With mournful rhythm and a lot of blues, the musical community of Los Angeles gathered Saturday for a tuneful farewell to Big Joe Turner, the "grandfather of rock 'n' roll."
Turner, who died last Sunday of a heart attack at 74, "was a big man with a big voice that was as smooth as silk," said Rev. Dennis Woods, a former radio disc jockey turned preacher, at Turner's funeral in South Los Angeles.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday December 7, 1985 Home Edition Part 1 Page 3 Column 2 Metro Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
A story in The Times on Sunday incorrectly stated that Rev. Dennis Woods, who eulogized blues singer Big Joe Turner at his funeral, had been a disc jockey before he became a pastor.
The Angelus Crenshaw Chapel on Crenshaw Boulevard, where Turner was eulogized, overflowed with more than 250 of the friends, fans and musical peers who had come to know Turner during his unprecedented five decades as one of the great voices of blues.
Fellow singers Etta James, Ernie Andrews, Barbara Morrison and Little Caesar sang brassy renditions of several of Turner's greatest hits, including "Chains of Love" and "Take My Hand," to loving murmurs of "amen" and "all right" from the entranced crowd.
'Revamp That Choir'
"I hope whenever he gets where he's going, they revamp that choir in the sky because I want to be in that number with the gang up there," Andrews said before launching into a thundering solo of "When The Sun Goes Down."
"Joe lived hard and deep and told it all like it was," jazz composer Jerome (Doc) Pomus, one of Turner's closest friends, said in a tape-recorded eulogy. "Joe's music teaches you so deeply and is so moving and inspirational that it has given men and women from all walks of life a better focus. . . . I know that heaven's a sweeter place now that you're going to be there, Big Joe, but the angels are all going to have to sing a little louder to keep up with you."
After the funeral, dozens of singers, composers, musicians and producers milled around outside the funeral home.
Atlantic Records Chairman Ahmet Ertegun was in the crowd, along with Bobby Nunn and Leon Hughes of the Coasters, rhythm and blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon and composer Johnny Otis. Musicians from contemporary rock groups who have worked with Turner, such as Dave and Phil Alvin of the Blasters, were also among the mourners.
"Back in the '30s, he was something new to all of us," Nunn said after the funeral. "We had the slow, dragging blues, and he brought life to it. He made it move. He made rock 'n' roll."