WE DROVE ON NEXT TO OUR BROTHERS

Photos: Aaron Kafton @clovenlife

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“Not sure how we’d pay the rent, just knew we had to keep going.”

We were on tour and that was all that mattered. Parents and friends did their part in reminding us of how foolish touring was. Our band had possibly the most unreliable vehicle I’ve ever had the misfortune of driving. Sometimes $900 for a vehicle and big dreams is enough to get you a few thousand miles. The van wouldn’t surpass 65 mph without cutting out. That made keeping up with the other band REALLY hard. We also discovered that the colony of ants in the engine compartment was very displeased with the heat from the engine. For a minor respite from the heat, they joined us in the cab of the van. There were no seats, save for the driver and passenger seats up front. We acquired some nice after market seating that had obviously accidently been left by a dumpster. Sometimes it IS the simple things in life. 

 

July of 2008 brought torrential rains to Texas and Louisiana. The ground couldn’t absorb any more water, so it stood nearly ankle high everywhere. The sun came out and the lower Mississippi River states became saunas.  Mind you, I hate humidity more than I hate menthol cigarettes, and I really hate menthol cigarettes. So much water was evaporating into the summer sun that it was almost foggy.

 

We arrived at the venue in Baton Rogue late the evening the day before our show. We were just two vans of punk rock/hippie/reggae/metal head kids chilling out in the parking lot, living our dreams. From the other side of the venue, we heard a distinct noise. There’s a sound that baseball bats and beer bottles make when being wielded as battle weapons that one never forgets.

           

At that moment my adrenaline removed any thought of the persistent humidity. I’m sure that our minds eye equated our situation to an epic medieval battlefield prior to a charge. In reality it probably looked more like a Spaghetti Western. One of us somehow found the capacity to utter something regarding playing at the venue the next evening. Guards and baseball bats came down and coolers of beer came out. We shared the rest of the evening with our new Baton Rouge friends in our makeshift parking lot camp.

 

Rats had the privilege of opening for some really amazing artists. Since those days it’s been enjoyable to see many of them carry on to bigger and better shows than the punk clubs in Joplin, Missouri. Of all those encounters, I remember talking with Brian Fallon in the green room (concrete room used for storage) before a show. Either he said one of the most simply profound things I’ve ever heard, or my brain decided he should have said something profound and interjected it in my memory. “We just decided to get in a van and go until it worked out or we ran out of money.”

 Fact or fanciful imagery, I think I’m just going to get in the van and hope it works out.

-Mississippi Jake

WE STRIVE FOR GREATNESS WHILE WE STRUGGLE TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE

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You can still hear that fiddle cry, down in the valley low

As a full-time working musician I get asked two questions frequently. The first has a very typical flow.

“What do you do, Jake?”

“I’m a musician.”

“But what do you do for work?

“I write and play music.”

“Yeah, but how do you make money?”

“I write and play music.”

Usually the inquirer leaves not quite understanding how a person can live off of music. I smile, half wonder the same thing, then go back to my pint.

The second question is my favorite: How did you start playing music?

Since I can remember, I was singing along with whatever came to my ears. I was raised on Southern Gospel music, my first big concert was the Gaither Vocal Band. We drove when we went on vacation and I would get lost in my headphones for days on end. My imagination carried me to the performance stage. Those songs pounding through my Walkman became my own and I pictured myself singing to the crowd.

I spent a lot of time at my grandma’s house. Music was my escape. I could crawl into my favorite albums when I didn’t know how else to cope with life. At the age of twelve I pointed at the guitar that always leaned in the corner of her room.

“Grandma, how do you do that?”

Life is about asking the right questions. She showed me how to form a few chords, and wrote out the arrangement for Amazing Grace on a small piece of paper. Over the last ten years, that paper has hung on my wall wherever I live. She probably wouldn’t have understood my punk rock phase, but otherwise I think she would be proud of what she started.

Grandma Turner passed away my senior year of high school. She went in for a rather routine surgery, and never came back out. I was borrowing her guitar for a few weeks prior to her passing. Days before she passed, we talked on the phone.

“Grandma, do you need me to bring your guitar back soon?”

“No, it’s okay. I won’t be needing it. Keep it for a while.”

I’m not sure if she knew what was coming, but as soon as I got the news of her death, her words drifted through my mind. If I remember correctly, I was pretty terrible at guitar. Grandma never let that stop her from encouraging me or bragging on my “talent” to passersby. She knew how much I enjoyed playing and creating and she protected that.

“Talented” gets thrown around a lot in art. I’ve never been one to say it about myself. I can’t tune a guitar by ear. I can’t play by ear. I don’t know the rules. I write songs or progressions through trial and error. I’m sure it’s a painful process for anyone unlucky enough to be within earshot. I don’t have musical talent, I have iron willed determination. From that day in 1999 to 200 hundred shows in 2018, I’m playing like grandma taught me.

- Little Jake

We were DFS kids.

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I jumped on a train, I wondered if you were doing the same. I’ve slept on the streets, not sure if you’d even know my name. I’ve been hungry and I prayed you’d find a feast. I’ve been tired, I prayed you’d find peace.”

