As a family man, a philanthropist, a devoted Christian, and a passionate sports fan, you might say Josh Turner’s commitments run as deep as his voice.
Of course, he’s also a double-platinum-selling singer, songwriter and disciple of traditional country music, a mentor to up-and-coming artists —and one of the youngest members of the Grand Ole Opry.
All of those layers construct Josh’s new album, Punching Bag. His fifth for MCA Nashville, the record is a knockout collection of bluegrass-influenced barnburners, lonesome laments, and the slow and steady love ballads on which Josh’s trademark baritone excels.
“The life that I live and the experiences that I have always affect what comes out of me creatively. I think that’s what makes music real.”
The follow-up to 2010’s Haywire, which yielded the No. 1 hits “Why Don’t We Just Dance” and “All Over Me,” Punching Bag represents Josh in fighting shape. Throughout all 11 songs, he bobs and weaves like a champ, exhibiting new range in both his voice and his songwriting. Josh penned eight of the record’s eleven tracks, including the rollicking title song that, he says, set the tone for the entire project.
“When the idea for ‘Punching Bag’ came along, it really hit me,” Josh says, pun intended. “It became the central idea for this record.”
Ironically, the up-and-at-’em tune was inspired by a particularly down day for the singer. “I’ve learned that songs come to you in various ways, from all different angles,” he says. “Nothing was going my way that day, and I felt like I was up against the world. When I got home, my wife Jennifer and I were talking about things that happened and I said, ‘You know, I just feel like a punching bag, like life is beating me up.’”
Soon, Josh was off and writing, brainstorming lyrics with one of his most trusted creative partners, Pat McLaughlin.
“I wanted to express the idea that life is tough,” he says. “You get a lot of punches thrown at you and a lot of times you’re not in control. But you have to take those punches and keep moving forward,” he says.
This is exactly the position Josh found himself in while making the album.
“With this record, I had just gone through a lot of craziness in my life,” recalls the father of three young boys: Hampton, Colby and Marion. “We had just had our third child and I had spent two years building a writer’s cottage, a log cabin for me to write in. It was a very stressful time getting all that done.”
Round 1 - Punching Bag (Introduction by Michael Buffer)
Round 2 - Punching Bag
Round 3 - Time Is Love
Round 4 - Deeper Than My Love
Round 5 - Good Problem
Round 6 - Cold Shoulder
Round 7 - Find Me A Baby
Round 8 - Whatcha Reckon
Round 9 - Pallbearer
Round 10 - For The Love Of God
Round 11 - I Was There
Round 12 - Left Hand Man
But when the bell rang, Josh was still standing. And with something to show for it--all eight songs that Josh wrote or co-wrote for the album were conceived in that very cottage on his Tennessee property. A refuge from the distractions of life, the cabin, with its wraparound porch and stone fireplace, also serves as a depository for Josh’s priceless musical mementos. “It has all the awards I’ve won over the years, a red, white and blue Telecaster that Buck Owens gave me and an original ceiling joist from the Ryman Auditorium,” he says. “They’re all things I hold dear.”
Consider it the “Cottage that Music Built.” As such, it holds a special spot in his process as a musician. “It’s turned out to be quite an inspirational place. It’s where I allow myself to think, be creative and make mistakes along the way,” says Josh.
“I’m very observant of what’s going on around me,” Josh says. “I like to take phrases that people use in everyday life and use them to my advantage. You hear people say, ‘They gave me the cold shoulder,’ but they don’t go beyond that. If it’s something that has been said before, I want to say it in a different way.”
Josh Turner talks about each track on the new record.
Cold Shoulder (Josh Turner/Mark Narmore)
“You hear people say, ‘They gave me the cold shoulder,’ but they don’t go beyond that. I wanted it to be as country as possible, but have merit, emotion and to tell a story. It sounds corny, but when Mark Narmore and I write together, we start our songs off as if we were writing them for Vern Gosdin. For whatever reason, it just seems to work for us. That’s what happened with ‘Cold Shoulder.’ Vern could sing the socks off of it. It’s a straight-up, sad country song.”
Deeper Than My Love (Chris Stapleton/Lee Miller)
“It’s one of the songs on this record that allows me to showcase my lower register, which is normally my trademark. It plays off the meaning of ‘deep’ and I used my voice in that way. It’s very different melodically and kind of a simple song that feels good and has a backwoods feel to it.”
Find Me a Baby (The Na-Na Song) (Josh Turner/Frank Rogers)
“I wrote this with my producer Frank Rogers. He came in with the idea. It’s probably one of the happiest sounding songs that I’ve ever done. There’s no trace of lonesome in this song—it’s all happy and sunshine and roses. We catered the song to me and my life, and Frank had the idea to get Jennifer and the boys to come in and sing on it. We showed up that day to do their part and we were all decked out in all Clemson stuff just to make Frank mad, because he’s a South Carolina Gamecock fan. It was a blast being able to have my family recorded in that way. It’s something that we can all treasure for the rest of our lives.”
