THE TREES FELL TO THEIR KNEES

Scan 8.jpeg

“…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

1914432_144944509526_5242617_n (1).jpg

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

Salt Flats2.jpeg

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

Jake&Luke&Grandpa.jpeg

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  

THE STREETLIGHTS TRY A LITTLE HARDER

53155166_561752710987430_4773222066302222336_n.jpg

When she walks by.

Photo: Preston Folkestad

The last few months have been weighing heavily upon the shoulders for many of us. In February, I sat at the front of a line of cars on I-35 who were waiting for a semi to be towed off both northbound lanes. The wind came so directly from the west that my Caravan was pushed on the ice while I was in park. This was my second blizzard on the road in 2019. Hymn 101 by Joe Pug appears on several of my playlists. No truer words echoed through those factory Dodge speakers than “I’ve come to test the timber of my heart.” I offer no real purpose in this post other than reflection. 

My Ozarks blood will never be used to the winter climate in Iowa. I get that honest. The first time my dad visited Iowa during winter its was -20. The expression on his face after escaping the wind outside matched the permanent expression I’d adopted that winter. Humidity will always be my hell on earth, but sometimes this cold hurts the soul.

To the best of my knowledge, 2019 is the first time I’ve experienced a “Polar Vortex.” I can’t much say I enjoyed it. Sometimes when I walk in the door, my son wraps himself around my leg, fully intending for me to carry him. The cold this winter clung to a person in the same way. Even once inside, you still had a shroud of cold surrounding you for a few minutes. I imagined the cold as a man. His eyes were full of sorrow but you could see the pride of someone who once was. His handshake was entirely empty yet unforgettable and cold.

I spent more on hotels this year than ever before in my years of music and cancelled more than ever. It caused some financial hits, and I learned a lot. I learned that my determination might be a little unwise at times. Sometimes the Minnesota State Patrol shuts down the interstate and it’s probably for the best. I met a lot of strangers, whose stories may come out in some form, but for now have served as inspiration to me. I’ve been trying to more frequently enjoy others joy. Hearing strangers speak of their family or accomplishments, they have this sort of genuine smile. I’m nobody when I’m on the road, and I like that. I get to just be some guy who got stuck while traveling for work. I keep finding myself sitting next to folks who open up, lay it all out, talking to a stranger. There’s simply no way to capture that in an image, as far as I can tell. It’s one of the most unique feelings.

Spring seems to be tempting us this week. Nobody seems to mind. Hopefully, Old Man Winter is leaving for a few months to explore lands far way. Far away from any interstate I may find myself on. Perhaps we are walking away from the winter that we hold all the winters of the rest of our lives against. Maybe that’s the consolation prize.

“It’s cold, but it ain’t as cold as it was in ’19.”

-Mississippi Jake

ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER

52797009_644971959270497_3083528996583899136_n.jpg

ONE DAY AT A TIME, I’LL DO MY DAMNEDEST TO TOW THE LINE.


My four-year-old son has become obsessed with hockey over the last year. We’ve enjoyed a few collegiate games together and he can’t get enough. Often, at home he pretends he’s a hockey player. Winter gloves, boots, pool goggles, and a flap eared hat provide his makeshift pads. At his first hockey game, one of the assistant coaches gave him a broken stick that’s just his height. It is one of his most prized possessions.

My brother Shane and I have been making up for the lost 28 years behind us. We recently discovered that neither of has ice-skated. The closest to skating that I’d ever come was watching The Mighty Ducks. This fit perfectly in line with my son’s desire to learn. We all strapped skates to our feet and wobbled to the ice entrance.

“Well, brother, I guess this is where we learn to skate,” said Shane.

I do not enjoy doing things I am not good at. I do not enjoy looking like a fool in front of people. I really do not enjoy the idea of hurting a fellow skater because of my lack of coordination. All of these things make me uncomfortable, but when your four-year-old wants you to teach him how to ice-skate, you Zamboni your pride and figure it out.

I learned to “ice-skate” in about two minutes. Let’s be clear, I’m not skating, I’m just using only one hand on the wall and not falling. My son’s legs had very different plans than the rest of his body when on the ice. With an adult on either side he focused on all he had on staying upright. Much like me, he gets frustrated at not being good at things. A frustration set in that only Cheetos and chocolate milk could cure. We sat and snacked and you could see his aggravated processing at his less than successful first attempt. I’m preparing my dad speech about how he tried really hard and that was okay, that I was proud of him for who he was and not because of the things that succeeded at.

He wiped his face with his sleeve.

Stood up.

“I’m gonna go get better, Papa.”

None of use became expert skaters that day. I doubt we will be making our figure skating debuts anytime within the next decade. That day, the three of us didn’t give up. We struggled together, and it wasn’t pretty. I focused on the experience. Shane and I have a lot of firsts to check off. We got to hold my son’s hands and walk him through a new experience.  

