Turley Richards, with a five octave range and the ability to sing any type of music, was now being sold as a singer/songwriter. Warners in 1969 positioned him as part of their folk-rock stable, which included James Taylor, acid folkies Pearls Before Swine and Greenwich Village legend Hamilton Camp. Warners was happy that Turley's single was charting. But instead of grinning, they should've been manufacturing the album.
"It was virtually unheard of for a record label not to release an album right after the single charted," Richards writes in his new book "Blindsighted." Even so, there was reason for optimism. A track on the album, "I Heard the Voice of Jesus," was a critical sensation. It not only showed off his five octave range, but his ability to do everything from deep, righteously brotherly crooning to anguished, gravel-voiced gospel-shouts. It fulfilled the promise he showed when he turned up on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" with a full-ranged version of "Summertime."
Richard was also touring, winning praise from others on the bill, including Laura Nyro and Miriam Makeba. While "I Heard the Voice of Jesus" was too long for a single (there was a 4 minute promo made), Warners figured another album of light rock tunes would continue the success he had with the rather mild "Love Minus Zero (No Limit)." Unfortunately there was no shortage of "mellow" at the time, especially from James Taylor. Despite a Vanilla Fudge-styled slow-mo version of the soul classic "My World is Empty Without You Babe," the album didn't do too well and the "West Virginia Superstar" had to find a new record label.
What he found was more frustration, whether it was Epic or Atlantic, whether the promises came from Ahmet Ertegun or Mick Fleetwood. He had a manager who turned down an amazing offer from Merv Griffin, who wanted Turley as a regular. Turley invested money in himself to try and push a song called "You Might Need Somebody" (Atlantic) to the top, something that Kapp, Columbia and Epic couldn't do with their chosen singles.
The song zoomed up the Billboard charts, but the rocket disintegrated in mid-flight. The album seemed to disappear off the chart without a trace. "I had paid $15,000 out of my own pocket to an independent radio promotion man…now I called him to ask what the hell just happened. He told me he had never seen anything like it in his entire career of promoting records…I smelled a rat…."
Turley has a good sense of humor (his album "Therfu" borrows from the middle portion of "motherfucker") but after all these years, the ups and downs were no longer funny. Eventually there came the big decision; accept yet another record deal, take another tour on the road…or stay home and work some kind of day job. He chose to stay home. "Not only would I have missed my kids growing up, I would have been shirking my responsibilities as their dad. Today, there is no father out there who knows that his kids love him with the depth that I do. We have a very special bond and I wouldn't trade that for all the record deals in the world." He learned how to get along despite his blindness. He was able to learn how to use a computer, how to get around without a guide dog, and how to set up his chosen business (teaching singing and songwriting).
Over the past 20 years, Turley's performed in local clubs in the Kentucky area, as well as "corporate" gigs. He's tried to sell his music through downloads on his website, and at one point I recall he even tried a "buy it if you like it" deal, offering a new album free, with a link to Paypal. In the book Turley notes that indie labels have "no artist development money. These types of labels rely on the artist playing at least one hundred dates a year." The last time he signed with a label like that, all he got was boxes of CDs taking up space in his garage.
Now he may have a box or two of books in there as well, but hopefully these will start to move as word-of-mouth builds. This is a great memoir. He opted to self-print his book, and while that usually means an amateurish product, that's not the case here. His book is well-edited, thoroughly professional, printed on quality paper, and the bonus is that it comes with a 6 song CD including a remastered "I Heard the Voice of Jesus." Go to his website to order it: www.turleyrichards.com.
I was glad to get this book because I always wanted to know more about this mysterious guy who created one of the most awesome tracks of all time with "I Heard the Voice of Jesus." Not many ever achieve something like this. The most recent person I can think of, is Siobhan Magnus, who stunned "American Idol" with "freakish notes" in her cover of "Think," and then "Paint it Black." But she didn't win the show and hasn't solved the problem if how to make a living touring and selling albums. She, like Turley, couldn't simply do "the gimmick" over and over, and turn every song into a showcase for octave range and varied stylings.
If you don't know Turley's music, I'm sure the downloads on the blog will be an inspiration to collect his albums and singles. I hope it also inspires you to buy the book. It's Turley's tale but it's also the story behind most any unique artist you like; one who made a few albums on different labels and earned your love and respect, even if it didn't translate into fame and fortune.
Love Minus Zero No Limit