Wednesday, March 19, 2014

JESSE LEE TURNER : FROM SPACE GIRL to JESUS

One of the more improbable heroes in the novelty song world is Jesse Lee Turner. Texas born (in Addicks, 1938) and raised (Boling), the small-town singer recorded "Teenage Misery" on the Fraternity label, but it wasn't miserable enough to challenge the world of teen angels, lonely boys and doo-wop depressives. He scored his hit for Carlton in 1958; "Little Space Girl," was a neat little cash-in on the craze for sci-fi films and chipmunks-type vocals.

Today, affluent little brats dictate who the huge stars are (like Justin Bieber and One Direction). Back then, little kids could, and did, push novelty songs into the Top 20. They insisted Mom and Dad buy "How Much is that Doggie in the Window" or "Witch Doctor" or "The Little Space Girl," which was even covered on the kiddie label Golden Records in 78rpm form. Yes, this IS a very silly song, with simple melody, goofy lyrics, and coy duetting between an exasperated high-voiced echo-chambered hillbilly and a too-cute female alien:

"You've got four arms." "The better to hold you!" "Three lips!" "The better to kiss you!" "Three eyes" "All the better to see! I can really rock and swing, 'cause I've got more of everything! Oh Mr. Earth Man, will you marry me?" Really, things couldn't have been any more stupid if this was a fantasy episode of "The Andy Griffith Show," and a space girl landed in Mayberry. The song, triviasts have noted, was credited to Turner, but actually written by his cousin Floyd Robinson.

I suspect, based on the B-sides and some of his other releases, that Turner's heart was in rockabilly. Fans of that genre will point to "Shake Baby Shake" among others, as evidence of his true talent. "Shotgun Boogie" should've been a hit with all those NRA fans in the red states but it didn't get the radio play it deserved. But…having had a good-sized hit for his minor record label, Jesse Lee quickly made a sequel ("I'm The Little Space Girl's Father)," tried another speed-up sci-fi item ("The Man in the Moon") and issued the topical "Ballad of Billy Sol Estes."

As somebody on his now-defunct website wrote, "'The Ballad' was on it's way to the top of the charts "with a bullet" ...that is until  TIME  Magazine  ran  an  article  about  it, printed  the lyrics, and upset some "very influential people" as they say, in Washington D.C. Virtually overnight the song disappeared from every radio station in the country! You see, Billie Sol Estes was a very important man in politics at that time and the truth, as they say, hurt. In fact, it hurt so much that the song, once destined to be another million seller,  might as well never have been written in the first place!"

And, no, this wasn't a cover of the Phil Ochs song "The Ballad of Billie Sol," this was a Turner original.

The website insists that around this time, "Jesse decided to try Hollywood. His boyish good looks helped him began [sic] an acting career and landed him starring rolls in several TV series and movies. Jesse definitely had an innate rockabilly ability that few had, but his novelty recordings sold better than his attempts at unadulterated rock 'n' roll." Just what TV shows and movies Turner made…IMDB doesn't seem to know.

Jesse did keep trying with novelty singles. A more overt Ray Stevens-type bit of corn is "The Elopers," about a hapless stooge and the idiot chick he wants to run away with. "The Voice Changing Song," with a chunk-a-chunk Johnny Cash type strum, has Jesse doing an imitation of a teenage boy who is embarrassed at how his voice keeps breaking when he tries to introduce himself to a girl.

One of Jesse's last stabs at the singles charts was "Just a Little Girl," a 1975 effort for MCA. The label lists the performers as "Jessie [sic] Lee Turner" and Floyd Robinson Floyd also wrote the song.

As they say at AA, meetings: "Let go, and let God," and so Turner eventually turned from musician to minister. Look, if it worked for George Foreman, why not Jesse Lee? Just what small church he was involved with, or whether his was a traveling road show, I have no idea. He made a soft rumble just under the radar of most people, by issuing an obscure item called "Jesus for President." Was he serious? How do you get a guy on the ballot who hasn't been seen in 2000 years? Registered as Democrat? Republican? Independent? Green Party? What would Jesus do to get on a ballot?

Some of us were amused if not amazed that a fave with a kiddie-hit in 1958, had emerged, some 40 years later, doing sort of a jokey if sincere album about the importance of Jesus…demoting him from Son of God to Presidential Candidate. Jesse's website said he was ready for a comeback: "Jesse began to write Christian lyrics for songs like "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On", "Great Balls Of Fire ", "House Of The Rising Sun " ….and has now been singing (Jesus-themed) songs… in churches all over the nation for over 10 years and it's time for the next step. He is finally ready to offer his music to the world, through 6 separate CD's! It's… time to praise the Lord with some good old fashion Rock & Roll! Like Jesse screams..."Oh, I feel good"!!! Contact Jesse to Minister at Your Church or Event."

Sadly, "Jesus for President" didn't get much attention and and Jesse's modest website disappeared from the planet. Only the faithful will believe that it may return in time for Easter.

And so while a few of us ask, "Jesse Where Art Thou?" here are two tidbits that remain pretty memorable, way beyond the good-but-typical rockabilly stuff he did...

Jesse Lee Turner... Jesus for President

And... Little Space Girl

5 comments:

David Harrell said...

Can anyone confirm that "Little Space Girl" was played all day on WALT Radio in Tampa Florida in December of 1958 as a format change attention getter. The next day the station became the first Top 40 station in Tampa Bay.
Please contact me if you are aware of this or if you know how to contact Jesse Lee.
davidlharrell@verizon.net

Ill Folks said...

The only extra "Little Space Girl" trivia I have is that Golden Records issued a cover version of it. Kiddie records are unfortunately hard to find in decent condition, and ones that are...tend to go for very high prices. So...no, I don't have a copy. I'm curious to know what the guy sounds like, and if the company invested in speeded-up vocals or just had some lady create a wacky "space girl" voice.

Michael Dixon said...

Jesse Lee Turner is now working on an online TV project. The pilot episode just went online at www.ourlandusa.com . Jesse has a huge love for his savior Jesus Christ as wee as America.

Ill Folks said...

Great news about Jesse Lee Turner's pilot show on www.ourlandusa.com. The guy looks great. His type of vitality and enthusiasm and positive energy is always welcome. I hope this thing takes off for him.

Unknown said...

Jessie Lee Turner is a great guy with a huge heart ... I have had the pleasure of knowing him for over a year now and didn't kind out until today who he really is