Blues Bytes


August 2017

Twist Turner
Blues With A Twist (book)

Twist Turner book

Years ago, not long after I first discovered the internet, I stumbled onto a couple of blues-related websites that provided me with lots of information about my favorite blues artists. This was about the time that Luther Allison and Johnny Copeland had passed away, so via the internet, blues fans could find out information pretty quickly about their favorite artists, at least much faster than previously.

During this time, blues man Otis Rush was still active, but was suffering from some sort of ailment, the type of which escapes me now, but I had read about it on the old Blues Access magazine message board. When I tried to inquire about Rush’s condition, one of my usual information sources, Marty Salzman (who was Buddy Guy’s manager and hosted a radio show) kindly referred me to Twist Turner, a drummer for numerous Windy City blues artists, stating that “Twist knows everybody.” I contacted Turner, who was very gracious and helpful and advised me that he’d seen Rush perform a few nights prior, still wearing the hospital band around his wrist.

Over the years, I contacted Turner intermittently with a question of some kind and he always provided me with an answer to my question about various blues artists. Sometimes it wasn’t really what I wanted to hear about some of them, but he was always straightforward and unvarnished in his replies, which I liked. During this time, he also provided a regular column in Blues Access about his experiences playing the blues in Chicago, along with some very entertaining stories about many of the artists he played with or knew. Based on his columns, I always thought that if he ever decided to sit down and write a book about his experiences, then that would be a book any blues fan would want to have.

In 2015, Turner had the misfortune to break his foot, which rendered him mostly stationary for about six months, but he took full advantage of the downtime to write his autobiography, Blues With A Twist, which also includes a hearty collection of recollections about the many blues artists he has known and worked with over his 50+year career in Chicago, his native Seattle, New Orleans, and San Francisco.

Turner recounts his beginnings in Seattle, working with Isaac Scott, followed by his move to Chicago, where he worked with just about everybody who was anybody. He shares many stories about these musicians: Hip Linkchan, Little Arthur Duncan, Hubert Sumlin, Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, Willie Kent, Sammy Lawhorn, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, Jr., Mary Lane, and many others. He also vividly describes the scene on Maxwell Street, at the Delta Fish Market, Florence’s, Theresa’s, and shares often hilarious stories of parties, gigs, and other events that he played. His love for these artists comes through time and time again, but at the same time, he’s not afraid to share stories that might reflect unfavorably on some artists (a few of which might be among your own favorites).

He also gives a blow-by-blow of his annual musical activities for several years --- who he played with and related interesting stories. He also describes his short-lived tenure in New Orleans and his subsequent move to the Bay Area, where he now lives, though he’s planning to relocate to Chicago soon. He’s remained active in the Bay Area, both as a performer and a producer.

Turner skillfully weaves his own story in between the various stories and anecdotes. Readers will be impressed at his resolve, grit, and determination as he struggles, sometimes fails, picks himself up, and starts again. While working steadily as a musician, he also took various day jobs and learned various skills which he still uses today. I actually enjoyed reading about the non-musical part of his life as much as the musical part.

Turner’s writing style is conversational, so it’s like he’s actually telling you these stories himself, which really adds to the charm of this book. Any blues fan , particularly of the Chicago variety, will want to have a copy of Blues With A Twist. Currently, it’s available only as an ebook, but Turner hopes to release it in book form in the near future.

--- Graham Clarke



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