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Josh Turner: “I Know Where I’m Headed” (2008)

Josh Turner reveals how his faith—including miraculous visions—guides him through a blessed life.

Originally published in the Mar. 10, 2008 issue of Country Weekly featuring Josh on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Josh Turner is a few songs into his Feb. 2 show at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where he’s opening for George Strait before a packed house of enthusiastic fans. As the collective adrenaline level of the audience rises with each hit Josh plays—from “Firecracker” and current hit “Another Try” (with Trisha Yearwood) from his recent Everything is Fine CD to earlier smashes, “Your Man,” “Will You Go With Me” and his signature “Long Black Train”—the irony begins to sink in.

In this town where so much of the entertainment is based on chance, risk and beating the odds, every member of the audience—including me—is watching as close to a sure thing as they’ll ever find. We’re watching a man blessed with a voice for the ages, with one musical foot firmly planted in the traditional country of the past and the other striding into the future with a no-boundaries creative spirit exemplified by his pairing with R&B’s Anthony Hamilton on “Nowhere Fast” from Everything. And the result is nothing less than consistently excellent music.

But, as good as it is, the music is only part of it for Josh, who followed his George Strait tour performances by joining Carrie Underwood’s tour. “I’m not just here to sell records and have hits and do shows and all that,” he explains a few hours before show time. “I’m here to bring people hope and a sense of joy. When they come to my concerts, I want them not only to be listenin’ to the music, but I want them to be lookin’ at me and listenin’ to me and sayin’, ‘You know, this guy has depth. He’s got a heart, he’s got a soul and he cares about what he does. And he cares about who he’s singin’ to.’”

“I’ve had a lot of spiritual experiences that have really confirmed the things I believe in and the things I don’t believe in. And I don’t ever plan to waver from what I believe in.”

For Josh, those beliefs are tightly intertwined with family—the parents and two younger siblings he started life with in his native Hannah, S.C., and his own wife Jennifer and 17-month-old son Hampton who travel with him now (Jennifer plays keyboards and sings harmony in Josh’s band).

Josh recalls a profound spiritual event from his childhood that has charted the course for the rest of his life. “I was about 9 years old,” he recalls. “One night it was dark, and Daddy had to take the trash off and so I went with him. It wasn’t an overcast night at all, and there was just kind of a glow that night.

“On the way back, I noticed there was this light reflectin’ off the hood of the car. And I thought, ‘I don’t remember the moon [when we were] goin’.’ And I felt somethin’ pull my upper body up into the seat to look through the windshield to see where the light was comin’ from.

“And when I looked up in the sky, there was a single cloud, and it was kind of lit up a little bit, as if a light was shinin’ through it. And on the cloud was this lighted figure of this man just holdin’ his arms out. And I was just fixated on this for what seemed to be an eternity.

“But I realized what I was seein’ was real—and it was Jesus, or at least a portrayal of Him. All of a sudden, I felt somethin’ pull me back into the seat and then I saw the light just fade away.”

He waited a week or two before telling anyone about it, because he was trying to process it all. “I was askin’ questions, I was prayin’,” he declares. “I was like, ‘Lord, why did you let me see this? What was the reason behind it? Was what I saw real?’

“I finally sat my parents down and told them what I had seen. They completely supported me, they believed me. They agreed that I had seen Jesus right there in the sky like that.”

Josh later shared his story with his Sunday school class and, eventually, with the entire church. “I finally realized that the reason I saw what I saw was because . . . it was like the Lord was sayin’, ‘Josh, I’m gonna take you a long way from Hannah, South Carolina, and I want you to always know that I exist—no matter what happens, no matter who you get around, no matter what kind of experiences you have in your life. I want you to think back to that night and know that I’m real and that I exist.’

“It wasn’t long after that, I started havin’ this dream of bein’ a singer . . . And even [later in Nashville] in times where it felt like ‘I’m never gonna get there’ or ‘It’s never gonna happen’ or ‘Nobody’s ever gonna give me a record deal or appreciate what I do or appreciate my talent,’ I just always thought back on that night and said, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter what happens in my life. I know that there is a God, and I know where I’m headed when I die.’ ”

But Josh is quick to point out that his personal faith hasn’t led to a trouble-free life. And his great relationship with his dad, who taught Josh so much about being a man and a father—whether driving a nail, fixing things around the house or making sense of unfair treatment from the coach of Josh’s high school basketball team—has also had rocky moments. “My first semester of college (at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.), I spent most of my time shootin’ pool and fishin’ and gettin’ in the deer stand early when I should’ve been in class,” recalls Josh. “I ended up gettin’ a 1.9 GPA and got put on probation.