In the early summer days of 2015, when 80 degrees already felt oppressive, everything changed. Scrolling through random social media posts about who was eating Taco Bell and who had recently mowed their yard, I came across an image of a woman with a sign. Just before scrolling on, I caught a few lines.

“His birth name was Casey Joe Collins.”

Odd. That was my birth name.

“His birthday was 04-27-1987.”

Very odd. That’s my birthday.

“Monett Missouri.”

Well hell, that’s where my foster home was.

That’s when it hit me. For the first time in 28 years I was looking at the woman who brought me into this world. It’s been a very strange life and few things shake me, but my heart stopped and I had to consciously remind myself to inhale and exhale.

I have always known I was adopted. It never bothered me, even when kids made fun of me in school. “You were adopted! Nobody wanted you!” Kids sure can be mean, but a thick skin has always served me well. Somewhere around third grade I realized I had more ammunition than any of them. “I. Got. Picked. Someone walked into a house of kids, in a system with untold options for adoption prospects, and picked ME. I bet you were an accident.” That shut them up.

After seeing mom’s post, I sat on it for a few weeks. I wasn’t aware of the circumstances that led to my time in foster care, and after 28 years of not having a relationship I wasn’t sure I wanted to open that door. Eventually, I respond because I wanted her to know I was okay.

“Hello, my name is Jake Turner, I’m who you’re looking for. I was adopted at three by a very loving man who has made sure I had every opportunity in this world. I hope you’re well and just wanted to let you know I’m making it just fine.”

Enter my brother Shane. He responded in the best way possible.”I’m your brother Shane. I’ve been looking for you since the day you were adopted. I know this is all very strange, and I’m leaving the ball in your court as far as contact and a relationship.”

I always wanted siblings. Growing up in the middle of nowhere can be lonesome. We decided to meet and immediately I understood what all the hoopla about blood relations was. It only took 28 years. Since then I’ve been able to experience the most incredible things that many take for granted. In my late twenties I got to jump on a trampoline with my brother. We’ve played video games for hours together. I’ll never forget the first time I shot fireworks with my big brother on the Fourth of July.

The most common question I get when folks hear my story is: “what’s it like to be adopted?”

Normal. I understand the question, but it’s a little silly. What’s it like to live with your biological family? Normal. Normal is relative.

I have a few take aways from this part of my strange life:

Family is a choice. I have a really big family. From the Turners to the Collins and hundreds of folks I’ve met along the way. We’ve all DECIDED that we are family and that’s not something you’re born into. I have family that I see a few times a year when they pass through on tour, or when I tour to their towns. If I call you friend, that means you’re family.

Be more than you should be. On paper, I shouldn’t be much. Shane and I have spent hours talking about how going through foster care, and having the ups and downs that we’ve had, don’t generally translate into successful humans. I think we’re doing alright, for being wards of the state.

-Jake Bradley Turner

YOU GET A LINE, AND I'LL GET A POLE, HONEY

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“Walk down them dusty, winding roads, I’m going to lay my head in Hungry Hollow.”


Maybe it’s being in my thirties or maybe it’s just stage of life, but I’ve been dwelling on who I am and where I came from. So much of me was transformed on Ozarks dirt, running around hills and trees. I spent hours on the weekends and weeks during the summer by myself on those beautiful acres. Dad started taking me fishing soon after he adopted me. I am surprised we didn’t go on day one.

I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with a very vivid memory. To this day, smells, temperatures, or sounds transport me to childhood. Sometimes it is crisp air in my lungs early in the morning. Other times I can smell the dense red clay or wild strawberries growing along the creek. Lately, there have been a lot of dots connected to those times and the lessons they were starting to teach me.

Fishing can be frustrating when you’re a kid with boundless energy. I will never forget the look dad gave me when I mindlessly started throwing rocks in the water.

“You’re scaring of the fish!” No, Dad. I’m recreating the battle at Wilson’s Creek, and those rocks are cannon balls.

As the years floated by my attention span for standing in a single place increased. I wanted to know the secret and mystery to catching fish. Mornings turned to evenings and I was still wading up and down Flat Creek on my hunt for the biggest Small Mouth Bass I could land. While I caught some wonderful fish, I hooked something greater: patience.

I’m still trying reel that one in.

-Gone Fishin’

IT'S A BIG WORLD

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“When this body fails me, spread my ashes across the interstates of America. That’s the only place I’ve ever felt at home.”

Photo: James Dean

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Over the last few years I’ve spent countless hours traveling around the midwest. I am blessed to be able to do what I do for a living. Hours under the Nebraska night sky and days along the Mississippi River keep teaching me one thing: I’m small. I love feeling insignificant. It’s seems easier to drink in surroundings when you barely feel like you exist.

