I can remember Mrs. Blackburn’s hands pressing my six year old fingers on the
keys of our old piano for my lessons while I thought about pirates, cowboys and
baseball. I only learned one song in a year called “Indian War Chant” or
something sort of boogie-esque. I remember the thrill of finding a harmonica in
my Christmas stocking and hearing my Dad’s Hank Williams Sr. and Ernest Tubb
records and my Mom and my grandfather, Daddy Red’s big band and jazz records and
really loving that sound. Mom and Daddy Red would both sing and play piano and
I’d sit there really intrigued and happy. I listened to my older sisters’ soul
records over and over, memorizing every line and lick.
We had a black housekeeper, Ruvina who’d baby-sit us and take me to her
church. It must’ve rocked my world ‘cause I’d climb and dance through the pews
while they sang. I can still see those black hands reaching for me. I loved that
woman. She injected me with some kind of soul shot or something ‘cause I’ve
always been so moved by black gospel and primitive blues and R&B.
My first performance was when I was 4 years old. My mom accompanied me and I
won a $5 grocery certificate at a talent show by singing about 25 verses of
“Davy Crockett” dressed in an outfit with a coonskin cap and rifle.
I learned “Over the Rainbow” on a busted toy saxophone and played for our
backyard carnival, doubling as “the man of a thousand burps”. In elementary
school and junior high I played trumpet and was third chair till a bully hit my
pal with some timbale sticks and I busted him over the head with my horn. That
dented the horn and got me suspended in the process. Being a horrible music
reader, I’d just listen to the parts and memorize them. I played army with that
horn in the neighborhood and drove the neighbors nuts.
I was about 13, I really got serious about playing blues harp. I met a guy in
boarding school in Chattanooga who turned me on to it. We both played in the
drum and bugle corps. We were misfits who would jam on harp and the chapel
organ. That cat could play and had the soul of an old blues man. There I got
paid $5 a week to play reveille, mess call, and taps for the boarders. A lot of
old shoes and various items were thrown at me during reveille.
By the time I was in 10th grade, I was back in Lexington, Kentucky and hooked
up with Jeff Silbar, who would become a best friend and band mate for years. Jeff
has since had great success as a songwriter, about ten gold records and grabbed
a Grammy for co-writing “Wind Beneath My Wings”. He played guitar, loved the
blues and soon we started a very hip rock and roll band called “Junction”. We
rented a studio above the White Cloud Laundromat and had a wild time. The band
lasted for about four years until around 1975 when Jeff and I decided to move to
got a job at Tree Publishing and I decided to go to Peabody College for music
and writing. My piano teacher, Werner Von Zepernic was fantastic but finally
told me to “give it up and go back to your Boogie Woogie”. After a series of odd
jobs, I joined a band with Tanya Tucker’s sister, La Costa, and toured for about
a year. She had a hit single and album on the charts. We played some big time
package shows with bona fide stars like Merle Haggard and at the famous Palomino
Club in Los Angeles. I did my term paper while on the road, returned to
Nashville, quit college and started writing more songs with Jeff. We got a deal
to board horses at Blue Creek Stables, lived in the bunkhouse, wrote songs and
had day jobs in town. Soon, I had to hit the road again with a rock band to earn
money and played all kinds of crazy gigs. This band was just one of a thousand
but a great place to hone my chops and party.
Back to Nashville, I was getting heavy into Charlie Parker and be-bop.
Nashville, in my opinion, was producing watered-down fluff. Gone were the days
of Kristofferson and the real cats. Willie was in Texas. Jazz was hitting me
hard, so I split town. I tried college again in Lexington, majored in
journalism. I found I hated journalism and soon joined a down home country band
at one of those black basement smoke filled sticky floored trucker bars. They
paid decent money, though, and the players were real and very good. After the
gig, I’d go play jazz sax all night long with a new piano player friend, Brad
Bleidt, a great cat.
I saved enough bread to build a small 4-track studio in a drummer
friend’s basement. I lived there, worked on my music during the days and played
five or six nights a week at the Congress Inn.
After I’d produced a few good songs, I decided I needed a change. I got
accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston and moved myself and my studio. Berklee was
like jazz boot camp. I still had to have a job, so a friend, Lee Carroll helped
me get a job in a blues/rock band. That gig saved my sanity for a few years and
gave me an outside social life. I barely made enough to pay the rent but, at
Berklee, was exposed to knowledge and techniques that would take me five
lifetimes to master. After Berklee , I said, “Goodbye, Boston, and hello again, Nashville.
I had hopes of
jumping into some immediate success in Music City with my new chops and
musicianship, but had a rough time again, played in a club band and almost
starved. I wrote 5 or 6 songs, sold the publishing rights for some bread and
started going out to clubs and jamming.
Then, it finally happened. I got a call to audition for Dolly Parton’s band.
Hallelujah! I got the gig! Dolly's tour
put me back on my feet again. Unfortunately, Dolly got sick
and had to have surgery. In order to recuperate, she was booked into major
casinos and venues with house orchestras and no longer needed a sax/harp/utility
keyboard man. But Dolly, God bless her, paid me for the time of her illness plus
an extra month's severance to look for another gig. She always treated her band
like family and I respect and adore her to this day!
