Josh Turner doesn’t remember exactly when he became a Clemson fan.
He was just born and raised that way.
“Growing up in South Carolina, as you know, you have to pick a side,” Turner said. “My family, somewhere along the way – back in my grandparents’ generation – they chose Clemson.”
And Clemson chose him.
“I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that Clemson was an agricultural school,” Turner said. “I’m from a long line of farmers.”
Turner is from Hannah, an unincorporated community in southern Florence County where tobacco farming was a way of life and a young boy could stretch his vocal cords by singing in the choir at the Union Baptist Church.
Turner, who is known for his distinctive bass voice and hit songs such as “Long Black Train,” “Your Man,” “Would You Go With Me,” “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” and “All Over Me,” typically gets the opportunity to see his favorite football team play once a year.
This year that time is Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Turner said. “Anytime Clemson’s playing South Carolina at Clemson, that’s kind of hard to resist.”
So he won’t. Turner will be among the 81,500 on hand when No. 9 Clemson (10-1) goes for a series-record eighth consecutive victory against in-state rival South Carolina (7-4) on Saturday (12 p.m., ABC).
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Turner’s anticipation is palpable, but it will be far from Turner’s first rodeo at Death Valley.
“I’ve seen some family photos of us going to Clemson games back in the early ’80s, but one of my first memories of going to Clemson was seeing the Tiger paws on the road as we were driving in,” Turner said. “As a young boy, that always kind of stood out.”
One of his most vivid Clemson football memories dates to 2003, when son Tommy Bowden defeated father Bobby Bowden and Florida State 26-10 in “Bowden Bowl V.”
“I stormed the field with everybody else, tore down the goalpost, which I think was the last goalpost we were ever allowed to tear down,” Turner said. “And I ended up getting orange paint all over my shoes.”
Turner didn’t mind at all.
“I kept those shoes for a long, long time,” he said. “I held on to them for a while as a keepsake and I kind of wish I still had ’em, but yeah, that was quite the night.”
Turner never attended Clemson, but he might as well have.
“Everybody I knew pretty much went to Clemson,” Turner said. “But I pursued that music thing by going to Nashville.”
Turner moved to Nashville in 1998 and has been there since, successfully carving a niche in Music City and churning out chart-topping country music with a gospel flair. He has five No. 1 singles and more than six million records sold.
At the urging of Clemson play-by-play announcer Don Munson, Turner sang the national anthem at the Clemson vs. Georgia game that kicked off the 2021 season in Charlotte.
“It was pretty wild,” Turner said. “I’ve done that kind of thing quite a few times throughout my life, but it’s pretty intense to go out there for a minute-and-a-half and sing a cappella like that in front of that many people.”
Turner is a big fan of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, and even shares Swinney’s Nov. 20 birthday (Turner is 45 while Swinney is 53). He has been a part of Swinney’s fundraising All In Ball in the past and “we shoot each other a text here and there,” Turner says.
“As Dabo has proven, his job goes far beyond coaching football,” Turner said. “He’s coaching young men and preparing them for life beyond Clemson because not all of those guys go on play in the NFL, and even the ones that do, they need to go there with the right mindset and the right head on their shoulders. I think Dabo’s done a really good job of preparing these guys for life.”
Turner has been on the road a lot recently, performing and promoting his first holiday album, Christmas special and tour, “King Size Manger.”
But wherever his travels take him, he’s never far from a TV on Saturdays.
“I watch Clemson every weekend,” Turner said. “I’ll be all the way across the country, but I’m always making sure I can watch the Clemson game on the bus.”
Turner played baseball and basketball and ran track at little Hannah-Pamplico High School, but playing football wasn’t an option.
“I haven’t told this story in public very often, but I went and tried out for football one day and when I put that helmet on, it wasn’t good,” Turner said. “I felt claustrophobic, it messed with my peripheral vision and it was too tight on my head. I said if I had to wear that helmet, I ain’t playing football.”
Again, good decision.
Turner has followed the proper career path.
“I’ve always been attracted to really good vocalists, regardless of what genre it is,” Turner said. “When I think about guys in my business, I think of people like George Jones and Randy Travis and Vern Gosdin and Johnny Cash. You could just hear the life they lived through their voice. Now I’m finding that to be true in my own life and career.”