Josh Turner’s fingerprints are all over his new holiday record, King Size Manger: From the songwriting credits to the album’s production and his signature musical style, he set out to find a way to make each track — even the classics, like “Joy to the World” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — uniquely his own.
For “Joy to the World,” that meant turning the ubiquitous Christmas carol into a “shuffle with twin fiddles and Rhonda Vincent singing background vocals,” Turner chuckled to Country Now and other outlets during a press event about the project. “And then it modulates twice — I mean, you feel like you’re in a Texas honky tonk when you’re hearing this song.”
Josh Turner’s Wife and Sons Join Him
On “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Turner took the opposite tactic. He boiled the song down to its essential essence, arranging it the way a family might sing it as they gather around the tree on Christmas Eve. Then, he took it one step further and invited his actual family to sing on the song: His wife, Jennifer, and their four sons are guest vocalists on the track.
“‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ has always been my personal favorite Christmas of all time,” Turner says, explaining that he took a deep dive into its history while assembling this record, finding the original recording of it (Judy Garland’s performance, in the 1944 movie Meet Me in St. Louis) and buying it on box set. “At that point, it was the obvious choice to have the family on my favorite Christmas song. So I did the arrangement I’ve always done with this song, and came up with this background part for them to sing, and it was really the first time we collaborated on a record.”
But the family elements of the record don’t stop there: Turner’s wife and kids joined him for much of his Holiday & the Hits tour, not just as background vocalists but as a full-on family band.
“What are they not playing, is a shorter list!” the singer joked, when asked what musical instruments his sons have been playing lately. “Hampton, the oldest [age 15], on this tour alone, he’s playing four different instruments. And he’s not just playing ‘em, he’s playing ‘em really well — he’s playing as good as the studio guys.
“Colby, my 12-year-old, he’s playing the second fiddle part on ‘Joy to the World,’ which is extremely difficult,” Turner continues. “Even my band guy on the road, he’s been scared of that song. So he’s like, ‘Well, if your 12-year-old’s doing it, I guess I’ll have to buck up and do it, too.’ And then [11-year-old] Marion, he’s playing acoustic on a couple songs, and [seven-year-old] Hawke’s playing bass on ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’”
All four are singing backing vocals throughout the show, as is Turner’s wife Jennifer, who also plays keyboards. “So it’ll be a good little reunion, and then some,” Turner adds.
While it may come as a surprise that Turner’s kids are so capable, even at such young ages, the singer says he parents with the mindset of teaching them important skill sets early on. At 10 years old, Marion knew how to work his parents’ propane stove, he offers as an example: Overnight guests at the family’s home would sometimes be surprised to wake up and find the young boy firing up some bacon and eggs for breakfast. Raising his boys with the skills to be self-sufficient is a big part of Turner’s parenting style and personality. As he releases his holiday record, he makes it a point to infuse his musical and personal identity into the project — he knows King Size Manger, and his other records, will be treasured heirlooms that his family will revisit for generations to come.
“I realize that my music is gonna live on long after I’m dead and gone. So yeah, it’s something that is a huge part of my family story and my family tradition,” he reflects. “It’s not just music, too. It’s stuff that I write, it’s interviews that I do. I just want to be able to leave a legacy to where my children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren can look back and say, ‘That’s where I came from.’”
As for his more immediate holiday traditions, Josh Turner says he and his family will enjoy a fairly traditional Christmas celebration this year.
“We usually open, like, one gift on Christmas Eve night, and then we’ll sit around and I’ll read the [Bible’s Christmas story], just as a reminder of why we’re all celebrating,” he says. “…We go out and see the lights. We go and take our family picture with Santa like we do every year…and then Christmas morning, we get up, we do the whole Santa thing, open presents and everything, and then we have a huge breakfast on Jennifer’s fancy Christmas china. And then after that we’re in a food coma and we play with all the presents we get. It’s pretty simple and laidback.”