One day I stopped in the Nashville Musicians union and met this electrifying
blonde singer and incredible world champion yodeler, Margo Smith, who was
holding auditions for a piano player. She hired me on the spot. I toured with
her for a couple of years all over the U.S. and Germany and worked on my
songwriting. That’s when I started Joe Turley & the Eccentrics, doing original
and selected blues and soul music in local Nashville clubs.
During my time with Margo, God came through big time and I fell in love with
and married my wonderful, talented, beautiful, intelligent soul mate, Marie. She
is definitely the best thing to come out of Nashville for me and we are still
Nashville is a very difficult town to crack but I started a new soul, rock &
roll band, Ivory Joe & the Midnight Howlers. I also made connections as a writer
and did session work. I worked and did regional gigs with the great, soulful,
magnetic performer and beach-music king Clifford Curry. But when the call came
to play with two of my musical inspirations of all time, Leon Russell and Edgar
Winter, I took the gig. Musically this was the most rewarding experience in my
career. Those cats are the creme de la creme. My tour with the band was brief
but beautiful and I made some great buddies.
Back in Nashville, I still couldn't seem to stay in town and survive
financially, so, I went on tour with Shelly West. Shelly was doing well at the
time and was a very good vocalist with good songs. She worked just enough to
help me pay bills and still spend about 50% of my time at home. I kept my band
going, played with some with different artists like Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook,
Clifford Curry, Bobby Bare, a couple of Elvis imitators, Guy Harden and others,
and I kept writing.
Then, the Sweethearts of the Rodeo, who were very hot, offered me a job with
more bread per show, my own private hotel rooms when touring and many more gigs
After that tour, I worked a lot in Nashville and then got a call to audition
for Waylon Jennings. I got the gig and hit the road again. Great gigs, good
money, good times and some package shows with Willie Nelson completed my road
life until Eric Clapton should call.
One spring and summer later I was back in Nashville to stay, come hell or high
water. If you want to do your own musical thing, ya’ gotta’ find a way to stay
in town and develop your style. Thank God for the Opryland Productions people
and my friend, ace drummer, Bob Mummert. I landed a gig on the General Jackson
Showboat for a few seasons, played in the Dick Clark American Bandstand Band and
worked with Gary Jenkins, Randy Moore & the Deltones and as a soloist at the
Opryland hotel, all here in Nashville. I became a staff musician of
sorts for eight years.
Marie and I played many Tennessee school concerts as a duo for a couple of
years and she is a dynamite vocalist and musician. The schedule was rough and
demanding, up at 5 a.m. and playing shows at early assemblies and then to
another school 50 miles away for an afternoon concert. But, we almost always got
standing ovations and encores from the kids.
During these years, I developed Ivory Joe & the Midnight Howlers into a
crackerjack unit. I also developed a rock/swing band called Ivory Joe and the
Joykings. The Howlers work quite a bit and it's always a real blast and now the
musicians are among my best friends. The Joykings were the backbone of ideas for
my first CD, "When the Jitterbug Bites". The experience
of recording work I’m very proud of and working with the best musicians is an incredible
Now I tour and promote my CDs. I work a day at a time with a passion and love
of playing my music for people. None of my successes would've happened without
faith in God and the support and love of my friends and family.
Musician (Piano, Sax, Harp, Guitar)
Vocalist and Lyricist
• Ivory Joe and the Midnight Howlers
• Coconut Jam
• Ivory Joe and the The JukeDrivers
• Joe Turley Duo
• Double Boogie
Joe has toured or recorded with:
• Dolly Parton
• Leon Russell & Edgar Winter
• Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
• Dick Clark's American Bandstand
• Sweethearts of the Rodeo
• Radney Foster
• Margo Smith
• Shelly West
• Bobby Bare
• Vassar Clements
• Ray Sawyer & Dr. Hook
• The Excello Legends
• Various Other Performers
His songs are published with:
• Sony Tree Music
• Warner Bros Music
• ATV Music
• Blendingwell Music
Joe has also performed for television and film, including:
• Nashville Now
• Austin City Limits
• Hee Haw
He has played on many soundtracks
Joe has played concerts/events for:
• Sony Music
• The Cumberland
• Bell South
• Tennessee Performing Arts Center
• Sisken Foundation
• Opryland Hotel
• The Hermitage Hotel
• Vanderbilt University
• Public Schools
• Chattem, Inc
• Tennessee Bankers Assoc.
• Belle Meade Mansion
• National Hospice
• Bosch Tool Corp.
• American Red Cross
• Traveler's Ins.
• Outback Steakhouse Corp.
• Cellular One
• Tractor Supply Inc.
• Peabody Hotel
• Morgan Keegan & Co.
• Sam Buca
• John Deere Corp.
• Nashville Steeplechase
• Boeing Aircrafts
• Tennessee Arts Commission
• Tennessee Center for Performance
Excellence ( TCPE)
• Ballard's Resort
• Numerous Other Clients