Milwaukee-born Lee Turner came to Nashville 19 years ago. Less than three weeks after his arrival, through hanging out at CD release parties, he met and was hired to play with Asylum Records artist Kevin Sharp. That led to stints with Jennifer Hanson, Ty Herndon, Wade Hayes, and The Kinleys, followed by a five-year run in the house band for Nashville Star on the USA and NBC networks, which in turn paved the way to working with Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy, Jewel, Alabama’s Randy Owen, Hank Williams Jr., Wynonna…
“I just networked,” he explains, matter-of-factly. But there was more to it than that. Research was a critical factor in preparing to leave Milwaukee. “I grew up readingKeyboard. I was huge into Howard Jones and Richard Marx and Paul Shaffer. There was a lot of synth stuff going on back then. But as I started looking into country music, I realized it’s organ and piano, at least for playing live, with a little bit of Wurlitzer and maybe a string pad. That’s all you need to cover your bases. It’s all about organic sound.”
So Turner chiseled his approach down to the basics in part by sitting in at blues jams that were happening at the time around town. Picking up work with big-time artists, he kept his focus tight, eventually putting together a rig that centered on a Yamaha MOTIF and a Nord Stage 2 for piano, Wurlitzer and string sounds. This was the heart of his arsenal when a friend who was organizing auditions for Darius Rucker’s band tipped Turner off.
Here, for once, the value of knowing and networking with people didn’t cut any ice for Turner. “Management was there and they didn’t know who I was,” he says. “They didn’t carewho I was. It was only, ‘How does this guy play? How does he fit in?’”
Not only did he get the gig, but Turner was also offered an unexpected perk. “Jason Parkin, who we call ‘db,’ Darius’s production manager, asked if I would mind using Hootie’s B-3 and Leslie. Would I mind?” he answered rhetorically, with a laugh. “I have a B-3 at home but I wouldn’t take it on the road because it’s so valuable and I didn’t want to scratch it up. So this was amazing.”
More bounty followed. “A year ago, db says to me, ‘What can we do to make your keyboard rig bigger?’ That’s the rock ’n’ roll mentality: It’s going to make the show better, so if it costs a couple more bucks, that’s fine. So we went to Murph Wanca, who owns Nashville Pro Hammond, and asked him to put a Wurlitzer together for the road. Now I travel with a B-3, a Wurlitzer, and the Nord Stage 2. The Nord Wurlitzer sound is great, but the real Wurlitzer sound is better, plus there’s a great feel to the keyboard. One of Darius’s big singles, ‘It Won’t Be Like This for Long,’ has a lot of Wurlitzer, so having the real thing is so much fun. Fun is important. The first time we went out, Darius said, ‘Enjoy your job. If you’re not happy out here, you can go home.’ And I haven’t gone home yet.”
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