Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as of 1987, Big Joe Turner, started out as a humble boy in Kansas City, Missouri who helped earn his keep by singing at his church and at street corners after his father was killed in a train crash. This left little four-year-old Joe with his widowed mother. In 1925, at fourteen years old, Joe Turner dropped out of school and entered the workforce, first starting out as a cook before becoming a singing bartender known as the Singing Barman.
During a timeline where blues and jazz were flourishing as music genres, Big Joe Turner and his partnered pianist, Pete Johnson, each made their way to become powerful influences in the entertainment industry as top-notch performers. In 1938, they were spotted by record producer and human rights activist, John Hammond II. By his invite, Turner and Johnson returned to New York City with him and soon found their names in the big lights of billboards and venues across America as the audience was becoming more in tune with blues and jazz.
From 1936 onward, it was fame and success for Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson as the boogie-woogie scene in the music industry was gaining ground, as well as blues, jazz, and the soul-infused R&B sounds. For Turner, he rode the popular music ride clean through the 1950s until he shifted back to performing small club-style music. In 1966, Bill Haley invited Joe Turner to team up with The Comets to help revive his career. Throughout the 1960s and the 1970s, Big Joe Turner recorded, performed, and toured a number of blues and jazz music. In 1983, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame out of Memphis, Tennessee. Two years later, he died on November 24th at seventy-four years of age after enduring a battle with arthritis, diabetes, and a stroke.
Top 10 Big Joe Turner Songs
#10 – Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do
The original recording of the blues song, “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do,” was in 1922 by Anna Meyers. Through Jimmy Witherspoon, he gave the song a revival with his version, which he titled Ain’t Nobody’s Business. This resulted in a number of adaptations to the song and is the one that was entered into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame as a Classic Blues Recording. For the 1975 album, The Trumpet Kings Meet Joe Turner, the performance Big Joe Turner delivered favored the original by Meyers but was done with so much power from his vocal talent that made the song become an easy favorite among his long list of songs that do not fail to impress.
#9 – Rock a While
On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, “Rock a While” became a number twelve hit in 1956. It’s one of the tracks featured on the Rockin’ the Blues album, which was released in 1958. It is also on the Big Joe Is Here album, which was released in 1959. At the timing Rock a While was released, it was among the harder-hitting rock songs that captured critical acclaim and the appreciation of a loyal fan base.
#8 – Lipstick, Powder and Paint
In 1956, from the Rockin’ the Blues album, “Lipstick, Powder and Paint” became a number eight hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. For Big Joe Turner, his shout-heavy blues performance mixed with some rock and roll into this song served as a fan favorite, as well as a thumbs up by music critics. Infectious, bouncy, and powerful, this became a song featured on the soundtrack of the 1956 film, Shake, Rattle and Roll.
#7 – Midnight Special
In 1926, the first commercial recording of “Midnight Special” took place, performed by Dave Cutrell. Thirty years later, Big Joe Turner became one of many artists who covered this song. Unlike the traditional country blues song, which it was originally designed as, Big Joe Turner gave it a rhythmic twist with soul, which adds drama to the story of catching the midnight special with his lady love.
#6 – Roll ‘Em Pete (featuring Pete Johnson)
“Roll ‘Em Pete” was one of the most important recordings for the music industry of all time. Thanks to Big Joe Turner’s rhythmic shout-outs and boogie-woogie pianist legend, Pete Johnson, their 1938 recording and release of this song poured so much influence upon the listeners that it spawned a movement of new recording artists that would birth the genre of rock and roll.
Earlier in the 1930s, when Big Joe and Pete attempted to bring their style of music to a mainstream audience, nobody was ready for it. In 1938, when Roll ‘Em Pete was first heard is served as a message that, ready or not, a wave of new music sounds has officially arrived with much more to come.
#5 – Chains of Love
Released in 1951, “Chains of Love” was a number two hit on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at the time. Blues at its best, Big Joe Turner made the song seem larger than life. Since his recording, many artists have covered the song over the years. Among them, Pat Boone, Bobby Bland, and Mickey Gilley each earned for themselves commercial success. However, not one of them has matched the powerful shoutout blues as Big Joe Turner could.
#4 – Flip, Flop and Fly
When Big Joe Turner recorded “Flip, Flop and Fly,” in 1955, it reached number two on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The popularity of the song was immense, and it was covered by many artists over the years. For Elvis Presley, he performed the song while making his debut television appearance in 1956. This, plus two other songs, became virtually immortalized when Presley won over the hearts of all viewers who saw him for the first time, especially the young ladies. As talented as Presley was, Turner’s original Flip, Flop and Fly remains as the undefeated version, at least as far as most of the music critics and fans of the song itself is concerned.
#3 – Corrine, Corrina
Sung as a country-blues song, “Corrine, Corrina” was a crossover hit for Big Joe Turner as it peaked at number two on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and at number forty-one on the US Billboard Hot 100. The original recording of the song was made in 1928 by Bo Carter but was not officially copyrighted until 1932. A large number of recording artists have covered this song throughout the years, each with its own version. Big Joe Turner’s 1941 performance is among the standout performances from the blues genre, thanks to his rich, rhythmic vocals.
#2 Honey Hush
Originally released as “Honey Hush” in 1953, this song was later renamed Yakity-Yak. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it became the first number one hit for Big Joe Turner and his shoutout vocals. It remained at the top spot of the chart for a total of eight weeks. Rambunctious and unapologetic, Honey Hush earned the rename when the music industry had issues with song content during a timeline where rock and roll music was still young, while the genres of blues and jazz had to find a way to accommodate.
#1 – Shake, Rattle and Roll
First, Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” was released and it became a chart-topper on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It also appeared on the US Billboard Hot 100 at number twenty-two. Within the same year, Bill Haley and The Comets cover this exact same song and after it was released, peaked as high as number seven on the exact same pop chart. Another high-profile artist that also covered this song was Elvis Presley, first as a demo in 1955 and then as a single release in 1956. This song is one of many that is featured on the album titled Rock & Roll, which was released by Atlantic Records in 1957.
Top 10 Big Joe Turner Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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