GORDON: For this issue we’re looking at country music and how gospel music and country music are like cousins. Both kinds of music are really honest, and both tell stories. Would you agree?
JOSH: I very much agree. I think it depends on what people are calling country music, especially nowadays. There’s an argument going on now about what’s country and what’s not, but I think the kind of country music we’re talking about is the country music that you and I love and appreciate and grew up listening to. And yes, I think they are very directly related. From the dawn of country music back in the 1920s, country and gospel music have been intertwined. I’ve had people ask me about “Long Black Train” and why would you put a gospel song out on country radio, and this, that and the other. I’ve had to remind them that, even back with Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family — they were singing a lot of spiritual songs. Ernest Tubb, the king of honky-tonk, even did full-out gospel albums. Hank Williams went under the name “Luke The Drifter,” where he did nothing but gospel stuff. A lot of country artists have included gospel songs on their country records and have done gospel albums. Most all of the country artists, in the past, came from a rural setting, and a big part of that rural setting was church.
GORDON: Of course.
JOSH: That’s where a lot of them learned to sing. That’s where I learned to sing in front of the crowd. At my church it’s just kind of second nature. If you sing, you sing in church. So I think they are very directly related, and it’s not anything out of the ordinary for a country artist to include in their repertoire.
GORDON: I think it’s the same with studio musicians and country singers, and even some of the pop singers I’ve worked with. We sit around and sing gospel songs when we’re not tracking. You were talking about “Long Black Train.” One of the things that I’ve always admired about you is that you’ve been real outspoken about your faith. You haven’t made any excuses, not only in the studio with us, but with your label and anywhere you go, whether you’re on the road or just hanging out. You’re so outspoken and positive about your faith, your sweet wife and your family, and you don’t make any excuses about being that guy. When you sing country songs, and the songs that you’ve written, they are all positive and upbeat and about family. Tell me about that. Has that hurt you in any way?
JOSH: It’s funny the way you worded that question because it makes me realize, had I come along and said, “Hey, I want to sing country music, but I’m a Christian too…” Had I made excuses for that, or not been strong in my faith, then it probably would have hurt me big time, you know?
JOSH: In my career, in my personal life, and in a lot of different ways…from the minute I set foot in this town, I knew what I was here to accomplish. I knew that I was here to get a record deal and to put out my kind of music and to not be ashamed or compromise it. So when I got my record deal and I made my first record, it wasn’t my choice to put out “Long Black Train.” I thought it was a great album title but it didn’t really say, “Hey look here, I’m a gospel guy!” And when it came out, the song really started getting a lot of attention — positive and negative. I realized that once that song started climbing the charts, it was something that I was really going to have to fight for, not just professionally, but personally too. A lot of people came after me, making accusations towards me. I did have a lot of people waving my flag, and saying, “Go Josh!” But then on the other side, I had people saying I was encouraging teenagers to commit suicide by standing on a railroad track, because of the video and all that stuff. But at the same time, I also had fans coming up to me saying, “This song saved my life, or this song has changed my life, or changed the way that I think, or changed the way that I live…” So when I get stories like that, it makes it all worth it.
GORDON: You bet! That’s why we do what we do. That’s awesome. I’ve always admired you man. Seriously, I mean, we’re buds, but I’ve always been a fan. What I love though is that anyone in the family can listen to an entire Josh Turner record, and parents don’t have to be afraid of what the lyrics are going to say. It’s not only good lyrics and a good positive message, but you don’t suffer when it comes to the music part either because it’s always great! You sing great, the record always sounds great, I think it’s cool! I think that comes over too in the records. You’ve done songs like “Me and God.” You’ve done several different Christian tunes, but you also do just some really fun country tunes. Talk a little bit about your wife and your family. How does that figure in, not only with the songs you release, but how it is having your wife out with you on the road?
JOSH: For me, having Jennifer out there is a whole other story in and of itself. When I first started touring—that was basically our first year of marriage. I was gone so much that we hardly saw each other. Then one day, she and I got together and decided something has to change. So we decided that she was going to come out on the road with me so we could be together. Then it turned into, “Well you know what? We’ve got this one song that has a female vocal on it, and we need a female voice for it. Here you are, so why don’t you sing on this song?” So she would come out and sing on maybe two or three songs in my set every night. Then it turned into, “Well you know what, we made another record, and we need a piano on here, you know…” So there she was, and she’s a great piano player, and it just kind of happened naturally, having her out there. Then it got to where she’s irreplaceable and people loved seeing her up there on stage with me! Then we started having children, and we weren’t going to leave them at home, so we took them with us too!
GORDON: That’s awesome.
JOSH: She loves playing and that’s her talent, and that’s what she loves to do. So she’s using her talent for the Lord. As for the music, it’s a really hard thing to find a balance between making sure a family can listen to my music and not be offended and at the same time, having a lot of single people out in the world who want to impress their friends with their cool music collection. It’s hard to please both kinds of people, but if you find the right songs, I think you can accomplish that.
GORDON: Well, what you’ve done too, is start writing a bunch of your own songs. Every time we cut a record, it seems like we’re doing more and more of the songs that you have written and co-written. So that’s one way to do it! From a musician’s point of view, I feel like every time we go in to cut, the songs are better and better and you sing better and better. The most important thing to me is…I feel like God has allowed me to be in a secular world and a gospel world at the same time. A secular world, in that I’m playing in the studios and stuff, and I feel like He just wants me to be who I am. I’ve been really impressed by you because, like we said earlier, you don’t make any excuses, but you don’t hit people over the head with the Bible either. You’re just you.
JOSH: I think that when you look at things as a Christian, you can see God all over it, and for me that’s one thing that never changed. Whether it was rough, or whether I was flying high with a #1 single, I really felt like God was in control, and I knew He had a plan. There was a day back in South Carolina when I was in my teens. I was riding a four-wheeler in this big field back behind our house. I was asking God a lot of questions, and saying, “I would really love to go to Nashville, but I don’t know how to get there. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get there, but I really want to sing country music. How’s that going to happen?” All of a sudden, I felt Him speak to me and say, “Josh, I can make this happen for you. All I need you to do is trust Me. Good or bad, I need you to trust Me at all times.” He said He was going to create my own, unique, individual path. That was all He let me know. Now, here I am, almost 10 years into it, and I can look back and say, “Oh that’s my path!” That’s what I’ve done every single day. I’ve just trusted that He is in control, and that He is going to take care of me. It didn’t matter what people were saying about me or my family or my music or whatever. It never fazed me. Because I knew that He was in control, and I wasn’t and they weren’t…
GORDON: Ha! That’s good!
JOSH: That pretty much settled it for me. I try to not go through life or my career with a sense of arrogance because of that, but it’s more of a sense of comfort and peace, and contentment. Just because I know that He’s in control and He’s going to take care of me, whether I’m like Job or whether I’m like David, dancing in the streets. And it doesn’t really matter what anybody else is saying. It matters what God told me, and continues to tell me.
GORDON: Doesn’t matter if you’re a musician, an athlete or work in a factory, we all need to do a better job at trusting God.
GORDON: Man, I’m sitting in here with Ben Isaacs, we’re working on some Isaacs’ vocals and overdubs, and he is one of your biggest fans.
JOSH: Well, I’m glad I didn’t say anyhing bad about the Isaacs!
GORDON: Dude, I look forward to seeing you soon.
JOSH: Yeah man, you too.