Standin’ at six foot two and weighing over three hundred pounds—there’s a reason Joe Turner’s called Big Joe Turner. But it’s not just his size—his place in music history makes him larger than life too. Big Joe was born in Kansas City. Got his start singin’ on street corners. Quit school at 14 to work in nightclubs as a singing bartender.
Then it all changed in 1938. Along with his partner, piano man Pete Johnson, Big Joe was invited to perform at a famous showcase at Carnegie Hall called From Spirituals to Swing. Many careers took off there. Big Joe and Pete Johnson’s included. The two landed a hit with a song called “Roll ‘Em Pete.”
One super cool fact about that track: it’s one of the earliest examples of what musicians call a backbeat—an accentuation of the offbeat, and a crucial component of what makes R&B, R&B.
In so many ways, Big Joe was a major player in the progression of music from big band to jump blues to R&B—and eventually to rock n’ roll. That’s why he’s been called not only the Big Boss Man—but the Grandfather of Rock n’ Roll. This one pretty much sums it up. From 1954. “Shake Rattle and Roll.”