WHEN THIS BODY FAILS ME, SPREAD MY ASHES ACROSS THE INTERSTATES OF AMERICA

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THAT’S THE ONLY PLACE, I’VE EVER FELT AT HOME.

CONFLUENCE- MISSISSIPPI JAKE

I’m often asked, “Where’s your favorite place to play shows?” I don’t pick favorites. I enjoy all variety of scenery. That’s also a conscious decision on my part. I would lose my mind if I didn’t find some sort of joy in the change in tumbleweed species as you travel west. I’ll admit that nothing feels quite like dropping in to Duluth after autumn has crawled across the hills. 150 year old brick buildings punctuate the transition between rural Minnesota and Lake Superior. It’s also the headwaters of Interstate 35. There’s something intriguing about seeing the end or beginning of a highway I spend a lot of time on.  I look forward to seeing another sunset in New Mexico. The glow of the evening sun on the red mountains can’t be captured in photos. I’ve tried. I assume driving through the panhandle of Texas is similar to being at sea under a full moon. Only the lunar light and horizon lines further away than imaginable. 

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Badlands

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My favorite thing about travel is always the people. I have a community of folks all across the middle west. Ben Boggs is a standup fella I met this spring. After the show in Lexington we went out to a few University of Kentucky bars, met a few musicians based in Nashville. We swapped road stories over some beers and later that night I pulled the hinge pins out of the bathroom door. He never warned me that the handle was broken. In Tulsa, I danced around the basement of Barkingham Palace with some of my favorite humans. $8 champagne and punk rock sing-a-longs are what my soul needs every few months. After some disagreeable street tacos in Albuquerque, I had some Iowa transplants in New Mexico, let me take a shower and sleep in a bed. They sent me with a care package that included bananas, Oreos, and the biggest bag of beef jerky a human could ask for. Luke Hendrickson of Rochester, Minnesota, took me in, showed me the town. Then he put me in the most terrifying Uber ride of my life and we engaged in the most cathartic bitch session about the music industry. 

I’ve come to greatly appreciate my relationships with creative friends. Y’all really help keep me going. I love watching artists friends share their success on social media throughout the week. I enjoy getting demos recorded on phones, just to capture an idea. Keep sharing those creative photos. Tell those stories. Write those songs. 

I’ve compiled a Spotify playlist of folks I’ve had the honor of sharing a stage with. They’ve got compelling stories to tell you, and adventures to take you on. Enjoy.

I COME FROM THE GENERATION OF COLUMBINE

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“and how would you expect, that I could be fine.”

All is Well - Mississippi Jake

In second grade, I won a Young Authors award. It was about the tooth fairy and it got very dark, very quick. The tooth fairy was also a murderer. Anyhow, I won the award because of how vividly I had described the setting. Certainly not because of the story line. That moment engrained itself in my head. If an author, songwriter, poet, whatever medium, can transport me to a different place, I’m hooked. I often think of people in their settings, and of the influence of my settings upon stories. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in the Ozarks. Seven miles outside a town of 2,500 people. I lived in rural America, but outside of my quiet existence, the world seemed to fall apart. In ‘95 I watched rescue workers in Oklahoma City search for survivors after Timothy McVeigh exploded a truck in front of a Federal Building. Broadcast of the 96’ Summer Olympics in Atlanta spoke more about pipe bombs than gold medals. Only a few hours away from my home, in 1998, an eleven and thirteen year old boy pulled the fire alarms at their school. They waited with weapons outside their Arkansas school, while their classmates evacuated the building. Mostly, I will always remember hearing about a shooting in a place called Littleton.

I can vividly see the ditches out the truck window. I passed them every day of my life, but I remember what they looked like that day. The voices on the radio were still trying to make sense of the shooting at Columbine High School while spring flowers flew past my view. Young rabbits ran near the creek in Barry County while young people in Colorado ran toward lines of SWAT. 

