The Timeless Sound of Josh Turner
and his nearly 20-year career, still going strong.
Somewhere in the annals of an old closet, in an old tote, lies a home video of me — at about three years old, wearing a black cowboy hat, strumming my toy Wiggles guitar, and singing/mumbling along to “Long Black Train,” and “Backwoods Boy” by Josh Turner.
Just a few days ago I sat down and listened to the entirety of Country State Of Mind; his country cover album from 2020.
An artist with that kind of career-span is rare, and Josh Turner doesn't get enough credit for having such an everlasting sound.
Turner started his music career early in the 80s and 90s, in Hannah, South Carolina. He got his start the way many country singers do; singing in church choirs. He even started his own gospel quartet.
The key to Josh Turner’s long-lasting success may lie in his influences growing up. In this interview with American Songwriter, he states that his biggest influences were; “Randy Travis, Johnny Cash, John Anderson, Vern Gosdin, and Hank Williams.” All of these artists have timeless catalogs to their name, and that’s one of the reasons Turner enjoys them all.
Turner’s first break came after he graduated college in Nashville. He’d been working hard to pursue his music dream, and that dream picked up steam when he got to make his Grand Ole Opry debut in 2001. I’m sad that I can’t find any video proof of it anywhere, and because of that I’m not sure what songs he did during that debut — other than “Long Black Train.” The crowd loved the song so much that it got a standing ovation halfway through, and he performed it again as his encore.
His songwriting ability — showcased by the Opry performances, got him on the radar of Jody Williams, who pulled him onto MCA Records. After over 30 appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, he finally released his debut album in 2003, named after the song everyone loved; Long Black Train.
The single; “Long Black Train” was on the country music chart for over 40 weeks, was nominated for CMA’s song of the year, and has been certified platinum.
Josh Turner followed up Long Black Train with an even bigger single, and subsequent album. In 2005 he released the first single — and the title track off his next album; Your Man. This was his first major hit, and major it was. In just 6 months it was already certified platinum, and by 2006 it had climbed to number one on the country chart.
The album went number one on the country billboard charts and even got to number two on the overall US chart.
He followed up the iconic; “Your Man,” with his second single from the album; “Would You Go With Me.” This one also went number one.
“Your Man” is 3x platinum, and “Would You Go With Me” has been certified platinum twice now. These two singles are a couple of the more ageless classics he put out.
2007 was a big year for Josh Turner. He was nominated for five CMA awards, and two Grammy awards. This was also the year he was invited, and inducted; as a Grand Ole Opry member. This made him one of the youngest to that point.
As the cherry on top of his massive 2007 run, he finished it with his third album; Everything Is Fine. It’s first single; “Firecracker” went to number two on the country chart. For some reason the title track is the song I remember best, yet it only went to 20 on the country chart.
Turner’s latter two singles from Everything Is Fine were the only releases from him in 2008, and they didn’t do quite as good as the prior stuff he’d put out. This didn’t affect him though, because he started off 2009 with a bang.
While it wasn’t an instant hit when it released in 2009, by February 2010, his first single from Haywire; “Why Don’t We Just Dance” had Turner back in the number one spot. It went 2x platinum, and was another song I’d consider one of his “classics.” He followed it up with “All Over Me,” which became his 4th number one.
In 2012 Turner put out his fifth album; Punching Bag. The lead single off this project was “Time Is Love.” “Time Is Love” peaked at number two on the chart, but stayed on it long enough to be the number one song of the year in 2012. His second — and only other single from Punching Bag; “Find Me A Baby,” failed to chart. In 2012, he also released an album featuring 12 songs performed live in different shows called Live Across America, which was a Cracker Barrel exclusive for some odd reason.
After that last stretch of success, Josh Turner’s career kind of slowed down, but it seemed to be almost intentional. It took a span of four years to release three singles from the 2017 album; Deep South. The second of these three singles was actually a minor hit that went platinum; although it didn’t feel as much like the classic Josh Turner sound. “Hometown Girl” just felt like an unnecessary push to make a more trendy song, which I don’t think he needed to do to stay relevant. As I said though, it was a chart success — unlike the last single from Deep South, which didn't even chart, and had the same trend chasing sound.
