238 pages hardcover
Starting in a small town east of Dallas, TX and finishing off in New Orleans, Benny Turner takes readers through through his life as a musician. The younger brother of legendary guitarist Freddie King, Turner made his living playing bass in a number of high profile bands, including a lengthy stretch with his brother’s group. By enlisting the assistance of noted blues writer and historian Bill Dahl, Turner ensures that his autobiography maintains a focused, easy-flowing style that suits the arc of his narrative. Turner doesn’t shy away from commenting on his experiences with racism and the police, issues that are still relevant today.
Growing up in the country, Turner lived a simple life with his parents and his older brother. He and Freddie were inseparable despite a five year age difference. When Freddie started picking cotton, Turner would sit on his brother’s cotton sack and get pulled across the cotton field. An accident left Turner with a facial scar when Freddie didn’t pay attention while chopping firewood for the family stove. As was common in those days, the boys started off playing music on a diddley-bow, made with baling wire nail to the side of their house and augmented by a couple of tin cans.
Later, it took several weeks of tanning cowhides for the boys to earn enough to pay for an inexpensive Roy Rogers guitar. Even though Turner helped with the workload, his older brother refused to share the guitar with him. When Freddie wasn’t around, Turner would seize the opportunity to practice some of the chords family members had taught the boys. They started developing an interest in the blues, primarily from a radio station in Laredo that broadcast fifteen minutes of blues daily with artists like Louis Jordan and Hank Williams.
Around 1950, Turner’s father left the family behind for a job with a steel company in Chicago. By the end of that year, he was able to send train tickets to Texas so that the family could join him. Turner quickly learned to keep his wits about him as big city life was dramatically different than the world he left behind. Several stories are related, including one involving a preacher who lived across the street, and his lady friend who had a unique way of listening to the preacher’s sermons. By the time he reaches Crane High School, Turner is singing doo-wop with classmates in several groups. Eventually he ends up with The Kindly Shepherds, touring with the gospel group and recording several tracks for the Nashboro label.
Meanwhile, brother Freddie is soaking in all of the blues around him and getting some guitar tips from Jimmy Rogers that helped create the Freddie King sound. The day arrives when Freddie asks Turner to join his band, later buying him one of the new Fender electric bass guitars and working with Turner to teach him how to play the instrument. When the opportunity comes to tour with singer Dee Clark, Turner can’t resist the lure of playing venues like the Apollo Theater.
From that point, Turner gets deeper and deeper into a career in music, relating stories of hanging out with Ray Charles, Carla Thomas, and Leon Russell. He returns to his gospel roots for a stint with the legendary Soul Stirrers before returning to his brother’s band, enjoying many highlights of Freddie’s journey before it was cut short in December, 1976. It was a devastating loss that sent Turner reeling. It took a helping hand from Mighty Joe Young to get things under control. Turner spends plenty of pages describing the fun he had during his tenure with Young. When health issues laid Young up, Turner headed for New Orleans, where musicians could earn a good living without going anywhere. He spends some years playing on Bourbon St. before get hired by Marva Wright, a powerful vocalist just starting to make a name for herself. They worked together until a stroke ended Wright’s performing days.
Like the survivor that he is, Turner took over Wright’s band and started down his own path. Recent years have seen the release of two recordings under his own name, with a new one coming soon. Last year, his When She’s Gone release was nominated for a Blues Blast Music Award in the Soul Blues Album category and one track, “I Can’t Leave,” received an Independent Music Award for Blues song of the year.
The book is effective at chronicling his tale of ups & downs, lacking only enough of Turner’s thoughts and views to give readers a deeper glimpse at the man himself. Included are fifteen pages of black & white photos, with other pictures documenting his life spread liberally throughout the book. It has been a great ride for Turner – and readers will surely enjoy the way he tells his story.