Jack Turner – Where’d he go ?
Jack Turner is probably best known amongst Rockabilly collectors for his original version of « Everybody’s Rockin’ But Me » and amongst Hillbilly fans for his many R.C.A. Victor sides, but what became of the man who won much acclaims from the Country press in the 1950s ?
Born on June 17, 1921 in Haleyville, Alabama, and his given name was Will Jack Turner. His childhood ambition was to sing and play like Jimmie Rodgers and he kicked off his career by singing for a county-wide school field meet, winning a blue ribbon for his version of « Hickory Dickory Dock ». Jack was encouraged by his parents and throughout his school days he took an active part in plays and presentations. He sang and played guitar not only at his own school, but at others around his home county and organized the Corn Crib String band.
Music wasn’t Jack’s sole talent however – once he graduated from high school he secured a scholarship to Advertising Art School in Nashville. That was in 1940, but 1942 saw him in the Navy and, although continuing with a correspondence course, he found himself stationed in New Orleans, where again he formed a band and managed to find time to play various clubs and private parties.
Following his discharge from the Navy, Jack found a day job as assistant in the Graphic Arts Departement of the Air University at the Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama. (It is understood that he was still working there in 1957, having combined three careers – recording artist, commercial artist and freelance portrait painter – for several years) But, we are getting ahead of ourselves, it was Hank Williams’ mother who brought Jack’s songs to the attention of Fred Rose, and yet his first record, cut in 1953, was to be a cover of Big Mama Thornton’s « Hound Dog » backed with a version of Marty Robbins’ « I couldn’t Keep From Crying », and his second platter was also two cover versions. This time Jim Lowe and Mitchell Torok given The Turner treatment. However, his third release saw the man’s ability as a song writer recognised and his fame spreading, he was by now (1954) a member of the « Deep South Jamboree » on radio station WBAM out of Montgomery along with Lonnie Allen and Curley Culpepper.
Somewhere along the line Jack had become married, for we know that by the time he and RCA parted company, he had a wife and three children.
In 1956, he inked with Hickory records, but only one session took place. That was on April 12, when accompanied by Chet Atkins (lead guitar), Ray Edenton (rhythm guitar), Jimmy Day (steel), Dale Potter (fiddle), Marvin Hughes (piano), and Ernie Newton (bass), he cut those four fabulous sides that were to be his next two singles.
Despite the success of his radio appearances and his own TV show on WSFA-TV in Montgomery, it was a year before Jack Turner was to be recording again. This time it was MGM who signed him, but it appears to have been only one session with again two records issued.
After this, where’d he go ? Surely an artist who had as many records on major labels didn’t suddenly disappear ? Perhaps some smaller outfits where tempted by his talents…
Jack Turner’s music (an appreciation by Ian D. Saddler)
Whether he is singing in that Honky tonk style of his earlier waxings or the more rocking fashion of his later efforts, his work is of a high standard. In fact of all his records, there are only a couple I wouldn’t immediately quote as being high among my list of favourites in this genre.
His first disc, « Hound Dog », was a prime example of embryo Rockabilly. It’s still Hillbilly really, but the sound is a glimpse of what the future held. The flip is a cover of a Marty Robbins ballad and it is beautifully performed.
Following that, the second offering is a bit of disappointment, both sides are aimed at the commercial Country/Pop market and reveal that Turner had not fully developped a style of his own at that time.
Back to the goodies ! « Walking The Chalk Line » is a superb slice of Honky tonk music that bops along just how I like ‘em. The flip is another nice jump number.
Despite the look of the titles, the next four sides, « I’m Getting Married Tonight », « If Only I Could Win Your Love », « I’m Not Jealous » and « Put it Down on Paper » are all uptempo Hillbilly sides and they are of a uniformly high standard.
« Model T Baby » is a classic ! Like the tracks quoted above the backing is just how I think a string band ought to sound and the song is really something special. The line « You’re a Model T Baby Cadillacing Around » paints a picture for me. The flip ? Well that’s another nice uptempo offering.
I guess if you’re singing a song about a guy that plays a flute (« ‘Bama Bamboo Boy »), it makes sense to put a flute in the backing, but it don’t arf spoil a nice jumping Hillbilly rocker. The 2nd side is weird, it has a « Kaw Liga » rhythm and yet is about Leprechauns emigrating to Tennessee. Great sound, but not my cup of tea.
« Nightmare » is a good uptempo song about strange dreams and has some nice ghostly steel guitar work. Flip is one of those God awful « Dead Daddy » songs.
Most people will know that Jack’s first Hickory disc is a fine example of the relaxed Rockabilly sound and, whilst it may not be as wild as Bobby Lord’s cover version, I like it just as much. The other side is back to the Hillbilly bop sound and is great !
All four of the MGM sides are top quality of the the sounds of Country influenced Rock of the period. I suppose to compare this style with the material on the Skeets McDonald Capitol LP « Goin’ Steady With The Blues ».
And that is all I know of.
Jack Turner discography
Jack Turner & His Granger County Gang
RCA Victor 5267 Hound Dog (Leiber-Stoller-Otis) E3vw-0883
I couldn’t keep from crying (Marty Robbins) E3vw-0885
5384 Butterfly love (Mitchell Torok) E3vw-0692
RCA Victor 5682 Walking a chalk line (Jack Turner) E4vw-3623
Shoot, I recon (sic) I love you (Jack Turner) E4vw-3621
5815 I’m getting married tonight (Peck Touchton) E4vw-4719
If I could only win your love (Jimmy Dallas) E4vw-4720
5901 I’m not jealous (I’m just careful)(Fred Rose-Hy Heath) E4vw-4721
Put it down on paper (Jack Turner) E4vw-4722
5997 Model T baby (Jack Turner) E4vw-3620
Hitchhiking a ride (Jack Turner) E4vw-3622
Story of the Smoky Mountains (Griffith-Rose) F2vw-2273
6305 Nightmare (Felice & Boudleaux Bryant) F2vw-2274
Little boy, why do you weep (Leon Payne) F2vw-2275
I’m gonna get you if I can (Jimmy Dallas) F-124
1057 Lookin’ for love (Jack Turner) F-122
It’s my foolish pride (Jack Turner) F-125
MGM 12603 Weary blues from waitin’ (Williams) 57-xy-560
Got a heart (that wants a home) (Turner) 57-xy-563
An indication of love (Endsley) 58-xy-562
sources: The Hillbilly Researcher, 1983 (Wayne Russell & Ian D. Saddler) – Rockin’ Country Style and ebay for the photographs of the labels. Blackcatrockabilly (www.rockabilly.nl) for the lyrics.
Note: Jack Turner has nothing to do with Hobo Jack Turner, 40’s artist (Velvetone, Majestic).