A veteran musician for over 60 years, Benny Turner has played everywhere from the Chitlin’ Circuit, to Europe, Japan, Australia, and all points in between. Content to be a sideman in support of the many giants he has worked with, it wasn’t unti 2010 that Benny took his rightful place in the spotlight on center stage, to the delight of blues fans worldwide.
Born in Gilmer, Texas, Benny and his older brother, blues legend Freddie King, learned to play guitar from their mother, Ella Mae (King) Turner and her brothers Leon and Leonard King.
During the late 50’s Benny played guitar with gospel group, The Kindly Shepherds, and is on a handful of their recordings for the Nashboro label (guitar and background vocals) from that time. He was also playing bass with Freddie King at legendary Chicago clubs such as the Squeeze Club and Walton’s Corner. While at Walton’s Corner, Benny met R&B singer Dee Clark, and was invited to join him on the road. Within a few days, his first exposure to touring and life on the road began, at none other than The Apollo Theater in New York, and continued at other legendary theaters including The Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, The Howard Theater in Washington DC and The Regal Theater in Chicago. It was an exciting time, during which Dee had his Billboard hit ‘Raindrops‘ (1961).
While on the road, Benny met Leroy Crume and Richard Gibbs, of the Soul Stirrers, and was invited to join their tour. At that time, electric bass was unheard of in gospel music and it was controversial within the band, but the group’s manager, Jesse Farley, recognized his potential contribution and hired Benny. That pioneering move laid the groundwork and inspiration for the gospel music of today, in which bass guitar plays an integral role.
By the mid-to-late 60’s Benny returned to Chicago, where he continued to play locally in various bands and also made a handful of his own recordings for the Leaner Brothers’ One-Derful and M-Pac! labels. Not long after, Benny re-joined his brother on the road playing bass and leading the band. Freddie and his band was living every musician’s dream, playing at major festivals (domestic and international) and appearing on the same bill as artists such as Dionne Warwick, B.B. King, Solomon Burke, Eric Clapton and even opening for Grand Funk Railroad at Madison Square Garden in New York. While at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973, members of Freddie’s band were asked to sit in with Memphis Slim, and Benny plays bass on the recording of that act, “Memphis Slim – Very Much Alive and in Montreux.” Mickey Baker was part of that performance.
In December 1976, the dream became a nightmare. Benny lost his band mate, best friend and big brother all at once, after Freddie’s untimely passing at age 42. Completely devastated and physically debilitated by the unspeakable loss, Benny spent the next two years as a recluse. Finally, when Chicago bluesman Mighty Joe Young approached him, Benny gathered the courage to face the stage once again. One of the highlights of their time together was appearing in the 1981 film “Thief” while playing live at The Wise Fools Pub. After eight fantastic years on the road together, Mighty Joe had to stop touring due to health issues.
Heading to New Orleans was the next significant turning point for Benny. There, he met Marva Wright, “Blues Queen of New Orleans.” He joined the band and served as Marva’s bandleader and bass player for more than twenty years. Internationally recognized beyond the borders of New Orleans, Marva Wright and the BMW’s played all over the world in addition to being mainstays of the French Quarter music scene. In 2010, Marva passed away and Benny lost a cherished friend and bandmate.
In recent years, Benny returned to the studio to produce and record three albums, showcasing his strong and soulful vocals, his signature bass style and his creative songwriting and arrangement skills. In 2014, “Journey,” an album of all original work was released in homage to his musical history. Embraced by the soul and blues communities alike, “When She’s Gone” was released in February 2016. A collection of six original reissues from his first album, “Blue and Not So Blue,” (now out of print) and four blues standards, “When She’s Gone” is a musical feast dedicated to Ella Mae King Turner, the woman who raised two blues legends, the late Freddie King and little brother Benny. The opening track, ‚I Can’t Leave‘ won an Independent Music Award in the blues song category, and the entire album received strong worldwide airplay and charted on both the Living Blues magazine and Roots Music Report charts, as well as received a Blues Blast Music Award nomination. 2016 was a double milestone year for Benny, marking his 60th anniversary as a professional musician, and 40 years since his brother’s untimely death. In honor and observance of both events, 2017 is proving to be a banner year of its own, including Benny’s entrance into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame this October.
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