The Grand Ole Opry stage has been a magical place for Josh Turner.
Growing up in Hannah, S.C., he worshipped it from afar. On Dec. 21, 2001, he made his debut there as a singer, getting a standing ovation from the crowd even before he had signed his first record deal. In the four years since, he's returned numerous times to perform as one of country music's brightest young stars.
Last week, Turner, 28, was a little kid again, back in the crowd at the Opry, watching breathlessly, and hoping for an autograph from the main act, who rumor has it, couldn't even sing.
But that main act was still able to captivate an audience filled with country music stars and industry insiders. Yes, President Bush knows how to hold his own at the Opry.
"It was a dream come true," Turner says of listening to and later meeting the President, who was in town to reiterate his themes from the previous night's State of the Union message. "I was standing in line to meet him with my manager and wife, and I told them it was kind of strange seeing all these country artists in a meet-and-greet line. I don't even know if he knows who I am, but I gave him my record, and he said he was going to listen to it while he works out."
Apparently, the President and a lot of other Americans will have Turner's
"Your Man" blasting from their iPods in the gym. The album sits atop Billboard's Country Albums chart, having sold more than 101,000 copies during its first week in stores. It's also No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, which consists of albums from all genres. "Your Man" finished behind only Il Divo.
"I was trying to explain what the numbers meant to my parents, and I don't think they really got it. I was trying to find a way to explain it, so I told my daddy that it meant I've got the second-biggest album in the world right now. He says, 'Wow, that's pretty strong,' " Turner says with a chuckle by phone from his home about 30 miles south of Nashville.
The impressive sales numbers quickly laid to rest any concerns that Turner would suffer through a sophomore slump following his platinum-selling debut album, "Long Black Train."
If anything, this album is showing more sales strength than his debut, which went gold for sales of more than 500,000 copies in just 12 weeks after being released in 2003. By the end of 2004, Turner had sold more than 1 million copies. This album has already done the debut one better by producing a Top 10 single.
"Your Man" is at No. 8 and climbing on this week's Billboard chart. Few people realize that "Long Black Train" topped out at No. 12 as some radio stations shied away from the religious-oriented song. "Long Black Train" dealt with a metaphorical train symbolizing temptation rumbling down the track. Some people climb aboard, but others resist.
Countless stories have been told of how the single affected the spiritual lives of people, but it also introduced country music fans to Turner's impressive baritone voice, which has drawn comparisons to Johnny Cash and Randy Travis.
"It came from a vision I had after listening to a Hank Williams box set at Belmont University," Turner says of "Long Black Train." "The video for that song actually portrays the vision I had. There are people along the tracks trying to decide whether they should get on the train. They know it's beautiful, but they wonder whether they should give in to temptation."
Whereas his first album struck a chord with those searching for religious meaning in their lives, "Your Man" appeals to the romantics.
The title track is a tender ballad whose video stars Turner's wife, Jennifer. Two songs on the album, "Angels Fall Sometimes" and "Gravity," were written by Turner as tributes to Jennifer. And the New York Times calls "No Rush" a "sublime piano ballad ... gorgeous; it's sure to be one of the year's best seduction songs."
The heavy dose of ballads on this album was by design. Country hitmaker Eddy Arnold, who once strung together 67 consecutive Top 10 singles, has served as a mentor for Turner.
"He told me that when you record a love song, there is no better song for people to relate to," Turner says. "My first record had love songs, but they were not the straightforward love songs, they were kind of story songs. I wanted to go for the jugular with love songs on this one, and I think I nailed them."
Turner never strays too far from the religious foundation that, he says, has sustained him through the ups and downs of the music business. He does not drink, says he abstained from sex until marriage, and freely discusses his faith. After the release of his first album, Turner appeared on the Christian television show The 700 Club to talk about that faith, telling co-host Lisa Ryan that he had a vision from God when he was 9 or 10.
"About halfway home, I saw this light, this glow and this reflection of this light on the hood of the car. It really caught me by surprise, and I felt something pull me up in the seat to look through the windshield. Up in the sky there was this single cloud hanging above the branch back behind our house and on the cloud was this lighted figure of this man standing there with his arms stretched out," he told Ryan. "That moment in my life has helped me understand that there is a God. I don't care who tells me there's not a God. I know for a fact what I saw that night. It has impacted me tremendously in a lot of situations, especially in this career where I come in contact with all kinds of people."
And on "Your Man," Turner returns to his faith in "Me and God," a song he wrote, and he performs with legend Ralph Stanley and Marty Roe, Gene Johnson, and Dana Williams of Diamond Rio. As the album sales pile up, and the accolades pour in for his new album, Turner stays rooted in his faith.
"First and foremost, I've learned just to trust God. Late in my teens, He told me, 'If this is what you want, I'll make it come true, but I need you to trust me.' I've tried to do everything within His will, and He's followed through on His promise."
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