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Interview with Tom Yanno

Joe Turley is far too humble. When Musicians Realm recently asked the singer/ songwriter/ saxophone player/ blues harp player/ piano man the secret to the enormously engaging CD, When The Jitterbug Bites, he gave credit to everyone around him. “I had the great experience of working with fantastic musicians and doing something of this scope with as many parts, you really need to have great players” Turley said. 

Although Turley is correct about the plethora of talented musicians on hand to help out in Nashville, he does not give himself enough credit for this fine work. When The Jitterbug Bites is an entertaining and complex work, consisting of songs that run the gamut from swing to boogie-woogie, to rocking blues. It has a huge sound and was put together and arranged extremely well. “I had a vision for each song like a musical play where all of the parts had a real reason to be there. There’s a lot of parts and a lot of instruments in there and each one has a significant voice in the song. A good deal of this is just tongue-in cheek and sheer having a ball in the studio. 

“I recorded each at my home studio and most of the time I would take it to Jim Williamson who is a master arranger. We tried not to over arrange and when it was time to solo, I said to the individual musician ‘go for it’. The integration of everybody’s knowledge and skill is an important thing when you’re talking about getting the most out of the best” Turley recently told Musicians Realm.   

Growing up in Kentucky, Turley listened to a variety of music, including the blues. “When I was six or seven, my grandfather gave me a chromatic harmonica. Later, going to school when I was thirteen one of the first records I bought was Robert Johnson, King of The Delta Blues. There was a guy at the school who played harmonica and I think he was listening to a lot of Sonny Boy Williamson and Paul Butterfield. He took me under his wing and I loved the way it sounded. It fascinated me and I sat around and played forever. It was my first instrument.

“I spent so much of my life just playing music. I do a lot of writing on guitar. My grandfather Daddy Red gave me an alto sax when I was about 15 or 16. When I learned to play piano, I fell in love with boogie-woogie listening to Fats Waller and Pete Johnson. Blues has been the backbone of my playing” Turley said of his diversified background. 
Notwithstanding his blues roots, Joe Turley wound up playing professionally with the eclectic likes of Edgar Winter, Leon Russell, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. “After a couple of years of college, I was in a rock and roll band and one of my band mates Jeff Silbar also had a love for the blues. We got a blues band together and eventually moved to Nashville together. At that time there was a lot of integration of country music with rock and roll but Willie Nelson was just hitting the rock and roll scene. I had to get a job, and after playing all of my blues, I began touring when I was 19 or 20 with some country acts. Leon Russell called me up and was looking for another keyboard player. That was one of the big thrills of my life because piano and songwriting-wise I had been a giant fan of Leon Russell. One of the reasons he hired me was he wanted to get back up there and play guitar. Learning performing and songwriting from him was like going to college and getting paid for it!”    

These days Joe is doing a mixture of gigs in Nashville. “About 10 years ago, I retired myself from being a side man with other artists. I have a wife and son and I decided to try and stay around Nashville and worked on my piano playing and have gotten a lot of solo gigs. The swing stuff is specialized gigs. Sometimes I’ll do a jazz trio. I have a list of 30-40 musicians available in Nashville, and most of the time I don’t have the same band. I cater my gigs to be able to stay close to my wife and 4 ½ year old son.”

Joe is philosophical about his approach to music. “It is like a spiritual element that sort of slipped out of heaven and is available to us down here and it can be used for comfort and healing. I had a saxophone gig the day of the horrible tragedy (WTC) and decided to go play in the streets of Nashville. When I got out there, I said a few prayers about it and started playing with some ideas from Amazing Grace and different grooves from America The Beautiful, really slow blues, sad mourning songs and the mayor came up shook my hand and thanked me for playing on such a difficult day. I try and spread some comfort and joy”, Turley said. 

Actually a late 2000 release, When The Jitterbug Bites began getting serious radio play in March of 2001 when Turley hooked up with publicist Ginny Foley who also designed Turley’s fine web. “We released Sitting On Santa’s Knee around Christmas time (2000) and I had a promoter in Nashville who took it to a lot of college and Americana stations.” The CD has taken off since Foley’s involvement and it is receiving airplay on approximately 90 radio stations right now. 

For the future, Joe is currently in negotiation with entertainment attorneys looking for a major label. In the meantime, he sees his mission as providing a smile, making folks dance and above all keeping everything in perspective. “For myself and my fellow musicians, I recommend using your talents and what you know for good things; God, family and friends. Don’t let go of your dreams. Keep music spiritual, be true to yourself and your dreams will come true. Prayers do get answered.”

Tom Yanno, Musicians Realm





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