Denver was a place far far away from me. The kind of places that only really exist when you’re out on vacation. Typically, my adolescent brain would have filed the story under “Not Applicable” because of the geographic distance. This time was different. I was approaching high school the next year. It seemed daunting all of a sudden and a little suburb near Denver didn’t seem that far away.  

On a recent trip west I passed Columbine High. It was strange seeing the physical building in person instead of through a CNN camera lens. Each generation has experienced their earth shaking events. Grandma had once told me her emotions as the radio squawked details of Pearl Harbor in ‘41. Most of us alive in the United States have a vivid recollection of 9/11. These events are our setting just as much as the streets we drive each day. 

The setting of a story is important. How we deal with the setting is even more important. Sometimes there is turmoil, and sometimes sheer beauty. It’s always shifting. There’s plenty of pain that’s going to happen in the world, that’s just part of it. All we can do is take real good care of the folks around us. 

- Jake Bradley Turner

MAYBE MAMA WAS RIGHT

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“and I’m not worth a damn.”

Maybe Mama Was Right- Mississippi Jake

I’ve found myself driving the same roads my folks who adopted me took on vacations. I’m still as captivated by the terrain of this nation as I was back in the 1990’s. The red clay of Oklahoma still glows off the light from the sky. I still feel like a cowboy riding through the front range of Colorado. I can smell the pines of the North Woods that early native folks and trappers smelled. The dust of Texas roads still gathers in my throat, like that of a Texas Ranger tracking an outlaw. My fascination with history has always transitioned well into travel. A few hundred history books can only tell you so much. Not until you can smell, taste, and feel a place, can you begin to understand the events of the location. 

I had two very opposite voices in my life growing up. One said, “You’re not smart enough to go to college. Don’t bother trying. All you’ll ever be is a factory worker.” The other asked every day, “What do you want to be? You know you can do anything, right?” The second voice still echoes in my head, thankfully. My childhood was pretty complicated, but I came out on top. I listened to the right voice. 

Dad not only told me I could do anything, but that I could go anywhere. He showed me how big the world could be and how small I could be. From Yellowstone to The Alamo, and The Grand Canyon to Washington D.C., we traveled over the summers. I would sit in the back seat and draw or follow our progress in the Rand McNally atlas. Each green interstate sign told the name and distance to the next new city to me. 

I fell in love in Bend, Oregon. In that 11-year-old kind of way. We met at the pool of a Best Western. It was fancy, it was half indoors and half outdoors. If I recall, king of the mountain on an inter tube and diving rings were our first, and only, date. We had made plans to meet in the morning for another swim. She never showed up. After we drove away from that Best Western, I think it took me the better part of a month to mend my little heart. 

Dad grew up near a small town, he played college football in a small town, and he educated thousands of kids over the years, all from small towns. Dad also made damn sure that I knew the world was larger than my own county. His voice encouraged me to live big and get uncomfortable. 

If I’d listened to the first voice, the one that told me dreams were foolish, I wouldn’t be driving across the country. I would never have gone to college, or graduate school. There are a million “what ifs” that aren’t worth the time of day because another voice called me to the interstate. The roads I now find myself on have a familiarity about them. Sometimes I’ll pass a rest area or gas station that I feel like I recognize. While driving through New Mexico, I told my dad that I owed him. Decades ago, he chauffeured me around this country and now it was his turn to sit back and enjoy the view. 

-Mississippi Jake


Walk down them dusty, winding roads

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“I’m going to lay my head in Hungry Hollow.”

As the summer begins to wane I always think of late summer activities from my childhood. We used old tractor inner tubes to float down Flat Creek. These were made of thick rubber, they were heavy, and durable. I learned a hard physics lesson around the age of seven. My cousin jumped off his side of the tube, and all hell broke loose. The heavy rubber tube rolled beneath me, the vacant side of the tube came up off the water and smacked me directly in the face. I can still hear the reverberation throughout the inside of the tube after is bounced off my face. The force catapulted me flat onto my back in the water. I laid there in the creek trying to process the event that happened so quickly. 

