20 Questions With Josh Turner

Talking About Angels, Autographs and the Inspiration Behind "Long Black Train"

With a voice as deep as rumbling rails, Josh Turner continues to ride high on the country charts with his debut album, Long Black Train. Here, the young traditionalist takes fan questions on autographs, angels and the late night vision that led him to write his first hit single, “Long Black Train.”

Editor’s note: Josh Turner will appear on CMT Most Wanted Live on Saturday (Jan. 31), along with fellow newcomer Joe Nichols.

1. Being from South Carolina, do you like to go to the ocean?

Yeah, my parents actually live maybe 3 miles from the coast right now. They’ve been living there for about seven years now.

2. I’m from South Carolina and have been to High Steppin’ Country in Myrtle Beach many times. What years did you perform there?

’95 and ’98. It was a lot of fun. It was a learning experience. I got a lot of experience and confidence performing in front of a different crowd every night and just had a lot of fun, made a lot of friends and just grew up a lot while I was there.

3. My son Alex has absolutely worn out your album already. His question is, “Whose autographs do you have on your guitar?”

I’ve got Eddy Arnold, Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill, Clint Black, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Marty Stuart, Porter Wagoner, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bill Anderson, John Conlee. Who else? & Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis. I’ve got quite a few on there. A lot of them came from me being at the Opry a lot, and the other ones are just if I ended up doing a show with one of them, I would get them to sign it.

4. Do you play any other instruments besides the guitar?

Nope. If I knew I could, I would love to play some other instruments. Man, there are so many good ones. Probably piano.

5. Did you ever take singing lessons?

Yeah, I did. I took private lessons right after I first started college back home in South Carolina. Then when I moved up here to go to Belmont [University in Nashville], I went through the whole classical training. I went through that whole program through my school.

6. Did you ever sing bass with a group?

Yeah, I started a group there in my church back home called Thankful Hearts. It was a gospel quartet, and I sang bass. Every now and then I’d sing lead.

7. What did your choir teacher think about your deep voice?

It just kind of depended on who the teacher was. For the most part, most of my teachers were very complimentary and very encouraging, and they saw that I had a lot of potential and a lot of talent, and they wanted to nurture that. I’ve had many great teachers throughout the years. I can’t think of any particular [bad teachers] right now, but yeah I’ve had many nonbelievers through the years. Whether it was a teacher or not, I’ve had several people in my life that downplayed my dreams. So how do you like me now? (laughs)

8. Did you have surgery on your throat? I was told you had. I was wondering because my 10-year-old daughter had 22 surgeries on her vocal cords and has a deep voice. When she hears you sing, she always says she has a voice like yours.

No, I’ve never had surgery on my voice. I don’t know where they heard that from, but I was lucky enough to be able to go to Vanderbilt voice clinic and have them basically just kind of look at my cords and see what the problem was. Luckily, they said that they felt like God did better healing than they did, so they didn’t want to risk going in and messing something up. They wanted for it to heal naturally, and so it took several years to get back on track after my vocal problems that I had back in ’96. Luckily, I never had to have surgery. & I had a lesion on my right vocal cord. I had to go on a vocal rest for about a year, and I started taking classical lessons back home to learn the proper techniques and learning how to take care of my voice and what to stay away from. It was pretty humbling. I learned how to whistle really good during that year.

9. Where did you get the inspiration to write “Long Black Train”?

Well, there’s a long story behind that. I went to Belmont University here in town, and I was really looking forward to the complete Hank Williams box set to come out. Being the poor college student that I was, I didn’t have enough money to go out and buy this, so I found out that it was on file at the music library. So I went over there one night and got to listen to all these songs of Hank and his guitar and rare demos and radio appearances and things. It just really made me feel like I was in the same room with him. I had to walk from the library all the way to the other side of campus to get home. When I left the library that night, I noticed that there was something unusually dark about this night. About halfway home I had this vision come to me of this wide open space way out in the plains somewhere and there was this train track running right down the middle of this wide open space. From out of the darkness came roaring down this track, this long, black, beautiful, shiny train. I could see people standing out to the sides of this track watching this train go by, and as I was walking, I kept asking myself, “What in the world does this vision mean, and what does it signify?” It dawned on me that this train was a physical metaphor for temptation, and these people were caught up in this decision of whether or not to get on this train. When I got home that night, I got my guitar out, sat down on the bed and it just poured out of me.

