While many may remember him for a now-infamous helmet-throwing incident during his playing days in New Orleans, these days, Kyle Turley is trying to make a name for himself off the field.
A two-time NFL All-Pro, Turley, whose career with the Saints, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs spanned 10 years, retired in 2007 to Nashville. There, he co-owns Gridiron Records with Tim Pickett and focuses on his music projects – Turley and Delta Doom.
He’s currently in the middle of an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help fund his new Turley album, “Skull Shaker,” with proceeds benefiting the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund.
I spoke with Turley on August 7 to discuss his music, his charity work and his opinion on how the NFL treats its retired players.
One of the things I always remember hearing about you … was how much of a metalhead you are. I remember that being one of the things that was brought up about you a lot when you played ball. Growing up, when it comes to music, what kind of stuff were you into?
It spans a pretty good gamut there in that I grew up on old school country and Southern rock. My dad was a truck driver and a farmer.
Then, my mom was from Southern California and we moved there when I was about 10. The heavy metal and punk rock scene got pretty heavy and I got heavily into it. So, I went to college (at San Diego State University) and played football and kept getting bigger and all that. So obviously, a good job for me was security and I took every opportunity I could to do security work at big concerts coming through town in San Diego and you know, getting behind the scenes.
Then, when I got into the NFL, I continued that. I was able then to use who I was as an NFL football player to really get behind the doors and hang out with some of my heroes and that was a pretty cool thing I got to live.
New Orleans has one hell of a metal scene down there. You’ve got everybody from Acid Bath and Crowbar, Soilent Green, Goatwhore, Eyehategod, Down – all those guys. Playing down there in New Orleans, did you ever touch base and get to know any of those guys?
Moving to New Orleans, I didn’t really know what to expect. Coming from the West Coast, really, after I got drafted, I didn’t even know where Louisiana was on the map. I wasn’t good in geography, so I didn’t really care much.
Coming into the South and into a place like Louisiana, especially New Orleans, from Southern California was a big-time culture shock and then it got real comfortable for me. Around Halloween time, I ventured out to a little place down in New Orleans called the House of Shock. As I was going through it, I was surprised from above by (former Pantera and current Down and Phillip H. Anselmo and the Illegals frontman) Mr. Phillip Anselmo. As people know, he was one of the originating forces behind the House of Shock.
I realized after meeting him and learning how big of a fan he is of the Saints … I started learning that all the bands I’d heard of and seen on videos … I didn’t know they were from New Orleans. Back then, you didn’t have social media. You weren’t able to get online and (find out) where these guys are from. I was busy with sports. It was music I listened to. They’re all huge Saints fans it turns out because everybody that lives in Louisiana is a Saints fan. So, that was a big thing for me. I got to hang out with those guys over the years, become great friends with them. Kirk Windstein, Pepper Keenan, Jimmy Bower – all those guys – Phil Anselmo, Rex Brown, even. To this day I see these guys (and) hang out with them.
Then, all the people that I’ve met. We’ve been touring with my music around the country for awhile. In the city where I’m at, you’d be surprised who shows up. We were playing in Seattle and Jerry Cantrell and Duff McKagan showed up. These are all guys I met going to all these concerts and just hanging out. It’s a pretty cool little thing for me to think about and say I’ve been a part of.
When it comes to your own music, when did the Turley project originate?
After football was over. I’d always been messing around with music. In and out of bands and playing different instruments and things. I decided after football to move to Nashville with the family. I have a wife and a couple of kids and we wanted to raise our kids in a good area. It wasn’t for the music, it was for the family.
Everybody thinks when they’re playing football that they’re going to enjoy retirement, but you really don’t because you go from 100 miles per hour to a dead stop. So, it was good for me to get out and beat the streets and start going to all the open mics around town with my guitar and people really didn’t know who I was. I lost a bunch of weight and cut the hair off and all that stuff. Realizing I had a talent, I wanted to go around and kind of check out the scene here in Nashville. After awhile, I realized I could do this. So, I set out to do it.
You actually started the record label in ’06, is that right?
I’ve always been into music and started a record label with Tim in 2006. We repped a bunch of bands – some metal acts and alternative acts. I got my feet wet and, trial by fire for sure, I lost a bunch of money and learned a bunch of lessons in the music industry as everybody does. It’s all part of me always being connected to music.
When it came to actually forming a band … the outlaw country aspect … did you just feel like that’s the direction you were being pulled in and thought that’s kind of what spoke to you?
It really was just sitting down with the guitar and seeing what comes out. I love playing my acoustic guitar and just getting older, I think, the aspects of outlaw country or just country music in general – the pureness of country music – you know, three cords and the truth. All the songs are written by me and these are my stories. Country music, I guess, is a real good outlet for that in that it’s storytelling music.
But at the same time, I try to mix in a lot of those things I grew up with in heavy metal and those areas of heavier music to what I’m doing. It’s just a work in progress. The first record was what it was, the second record was better than that, this record right now that’s coming out will be even better and the next record is going to be better than this one. It’s exciting because it’s an ever-growing project. It’s not something that is regressing, it’s very much progressing.
