West Virginia Yesterday & Today
Written by Mildred McKenzie
West Virginia can claim its fair share of stars; Kathy Mattea, Don Knotts, and Charles "Chuck" Yeager to name a few. But West Virginia has only one "Superstar": Turley Richards from Charleston. Turley, as so many West Virginians do, turned tragedy into triumph with a musical career that has spanned five decades.
Turley is the son of Cody & Silba Turley of South Charleston, West Virginia. Cody was one of seven children of Frank & Mary Price Turley of South Hills. Silba was the daughter of Lon & Mary Woods Eskew of Tornado; there were six children in her family. Turley says of his mother, "Mom provided me with the strength to handle anything that comes my way. All parents should learn how to give that to their children."
A childhood accident left Turley blind in his left eye. He and another boy were playing with a bow & arrow and Turley was shot and blinded. As the years passed, he lost sight in his right eye as well. Surgery after unsuccessful surgery followed but Turley refused to give in to frustration or depression. He looked upon these setbacks as giving him the strength to overcome challenges both in life and show business. His mother's advice still rings true to him today, "It's a tough world and you have to be tougher than the toughest." Turley says, "Blindness will never defeat me.
I'm still singing, I'm still singing and I ain't gonna stop!" The only downside to his blindness for Turley is that he has never seen his children, Amber and Adam; or been able to pore over their photographs as so many parents take for granted.
Turley has overcome another health crisis. In 1985 he had a scare in which he feared he was losing his voice. Occupational rehabilitation courses taught him skills such as massage therapy, computers and typing to replace singing and entertaining. Luckily this genetic problem was defeated and his voice returned. Turley also sees this situation as a gift and a positive instead of a negative experience. He was able to explore other life options and realized that he would always be able to make a living for his family; no matter what life throws at Turley he is able to turn it into a success.
He began his musical career in my Coonskin Park home when I asked him to perform at a children's birthday party. How far he has come since then! When Turley started performing professionally he hit a few rough patches. There was a time when he found himself alone, visually impaired, and sleeping in Central Park in New York City--with $1.83 to his name. He took a serious look at himself and where his talents lay. Instead of giving up and running home he began singing in pubs for food and making friends. This led to his first record deal with MGM/Verve Records. A lesson for everyone: Do what you do best and don't give up!
Turley hit the Billboard Top 100 Charts for the first time in 1970 with "Love Minus Zero, No Limit" a song written by Bob Dylan. Throughout his career he has sold 1.4 MILLION records! Turley has been signed with nine record companies including Warner Brothers and Atlantic Records. Many singers/songwriters go their entire career without ever getting ONE record deal. Every single he released was a Billboard "Pick Hit." What an accomplishment by this talented West Virginian!
Over the years Turley has shared the stage with some of the top names in entertainment including: Comedian Richard Pryor, Frankie Avalon, Tony Bennett, Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, the Jerry Lewis Telethon, Joe Walsh & Glen Frye of the Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac. He has appeared on Merv Griffin and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson along with many many others. His resume also includes appearances at West Virginia's Mountain Stage and with comedy legend Tim Wilson during the Kentucky Derby festivities in Louisville. Turley has also hosted his own TV variety show.
The true testament of an artist's talent is their reputation among other artists. Turley has been praised by people in the music industry who know the music business and recognize talent.
Mike Post, of Mike Post Productions in Burbank, California is the writer of such television theme songs as "Magnum P.I., The Rockford Files, Law & Order, and NYPD Blue. He described Turley's voice as "soulful…giant…warm…Turley is a drop dead great singer...what a talent." But he is not the only show business talent that is blown away by Turley Richards.
Joe Boyland, President of Legend Artist Management and Big Street Entertainment of Nashville, Tennessee has known Turley since 1981. Joe has managed the rock and roll group Lynrd Skynrd and was instrumental in the first big hits of Pop Stars Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. Joe knows talent and of Turley he said, "I…appreciate and respect his integrity and professional attitude. Turley always wants to make everything as good as possible…this makes for good music. I highly recommend him."
Not only do legendary music producers recommend Turley, but legendary performers do as well. Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac has so much respect for Turley and his talent that in 1979 he designed the artwork for the front and back covers of Turley's album Therfu. Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood was the executive producer of the album. These talented artists have given Turley the ultimate compliment: their respect for his work.
Since 1985 Turley has been much more than a performer. He now lives in the Louisville Kentucky area where he is writing, producing, and recording as well as working as a music consultant and a much sought after vocal coach. Stevie Lee of Louisville radio station WSFR calls Turley "…a class act…serious talent and an outstanding vocal coach." Another example of how Turley Richards' skills and talent have become recognized both in front of and behind the microphone!
Turley is also recognized for "giving back". He performs at events that feature performers with visual impairments such as the "Bards and Storyteller Series" at the Callahan Museum in Louisville. This series of performances was sponsored by the American Printing House for the Blind and the Kentucky Humanities Council.
Turley is also at work on a new CD and his autobiography, both titled "BlindSighted" and to be published later this year. More information and samples of his wonderful voice &songwriting talent are available at his website: www.turleyrichards.com
Turley Richards is truly an inspiration to us all. It is always so nice to encounter successful people whom we know when they were children; to see where their lives have taken them. Turley is an amazing gentleman that is a credit to not only his family but to all West Virginians. From humble beginnings and incredible obstacles, he has forged ahead to share his great talent with the world. Keep singing, Turley!