Growing up, my dad was a school teacher. Summertime generally meant a lot of farm work. Fence building, plowing the garden, rounding up cattle, repairing out buildings, and bailing hay. Throughout the school year, dad took on extra responsibilities at school so that we could take a family vacation. He stayed late and went in early ten months of the year so we could travel for one week. I’m forever grateful for his sacrifices to enable my early adventures around the United States. At age five I saw the Black Hills for the first time. Then we took a trip to Kentucky. I stood on the sacred ground at Gettysburg before I was in high school and at ten I stood inside a Redwood tree. The events and locations we visited were so big in my mind. So important. Incredibly breathe taking. That hasn’t ever gone away. Hell, I’m still fascinated with rest areas on the interstate, each one their own little oasis with a unique personality.

I don’t see my career path changing anytime soon. I plan to keep driving and feeling as small as possible.

Thanks, Dad.

-Nobody

MOUNTAIN MACHINE...

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“The trees fell to their knees, and offered the world to me.”

Throughout my youth, we had half a dozen or so farm dogs. They helped herd cattle and kept me company on the hundreds of acres I roamed everyday. The terrain was harsh, jagged rocks, deep ravines, steep bluffs, rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, brown recluses, black widows, black bears, and the most formidable: mountain lions.

To hear a mountain lions’ call in the wild is unnerving at best. It’s a wild, maniacal scream that makes the hair on your neck stand up. While cutting wood for our stoves one fall afternoon, Dad saw what he describes to this day as “a scene from a Disney movie.” As the sun began setting behind the hill a mountain lion appeared. Queen, our blue healer, circled around the cat. Dad watched as Queen lead the the wild animal along the top of the ridge, both animals moving at full throttle. Dad came back to the house and somberly explained why my dog would not be coming home.

Three days later Queen showed up without a scratch. To this day we don’t know how she evaded that cat, but she was home again.

I often think of the land I grew up on. I often say that my best friend growing up was hundreds of acres, trees, hills, ponds, and creeks. I am a social being, always have been, but the joy of that solitude and peace is indescribable and I miss it. I wonder what parts of me come directly from my time on that plot of dirt, or who I would be without it.

-Mountain Machine

The trees fell to their knees, and offered the world to me.”

ELMER'S GLUE AND IRONING BOARDS

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“I lived with the Rats and I sang with the Saints…”

Photo by Aaron Kafton @Clovenlife

Circa 2009

Circa 2009

The downstairs bathroom of the Rat House didn’t have a door, or functioning shower. The only real use it got was mohawk day.

Step One: Setup ironing board.

Step two: Straighten very curly hair with cloths iron.

Step three: Apply Elmer’s Glue.

Step four: Make mohawk as tall, fanned, and crazy as possible.

Step five: Sleep like hell for three nights ‘cause you don’t want to jack up your hair.

Our little community of friends piled into our nearly condemned rental (at one point it was condemned!) and sang along to Rancid and Against Me albums. We dreamt of tours while trying to make Ramen noodles as interesting as possible. We spent hours routing shows and sending emails trying to book our southern tour with local friends in a reggae/punk band.

Our band was called the Rats and we were determined to take our music to any group of two or more who might listen. Most of us were underage trying to play it cool at the bars we played. Turns out, the harder you try, the less “cool” you’re playing it. My goal was to drink my Killian’s and draw as little attention to myself as possible.

We stayed over night in Memphis on the first day. Folks have grand ideas about what touring musicians lives look like. For me, tour day one was convincing the security guard at the Heartbreak Hotel to let us park our bright yellow van in his lot, so we could get a peaceful night rest. The other band had connections that allowed them to actually sleep in the hotel, which meant one thing for us: pool time.

I swam awkward laps in the Heartbreak Hotel pool. However, the best part of the evening was teaching their bandmate about chess, strategy, and how life is one big chess board. He and I still talk about that every couple of years on our regular phone calls. I’m grateful for the friends I have made over the last twelve years of doing music. Ya’ll are the finest friends a fella could ask for. Thanks.

-Jake Rat


I STOLE HIS NAME

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“My teeth are rusty railroad spikes…”

I spent the first years of my life in and out of foster homes and hospitals to then be adopted into the Turner family. Grandma raised six children of her own, and when I came along she treated me like a seventh. Grandpa rarely smiled or laughed, but when he did, he meant it. Grandma went to church and Grandpa chewed plug tobacco. In many ways their personalities made little sense together, but in the most beautiful way. Grandma doted on me and Grandpa was stern, but so unbelievably proud that my father named me after him.

As a young man Grandpa Jake was a sweet potato farmer in Portales, New Mexico, with his family heritage based in Georgia. At age sixteen, Grandma ran away from Missouri with her sister. I’m not sure of the reasoning but they ended up in New Mexico. Grandma was a waitress at a diner, and in all of New Mexico it was the diner Grandpa daily ate lunch at. After their wedding and a few more years growing sweet spuds, they moved back to Grandmas roots in Missouri just a few miles north of the Arkansas line.

Grandma and Grandpa were uprooted when the White River became Table Rock Lake. They sold what little of the farm remained above water and moved into Barry County. There they raised a family, grew a garden, and tended cattle. Grandpa was a serious man who worked hard, rarely took time off, looked out for those who couldn’t look out for themselves, and was proud of his work.

Often I get told I don’t smile much, which is probably true. I hope a perpetual scowl isn’t the only way I am like Hubert Memory “Jake” Turner.

- Little Jake