His early singles on the indie Fraternity label, were issued under his real name: Richard Turley. The teenager's very first recording, "Makin' Love with My Baby" fit right in with what Elvis, Jerry Lee and Bill Haley were doing, and remains a rockabilly "Hall of Fame" classic. From the start, Turley was not only a great singer, but he could write a solid song, too. This was already an achievement for a kid who could've been written off when he was just four.
At four, the kid from West Virginia was playing with some friends. The game was for the oldest kid (twelve) to show off with a bow and arrow. The giggling kids would bend over and use a pillow as the "target." Wham! Ha ha!
You guessed it. All went well till it was Richard's turn. He waited. He waited. He turned around to see what was delaying the arrow…and it lanced his eye.
This was the start of a literally scarred childhood. An infection in the damaged eye spread to the other. It was almost a race against time for Richard Turley to become a superstar while he still could see the faces on the pretty girls who flocked around him. He endured bizarre treatments (the doctor would pop his good eye out, clear scar tissue, put it back in). Because he grew to be a 6'4" 200 pounder, had to literally fight off a variety of clowns who wanted to take down a big man, not realizing this was a man blind in one eye. As page after page of his book shows, this guy had to fight almost all of his life.
The most difficult opponent was luck. Every time he seemed to have won, and defeated an obstacle, a new one would appear. He'd sign with a new record label for more money and more prestige, only to lose out because of the whims of radio stations or an error in management or confusion over musical direction (C&W, rockabilly, rock, folk, gospel, R&B…he could do them all).
The colorful stories in his book could make for one hell of a movie. He learned the hard way. How about singing "black" to the point where he got bookings in the South…only to be shot at by racists? How about getting a chance to tour, only to discover how easily club owners could screw an artist? One owner offered no money up front, but a percentage of the door? When Richard and his band received no money, the gang unscrewed the front door from its hinges. The club owner shouted, "What the hell are you doing?" Turley: "You said that we could play for the door. Well, we played, so now I'm taking what we earned!"
People outside the business thinks it's easy to get a demo into the right hands, and anyone who makes a record has gotten a huge advance and is doing well from brilliant management and an agent who arranges well-paying tours. Uh, no. This book will tell you the truth. In fact, the early days almost ended the career of Richard Turley.
After frustration with touring, and a deal with Dot Records that fell through, he sold his guitar in California and came back home. "Everybody says that you're the best singer they've ever heard," his mother told him. "God gave you a gift, and you've got to use it. I taught you to never give up and defeat is no option…You might be totally blind someday, and music is how you're going to earn your living."
And so he continued. Deals came and went. In one bizarre chapter, he talks of becoming a "Midnight Cowboy." In the film, Joe Buck comes to New York with the intent of becoming a rent boy. He failed. Turley succeeded. While he did have to sleep in Central Park before he made it as a stud, eventually two girls sharing an apartment decided to share him, too. He drifted among the rich girls, but kept moving any time things got serious. The guy was always very stubborn and independent…at one point becoming the lead singer for The Kingsmen on tour, only to part ways, figuring he could do better.
The book is loaded with stories about his wild times in the big city, and sharing the stage with up-and-coming talent including Richard Pryor (Turley actually ad-libbed stuff that had Pryor on the floor) and Jimi Hendrix. He got signed to Columbia and a single came roaring up the chart…until someone got the bright idea of putting a photo of him in Billboard. It turned out black radio stations were playing Turley's R&B song, and when they discovered he wasn't really black, they stopped. That's show biz…and rotten. And it got worse. The same thing was going on with his health. His eyesight was improving but the medication was destroying him with side effects. Eventually the meds stopped working and the light failed…just as he was getting his biggest break…a deal with Warners.
Below, the "rockabilly" Richard Turley…before he became the rocking Turley Richards.
Richard Turley Makin' Love With My Baby
Richard Turley "I Wanna Dance"