This is the era where I feel like Turner was satisfied with his career, and began to really start making some passion projects.
The first of these passion projects was a gospel album released in 2018, called I Serve A Savior. This project was full of some of the most recognizable gospel songs, as well as a few originals written by Turner and his family. It actually ended up getting to number two on the country album chart, without ever seeing any singles released.
After I Serve A Savior, Turner released one of my favorite projects of his, in 2020; Country State Of Mind. This was a phenomenal cover album absolutely full of some great old country songs. Hearing Josh Turner’s deep baritone/bass voice over these classics is something you never forget. He also has several guests feature on the covers as well. One of the biggest guest appearances was Randy Travis’ appearance on his own “Forever and Ever, Amen,” which was his first recording since the stroke he suffered in 2013.
In 2021 Turner put out his latest project; King Size Manger. This was a Christmas album, similarly to I Serve A Savior; it featured several classics, and several originals as well.
Josh Turner is an artist that is very overlooked. If you look at his discography, and you look at his consistency, I think you’ll see he’s one of the modern greats in country music. Whether it’s by intention or accident, he’s managed to have the career of a star, without ever really being seen as one by the masses.
None of his songs — particularly his hit songs, have ever really become dated like most artists. In fact, “Your Man,” and “Would You Go With Me” have had huge resurgences; as TikTok has helped Gen Z appreciate them.
One of the bigger trends that Josh Turner’s music was included in, was when people were saying “I don’t like country…” and then proceeding to jam out to a Josh Turner song. I love seeing things like that, and knowing that they are some people’s gateway into country, nearly 15 years after their release.
The dude can write some catchy choruses as well. Numerous times during this article I’d go to listen a song of his, wouldn’t remember the verses, but was able to scream every word of the chorus when it hit.
He has such an iconic and unique voice, and I think this also adds to the longevity he has been able to achieve. There’s never been a time when a Josh Turner song has come on the radio and I’ve had to ask; “Who’s that?” When he delivers the famous line; “Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low” it’s just so smooth. When that song released, every guy wanted the game that Josh Turner had.
Another thing that contributes to his long-term success is that he just seems like a great guy. It’s hard nowadays to find anyone who really holds up to the standard you expect from them, but Josh Turner really just seems like a genuine, nice guy. Every interview I’ve watched has been lovely. He includes his family everywhere he can. He refused to ever have any fake lovers in any music videos, instead he used his real-life wife. They even recreated the “Your Man” music video for the 15 year anniversary of the song recently.
Googling “Josh Turner controversy” only yields one related article, and it was about a pretty silly thing. Apparently, train engineers didn’t enjoy the train going through the people on the tracks in the music video for “Long Black Train.” They claimed it would encourage suicide, but Turner shot that down quickly with; “(Neither) the song, nor the video, is about a real train. I feel that’s the point they’re missing. It’s a metaphor. They have to see through the surface.”
Can we also talk about how dynamic his catalog is as well? The guy wrote and sang one of the most iconic gospel songs of the 2000s, and then also performed one of the sexiest country songs of the 2000s. Not to mention the juxtaposition of a song called “Firecracker” filled with very easily spotted metaphors for sex, and then his rendition of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It may sound like I’m poking fun at this but I’m not (okay maybe a tiny, playful, bit), I genuinely love that aspect of his music. I think it’s really fun when artists don’t just make one cookie-cutter thing their whole career, and are willing to branch out into different areas and subject-matters.
Josh Turner has been so great at everything he has tried, and even though he hasn't had a smash hit in a few years; he’s still making some damn good country music, and seems to be enjoying himself. I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.
Thanks for reading! This was a super fun one to write! I’ve had this idea in my notes forever and just never got around to doing it because I knew it’d take a while, and I wanted to do it right.
Josh Turner is one of those artists that has just always been around in my life, and was a massive part of my childhood (yes, I know I’m but a wee baby) and now that I’m 20 it’s just crazy to look back and see how long he’s been making such good music. One of the first songs I ever learned the lyrics to was “Long Black Train” and I’m still singing along with everything he releases to this day.
If you liked that story, you’ll probably like one of these:
The Case For Keith Whitley
Why Keith Whitley deserves a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.