Hey Blues Slide Guitar friend! As a fellow slide guitar enthusiast I think it’s really important to recognise some of the pioneers of this playing style. With these posts I’ll be exploring some of the history for the well known (and not so well known!) originators of this style. In my own compositions I have taken huge amounts of influence from these guys, so I think it’s only fair I share the word and keep the Blues alive! In this post we’re going to learn more about an awesome bottleneck slide player known as ‘The Black Ace’. If you’ve never heard of ‘The Black Ace’ you’re in for a treat, let’s dig in.
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1. Who was ‘The Black Ace’?
‘The Black Ace’ was the alias of Babe Karo/Kyro Lemon Turner. He was born December 21st, 1905 and died November 7th, 1972. Buck (Babe) Turner was the son of Thomas and Mattie Turner. He was also known as B.K. Turner, Black Ace Turner, Babe Turner and Buck Turner.
Unusually ‘Black Ace’ was one of the very few blues men, who played almost exclusively in the bottleneck style.
2. Where was ‘The Black Ace’ from?
Buck (Babe) Turner was originally from Hughes Springs, Texas. Interestingly he taught himself to play on a homemade guitar he got off his brother. From the late 1920s he began to perform in East Texas at Parties and Fish Fry’s. If like me you’re from the other side of the world and have never heard of a Fish Fry, it’s basically a big community get together where people eat (yes you guessed it!), fried fish!
In the early 1930’s Turner began playing with Smokey Hogg and became a student of Oscar Buddy Woods (a Hawaiian style guitarist who played with the Steel Guitar on his lap) from Shreveport, Louisiana. It was at this point that Turner bought a National Steel Guitar.
3. When did he first start recording?
In 1937 Turner recorded six songs for Decca Records in Dallas, including his signature song ‘Black Ace’ with Smokey Hogg; unfortunately these songs were commercially unsuccessful. His signature song ‘The Black Ace’ really showed the influence he had taken from Oscar Woods & the falsetto style which was made popular by Kokomo Arnold. You can buy his complete discography by clicking the link above on the image or in the toolbar. I’d definitely advise having a good listen, the songs are just fantastic.
It was around this time that Turner started a radio show in KFJZ in Fort Worth using the ‘Black Ace’ as the theme song.
4. What else was he involved in?
In 1941 Turner appeared briefly in the film The Blood of Jesus, an African American produced movie written, directed by and starring Spencer Williams. In the above YouTube video you can (just!) see Turner on the back of a wagon, playing in a jazz band with his Steel Guitar on his lap. You can also hear one of his songs ‘Golden Slipper’ being used before he appears. I’d advise watching it full screen otherwise you can’t see the top of his head! I think this bit of footage and the fact this film has still survived is fantastic, a real piece of American history!
In 1943 World War II was raging, and Turner was drafted in the United States Army. This had a big impact on his music career, and he subsequently gave up playing for many years.
6. Did ‘The Black Ace’ make any other recordings?
Yes! Although it wasn’t until the early 60’s he was rediscovered, unfortunately this rediscovery did not result in a concert career. Blues historian Paul Oliver noted ‘…he was reluctant to play and sing…’ associating his music with a by-gone era and lifestyle.
In 1960 Chris Strachwitz owner of Arhoolie records, persuaded Turner to record an album for Arhoolie. It was in these sessions that Turner re-recorded ‘I Am The Black Ace’, you can definitely hear the difference between the early 1937 recordings and this one.
The above Youtube video shows ‘The Black Ace’ performing at what I presume is his home with his wife and child, in the 1963 documentary of The Blues. It’s pretty amazing to think that this has made its way onto the internet years after it was filmed, with some absolutely stellar performances from a number of big blues names.
His last public performance was the above mentioned documentary. Turner died of cancer in Fort Worth in 1972.
‘The Black Ace’ and me…
Unfortunately ‘The Black Ace’ died before I was born. I can’t help but wonder what he would of made of a chap some 47 years after his death, covering one of his songs and writing a blog post about him on the other side of the globe. That’s the power of music, and boy was his music powerful! The above YouTube video is my attempt at covering ‘I Am the Black Ace’, I hope I did it justice and have at least served in keeping his music alive.
This song also inspired me to write an original Lawless Luke song ‘I’ll See You At The Crossroads’. I certainly took a lot of influence from ‘The Black Ace’s’ style for the guitar part!
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As always thanks for reading my latest Lawless Luke blog post. If you like the post please subscribe here for regular updates. I hope you’ve found it informative and entertaining. As a completely independent artist, I rely on your support in subscribing and sharing, so thank you in advance for helping to keep the Blues alive. If you have any extra stories or facts about Buck ‘Babe’ Turner I would love to hear them, please leave a comment below.
Take it easy,