Recently, on Facebook, a member of our group mentioned that the song "Wonder" by Natalie Merchant makes her cry every time she hears it.
It really is a beautiful song with a powerful lyric that provides an epigraph and title for RJ Palacio's masterful novel Wonder. (If you haven't read Wonder, you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself in it.)
But the truth is, for years, I never really listened to the words of "Wonder" because I would always get distracted by the elegant, tasty electric guitar licks.
So that had me wondering, who was that guitarist!?
Her name is Jennifer Turner.
Female lead guitarists aren't all that common in rock/pop music. There's Bonnie Raitt in the blues/slide tradition, but aside from some of Prince' proteges or St Vincent, there aren't that many women who shred. (I'm sure I'm missing plenty of guitarists here -- please let me know in the comments.)
That video is supposedly the second time Natalie Merchant's solo band played out, a three song set on the National Mall on Earth Day 1995. They start with "Carnival," "Wonder" starts at 7:08, and then they cover "Baby I Love You." Turner's guitar is pretty prominent in each of the songs; she's also featured quite a bit in the video footage.
A contemporary article in the Hartford Courant quotes Merchant about finding Turner as well as female sound techs in her post-10,000 Maniacs band.
Turner toured with Merchant but by the time Merchant recorded her sophomore album, "Ophelia," Turner was no longer with the band.
It's not clear why they parted ways, although the internet is full of bloggers who assert that Turner was drawing a lot of attention, to the resentment of Merchant. That works in a "jealous women" narrative, but it's quite possible that the exposure gave Turner new career opportunities to pursue.
Although when you start at the guitar solo for Carnival in this video, it looks like a Jennifer Turner showcase with Natalie Merchant trying to shimmy her way into some attention, like an overtired kid in pajamas trying to impress her parents' friends.
In 1998, the band Furslide released an album, featuring Turner as lead singer and guitarist, fronting a trio. Here's "Over My Head":
That song ended up on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television soundtrack, although some Buffy fan boards claim the song was never on the show itself..
The best summary of Turner's playing since then comes from the Felpin's Pond blog. It includes this paragraph:
"Around 2009 or 2010 she joined Here We Go Magic and was with them for their second and third albums. This was her blond period. With this group she played bass and keyboards. She produced their 2010 album, Pigeons (released June 2010) and was also with for them for their album, Different Ship in 2012. She left that band abruptly in a airport in a misunderstanding over sausages."
The blog also notes that Turner appears with Merchant in a documentary about the "Tigerlily" album.