“When Daddy saw my report card he threatened to kick me out of the house. And that’s probably the maddest I’ve ever seen him. He sent me back up to my room and said, ‘You decide what you’re gonna do. Because I’m not sendin’ you back to school if you’re not gonna study. You’re wastin’ my time and my money.’

“Finally, I went down and apologized to him and told him I was gonna go back to school and I was gonna study and I was gonna bring my grades up (chuckles) And I did. And I’m glad I did, too.”

Josh’s attitude change on college eventually led him to Nashville’s Belmont University, even though he had doubts that his parents could afford the private school with a renowned music business program. But they did it.

“The first Father’s Day after I graduated from Belmont, I had an outstanding $20,000 loan, and I don’t think anything had been paid on it,” recalls Josh. “It was in my daddy’s name. But I had a publishing deal, and I was makin’ my own money and I was in my own place. And I had finally gotten out from under their support—except for this loan.

“So I called my daddy up and I said, ‘Hey, I got you somethin’ for Father’s Day. I’m gonna take this loan off your hands.’ I think he almost jumped out of his chair when I told him that. He was like, ‘Thank you!

“But my college years were some of the best years of my life. I had time to hone my songwriting skills, I learned about life and love and relationships. I found the woman I ended up marryin’.”

Josh also had a vision there while walking across campus. In his mind he saw a dark train and people standing around trying to decide whether to get on or not. He knew the train represented temptation, and it led to his writing “Long Black Train,” his debut hit single about the choices we make and resisting temptation. “I don’t think that vision was by accident,” he proclaims. “I think it was for a reason. Not only did it get my foot in the door of the music business, it changed people’s lives and, in some instances, it saved people’s lives.”

When he talks about his own life, Josh admits he’s been blessed. And nowhere is that more true than with Jennifer and Hampton and their two favorite nannies, Josh’s mother Karen and Jennifer’s mother Charlotte. “We’ve talked about hiring a full-time nanny,” reveals Josh. “But as long as the grandmamas have been willin’, we’ve been willin’ to let ‘em. They’re doin’ us favor enough by just bein’ somebody we can trust with Hampton. So we pay them, because they’re out there workin’ and we feel like they deserve it. It’s been really nice havin’ them out there.”

Life on the road has definitely turned into a bigger production as Josh has become more successful. He’s now got three buses—one for his family, one for the band and another for the crew. And the family bus has plenty of toys—“anything with wheels, anything that’s John Deere green”—and books, mostly by Sandra Boynton.

Most of their days on the road revolve around Josh’s schedule. “But normally, if we’re in a cool kind of place or if we’re in a downtown kind of area, we’ll try to walk and see the sights and do touristy stuff,” he declares. “It all depends on where we are and what’s around us. If there’s nothing really to do, we have basketball set up every day if we”—the big guys, not Hampton—“choose to go play.”

Seeing Josh and Jennifer interacting with their son, it’s not surprising they’d like to have more kids. “Yeah, we want more,” confirms Josh. “And we’ve been talkin’ about the dynamics that will bring (laughs). And what always motivates us is that, hey, Tim and Faith do it. Martina does it. Sara Evans has done it. There’s a big handful of people who have taken their family out on the road.”

But, for now, it’s all about Hampton.

“He’s actually in that phase right now where he’s very clingy to her [Jennifer],” declares Josh. “He’s always lookin’ for Mama. And a lot of times when she’s puttin’ him down at night, they sit there and they read a book together. It’s the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen.”

“I love it when Josh sings and Hampton goes up and tries to strum the guitar and sing and dance with him,” adds Jennifer. “That brings tears to my eyes every time. It’s so precious. He knows that his daddy sings, but he has no knowledge of who he is, or that’s how he makes his living. It’s just Daddy.”