Born Titus Lee Turner, 1 May 1933, Atlanta, Georgia
Titus Turner was an Atlanta-based R&B singer who had his greatest success as a songwriter. As a vocalist he had more than 60 singles released (and only one album), three of which became minor hits. Most of his pre-soul releases are well worth collecting.
I was unable to find any information about Turner’s early life. His debut as a recording artist took place at the age of sixteen, on December 28, 1949, in Los Angeles. The resulting single, “Where Are You”/“I’m Just A Lucky So And So” (Aladdin 3053), was credited to "Mr. T and his Band". After a one-off single for the Regal label in 1951, Turner was signed by OKeh. On this label he had eight single releases during the years 1952-1954. His next stop was Wing Records, a Mercury subsidiary, where he debuted with his own composition “All Around the World”. It was covered by Little Willie John for his very first release (on the King label). This version went to # 5 on the R&B charts and a 1969 remake by Little Milton would also chart (# 13 R&B, # 73 pop), under the title “Grits Ain’t Groceries”. It was Turner’s first success as a songwriter. His second and third Wing single also wound up being the subject of a cover version. “Big John” (a rewrite of Little Walter’s “My Babe”) is probably better known in the version by Richard Berry ; the same goes for “Get On the Right Track Baby”, which was given a rockabilly treatment by Joe Clay. Ray Charles also recorded the song, in November 1956 (Atlantic 1143).
The year 1956 brought Turner further chart success, again as a songwriter. “Hey Doll Baby” was a # 8 R&B hit for the Clovers. The song was later recorded by the Everly Brothers and included on their first LP. “Tell Me Why” was first recorded by the Crew Cuts, whose version peaked at # 45 in Billboard. On January 12, 1957 it was covered by Elvis Presley, but this track remained in the can until late 1965, when it was released as a single and reached # 33 (in early 1966).
An isolated single release on Atlantic (“Hungry Man”/“A-Knockin’ On My Baby’s Door”) in February 1957 was followed by a two-year stint with King Records. In April 1959 Titus finally scored his first chart entry as a singer. “Return of Stagolee” (King 5186), an answer record to “Stagger Lee”, made # 29 on the R&B charts. Also in 1959, Turner wrote “Leave My Kitten Alone” with Little Willie John, whose original version peaked at # 13 R&B and # 60 pop. When Johnny Preston recorded the song in late 1960, Little Willie John’s version was reissued with a different flip-side. Again the song reached # 60 (pop), while the Preston version went to # 73. In the UK, Preston was heard by the Beatles, who recorded “Leave My Kitten Alone” in August 1964, during the “Beatles For Sale” sessions, but their version was consigned to the vaults until 1995.
In 1959, star producer Henry Glover quit King Records after a long run of successes to form the Glover label in association with Old Town. He took Turner with him and released “We Told You Not To Marry” as the second single on Glover. This was another answer to a Lloyd Price hit, this time “I'm Gonna Get Married”. It gave Turner his first entry into the pop charts (# 83) and the single was also released in the UK, on London HLU 9024, in January 1960. For the follow-up, Glover had scheduled a catchy tune called “Let the Little Girl Dance”, but Turner - a vocalist of limited range - was having difficulty in getting an acceptable take and the song was subsequently recorded by Billy Bland (with Top 10 success), who happened to be present at the session. Also in 1960, Ray Charles recorded Turner’s composition “Sticks and Stones” (# 2 R&B, # 40 pop), which has seen many cover versions over the years.
Turner’s next stop was the Jamie label, for which he made several good recordings in 1960-61. The first of these was “Sound Off”, which gave him his last chart entry (# 77 pop). It was also the title of the only album he ever released (Jamie JLP 3018). Other Jamie singles include his own version of “Hey Doll Baby” and the original of “Shake the Hand Of A Fool”, which was also recorded by Johnny Hallyday in 1962 for his first US release. Gradually switching to soul music, Turner kept on recording prolifically during the 1960s, for a variety of labels, including Enjoy, Columbia, Atco and Josie. One of his Josie singles, “People Sure Act Funny (When They Get A Little Money)”, was successfully covered by Arthur Conley in 1968 (# 17 R&B, # 58 pop). During the 1970s he recorded only sporadically ; his last release came out in 1976. Titus Turner died in 1984, of unknown causes, aged 51.
There was a revival of interest in his recordings in the 1990s, with four CD releases. These included a reissue of the “Sound Off” LP (by Bear Family, 1992), expanded with several previously unissued Jamie recordings.
Discography : http://wdd.mbnet.fi/titusturner.htm
Acknowledgements : John Broven, Pete Hoppula, Wikipedia.
Dik, March 2017
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