Three Turners

Here are three men whose surname is Turner and they had three hits over an eight year period.

 Jesse Lee Turner

Born 1938, Addicks, Texas.

1.  The Little Space Girl/ Carlton 496/ January 1959/ #20

Jesse Lee Turner had a strong rock ‘n’ roll voice, with an Elvis-like quiver. Unfortunately, this side of Turner can be heard on only a few of his discs. He had the misfortune that his only hit was a novelty number and that fact kept haunting him for the rest of his recording career.

Jesse Lee was hired as Jerry Lee Lewis’ driver in 1957. He recorded “Put Me Down” as a demo for Sun (now available on at least six different CD compilations) and Jerry Lee was sufficiently impressed to record the song himself, for his first album.

Turner’s career as a recording artist zoomed into orbit with his first real release. At a time when witch doctors, purple people eaters and chipmunks were all over the charts, a song about another alien from outer space, “The Little Space Girl” looked like a good commercial bet. The record was produced in Texas by Dewey Groom (a veteran country singer who set himself up as a music entrepreneur after coming off the road in 1958) and leased to Carlton Records.

The Little Space Girl“, featuring the Chipmunk-like voice of Paul Belin, a Texas deejay, was written by Jesse Lee’s cousin Floyd Robinson, though Turner was inadvertently credited as the writer. It came out in December 1958 and was picked by Billboard as a “Spotlight winner of the week”.

By February 1959, it had reached #20 on the Billboard charts. However, those who flipped the record over and played “Shake Baby Shake” (based on Hank Ballard’s “Sexy Ways“) knew immediately where Turner’s musical loyalty lay. It is his best rocker.

Fortunately, Jesse Lee had the good taste to record the follow-up, “Baby Please Don’t Tease” in the same style as “Shake Baby Shake“. It failed to sell, though, and Carlton let him go.

Turner then started label-hopping, cutting mostly one-off singles for Fraternity, Imperial, Top Rank (“Do I Worry“, one of his finest), Jaro (as Jesse and the Road Runners), Sudden and GNP Crescendo between 1959 and 1962.  Most of these were novelties and many of the songs were written by or with Floyd Robinson, who had his own Top 20 hit in the summer of 1959 with “Makin’ Love” on RCA. Quite acceptable was Turner’s version of “Shotgun Boogie“, but it was stacked away on the B-side of “The Ballad of Billie Sol Estes” (1962) and got lost in the shuffle. A further 45 appeared on the obscure Hollywood-based DeVille label in 1965.

Turner refused to give up. He recorded duets with his cousin Floyd Robinson for MCA and Music Man and then, with his good looks, began an acting career, starring in several TV series and B-movies.

He was last heard of (in 2002) as an evangelist in Galveston, Texas. In the R&R history books, Jesse Lee Turner is no more than a one-hit wonder. He definitely had innate rockabilly ability. Unfortunately, his novelty recordings sold better than his attempts at unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll.

Sammy Turner

He was signed to Big Top Records late in the 1950s, and his releases featured production from Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. He scored several hits on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 and 1960; the biggest were “Lavender-Blue“, a #3 chart record on the Billboard Hot 100, and originally a hit for Sammy Kaye in 1949, and “Always“, a #1 hit for Vincent Lopez in 1926. Later in the 1960s Turner recorded for Motown Records.


Spyder Turner

Video:  Stand by Me March 2011


1.  Stand by Me/ MGM 13617/ January 1967/ #12

Spyder Turner was born in West Virginia, but grew up in the shadow of Motown in Detroit.  He became a polished performer at an early age, forming a doo-wop group called the Nonchalants and individually entering talent shows in Detroit and beyond.  He won a talent show at the Apollo Theatre at age 16. 

Two years later, a demo tape he recorded landed him a contract with MGM Records.  The recording, a unique cover of “Stand By Me,” featuring Turner’s impersonations of Smokey Robinson, David Ruffin, Jackie Wilson and others singing the Ben E. King classic, took Pop and Soul Radio by storm and started a professional career for Turner that is still going on to this day.

Turner never scored another major national hit as a singer, but continued to record solid albums throughout the 70s.  He also began working with songwriting legend Norman Whitfield, penning Rose Royce’s “Do Your Dance,” and also appeared and or performed in a number of movies, including Motown’s The Last DragonSecret Agent 00 Soul and Street Wars.

After working with legendary Detroit bandleader Johnny Trudell in the 90s, Turner has now assembled a crackerjack band of Detroit musicians and is touring, performing an entertaining show of his past hits as well as more impersonations of classic soul stars.  He is also working on a new album, cuts from which are featured on his website.







One response to “Three Turners

  1. Pingback: One Hit Wonders / 1967 | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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