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Profile: Big Joe Turner


Big Joe Turner

Big Joe Turner

source: zvents.com


Joseph Vernon Turner Jr., May 18, 1911, Kansas City, MO; d. November 24, 1985, Inglewood, CA


Jump Blues, Rock and Roll, Blues, R&B, Boogie-Woogie


Vocals, Piano

Contributions to music:

  • The premier blues "shouter" of the postwar era
  • His swinging brand of jump blues was arguably the most important element in the birth of rock and roll
  • Instrumental in bringing the "boogie-woogie" genre to a national audience
  • A key player on the Kansas City jazz scene of the Thirties
  • His powerful voice was among the loudest in rock and roll history

Early years:

With a father who died in an accident when he was only four, Big Joe Turner had to provide for himself in the Kansas City of the Twenties, but his impressively large frame got him into local bars and clubs without notice, and by fourteen he was a constant presence on the jazz scene, teaming up with pianist Pete Johnson to help bring "boogie-woogie" to the masses. This attracted the attention of legendary talent scout John Hammond, and soon Turner and Johnson were introducing the new trend to the whole country through a Carnegie Hall concert. This led to a national hit in 1938 called "Roll 'Em Pete."


Turner became a fixture on the New York scene, gigging with Jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Art Tatum, and recording for different labels without much success. It wasn't until 1951 that Turner found his greatest popularity, having been convinced by the Ertegun brothers to record for their burgeoning Atlantic label. His jump blues style was an instant smash with urban blues fans, and he cut big hits in New Orleans ("Honey Hush"), Chicago ("TV Mama") and elsewhere, including several ballads. (His booming voice was his trademark, but it was actually quite the interpretive instrument.)

Later years:

At the age of 43, Turner had become a major influence on the latest teen craze -- rock and roll -- but the record-buying public soon moved on, and Joe fell back on his jazz-blues roots, cutting several acclaimed albums in the late Fifties and early Sixties. He continued to be a presence on the blues scene until the early Eighties, cutting an acclaimed album with Roomful of Blues and touring Europe, until finally succumbing to a combination of diabetes, kidney disease, and heart illness. His songs have since found new favor with the swing revival movement.

Other facts:

  • Was nicknamed "The Boss of the Blues"
  • Jumped from a burning second story at 12, causing damage to his lower body that would affect him badly in his later years
  • First made a name for himself on the Kansas City circuit as a singing bartender
  • Turner's voice was so powerful he sang his Carnegie Hall performance without a microphone
  • Elmore James plays slide guitar on "TV Mama" and saxophonist King Curtis plays on "Jump For Joy"
  • Atlantic executives Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegün sing on the chorus of "Shake, Rattle, and Roll"
  • A cover version of "Shake" was a hit for Bill Haley a year before "Rock Around The Clock" broke


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
  • Blues Hall Of Fame (1983)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
  • "Honey Hush" (1953)
  • "Shake, Rattle, and Roll" (1954)

Top 10 hits:
  • "Chains of Love" (1951)
  • "The Chill Is On" (1951)
  • "Sweet Sixteen" (1952)
  • "Don't You Cry" (1952)
  • "Flip Flop And Fly" (1955)
  • "Hide And Seek" (1955)
  • "The Chicken & The Hawk" (1956)
  • "Corrine Corrina" (1956)
Other popular recordings: "TV Mama," "Cherry Red," "Bump Miss Suzie," "Crawdad Hole," "Married Woman," "Well All Right," "Ti-Ri-Lee," "Morning, Noon And Night," "Battle Of The Blues," "Boogie Woogie Country Girl," "Rock A While," "Lipstick, Powder And Paint," "Midnight Special," "Teenage Letter," "Jump for Joy," "Roll 'Em Pete," "Goin' Away Blues," "Piney Brown Blues," "Sun Risin' Blues," "My Gal's A Jockey," "Sally Zu-Zazz," "Wee Baby Blues," "Tell Me Pretty Baby (Howdy 'Ya Want Your Rollin' Done)," "Wine-O-Baby Boogie," "Still In The Dark," "Sweet Sixteen," "Don't You Cry," "Still In Love," "Oke-She-Moke-She-Pop," "You Know I Love You," "In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)," "Hide And Seek," "Midnight Cannonball," "Love Rollercoaster," "Low Down Dog," "You're Driving Me Crazy (What Did I Do?)," "Nobody In Mind ," "Rebecca," "Don't You Make Me High," "Can't Read, Can't Write Blues "
Covered by: Wynonie Harris, Charlie Parker, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Little Richard, Jimmy Reed, Count Basie, B.B. King, Michael Bloomfield, Johnny Otis, Ella Fitzgerald, NRBQ, Elvis Costello, Bill Haley, Foghat, Sleepy LaBeef, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Burnette, Paul McCartney, P.J. Proby, Ritchie Blackmore, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Elvis Presley, Asleep At The Wheel, The Blasters, Jimmy Witherspoon, Tom Jones, Nat King Cole, Dave Bartholomew, Lou Rawls, Muddy Waters, The Blues Brothers, Doug Kershaw, James Cotton, Dinah Washington, Johnnie Ray
Appears in the movies: "Rock 'n' Roll Revue" (1955), "Rhythm And Blues Revue" (1955), "Shake, Rattle & Rock!" (1956), "Strip-Tease" (1963), "The Last Of The Blue Devils" (1980)
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