Featured Artist: Josh Turner
New MCA artist Josh Turner will never forget his Grand Ole Opry debut. And neither will the Opry audience on the night of December 21, 2001, who gave the then-unknown performer two standing ovations.
"I sang a song I wrote, called 'Long Black Train,'" remembers Josh, "I was on cloud nine, standing there singing a song of mine, standing where Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Roy Acuff had stood. All of a sudden, people started standing up and cheering. I wasn't even through with the song yet! I had two more verses and a chorus to go. By the end of the song, everybody was on their feet. I was in awe, just in shock."
"Bill Anderson was hosting that segment," continues Josh. "He came out just laughing, because he couldn't believe what was going on. He said, 'Do y'all want to hear some more? Josh, make that train a little bit longer.' So I counted the song off again. I got really choked up, because I realized what had just happened - I'd gotten an encore on the Grand Ole Opry. I was numb. I started crying a little bit, and I think I skipped a couple of verses. But I made it through, and got another standing ovation. There was a buzz in the building. I just couldn't believe that it had happened."
Dreams came true that night for the Hannah, South Carolina, native who always hoped that one day he'd be on a stage. And with a deep, rich voice that's commanding beyond his 25 years, it was only a matter of time.
"Growing up, I was always adept to male singers with baritone or bass voices," recalls Josh. "As a young boy, I would go around mimicking the bass parts that our church men's quartet would sing."
When Randy Travis came on the scene, Josh knew he'd found a kindred spirit. As a teen, he even sang Randy's 1986 No. 1, "Diggin' Up Bones," at a church benefit. "Everybody thought they were just playing Randy's version of it and I was lip-synching," says Josh. "They were just going crazy over it."
By the time Josh got to Nashville, a lot of people were crazy over his voice and his music. After hearing Josh sing only two songs, MCA signed him in November of 2001. Along with Mark Wright (Gary Allan and Lee Ann Womack), noted producer Frank Rogers (Brad Paisley and Darryl Worley) co-produced Josh's debut album, Long Black Train, set for a fall 2003 release.
And now the rest of the world can hear what the buzz was about that night at the Opry. The title track "Long Black Train" is Josh's new single a traditional sounding country gospel yes, gospel song that would make Hank Williams proud. In fact, Luke the Drifter was the song's inspiration. Josh wrote the tune while still a student at Nashville's Belmont University, after listening to the entire Hank Sr. box set in the school's library.
"As I was walking home I noticed there was something unusually dark about that night " says Josh. "All of a sudden, I got this vision of a wide open space, out on the plains. There was a train running out in the middle of nowhere, and people were standing beside the tracks, just watching it go by.
"I was thinking, 'What does this mean?' It dawned on me that the train was a physical metaphor for temptation. These people were standing there, deciding whether or not to get on it. That stuck with me. I was going through a tough time in my life at that time, and temptation was a subject that I knew a lot about. When I got home, I sat down on my bed with my guitar, and it just started pouring out of me."
Josh, a strong Christian, knew he had something special but never thought "Long Black Train" would become his first signature song. "This song is odd," he admits. "It's old-timey" - it sounds like 1940's gospel music. But I started playing it for people and they went crazy over it. It blew my mind. That song has opened so many doors for me. I'm glad it's the first track on the album, because it expresses my country upbringing and my Christian heritage."
Josh's country heritage is also well represented on his debut CD. He sings the clever, funny, rollicking "What It Ain't" with the voice of a man who's lost at love and is looking back on it with broken-hearted wisdom. In the achingly melancholy ballad "I Had One One Time," he takes on the voice of a homeless man with a message to appreciate what you have. And Josh's self-penned "Backwoods Boy" is a three-minute autobiography.
"That song is real," says Josh, who sings the praises of hunting, camping and dirt roads. "I could take you to my deer stand right now and show you my .243 and all those things I talk about in the song. Those are the kinds of songs I like to write, because people know I'm singing about something real. I'm not just making it up. And I like singing about things like that, because it makes me smile when I'm on stage."
Throughout Josh's album, there is a thread of morality and hope. When he was in the studio, the introspective songwriter looked to another one of his idols, Johnny Cash, as a template for making an album.
People need hope, no matter how far down they are," says Josh. "I know with Johnny Cash, there's always a hopeful spirit, even if it's just in his voice. You look at his life and everything he's been through. He was raised the right way, but he got sidetracked by a lot of things. But he never failed to come back to God and to what he knows is right. It's kept him alive and kept his music going strong. It's just hope. Yeah, I've lost people, my heart's been broken and I've been through tough times. But that shouldn't keep me down."
Josh has high hopes of his own for his debut CD. "I hope a lot of people go get it," he says with a laugh. "It's just who I am," he adds earnestly. "It's the best songs I could come up with for my first record, whether I wrote 'em or not. They're just honest."