I also noticed on Facebook that you’ve been doing some stuff as Delta Doom. What is that project all about?
I keep my feet in the areas of interest that I have. That project mainly comes from me. That’s pretty much my baby. My bass player Rob from the Turley project was the only other person who I could really count on in town, and he could count on me, to show up and do different things and try different stuff out. It wasn’t work for us. We wanted to hang and break it down and play music all the time. That project just spawned from that.
He plays guitar and bass and I play guitar and drums. So I just figured I could play drums and he could play guitar. I started singing and playing the drums seeing if I could do that, which is difficult. It’s already hard enough to play guitar and sing, but playing drums and singing is a whole other animal.
Playing anything fast or complicated drum-wise, I just couldn’t do it and sing at the same time, so we’ve come up with a doom project that’s slow, it’s sludgy and it’s quite interesting. We’ve got an EP we’re about to put out here that we’re almost done with. We recorded a live take of one of our shows about a month ago. It came out really well, so we’re using those tracks we got off of that and getting in studio and overdubbing some guitars a bit. I just cut vocals yesterday, just overdubbing vocals and stuff. We’ve got a great recording we’re able to put into the mix in the studio. We’re calling it the “Half Alive EP” because it’s half live and half studio, but it’s going to be good and we’re excited about it.
Touring with Turley, who are some of the guys you’ve toured with? I think I saw you had done some touring with Hank III.
Yeah, Hank III gave us a great opportunity right out of the gate with the first record. Started in Louisiana, went all through Texas and then through the Southwest and up the West Coast. We did about a 25-date tour with him. All sold-out shows in big venues. It was great. (I) Wish I had the music I’ve got now on that tour. Would’ve blown up, for sure. Earned some stripes and (had) a great experience watching Hank III do what he does. Very impressive. Very hard-working individual.
We’ve toured with David Allan Coe, we’ve opened up for Lynyrd Skynyrd at arena shows and Eric Church. I’ve got good connections with different booking companies. I get thrown shows every now and then. We’ve mostly played our own shows. Been across the country, coast to coast, all over the place. We’re getting more and more opportunities now. Actually, turning a lot of stuff down, which is a good thing.
The Indiegogo campaign you’re doing right now … is it the Gridiron Greats you’re connecting it to?
Gridiron Greats is the main charity we’re supporting on this crowd funding campaign. It’s the main charity I support in everything I do. I support a number of other great charities in football, military as well. The Indiegogo thing is a crowd funding platform for us to … expand the reach and awareness of things I do that come along with the music. I’m not just trying to be a musician and do that and forget who I was as a football player. All the things I did before this, I carry everything with me and make sure everybody knows it.
I know stuff like the Gridiron Greats … I know how closely that probably touches you, because several years ago I read a piece, I think Michael Silver wrote it, actually (LINK: Michael Silver’s The Gameface 9/18/09) … when a lot of the stuff about head injuries and brain trauma was coming up. You shared a lot of really personal things that you’ve experienced.
They do, just because I know the majority of the players in the National Football League didn’t enjoy what I enjoyed financially. People think that everybody did and they didn’t. They still don’t. A lot of guys make a lot of money but a lot of guys don’t. The majority of guys end their football careers as average players and the average player only plays three-and-a-half years and they don’t receive benefits until you’re a vested player in four years. So, they don’t have benefits. They don’t have medical insurance and all these other things and they leave the game with severe injuries. Those injuries add up and they cost a lot of money as people know out there. Anyone in the general public who has had bad injuries without insurance understands.
What people think the NFL does, they actually do the opposite. They established a disability system that has had great strides now since being outed. Unfortunately it took that and the press and social media to be what it is today before they finally admitted to their wrongs. It’s something that the NFL put in place to deny guys, so it put guys in really poor situations where they lost a lot of money because of their injuries and guys that didn’t have a lot of money have just gone even deeper. So, we’ve just seen some horrible situations that need to be taken care of. These are our brothers. That’s what I do. I’m committed to it and I’m not going to just walk away from it because I’m having success in another area and going to forget about who I was.
Do you think (the NFL) truly cares and the teams care about these guys’ well being?
We know that they don’t truly care. They care about their bottom line and that’s it. It’s a business. It is what it is. The owners are in this to make money so they can buy their yachts and jets and 100,000-foot TVs to put in their stadiums. That’s what they do. They’re businessmen.
Coaches are coaches and they’re businessmen, as well because they understand all the hard work that they put into being the lackey gopher boy all the way up to now coaching in the NFL. Being a head coach. They put their time in and they’re not going to rock the boat. So, you’ve got too many people in there making too much money. And nobody really wants to rock the boat. I never cared about money or the fame or anything like that. I just saw a wrong being done and I stepped in to do something about it. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who stood along the sidelines, collecting a check like the rest of them.