I know I will fall short, but my new goal is to focus on more things I’m not very good at. To keep pushing myself to get uncomfortable, and see every thing around me. If it ain’t pretty, I’ll just go get better.   

 

Jake Bradley Turner

(Casey Joe Collins)

I'VE GOT MAPS UNDER MY SKIN

IMG_4140.jpg

TO REMIND ME OF ALL THE PLACES THAT I’VE BEEN.

Photo: Aaron Kafton

circa. 2008


I’ve always said I cut my teeth on the world in Joplin, Missouri. Growing up near Cassville (Population: 2,500) served me well, but I knew I wouldn’t stay. A childhood friend of mine and I attempted higher education right out of high school. I reference this time as the “first fifteen minutes that I went to college.” Shortly after that stint, our idealistic minds decided that music was the way to go. We went from sleeping in a ’92 Chevy Lumina to a nearly condemned rental house. We started our roots in our new town.

 

The more I reflect on the big memories, the more the smaller ones begin to glow again. Those moments shaped who I am today, from pitchers of Rolling Rock at the Keystone to exploring the train depot. The miles we put on our second hand boots combined conversations about our understanding of the world around us made us feel at home. For as much I enjoyed pounding the concrete of the Joplin city streets, my imagination was most captured above and below.

 

Joplin was once a booming mining town with infrastructure designed for massive growth. Unfortunately, the expected boom never came. Now along sections of Main Street, there are 100-year-old buildings that have not heard footsteps inside for decades. Those were my favorite. In most things, the unloved and abandoned are my preferred choice of company.

 

I even took a date on one of my unofficial tours of town. We walked a mile of lesser-known underground tunnels. Then we climbed eight stories of fire escape to let our legs hang above the street below. Joplin also has a few fantastic options for fountains that one could take a late night swim in, or so I’ve heard. Perhaps urban exploration isn’t for everyone. She never returned my calls.

 

I can still feel the chain link fences on my hands that I jumped in Joplin. My first real attempt at making music came from there. Folks I became friends with there are still part of my life. Some remained, bought our old bars, and continue to grow the music community. Some moved to other locations, like myself. They’ve become a big part of the regional network I travel and they have supported me for more than a decade.

I began getting tattooed in earnest at the age of 19. The stories behind the pieces I chose while in Joplin play back like movies. I’ve kept those memories close and the tattoos are just reminders of my journey. Hard lessons and happy lessons, all important in their own way and worth remembering. Looking at these maps under my skin I feel blessed to be where I am and excited to see where the map leads.  

- Jake Rat

 

THE SNOW CLIMBED DOWN

Scan 2 copy.jpeg

Photo circa 2000, 7 miles north of Cassville on Y Highway.

Winters in the Ozarks aren’t nearly as harsh as the ones I’ve come to know in central Iowa. Folks up north scoff at southern drives in snowstorms, but bare in mind, our roads are rather dangerous even in ideal conditions. Over the years the old snaking logging roads turned into paved roads that require keen observation to navigate.

Grandma lived half a mile down the road from my childhood home. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday she served bacon, eggs, and flakey biscuits. Tuesday and Thursday was biscuits and gravy with sausage patties. Saturdays, pancakes and waffles and Sundays we ate breakfast rice.

Our snow day started with refilling the wood box by the cast-iron fireplace. I used to spit on the top just to watch it sizzle away into oblivion. We drove our 88 Dodge Ram Charger over and ate the appropriate breakfast for the day of the week. Second hand Carhartts were wrapped around to keep a body warm.

The old Ford farm truck was an odd combination of mustard yellow, rust, and mud. The heater never warmed up to a sufficient temperature, which didn’t much matter, as I spent most of my time riding in the back. We would lower the hay spike on the back of the truck, spike a round hay bale, and take it to the top of a hill. Few things are as fun as shoving a round bale of hay down a hill. After a few rotations downhill the bale lost all control and careened over or through most obstacles.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the barn pictured above. With the imagination of a young boy, the barn became a rallying point for the 101st Airborne in northern France in 1944. When the snow covered the ground, it became Bastogne.  I could bend my surroundings to fit the narrative of any historic setting I desired. That barn was the equivalent to tree houses all the kids in mid 90’s movies had. It was an escape from reality and a refuge from the elements.

One particularly bad ice storm sums up life on an Ozarks farm. Across the lower field from grandmas house sat one of our steepest hills. Debris often rolled down the hill, took the 20-foot drop into Flat Creek, and began its journey downstream. The cattle had found cover under a cedar tree grove. The incline proved too much for their hooves, and we watched as our main source of income slide off that hill toward the creek. There was nothing to be done, other than watch the tragic bovine bobsleds make their decent.

In my youth, nature made life harder; the same goes for life as a troubadour. Shows cancel, attendance can be low, and travel is risky at best. Perhaps childhood tales of Jeremiah Johnson and Hugh Glass have fortified themselves in my psyche, making it impossible not to enjoy the danger or challenge of a Midwestern snowstorm.

-Jake