10. We were in the audience when you first sang “Long Black Train” at the Ryman Auditorium. It was a number of years ago. Why did such a great song and singer take so long getting out to the public?

That’s just the nature of the business. There were a lot of corporate things that happened with my label, MCA, that kept me from getting my record out there right away. And a lot of times with a new artist, they try to make sure that everything is right and everything is good to go before they put it out there in the hands of the public. It really didn’t take me long to get my record deal, but after the deal was signed, that’s when that long process started.

11. When are you going to release a gospel CD? We would love to hear your awesome voice singing some of the old hymns.

We don’t have any plans for that right now, but I’ve always wanted to do something like that. So sometime in the future I’d love to get around to doing that. Maybe a little later on in my career.

12. Are you going to try to go to church on Sundays when you’re on tour with Brooks & Dunn?

I’d like to. It just kind of depends on my schedule. I’ve never done a tour like that, so I don’t know what the demands are going to be like, but going to church is an important part of my lifestyle. Lately, as busy as I’ve been, I haven’t had the opportunity to do that because I’ve been flying home a lot on Sunday mornings and miss out on that opportunity. But yeah, that’s one of my top priorities.

13. What’s your favorite junk food when you’re out on the road?

Probably honey buns.

14. What’s your favorite restaurant?

One of my favorites here in Nashville is Camino Real on Bell Road and the other one is probably Melpark Restaurant. It’s on 8th Avenue. I know all the waitresses there and the owner. That’s where I met Eddy Arnold for the first time. He and I became buddies just from going to that same restaurant. I know several good restaurants here in town.

15. Do you have a favorite sport that you like to watch or participate in?

I like watching football and I’ve always liked playing basketball. I’ve always loved that sport. My daddy always loved basketball, and I just kind of acquired that interest in basketball from him.

16. Do you get compared to Billy Ray Cyrus a lot?

Not a lot. I’ve had a couple people throughout years say I kind of looked like him. But, no, that’s not one of the main ones they’ve compared me to. The main ones are Randy Travis and Johnny Cash.

17. I hear a little bit of Johnny Cash in your music and your video was a little bit dark like Cash’s last video. Are you a Cash fan?

Oh totally, a big Johnny Cash fan. & Johnny Cash lived a full life, and I tell people a lot of times that if the Bible were written in today’s time, I feel like he would definitely be one of the main Bible characters because of the life that he lived, how he had affected people through his music. His music just speaks to me. It’s real, it’s honest, it’s not exactly perfect, but it’s that imperfection that really attracts listeners to his music because I think there’s beauty in imperfection. I think he was best at that.

18. Are there any other members of your family who are musically inclined?

My mama messed around with piano and guitar when she was young, and even when I was growing up, she sang a lot in church. She sang a lot of solos and sang in the choir and different things. My grandmama is actually a music major, and she’s been the choir director at my home church for over 30 years. Those two women are probably the most musically inclined people in my family.

19. Why did you pursue country music and not gospel or contemporary Christian music?

I’m a country boy, and I grew up in the country. I was surrounded by country things. Growing up, listening to country music as a young boy, that was something that I could relate to. And I found out really quick that country music, unlike a lot of other genres, allows you to sing about a lot of different things. Country music is very accepting of faith-based songs. You can also sing about love and relationships and where you work and just everyday life things. You know, real things. I think it speaks to the common man, and that’s the beauty of country music. It talks about the good and the bad and everything in between.

20. Do you believe in angels?

I do believe in angels. & Because, like I say, I am a devout Christian, and I believe in that supernatural world. I don’t think this world is where we’re going to end up. I don’t think this is where it stops, because I believe in heaven and I believe in the fact that God does have angels on his side watching over us.