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June 13, 2006

Best interview in the world: Turley Richards talks openly about seeing the world while blind

Moments before I made a phone call to talk to Turley Richards, the folksy singer-songwriter, I discovered that one of the many nicknames he received during his days in the music business is “the best interview in the world.” This made me more than a little nervous, as I am well aware that I am not even the best interviewer in Louisville, much less the world, but it only took a few minutes of talking to Richards to understand why he got the title.It isn’t necessarily because he’s some music business old-timer who has, over the years, turned the perfect interview into a science. No, Turley Richards is the best interview in the world because he’s a really friendly fellow who loves to talk, and therefore, he usually tells you everything you need to know before you get a chance to ask. When I started to ask about his being blinded as a child, he quickly explained it away.“Actually, I wasn’t blinded as a child. I lost my left eye at 4 ½ from a bow-and-arrow accident. Basically, a doctor screwed up. He should have removed the eye immediately, but he left it in 11 months and it rotted and the infection went to the other eye.”That other eye got progressively worse despite the multiple surgeries Richards went through in hopes of regaining his sight. Eventually at age 28, Richards lost his eye to glaucoma. He’s quick to put a stop to gushes of pity from people who hear his story, however.“Some people will say, ‘Oh, that’s sad,’ but you know, I’ve had the best of both worlds. I was able to see real good until I lost the eye, and I had fairly good vision for a while after that. See, people don’t understand, your eyes are only cameras. It’s your brain that sees … So my memories of sight are very vivid of a lot of things … See, I feel for the people who were born blind and never know what a color is.”Richards will readily admit that this positive attitude has gotten him a lot of media attention over the years. Especially when he was losing all sight in his right eye. It was during this time, around 1969, that Richards found himself appearing on several major television shows, including Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”A tumultuous relationship with the music industry has kept Richards from achieving superstardom on multiple occasions, but he maintains a sense of humor and an optimistic outlook about this.“Management and label had all kinds of problems, and I got caught in the middle and screwed, but I’m not going to say I feel bad about it, because all the bad stories I can tell that happened to me, you could take my name out and insert another thousand that it’s happened to over the years. That’s just the nature of this business.”Richards decided to retire from music in 1981 and has been without a record label ever since. He recently came out of retirement and recorded a new album, Back to My Roots, which is available as a free download at his Web site, www.turleyrichards.com. He recorded it with the help of session musicians in Nashville and Los Angeles, and thanks to modern technology, he was able to produce it all without leaving Louisville. “It was pretty cool,” he said.In addition to the best interview in the world, Turley Richards may be one of Louisville’s best-kept secrets. He performs at several locations around the city each week and will be appearing this Saturday at the American Printing House for the Blind as part of their “Bards and Storytellers” series. Pearls & Brass is a stoner rock band in a modern rock climate that, logic dictates, should absolutely accept and embrace it, yet mainstream rock radio and everything else that falls under that moniker doesn’t seem to really dig. It’s weird. All the components are there: heavy, twisting guitars; pummeling bass and drums; weirdly seductive vocals that are — gasp! — actually intelligible. And they’re cousins, which we know is always a crowd-pleaser.  I suppose a band like Queens of the Stone Age is considered enough stoner for the masses; the more I think about it, though, I can only remember one short year or so in recent history where mainstream radio played much of anything that moved past the obvious, both lyrically and musically. And that, of course, is why you go see good bands on smaller independent labels.The extra treat here is that it’s the kickoff to the Dew Action Sports Tour, so you’ll also find guys and gals doing crazy-wheeled tricks on the streets around the club. —Stephen George Contact the writers at leobeat@leoweekly.com