Josh Turner Rolls with the Punches
Not every person called to a career in music is called to be a Christian artist. Just ask Josh Turner. A devout believer and double-platinum selling country star, the influence of Turner’s faith and family is woven throughout his music, beginning with his 2003 debut hit “Long Black Train.”
Though some artists who make a living courting mainstream consumers are sometimes a little hesitant to talk about their faith, Turner has no qualms. In fact, during the interview when asked 'What would you like to tell people that no one ever asks you?,' Turner’s response is surprisingly direct.
“The best answer to that question would be the fact that God promised me that He would give me this career as long as I trusted Him. That’s something a lot of people may not understand, but He spoke to me years ago when I was contemplating moving to Nashville. People ask me, ‘What do you attribute all this success to?’ It all goes back to that one moment.”
Seated comfortably in the log cabin he uses as a writer’s retreat, Turner says singing country music has always been his passion. The décor in the rustic cabin reflects his love of the genre. He has a cassette copy of Randy Travis’ landmark album Storms of Life on his desk. His wall boasts a signed photo of the late Vern Gosdin not far from a photo of himself with President George W. Bush. Country music has always been in his blood, but he wasn’t sure about making it his vocation until he felt God guiding him directly down that path. He was in his teens contemplating a move from his home in South Carolina to “Music City” when God spoke to him.
“I didn’t hear it with my ears. I heard it with my heart,” he recalls. “It’s that still, small voice within you. It’s undeniable... This is what I was born to do. This is the purpose that He has given me and I’ve been intent upon using it for good and using it to help people, inspire people, lift people up and encourage people.”
Turner made the move to Nashville and began attending Belmont University where he met his wife, Jennifer. The couple has been married nine years and has three sons, Hampton, five, Colby, three, and Marion, 18 months. Since signing to MCA Records, Turner has become one of country music’s most consistent hit-makers and one of the youngest members of the Grand Ole Opry. His first four albums spawned such memorable hits as “Your Man,” “Would You Go With Me,” “Me and God,” “Why Don’t We Just Dance” and “All Over Me.”
Turner’s current single, “Time is Love,” is the first hit from his fifth album, Punching Bag. Turner penned the title tune after having a bad day and sharing his thoughts with Jennifer. “I told her I felt like a punching bag,” he says. “I felt like life was beating me up. When I said it, it immediately struck me as a song title, so I put it in my phone and waited for the right opportunity."
Turner invited one of his favorite co-writers, Pat McLaughlin, out to his cabin to help finish the song. “I wanted to convey the fact that even though life throws you a punch, that doesn't mean you have to take it or be knocked down by it,” he says. “Life is a series of punches. It presents a lot of challenges. It presents a lot of hardship. The people who are able to take those punches are the ones who have a lot of success and a lot of joy, and have a lot of stories to tell, too. I really felt like this was going to be a song of inspiration and motivation for people who might be struggling with things in their life and might be considering giving up. Hopefully this song will inspire them to get past that hump."
An Unlikely Hit
Turner wrote or co-wrote eight of the 11 tracks on the new album, including the haunting “Pallbearer.”
“I wrote this song with no commercial intention at all. This song completely came from the heart,” says Turner. “The true inspiration started with the death of my daddy’s cousin [by marriage]. He was a mechanic, a veteran, a loving husband and father. He was always a joy to be around. He was always giving and always willing to help people out. His name was James McKnight and he died back in 2010. It just hit me hard that he had died and it [hit] me even harder that I wasn’t able to take time off to go to his funeral.
“Seeing my daddy's name on the bulletin just got me thinking about that role of a pallbearer and what it means. I was thinking that’s probably one of the most lonesome things you can do in your life, especially when you know the person you are carrying. I didn’t want to write it specifically about Mr. James, but I wanted to write it about the idea and the concept and the question, 'what is lonesome?' And I think being a pallbearer is pretty lonesome.”
Turner wrote the song in his cabin, situated just down the hill from his family’s home on 37 acres outside of Nashville.
“I came over here one day when I had some free time during the afternoon and wrote it in less than an hour. It just all kind of came out naturally. I played it for Jennifer and she said, ‘I think it’s pretty cool.’ I thought she was being nice. I thought the song was too dark for anybody to really enjoy it and then [producer] Frank Rogers ended up hearing it and then my manager ended up hearing it and my head of A&R ended up hearing it and they were all in agreement that this is one of the coolest songs that they’ve ever heard and [said] ‘This is going on the record whether you like it or not’ and I was like, ‘I’m not going to argue with you.’”
Turner invited country veteran Marty Stuart to play mandolin on the song and enlisted Iris DeMent to add her distinctive vocals. The new album also features other special guests, among them Ricky Skaggs, who sang harmony and played mandolin and cello banjo on “For the Love of God.”
Turner also welcomed some special guests on the song “Find Me a Baby,” - his wife and sons.
“[The cabin's] been great for me to come over here and be able to write and just have the peace and quiet and no distractions,” he says.
The first tune he ever wrote there was an ode to a friend who died. The song didn’t make it on the album, but will always be special to Turner.
“It’s called ‘Moses,’ about my dog who passed away in September of 2010,” he says. “He was six years old and had kidney failure. It was unexpected. I took him to the vet to get checked out because he was losing weight. We left him there and went out to eat and were planning to go back and pick him up. The vet calls me before I even get my food at the restaurant... We had to put him down that day. It was a pretty rough week or two or three. He was a bloodhound. He was my buddy for sure.”
As he looks to the future, Turner says he definitely wants to record a gospel album one day. Until then, he interjects his country albums with songs that express his faith. Among his favorite tracks on the new album is “I Was There,” written by Tim Menzy and Monty Criswell.
“It’s one of the most powerful songs that came across my desk for this record,” he says, adding that he asked the songwriters to tweak it a little to make it even more direct. “I didn’t feel like it made it very clear that it was coming from God’s perspective,” he says. “I think most people in country music and most people that are Christians would probably get it, but I think the people that aren’t country music fans or who aren’t Christians, probably wouldn’t get it. I just really felt like the more clear you make a song the more people it’s going to reach, so they kind of tweaked a few lines here and there and just really kind of drove the point home. Everybody that I played it for said it’s a tearjerker. It’s a very moving song.”
When asked why it’s important to him to write and record songs that express his faith, Turner tells gmc, “Because that’s a part of who I am. I’ve always tried to be who I am. I’ve never claimed to be a preacher. I’m not trying to preach to people, but at the same time, I’m commissioned to speak the name of Jesus and that’s a huge part of me, so if I leave that part out of my music, I’m leaving a part of myself out that is very important... It is a very conscious decision so there’s [sic] several songs on this record that lean to the spiritual side of things. I’m a very spiritual person. Some people refer to my faith as a religion and it’s not a religion. It’s more of a relationship.”
Copyright 2012, watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications. A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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