BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – Nashville hasn’t heard a voice this deep since the Oak Ridge Boys, and Bakersfield hasn’t either – at least not since the last time country music star Josh Turner was in town.
For a guy who hails from South Carolina and talks like he doesn’t leave it all that often, Turner seems to know his way around the San Joaquin Valley pretty well.
The 44-year-old country music star – who’s playing Thursday night at Bakersfield’s Fox Theater – broke into the business the old fashioned way – one radio station at a time. It must have been around 2004.
“Everything was new to me,” Turner said. “My first radio tour was in the San Joaquin Valley. Up and down California, going station to station. And it wasn’t just radio visits, cuz like I say, I got to spend time with the people, people like Buck and all that. And it was just a great introduction into the music business.”
If it sounds like Josh Turner’s Central Valley experience made an impression, rest assured it worked both ways. During his first visit to Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace, Turner was presented with one of Buck’s trademark red, white and blue Fender Telecasters. But this one was special.
“It wasn’t just the guitar that meant so much to me,” he said. “There was pick guard on the guitar where he had basically engraved a note, a personal note to me, and I’ve had it on my wall every since. So, we’re talking almost 20 years now that I’ve had that on display.”
Turner has had to be selective about what he displayed and what he withheld from public viewing.
“And he also wrote me a handwritten letter that I never put on display until after he died because he also put his cell phone number in the letter and said, ‘Give me a call anytime you need me.’”
Turner was also able to get to know that other great icon of the Bakersfield Sound, Merle Haggard. The last time he saw Haggard was just a few years ago at a show in North Dakota. Turner and his band took in a performance of Haggard’s a few hours before they went on themselves. About halfway through, Haggard sang “Are the Good Times Really Over.” He ended the song with an ad lib.
“He says, ‘Not as long as there’s Josh Turner music around,’” Turner said. “And I just about fell out on the floor. I’m like, ‘Merle Haggard just mentioned me in one of his songs. I was like, I can die now.’ So it was a pretty cool moment.”
One of the songs on Turner’s personal country music Mount Rushmore is Johnny Cash, who he met just once. Turner was a student at Belmont University in Nashville when around 1998 he got up the guts to go to Cash’s house and knock on the door. Cash himself answered, hair toustled, clothes rumpled, bedroom slippers on his feet. He stood there and listened patiently while Turner gushed and stammered. Then Cash said it was time for him to call it a night.
“He reached out his hand, he shook my hand, he shuts the door,” Turner said. “And I go to walk back to my truck and I just broke down crying because I could not believe that that had just happened. So the morning I found he died I was just so grateful that I had taken their risk to go meet him because that was the only time I had got to meet him.
“I don’t necessarily encourage anyone to show up at my house at this point. So, do as I say, not as I do.”
If you go to Turner’s show at the Fox Thursday night, know you’re going to see a performer with a healthy respect for the Bakersfield Sound.
“As the years go by I feel more and more honored and privileged and just blessed,” Turner said. “I was able to rub elbows with guys like Buck and Merle.”
But don’t expect Turner’s cell phone number or an invitation to his front porch. Expect all the hits he has produced from his nine albums, as well as songs from two other albums – “I Serve the Savior” and “Country State of Mind,” which was released in 2021, smack dab in the middle of a pandemic. As a result he hasn’t had the chance to promote it much.
So Josh Turner has some ground to make up.