A veteran musician of more than fifty years, Benny Turner has played everywhere from the Chitlin’ Circuit, to Europe, Japan, Australia, and all points in between. Content to be a sideman in support of the many giants he has worked with, in 2010 the time came for Benny to take his rightful place in the spotlight on center stage, to the delight of blues fans worldwide.
Born in Gilmer, Texas, Benny and his older brother, blues legend Freddie King, learned to play guitar from their mother, Ella Mae (King) Turner and her brothers Leon and Leonard King. While Freddie was captivated by the guitar and wanted to be a performer, Benny just enjoyed the music and the opportunities to share it with the older brother he admired and adored. The boys used to race home from school to catch the last few minutes of a radio show called “In the Groove,” where they heard the music of artists such as Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, Hank Williams, and T-Bone Walker.
After the family moved to Chicago in the early 50’s, what began as parallel exposure and experiences for the brothers ultimately diverged as Freddie went in one direction and Benny pursued other opportunities that came his way. While best known today as a bass player, Benny played guitar during many of his gigs in the early years, both locally in Chicago and on the road. A last-minute request to sit in with Freddie’s band to cover for Robert Elem at the Squeeze Club gave Benny his first introduction to playing bass, with some “on-the-job training” at its finest!
By the mid-to-late 60’s Benny returned to Chicago, where he continued to play locally in various bands and also made a handful of his own recordings for the Leaner Brothers’ One-Derful and M-Pac! Labels. Not long after that, Benny re-joined his brother on the road, when the band was living every musician’s dream, playing at major festivals (domestic and international) and on the same bill as artists including Dionne Warwick, BB King, Solomon Burke, Eric Clapton and even opening for Grand Funk Railroad at Madison Square Garden in New York. While at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1973, members of Freddie’s band were asked to sit in with Memphis Slim, and Benny plays bass on the recording of that act, “Memphis Slim – Very Much Alive and in Montreux.” Mickey Baker was part of that performance.
In December 1976, the dream became a nightmare. Benny lost his band mate, best friend and big brother all at once, after Freddie’s untimely passing at age 42. Completely devastated and physically debilitated by the unspeakable loss, Benny spent the next two years as a recluse, trying to make it from hour to hour, day after day. Finally, when Chicago bluesman Mighty Joe Young approached him, Benny gathered the courage to face the stage once again. With barely enough strength or stamina to make it through that first gig, Benny pushed forward, and it was the catalyst to getting him back on his feet and into the mainstream of the blues once again. One of the highlights of their time together was appearing in the 1981 film “Thief” while playing live at The Wise Fools Pub. After eight fantastic years on the road together, Mighty Joe had to stop touring due to health issues, and Benny planned his next move.
In recent years, Benny returned to the studio to produce and record three albums, showcasing his strong and soulful vocals, his signature bass style and his creative songwriting and arrangement skills. His 2011 release, "A Tribute to my Brother Freddie King," is a collection of some of his most memorable songs of his brother. In 2014, an album of all original work was released with his critically-acclaimed CD, "Journey," an homage to his musical history. Embraced by the soul and blues communities alike, Benny has enjoyed success on both the Roots Music Report and Living Blues charts with "When She's Gone" (February 2016). A collection of 6 original reissues from his first album, "Blue and Not So Blue," (now out of print) and 4 blues standards, "When She's Gone" is a musical feast dedicated to Ella Mae King Turner, the woman who raised two blues legends, the late Freddie King and little brother Benny.