Blues man Benny Turner returns to Gilmer roots
by MARY L. KIRBY
Feb 20, 2014 | 1601 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mirror Photo / Mary Laschinger Kirby<br>
BENNY TURNER, center, shares a moment with Melvin Webb, left, and Norris Webb, classmates at Bruce School with Turner’s brother, Freddie King. Turner visited Gilmer and Lake Providence Saturday as he traveled with his publicitist researching a book on his life with his brother, the blues guitarist who died in 1976.
Mirror Photo / Mary Laschinger Kirby
BENNY TURNER, center, shares a moment with Melvin Webb, left, and Norris Webb, classmates at Bruce School with Turner’s brother, Freddie King. Turner visited Gilmer and Lake Providence Saturday as he traveled with his publicitist researching a book on his life with his brother, the blues guitarist who died in 1976.
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A Pilgrim, Benny Turner, came to Gilmer Saturday seeking to touch base with the landmarks of his childhood, places where he roamed before the family moved to Chicago about 1950.

He remembered white frame buildings: Bruce School, Lake Providence School, East Springfield and Lake Providence churches, Turner Brothers Funeral Home, the Hot Inn, Owens Barber Shop, and other locations in the Black neighborhoods of Gilmer and Upshur County. He remembered Doc’s Hot Links and other stores on the eastern edge of Gilmer where thriving black-owned businesses catered to a segregated community.

He also remembered a packing plant with the locker plant where his brother, Freddie King, worked to earn his first guitar. With the country blues he learned from his uncle Linon King he would go to Chicago, explore the South- side Blues clubs, and develop a style which has influenced the Blues ever since.

Benny Turner, a Blues musician living and performing in New Orleans, has traveled the world since that first exploratory trip to Chicago with his mother and his brother, Freddie King.

His first trips to Europe were with the big brother who took him with him as a bass guitarist in his band.

Now the baby brother was back with his publicist, Sallie Bengtson. Together they were going to write a book on Benny Turner’s life with Freddie King.

First, Turner met with two Gilmer men who were classmates of his brothers when they attended Bruce School, Melvin and Norris Webb. Melvin brought with him to the meeting photos that were made where local African Americans gathered to eat, shop, dance, and otherwise relax together. Another photo was of a cousin as the escort to the homecoming queen. Memories flooded forth as the three men talked.

Turner told how Freddie got in trouble at Lake Providence School and Alton Granville made an example of him, spanking him in front of the student body at the small common school. He learned another teacher at the school, Mrs. Ruby Granville, was still alive at 95 and living in a nursing home.

Melvin Webb led the visitors to Lake Providence were they found Willie and Melba Moore at home. After learning the vacant lot at the corner of FM1650 and FM726 was the location where the school once existed, the Moores led Turner and others to the East Springfield Church and cemetery.

Finally, Benny Turner found a permanent marker from his past, the gravestone of Uncle Linon “Lonnie” King, the man who taught everyone in the family who wanted how to play the guitar. The church, now bricked over, looked different, but the wintry graveyard rang true to memory. He left the spot planning to return after a marker is placed on his mother’s empty spot.

At Bruce School, Turner had his picture made by the sign in front of the new brick school. Nothing remains of the white frame building where he jumped out of a second-story window when frightened by dynamite exploding during the construction of what is now Hwy. 300.

From there he traveled to Vinegar Hill, where the six members of the family lived in a small frame house. The home on Miller Street was gone, a vacant lot, like so many other houses which stood 65 years ago in the then-crowded neighborhood.

Next stop was the location of the locker and packing plant where Freddie earned his first guitar—now a multi-business complex.

Before leaving town, Turner made one more stop. He visited Mrs. Ruby Granville, and they talked together about teaching the brothers so many years ago.

For Turner and Ms. Bengtson, Chicago is the next stop on their pilgrimage of places where Freddie King and Benny Turner played the blues together.

It has already been almost 40 years since Freddie took ill after a gig in Dallas and died at Presbyterian Hospital on Christmas, 1976. But his influence lives on, and together they seek to bring those years alive again. The first stage of the journey has been completed.
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