Good Problem (Josh Turner/Mark Narmore)
“This is a title I had written down in my phone. I started listing things that might be good problems to have, which is something people often say. Mark came in with his keyboard and played something that just screamed, ‘Use me for this song.’ It sounds like a hit from the late ’70s or early ’80s to me, but when the studio musicians started playing it, they gave it an island feel. Lyrically, it’s not a beach-music song, but it’s a song you can dance to. It feels like a hit to me.”
I Was There (Tim Menzy, Monty Criswell)
“It’s a ballad from God’s perspective. He’s talking about how He was at Bethlehem, Vietnam, Gettysburg, all these places. Then He talks about how He was there in this person’s life when they were born. It’s an inspirational song that speaks to God’s omnipresence. It has a lot of power and is a touching song. It was an obvious choice.”
Left Hand Man (Josh Turner/Ben Hayslip)
“I wrote this one with Ben Hayslip, and he came in with an idea called ‘Right Hand Man.’ I got to thinking about it and said, ‘Why don’t we change it to ‘Left Hand Man,’’ as in ring on your left hand. This is a progressive love story: We talked about a ride in the truck, with me being on her left, about the ring on the finger, walking down the aisle, and being by her side. Ben thought we were finished, but I felt like we needed to go a step further—so we killed him and put him in the ground. And there he is, lying in the grave to her left. It’s a great love story.”
For the Love of God (written by Josh Turner featuring special guest Ricky Skaggs)
“When you’re out in public you hear people holler, ‘For the love of God,’ when somebody gets frustrated or mad. I took that phrase to mean something else and that’s where this song came from. I don’t consider myself a guitar player, but I wanted the song to be as up-tempo as I could possibly play. I really went back to those bluegrass roots that I came from. Ricky Skaggs played on the track. I’ve always admired his playing. It allowed me to sing in a higher register that I haven’t been able to do on my other records.”
Pallbearer (written by Josh Turner featuring special guests Marty Stuart and Iris DeMent)
“‘Pallbearer’ and ‘For the Love of God’ are the two songs on the record that I wrote by myself in my new writers cottage. The inspiration for ‘Pallbearer’ came from a funeral bulletin. There was a guy in my community where I grew up named James McKnight, and he was a veteran. I had known him most all of my life. After he got out of the service, he became a mechanic and was very good at it. Any time my truck broke down, I’d go to Mr. James and he would get me up and running. He was a joy to be around. When I found out he had died, it hurt. I couldn’t make it home for the funeral because we were out on the road, but my parents sent me the program from the funeral. I saw my daddy’s name under the list of pallbearers and that word hit me in an interesting way. I wrote it down and every day I thought about it. When I had the chance to go over to the cottage by myself, I just sat down and allowed that story to come to my mind. It’s not about Mr. James specifically, but it’s about how lonesome one person can feel. Being a pallbearer at a funeral is pretty lonesome and I tried to liken it to a guy being dumped by a girl. I thought it was an interesting metaphor. I honestly didn’t write that song to go on the record, but Frank and my head of A&R at the label, Brian Wright, were like, ‘This is the coolest song we’ve heard in a long time.’ It blew me away, because I just wrote it to write it.”
Punching Bag (Josh Turner/Pat McLaughlin)
“This song came to me during a not so positive day in the life. Nothing was going my way that day and I felt like I was up against the world. When I got home, my wife Jennifer and I were talking about things that happened and I said, ‘You know, I just feel like a punching bag, like life is beating me up.’ When I said that, I thought, ‘Wait a minute…’ I shared the idea with my buddy and longtime songwriting partner Pat McLaughlin and he agreed that it was a great idea and that we needed to be careful with how we wrote it. I told him I wanted it to be a positive, hopeful kind of song. We tried to be as clever as we could with the lyrics without being hokey. It gets me pumped up and that’s what I wanted this song to be like. It’s my ‘Eye of the Tiger’ I guess.”
Time Is Love (Mark Nesler/Tony Martin/Tom Shapiro)
“It’s all about the groove and the melody. That’s what grabbed me. And the message is one that I haven’t really gotten out there yet. It’s a song that speaks to the idea of quantity time more so than quality time. Quantity time—getting to know people better and growing relationships—is the more important thing. Spending quantity time together allows you to share the good times, but also the bad. To me, it’s a great message, and it feels good and sounds good.”
Whatcha Reckon (Josh Turner/Ben Hayslip)
“People up North and people who speak proper English probably won’t understand this song! It’s a title idea I’ve had for a long time, because people out in the country, they all say it when they’re making a proposition. I felt that idea was tailor-made for me and Ben to write. We both come from a rural Southern background of loving country music. He’s from south Georgia and I’m from South Carolina, and we put those two things together to find our niche. We sat down, talked about it, and let the song write itself. It has a great driving-down-a-country-road feel. It’s fun, honest, and easy to listen to.”