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Deep In The Heart Of Country

February 07, 2007|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

COUNTRY singer Josh Turner wasn't exactly surprised at getting word in December that he'd been nominated for two Grammy Awards. Rather, the deep-voiced, square-jawed singer from South Carolina says, "I was completely blindsided."

How so?

"Usually, we notate days on the calendar of things like the CMAs [Country Music Assn. Awards] and the Academy of Country Music Awards," Turner, 29, says from his home in Nashville during a brief winter break from what's been virtual nonstop touring for the last couple of years. "We didn't even have the date of the Grammy Awards written on the calendar."

He does now. He's up for two Grammys: male country vocal for his single "Would You Go With Me," and country album for "Your Man," his second album, which has sold 1.6 million copies to date in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. His 2003 debut, "Long Black Train," has also gone platinum, with 1.2 million copies to date, making him one of the new millennium's brightest country successes.

Once the shock of the Grammy news wore off, Turner said the nominations represented "a real honor."

But they also brought a quintessential case of mixed emotions. Should he win, he'll be taking the victory away from one of his heroes, Willie Nelson. And he cites one of Nelson's closest pals for inspiring his philosophical opposition to awards competitions -- though he doesn't object to them so much that he'd refuse a statue.

"It's something I learned from Waylon Jennings, who never really condoned awards shows.... It's art, it's not a sport, nobody's keeping score and there's not a championship," Turner says in the same woody bass-baritone that makes his records instantly recognizable. "It's just a lot of people trying to express themselves in their own individual ways."

A decade ago, Grammy nominations were the last thing on Turner's mind. Although he grew up singing in church and wherever and whenever he could, emulating musical role models including Randy Travis and Johnny Cash, in his late teens he developed a lesion on one of his vocal cords from singing improperly. Trying to heal it without surgery, he went through a year of vocal rest and rehab, not knowing whether he'd be able to sing again.

"That was a very scary time," says Turner, who subsequently began to study classical voice techniques that allowed him to sing without damaging his throat. That, he says, "turned out to be a blessing, because my voice just got stronger and richer and deeper."

The result is a powerfully resonant sound that seems to emerge from the recesses of the Grand Canyon when he scoops down and coos, "Baby turn the lights down low" in the ultra-romantic title track from "Your Man."

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