The end of summer also summoned the walnut pickers. For about a month you would see numerous old farm trucks driving around the country, asking farmers if they could pick up the walnuts that fell. I didn’t have an allowance growing up, so one of the few ways for an Ozarks boy to make cash was picking up walnuts. Prices varied from summer to summer, but I specifically remember realizing that the amount of energy compared to the monetary reward just didn’t make much sense. You would spend a long afternoon collecting walnuts into a five gallon buckets to dump into the pickup bed. Once the truck was full, you’d drive into town to the huller. An afternoon of work quickly becomes a few unimpressive bags of walnuts. The last year I participated, I was set on buying a new bicycle. I needed $120. Truckload after truckload led to my discouragement of ever being able to purchase the bike. As I began to load the truck bed again, I realized that if I truly wanted something it didn’t matter the amount of effort it required. Rather than focusing on how slow the progress was coming, I focused on the progress itself. A person has to use whatever painfully slow means they have to achieve their goal. 

I still put in a lot of hours for low monetary yield. I still make progress. I often think about the truck full of walnuts when I’m awake in the middle of the night sending booking emails. I traded in walnut stained hands and clothes for dark circles under my eyes and long drives, but it’s worthy work and worth the energy. 

-Little Jake


THE TREES FELL TO THEIR KNEES

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“…and offered the world to me.”

Grandma and grandpa Turner started their lives in Missouri with a farm on the White River. After the completion of a dam, the White River turned into Table Rock Lake and covered most of their land. Since they were cattle farmers and not in the business of raising catfish, they moved to Cassville, Missouri. They’d both experienced the Great Depression and that shaped their behaviors for the rest of their lives. Grandma never threw away a perfectly good Cool Whip container. Any time I open a deep freezer, I still expect to see “Chili ‘94” in grandma's handwriting. Grandpa kept tractors running with garden hoses and bailing wire. Most of our farm machinery would best be described as kicking a dead horse, but they made it work.

Grandma's garden fed a few dozen folks in our family. She worked in that dirt from spring to fall and usually dawn to dusk. Dad and I would often stop on the road when going to town, just to remind grandma to go in and rest. We helped as much as dad’s teaching and coaching schedule allowed, but grandma ran the thing. The rocky clay dirt took its toll on her body. For as long as I can remember, she was stooped. Her back was hunched from decades of weeding beans and harvesting okra, cucumbers, tomatoes, and squash along with countless other vegetables. 

They worked hard for very little, but at the end of the day, it was THEIR very little. They’d earned it. What they hadn’t accounted for in the balance book were the lessons I learned. Grandma taught me that even if you didn’t have much to offer, you helped anyone in need. Grandpa taught me that giving up is never an option. The Flood of 1993 caused hardship for everyone in the midwest. Our little corner of the world was no different. Fences within a quarter mile of the creek were obliterated. A trailer home drifted across our low water bridge. Cattle floated away and roads became holes. It was the kind of natural disaster that could have easily swept away our small farm. Everyone worked for weeks to help their neighbors and their own farms. Today, when someone says their task is “too hard,” I think of my grandparents. I have little patience for a weak spirit. I’ll blame grandpa for that one, and look to grandma for the grace side of life. They chose a very hard life because it made them happy and it was their purpose in life. 

I’ve always had a vivid imagination. Those hundreds of farm acres quickly became Gettysburg or the European theater in World War II. The trees, creek, hills, and rocks morphed into whatever my mind desired. I can only assume that, upon first sight, grandpa started daydreaming about the cattle he could raise, the garden that could grow, and the living he could provide for his family. The trees fell to their knees and certainly offered the whole world to both of us. 

-Jake Bradley Turner

WHEN I HEARD MY FIRST GOSPEL SONG

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I said “Mama , in a band is where I belong.”

