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Chris Turner: From Marine to Musician

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

Chris Turner credits country superstar Dierks Bentley with giving him advice that changed his life. After serving four years in the Marine Corps and moving back to his hometown of Ninety Six, South Carolina, Chris won a radio station contest – and the prize was a lunch meeting with Dierks Bentley. He gave Dierks a copy of a 4-song EP that he had recorded, and asked what advice he had for a singer-songwriter. Dierks told him, “Nashville is a Monday through Thursday town. You can’t come up here on weekends and expect to move any mountains in the music industry.” On that advice, Chris packed his bags and moved to Music City.

Music had always been an integral part of Chris’s life. He grew up in a small town that had two traffic lights, a Hardee's, and a Piggly Wiggly. Chris has fond memories of driving in the car with his mom and listening to artists like Vern Gosdin and Conway Twitty on the radio. “Every step of my life, there was always a song that related to what I was going thru.” He recalls hearing Kenny Chesney’s All I Need to Know on the radio. “I was going through a lot at that time in my life and it pulled me out of a slump.”

Realizing that his life needed the kind of structure that the military could provide, Chris joined the Marines and chose Okinawa, Japan as his duty station. “When I got over there, my goal was to work out and stay fit and learn how to play guitar.” His barracks roommate was a musician, and Chris paid him $25 a month to teach him a couple chords each week. Chris kept a thick folder of notes and lyrics from that time in his life, and says that “a 6-string and a legal pad is the best therapist in the world.” He still refers to that notebook for inspiration. “I can draw from that, and it might trigger something that I can write a song about.”

Chris finished serving his time in the Marines in 2002, just as the war in the Middle East was starting to escalate. “My platoon got deployed to Iraq right after everything went to hell in a handbasket.” Chris was eager to pursue his interest in music, but says his exit from the Marine Corps was bittersweet. “I don’t say it was guilt that I felt, but it was remorse because I really wanted to be there with the guys that I trained and worked with.”

In hindsight, Chris says he wasn’t ready when he made the move to Nashville – although at the time he thought he was “going to set the world on fire and beat everybody off with a fly swatter.” His early days were a humbling experience. Chris recalls playing at a café with only two people in the audience; he made $3 in tips that night. “I still carry those three dollars in my guitar case to remind me of my first gig in town and how much of a reality check it was.”

After pouring his heart and soul – along with most of his savings – into his first project, Chris was disheartened by the feedback he got from some people in the music industry. They all agreed that his music was good, but a mentor at NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) told him, “There’s a lot of good stuff in Nashville, but to make it in this town, it’s gotta be GREAT.” Chris was encouraged to hone his craft, get more gigs, network, and take vocal lessons.

A few years later, Chris’s world was turned upside down when he lost his best friend from childhood and his brother within a year’s time (both died of cancer). After opening a show for country artist Trent Tomlinson at Waylonfest at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, Trent gave Chris some advice on how to heal from the pain of the double tragedy. He told him to get alone with his thoughts and put his feelings on paper.

(Photo: brother Marion-L and Chris-R)

The first two lines he wrote were “I’m a worn out needle in a vinyl groove. I’m more than just faded ink, I’m your first tattoo.” Those words eventually became lyrics in the song Who I Am -- a song that Chris opens each show with. “During that time of trying to find out who I was and why I was so angry at the world, I got some of the best writing of my life out of it. I hate that it came at the demise of my best friend and brother, but sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can crawl back out.”

(Photo: Chris-L and best friend Craig-R)

Based in part on his own loss and the brotherhood he shares with fellow Marines, Chris has a passion to help others who have hit rock bottom – particularly those who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The first single from the American Made EP, If You Drink (penned by John Cirrilo, Sarah Sheppard, and Dan Reifsnider), was written to shed light on veteran suicide and the struggles that many veterans deal with due to PTSD. “It’s an epidemic that needs to be dealt with, and that’s what I hope we can do with our message.” Chris is partnering with various groups to raise awareness. “A lot of people don’t realize that PTSD comes in different forms and doesn’t just affect veterans.” Police officers, firefighters, and victims of sexual assault and domestic violence also suffer from this condition. (Note: June is National PTSD Awareness Month.)

The official music video for If You Drink stars Randy “The Natural” Couture, the seven-time MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) champion, who is also a former US Army sergeant and founder of the Xtreme Couture GI Foundation. Chris met Randy two years ago when he was invited to perform at one of the charity’s events. They bonded over their shared passion to help veterans make the transition from the battlefield to the civilian world. Watch the music video below.

“The ultimate goal is to let people know they’re not alone, and that other people want to hear what’s happened to them.” Chris feels that if he can save one life through his music, then he’s done his job. “I want my music to touch someone the way that my influences have touched me. That’s the end game. I want to give back what music has given to me.”


June 8 at BB Kings during CMA week

July 8 (full band show) at Live Laugh Love Nashville’s showcase benefiting Operation Stand Down Tennessee at Redneck Riviera, with opening act Carly Collura. Tickets are available in advance for $5 here.

August 31 Boom Bang Festival/Powhatan, VA

For more info on Chris and his tour schedule, go to


Chris is a distant relative of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain.

Diehard fan of SC Gamecocks and TN Titans

Band members: Evan Rogers/lead guitar; Matthew Harper/bass; Koda Smith/drums; Cory Madsen and Josh Kovak/rhythm guitar

Pets: Border collie and 3 cats

Chris is managed by Kevin Sanchez, a fellow ex-Marine who was a flight engineer for the famed Blue Angels air squadron.


Restaurant: Five Points Pizza in East Nashville

Concert: Tie between Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney

Movie: Tombstone (Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer)

Listen to Chris Turner on iTunes

Listen to Chris Turner on Spotify

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