Big Joe Turner
Videos by Big Joe Turner
Chains of Love
Flip, Flop and Fly
Hide And Seek
Low Down Dog
Oh Well, Oh Well
Oke She Moke She Pop
Roll 'Em Pete
Shake, Rattle And Roll
Big Joe Turner (born Joseph Vernon Turner Jr., May 18, 1911 – November 24, 1985) was an American blues shouter from Kansas City, Missouri. According to the songwriter Doc Pomus, "Rock and roll would have never happened without him." Although he came to his greatest fame in the 1950s with his pioneering rock and roll recordings, particularly "Shake, Rattle and Roll", Turner's career as a performer stretched from the 1920s into the 1980s.
Known variously as The Boss of the Blues, and Big Joe Turner (due to his 6'2", 300+ lbs stature), Turner was born in Kansas City and first discovered his love of music through involvement in the church. Turner's father was killed in a train accident when Joe was only four years old. He began singing on street corners for money, leaving school at age fourteen to begin working in Kansas City's nightclub scene, first as a cook, and later as a singing bartender. He eventually became known as The Singing Barman, and worked in such venues as The Kingfish Club and The Sunset, where he and his piano playing partner Pete Johnson became resident performers. The Sunset was managed by Piney Brown. It featured "separate but equal" facilities for white patrons. Turner wrote "Piney Brown Blues" in his honor and sang it throughout his entire career.
At that time Kansas City was a wide-open town run by "Boss" Tom Pendergast. Despite this, the clubs were subject to frequent raids by the police, but as Turner recounts, "The Boss man would have his bondsmen down at the police station before we got there. We'd walk in, sign our names and walk right out. Then we would cabaret until morning".
His partnership with boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson proved fruitful. Together they headed to New York City in 1936, where they appeared on a bill with Benny Goodman, but as Turner recounts, "After our show with Goodman, we auditioned at several places, but New York wasn't ready for us yet, so we headed back to K.C.". Eventually they were spotted by the talent scout, John H. Hammond in 1938, who invited them back to New York to appear in one of his "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts at Carnegie Hall, which was instrumental in introducing jazz and blues to a wider American audience.
Due in part to their appearance at Carnegie Hall, Turner and Johnson scored a major hit with "Roll 'Em Pete". The track contained one of the earliest recorded examples of a back beat. It was a song which Turner recorded many times, with various combinations of musicians, over the ensuing years.
In 1951, while performing with the Count Basie Orchestra at Harlem's Apollo Theater as a replacement for Jimmy Rushing, he was spotted by Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, who signed him to their new recording company, Atlantic Records. Turner recorded a number of hits for them, including the blues standards, "Chains of Love" and "Sweet Sixteen". Many of his vocals are punctuated with shouts to the band members, as in "Boogie Woogie Country Girl" ("That's a good rockin' band!", "Go ahead, man! Ow! That's just what I need!" ) and "Honey Hush" (he repeatedly sings "Hi-yo, Silver!", probably in reference to The Treniers singing the phrase in their Lone Ranger parody "Ride, Red, Ride"). Turner's records shot to the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts; although they were sometimes so earthy that some radio stations would not play them, the songs received heavy play on jukeboxes and records.
Turner hit it big in 1954 with "Shake, Rattle and Roll", which not only enhanced his career, turning him into a teenage favorite, but also helped to transform popular music. The song is fairly raw, as Turner yells at his woman to "get outa that bed, wash yo' face an' hands" and comments that she's "wearin' those dresses, the sun comes shinin' through!, I can't believe my eyes, all that mess belongs to you." He sang the number on film in the 1955 theatrical feature Rhythm and Blues Revue.
Although the cover version of the song by Bill Haley and His Comets, with the risqué lyrics incompletely cleaned up, was a bigger hit, many listeners sought out Turner's version and were introduced thereby to the whole world of rhythm and blues. Elvis Presley showed he needed no such introduction. Presley's version of "Shake, Rattle and Roll" combined Turner's lyrics with Haley's arrangement, but was not successful as a single.
Suddenly, at the age of 43, Turner was a rock star. His follow-ups "Well All Right," "Flip Flop and Fly," "Hide and Seek," "Morning, Noon and Night," and "The Chicken and the Hawk" all continued the good-time feel of "Shake, Rattle and Roll". He appeared on the television program Showtime at the Apollo during the mid 1950s, and in the film, Shake Rattle & Rock! (1956).
"Corrine, Corrina" provided Turner with another massive seller in 1956. In addition to the rock songs he found time to cut the classic Boss of the Blues album in 1956. On May 26, 1958, "(I’m Gonna) Jump for Joy," the twentieth and last of Turner's run of hits, entered the US R&B record chart.
It is a mark of his dominance as a singer that he won the Esquire magazine award for male vocalist in 1945, the Melody Maker award for best 'new' vocalist in 1956, and the British Jazz Journal award as top male singer in 1965. His career thus stretched from the bar rooms of Kansas City in the 1920s (at the age of twelve when he performed with a pencilled moustache and his father's hat), on to the European jazz music festivals of the 1980s.
In 1983, only two years before his death, Turner was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. The same year saw the release on Mute Records of Blues Train, an album which paired Turner with Roomful of Blues.
Wikipedia contributors. "Big Joe Turner." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 Aug. 2010.