Photo: Aaron Kafton

2009

Somewhere near the Nebraska-Colorado border I was unsure of what time zone I was in. I rolled the van into a rest area to stretch my legs before finding sleep for my weary eyes. A tune I had just been introduced to in Salina had been stuck in my head. I jumped on the free rest area Wi-Fi and downloaded Using Again by Benjamin Tod. It is a gut wrenchingly honest song about drug addiction and self-worth. Each line of the song crept through the Dodge factory speakers and into my soul. I’ve never had a drug addiction but it felt like a song I could have written. What else would one do when exhausted other than get introspective?

It became apparent that music was my addiction, that it was the thing I had allowed to control my life. Then I had to understand why. What in my life opened the door for something like music to capture my heart? Why was I still doing it?

Between the mohawks, studs, leather, self-inflicted piercings, and nautical star tattoos that were the punk rock scene in southern Missouri, we learned a lot about life. The punk kids and the hardcore kids never got along. In an attempt to remedy the conflicts, a local venue held an all-day festival for both. The foreseeable happened, egos flared and fights started. A high schooler who attended every punk show in town approached me. Her face made no attempt to hide her despair.

“Why is everyone fighting? I go to shows to get away from the fighting at home.” That’s when I knew music was bigger than the enjoyment I got from playing.

In 2014, after I’d been living in Iowa for several years, I returned to the Joplin area to play one of my favorite house shows. Recently I had written a song “Sweet Tea and Black Coffee” and I was anxious to play it live. Early in my writing I used other folks as my writing material and this was an early attempt to use my own experiences. Rather terrifying. To this day, the song gets accused of being a sad song, but it ain’t. “I’ve been through hell and back and I wouldn’t change a thing. Calm seas don’t make good sailors.” Charles, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, hugged me after the show in the way that only he could. He looked right in my eyes and said, “That Sweet Tea song, I get it.”

Charles has since left this world, but I’ve replayed that memory more times than I care to count. That’s when I knew I had to write honest songs. You never know who is listening.

This spring, no matter where in the Midwest I drove, there was water everywhere. The banks of the Arkansas aggressively pushed against the levees in Tulsa as I pulled into town. Everywhere we adventured we exchanged flood level stories with strangers. We arrived back at the house show to find regular attendees arriving. We crammed into the basement, drank Wal-Mart champagne, danced, and held our version of a church service right in that basement. Nothing lights a fire inside of me like finding groups of folks who’ve found each other through their passion for music.  

That’s when I knew I wasn’t ever alone. No matter where I would be driving in the Midwest, I would have a congregation waiting.

Mostly, I feel like I finally fit in my skin. Sometimes I think that’s a justification for doing what I want. The bitter taste of imposter syndrome from graduate school often comes back, but I’ve got a community of folks who make it a lot easier to keep shoving myself in that van.

-Mississippi Jake

I'M LEARNING TO LOVE LIFE AGAIN

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In the cities of the Middle West.

I’ve learned that folks in the Middle West drink cases of beer in living rooms with friends. From Chicago and Effingham to Lexington, Kentucky, and Fargo, North Dakota. It’s a beautiful thing and often times a few chords are strummed. My friend Garrett and his crew laid out a beautiful rendition of Atlantic City. We share our songs of loss, glory, love, and turmoil, the same ones we sing at the top of our lungs on long drives. They’re the anthems we hold close when we’re lonely and driving through blizzards.

 

I’ve learned that if you ask a few questions doors begin to open. In South Dakota I asked a music storeowner about their ‘going out of business’ sale. He graciously told me about him and his brother purchasing the store sixty years past, expanded and thrived. I told him of my love for history, and he opened a large bound book of a century’s worth of small town newspaper. I scoured the pages, reading about Jack Dempsey, Charles Lindbergh, and the rise and fall of the Third Reich. He told me how the town had grown and their struggles, and in 15 minutes I had a better understanding of the town I was playing in.

