the most nerve-racking part for me is when we first play one of my songs for them. These guys play songs all day every day. I want them to be pleased, and impressed. And most of the time, they are, because most of these guys are traditional country music fans. And they don’t play a lot of that anymore, unfortunately. I’m honored to bring that kind of music to the table for them, because it gives them a little break. It’s a vacation. Man, they just get in there and tear it up.
Q: You’re definitely traditional, but you also have pushed your voice to other places like soul and R&B in the past. What’s the vibe of the new record?
Turner: This new record is probably one of the more country records that I’ve done, on a whole. There are songs like “Time Is Love” that have more of a contemporary flair. But even that song has mostly acoustic instruments on it. Overall, it’s a traditional country album. But I am always trying to push my voice to go different places. I came from a rootsy, traditional background, but where I grew up there were as many black people as there were white people. So I was affected by their music as much as our own. A lot of the old soul and R&B stuff has a special place in my heart. I may not know as much about it as I do bluegrass or country, but I feel it just the same. I think you mentioned the soul aspect. I think that’s the common thread.
A couple of hours after our chat, Billy Bob’s is packed to the gills. Around 10:30, Turner takes the stage to a boxing-style intro piped over the speakers.
“Standing at 6 feet 1 and weighing in at 175 pounds … he is the tornado of testosterone! The bone-shaking baritone! Let’s get ready to rumble with the unmistakable voice of Josh Turner!”
The show that follows is just what I expected … a knockout. Fans of all ages sing every word to every song, and Turner’s grin is Cheshire-like throughout.
Not even a trace of fatigue.
(Courtesy photography by David McClister)