In this interview spotlight, we chat with music veteran Benny Turner about influences, history, changes in the music industry over the past 60 years and much more.
Full Q&A along with links and streams below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I was born in Gilmer, TX where I was raised in a musical family and exposed to “back porch” country blues at a young age when my mother and her brothers would get together and play the blues. They all played guitar, and my mom could sing, too. In 1950, when I was 11 years old, my family moved north to Chicago, IL. There I explored too-wop, gospel, R&B and of course, electric blues after being exposed to all of it in my new surroundings. In the mid-1980’s, I relocated to New Orleans, LA and have lived there ever since. So, I guess you could say that my style is a musical gumbo filled with many influences! Actually, I call my band “Real Blues” because that’s what I play. I combine the shuffles and the traditional sounds of blues with my own style. I’m a bass player, but I play with a pick and bend my strings in a lead bass style, now that I front my own band. I was a sideman for most of my career, but now I have the opportunity to show off my own style.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
I know that music is definitely in my blood, and it comes from my mother and uncles on the King side of my family. My older brother, 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Freddie King, always dreamed of being a star. For me, I was happy to just tag along in his shadow, like little brothers do. It wasn’t until I got into my teens and some opportunities were presented to me that I really got interested in being a musician. I always knew how to play a little guitar, because my mother would show me things. That helped me get onto the gospel scene, and I guess my natural talents took over. But then when my brother was in a jam and needed a bass player for a gig one night, I learned on the job and never looked back. I play the blues because I lived the blues and I feel the blues. I’ve traveled all over the world and raised my family by playing the blues. It was never a question of staying the course. It’s who I am.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
My new release, My Brother’s Blues, (September 15, 2017; Nola Blue Records) is a tribute to my late brother, Freddie. It is my first album of all cover songs, because it is my interpretation and production of his songs that have special meaning to me. My brother is known worldwide as one of the three kings of the blues, so my mission was to give my very best effort to honor him the way he deserves to be honored. He was my big brother and my best friend, and he’s been gone over forty years. Way too young. I wanted my love for him to shine through the music. I used the best musicians, studio engineers and mastering I could, in order to make this my best career release, and based on the reviews I have been getting, I think I succeeded! In the past, I’ve written a song honoring my mother (“My Mother’s Blues) and another song honoring my uncle (“My Uncle’s Blues”). To be able to honor my brother in this way is very special. My family is very, very important to me.
Do you face any challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? On the flip side, how has technology helped you (if it has)?
Oh, man! Of course! The music business has changed so much in the sixty years I’ve been doing this. The downloads and streaming makes music so easily available, but it also cuts into my money. Used to be that having a hit song on the radio meant selling a lot of records and making good money. Not anymore! And people don’t go out as much to hear live music as they used to. With fancy tvs and computers and everything else we have at home, entertainment is available everywhere, even on your phone! But, I will say that technology makes the recording process so cool now. The things they can do in the studio are really amazing and exciting for me. And I can have guest artists send me their parts without needing to travel to them, or have them come to me. It’s really convenient! Technology also makes it easier to stay connected with listeners and fans, which is great, too.
Where can we follow you online and hear more music?
Anything else before we sign off?
I am really proud to say that I have recently finished writing a book about my life. It’s called Survivor: The Benny Turner Story and you can find it on Amazon. I’ve had a lot of good reviews, even from people who aren’t necessarily music fans. I’ve covered a lot of ground in my life and seen so many changes, both inside the music world and everywhere. In my book I have the opportunity to talk about it.