 

I’ve learned that there are good folks everywhere. I sat back in my seat on the CTA bus in Chicago, ready for the ride through the city. A man who appeared down on his luck frantically searched his pockets for his change. The driver and most the passengers were annoyed at the delay. From somewhere behind me a gentleman walked up and paid the man’s fare and patted him on the back. Growing up in the rural Middle West, I was always told big cities were scary and vicious places. I’m grateful that myth was debunked.

 

I’ve learned that all folks are looking for a bit a dignity. I get to experience a lot of different American cultures. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m in Lincoln, Tulsa, or Grand Forks. That’s part of the beauty, the continuity among Middle Westerners. It also lies in the stark differences. Each state and city has a unique way of being themselves. Conversations always start with a handshake, but then each one is filled with unique experiences and influences. I try to learn something from each. We all make mistakes, fall short, or simply fuck it up.

 

I’ve learned that my way isn’t the only way. I have friends that also play music for a living. We do it different, and that’s fine. I’ve grown in my understanding of humans. At the end of the day we are all trying to interpret the world in which we live. There’s a bond like no other between music families. Perhaps we only cross paths a few times a year, but Lord knows it’s a family reunion. There are some beautiful souls wandering around out there.

 

I’ve learned a lot the last two years, not sure that I’ve figured anything out, but I’m learning.

 

- Mississippi Jake

 

I can still hear the ghost of my youth

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Running through those old Ozark hills.


As a kid in the Ozarks, I had a springtime checklist for roaming around the farm.

 

1.     Check the ties on the fences along the paths.

2.     Make note of cattle paths.

3.     Check for newly rotten boards in the barn.

4.     Beware of venomous or snapping critters.

 

Over time, posts rot, and the wires become lose. I can recall the gut sinking feeling of straddling the fence and the wire in which I’d placed all my weight gave way. Second hand Levi’s Jeans are no competition for rust old barbed wire. (Back home it’s pronounced “Bob” wire).

Most of the undergrowth disappears during the cold months. In what only seems like two days, all of the brush, weeds, and thorn bushes overtake the ground. Even a decade old cattle path can be too hidden to safely navigate at full seven year old speeds. 

The hay barn is the best staging area for any adventure on the farm. Every year, new boards would give up the ghost. Hay is fun to fall into, when you’re in control of the circumstances. Fact is, any given place on the farm could have an old rust hunk of machinery buried within. Grandma and grandpa lived through the Great Depression. They never threw anything away.

 

I hate snakes. Every. Last. One. Of. Them.

 

 I once unearthed a very groggy alligator snapping turtle. It was less than pleased but luckily was too out of it to react. They’re impressive creatures but unnerving as hell to encounter in the water.

 

Spring calves are awfully cute. Learning to use your legs isn’t always easy when the terrain is rocky and inclined. Coyotes become more adventurous. They get so bold that their howls sound like they’re coming from the garden. The little ecosystem in the ponds erupt with activity and the fishing gets good.

 

The highlight of the summer was when my cousins from Oklahoma came to the farm. It was a rare but welcomed interruption to my solitude on the farm. We got into lots of trouble. We would roam beyond the borders we were allowed. Often we would push it the last minute of daylight just before getting wrath for being late.

 

Each year the creek was a little different. Gravel bars disappeared. New ones surfaced. Tree roots would give way as the creek cut swaths of earth from under them.

 

The old Travers Mill foundation still existed on our property, as did the ruins of the dam used to divert the water to the mill. Hellgrammites and crawdads thrived in the large stone formations in the water. Rock bass, Small mouth, and the occasional large mouth waited patiently for our bait to move with the current before striking.

In the Ozarks, the creeks are filled with sand and gravel so the water remains clear. With the correct angle and the appropriate intensity of the sun, you watch a thousand different critters go about their business in the creek.

 

Traveling back home these days doesn’t allow wandering time on the old farmstead. One of these days I’m going make time. I’m going to sleep on that ground again.  I’m going to capture every little detail I can. Maybe stay out after dark and sing the creek to sleep.

-Little Jake