It’s so often said that in order to go forward, it’s important to look backwards and know where we came from. For an artist, that is re-examining the songs and artists that made them for in love with music in the first place, giving a tip of the cap and taking the ball and running. As she begins the next stage in her musical career, Sarah Allison Turner gives a nod to John Denver, with both a song that shares his name and a soaring cover of his most famous hit, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
While tackling a song of the stature of “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” may seem like a daunting task, Turner struck a perfect balance of originality and honoring Denver’s version of the song, creating a version that would feel at home both driving down the highway and around a campfire, which would certainly make Denver proud.
We chatted with Turner all about her new musical chapter, as well as getting an early start in music, having Alan Jackson cut one of her songs, her plans for 2023 and more!
Pro Country: Who are some of the earliest artists you remember hearing that made you fall in love with music?
Sarah Allison Turner: I grew up in a musical family, so I have to credit a lot of my love for music to my dad. I learned a lot of the songs I know today by hearing him play and sing them around the house. Artists that made me fall in love in music were Shania Twain, Lee Ann Womack, The Chicks, Loretta Lynn and Miranda Lambert. 🙂
PC: You began taking piano lesson and singing in church at just four years old. What was it about music that connected with you so early in your life?
SAT: I fell in love with music at an early age; playing, singing, performing, you name it. I was kind of a loud kid that demanded attention (ha!), so being able to channel that energy into music was a great form of expression for me. As I got older, it became a form of therapy as well.
PC: You began writing your own songs at 15 and eventually moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee to attend college and spent a lot of time on Music Row. What was it like to move so far away from home and be immersed in the songwriting community so early in your life?
SAT: It was intimidating and inspiring all at the same time. I remember just being in awe of the talent here. When you get to town and see that for the first time, all you want to do is soak it up in every way you can.
PC: You signed a publishing deal with Horipro Entertainment in 2015 and quickly got your first cut with “I Should Go to Church Sometime,” which was recorded by Tyler Farr. As someone who grew up in a musical family and has played and sang it for most of your life, what was it like for you to have a major label artist release a song you had a hand in writing and release it as a single?
SAT: It was SO cool! As songwriters, we pour so much of ourselves into the music we make, and when another artist comes along and relates?! It makes you feel very honored.
PC: Alan Jackson cut a song you co-wrote, “The Older I Get,” in 2017, which in turn became the lead single from his Where Have You Gone album. What did it mean to you to have a legend like Alan Jackson be drawn to one of your songs and have him record and release it?
SAT: UNREAL. He’s somebody I grew up listening to, so it’s pretty wild to hear his voice on something I had a hand in writing. He’s such an amazing songwriter too, so to be a part of an outside cut on his record is a huge compliment. Definitely a bucket list moment for me.
PC: You released your debut single, “Save Me the Trouble,” in 2020, which has since earned over 300,000 streams on Spotify alone. How encouraging was it to get that response from your debut release and to tangibly see the support it received?
SAT: It was so encouraging! That song and the few that followed were a batch I had been working on for so long. I had never released music before, so I felt really nervous and intimated about releasing my first single.
PC: Your single, “John Denver,” began a new string of releases for you. Can you talk about what “John Denver” signifies in this new stage in your career?
SAT: “John Denver” is a part of new chapter, so I felt this was a good way to introduce what’s coming. Plus I’ve never released a song about home before, so I felt like it was time.
PC: You posted a snippet of “John Denver” on TikTok, and it quickly earned hundreds of thousands of views and nearly 200,000 likes. What was it like as you were watching the song continue to grow on TikTok and read through the positive responses?
SAT: It was the coolest! The day I posted it on TikTok was actually my original release date for the song. We were running behind on a few things for the release, so I decided to just post it on a whim because I was so excited. We didn’t have a new release date picked at that point. Once I saw the reaction, I hit the ground running to try and get it out as soon as possible.
PC: You co-wrote “John Denver” with Lynn Hutton. Can you take us in the room and tell us how the song came together?
SAT: We wrote “John Denver” in July of 2020. As I’m sure we all remember, that was a few months into the pandemic, and songwriters had only been writing songs over Zoom. That day, I decided I needed a change of scenery, so instead of Zooming from my house, I drove to an empty office on Music Row. I was really missing home, so on my way to town, I put on “Take Me Home, Country Roads” and sang it at the top of my lungs like I always do. As I was singing along, I had the thought “I guess John Denver is the only one taking me home tonight.” When I jumped on Zoom with my friend Lynn Hutton, I told him the idea and he spit out the first two lines of the chorus. The rest is history 🙂
PC: You released a visualizer to coincide with the release of “John Denver,” which features both a performance and old clips of yourself and your family. How much did you enjoy the process of sifting through that old footage and sharing it to help tell the song’s story?
SAT: I enjoyed it so much! I put a lot of thought into the collection of memorabilia. I especially enjoyed getting to look through a lot of old family photos and video that I haven’t seen in years.
PC: You recently released a cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Can you talk about what went into the decision to cut the song?
SAT: Recording my own version of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” felt like the perfect way to honor John Denver’s craft and what inspired my own music. I put my own spin on the song while also still reminiscing the original recording.
PC: What emotions do you feel as you’re putting your own touch on a legendary song like “Take Me Home, Country Roads”?
SAT: It’s a little intimating. It didn’t really occur to me until we started diving in the pressure of “I can’t mess this up!” [laughs]. I wanted to make it my own, but also honor Denver’s original version as much as possible.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2022 and going into 2023?
SAT: The rest of the year is full of writing and recording. I’ve got some cool things coming in the new year that I can’t wait to share!
*”John Denver” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” are featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*