At some point, do you see the current model … of American football as we know it … is it something that can be sustained?
Most definitely. Just have to reword contracts and the language in contracts as they understand more of their risks when it comes to dealing with concussions and things like that. So, you’re going to start seeing those clauses being put in contracts. The fastest-growing sport in the world right now is MMA fighting. We’ve known that that has caused all of these diseases and brain injuries for a long time, so I don’t think football is going anywhere. In fact, it’s expected to grow exponentially worldwide over the next 10 years.
Personally, I just want to see the information be out there so that individuals who choose to play the sport, when people say, “You knew what you were getting into,” then, OK, we did. Now we know everything we’re getting into. When I started playing football, when everybody else started playing football that’s my age, we knew that we were going to have bad knees, we knew that we were going to have bad ankles and joints and backs and all these other things. We had no clue what was going on with our brains and we then had to have surmounting statistics come about that are just completely skewed against national averages.
All these horrific diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia and Lou Gehrig’s Disease that are plaguing football players at astronomical rates over general public rates, they’re linking all of these things, all of the suicides and everything else, have got a direct line back to the damage that our brains received. And when concussions were had during the time I played football and still up until even last year, they haven’t addressed it properly and they won’t address it properly until they put qualified neurologists on the sideline and a guy up in the booth watching instant replay to see those hits as they unfold.
To really address this thing properly, it’s not going to get done. But at least now, players can know that this is going to happen and that when this happens to you, you need to take it seriously, your family needs to know that they need to take it seriously. When I got knocked unconscious in St. Louis in 2003, the team just took me to the locker room, took me to the shower, took me to my locker, put my clothes on me, took me to another room, went and had somebody get my wife, brought my wife down, brought me to my wife, released me to my wife and said, basically, “He’s your problem.” That was ridiculous that that happened.
That story has been widely publicized and what I had to do after that. How freaked out my wife was and having to deal with that personally and having no clue what was going on because I wasn’t any help to her. I was completely punch drunk still. I stayed two days in the hospital after that, but it wasn’t the team that took me to the hospital and it wasn’t the team that was concerned about my head injury because I was back in practice two days later. Full-tilt before the next game. And played in the next game when I should’ve been out of football for a few weeks because I had a serious concussion.
I don’t know how long that would’ve taken to heal and if it had that time to heal, would I be in a different situation mentally now, physically now in dealing with some of the things I’ve had to deal with because of it that continue to mount up. But I can tell you pretty smart minds would tell you I’d have a better shot if they had addressed it properly.
I think you’ve made reference to this in the past … a team doctor is there but a team doctor is still employed by the team and they’ve got the team’s interest at heart and not necessarily the players’ interest.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement of the past protected those doctors completely from any litigation. No player could sue a team doctor for malpractice. Players had tried over the years because there had been some horrific situations where team doctors cleared players to play when they shouldn’t have. Guys got really bad injuries. Ended their careers and whatnot.
What we do with the Gridiron Greats, we’ve managed to set up a network of medical facilities that are providing pro bono care for our guys that are in dire need. That is because these facilities just want the association of being connected to the NFL. That they’re helping solve this problem and that they care. So that other people will see that these are the people they need to go to.
I live in Nashville now. I didn’t play for the Titans, but why is it that I can’t go, as an ex-NFL player, to see the Titans doctors, be treated by the Titans doctors as if I was a Titans player? Why can’t my medical file carry over when I retire, straight to my disability claim, having ended my career on injury? Why do I have to go through a third-party doctor that has no relation or anything to the NFL club or me and has no knowledge of my case, whatsoever until the day of or day prior, usually day of, my visit?
These are the things I put myself through because I wanted to see how these systems work, how they operate and how they’re failing guys. It is absurd the things they make guys go through to take care of themselves physically and these injuries. They could really care less about you once you’re done.
What are some of the other charities that you work with and really try to help out?
The Wounded Warrior (Project), Homes for our Troops, the Warrior Dog Foundation. We’re finding all these relations (between) the military and the football guys … the physical aspect and the injuries to the brain, especially, we’re finding a big relation. These things affect guys for a long time, affect their families for a long time.
It’s important that people give to charities they research and give to the ones that are actually doing the right things and making a difference. There are too many charities out there … a lot of them out there are just tax loopholes. You’ve got to do your research and you’ve got to know which ones are out there really fighting for a cause and making a difference.
All of the charities that I represent, from the Gridiron Greats to the Kevin Turner Foundation and Team Gleason – those are the football ones. The Sports Legacy Institute, they’re leading the way on all the brain research and they’re going to make a big difference. These groups are groups I know and interact with. They aren’t just people that searched me out to give their charity a voice. These are people I see out there working hard and I don’t get anything from them.
For more information on Kyle Turley, his music, his charity work and the Indiegogo fundraising campaign, visit kyleturley.com, gridironrecords.com or his Indiegogo page. You can also find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter: @KyleTurley.