Kyle Turley Back in St. Louis -- This Time as a Musician, Not a Football Player

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click to enlarge Kyle Turley - courtesy of Gridiron Entertainment
courtesy of Gridiron Entertainment
Kyle Turley

Remember ex-Rams offensive lineman Kyle Turley? The long-haired, tattooed guy with all those anger-management issues? The man who once got so pissed off, he tore the helmet off a guy's head and flung it across the field?

Oh yeah, that Kyle Turley -- the irascible, political, combustible, 310-pound player who made the Pro Bowl in New Orleans and then signed a $26.5 million contract with the Rams in 2003. He was quickly christened a fan-favorite for his on-field intensity and off-field candor, and he helped lead that year's Rams team into the playoffs.

The Utah-born son of a Mormon cop is back in St. Louis this weekend. But this time, he's reincarnated as a musician. On Sunday he'll play from his new album, Anger Management, at the Old Rock House in Soulard following the Rams afternoon game against the Chiefs.

Turley recently caught up with the RFT and opened up about his musical life after football, disgust with the government, once-a-day pot routine and newest passion: fighting for the rights of NFL vets with head trauma. (Preview: He's on that list.)

"Yeah I got anger issues," says the 35-year-old Turley, referencing his many scuffles over the years -- with players, coaches, N.F.L. execs and now with the health gods. "There ain't too many heroes out there. You can call it anger if you want, but I call it being a person. When I see something that's not right, I'm going to make it right."

The outlaw Ram, of course, didn't last long in this town after that promising 2003 season. A few months later, he underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his back, but re-aggravated it during summer training camp and was forced out of the 2004 season. Then, after a much-publicized altercation with head coach Mike Martz, which resulted in the skipper claiming he was threatened, Turley was on his way out. The Pro Bowler never healed from his injuries and slunk through a couple lackluster years with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring.

Refusing to walk away quietly, though, Turley quickly re-channeled his indomitable energy into his music, which is best described as "power country," influenced by old-school country, heavy metal, Southern rock and punk rock. The pigskinner had always been glued to his guitar, even during his football career, and often performed at charity benefits around New Orleans and St. Louis.

After retiring and moving to Nashville with his wife and child, in 2006 he started a record label, Gridiron Records. Turley toured with Hank Williams III and earlier this year released his first album, Anger Management. The album ranked as high as No. 69 and 17 on the iTunes and AmazonMP3 country charts, respectively; it also charted No. 8 on Billboard's Heat Seekers/South Central chart. The ex-Ram has been on tour for the last nine months, but this is the first time he's back in St. Louis.

His lyrics touch on a range of themes, including raucous behavior, poignant emotions and, perhaps most notably, his days in the NFL. One of his song titles, "Flyin' Helmets," references the feat that made him famous: In 2001 during a pileup after a quarterback-keeper when Turley was with the Saints, he noticed New York Jets defender Damien Robinson tugging harshly at the face mask of New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks -- clearly a cheap shot that could have lead to neck injury. Enraged, Turley lunged at Robinson, grabbed his helmet and ripped it off his skull. Then he up and hurled it across the field, discus-style, and made an up-yours gesture to the crowd with the look of a mad man.

For that act he received $45,000 worth of fines, a slew of anger management classes and immediate adoration from fans across the country who realize the sole job of an offensive lineman is to protect his quarterback.

One of those fans, Lois Linton, who runs Broadway Truck Centers in Soulard with her husband, has never forgotten that gesture. When Turley arrived to St. Louis from New Orleans, Linton arranged to loan the player an SUV, an honor reserved for one Ram a year. "I knew he was a force to be reckoned with, but I loved him so much more when he was on our side," recalls Linton, whose office is still plastered with autographed Turley photos and a Jets helmet that reads "Anger Management: It really works."

But not all Turley memories are so happy. In "Flyin' Helmets," Turley takes a shot at Martz, whom he blames for ruining his career: "And fuck Mike Martz, I never really liked him anyway," he croons. Kyle Turley, "Another Whiskey"

The lyrics are the result an imbroglio Turley had with Martz during the 2004 season, during a time when Turley was on the injured-reserved list for his herniated disk. Martz had called him into his office and suggested he wasn't serious about getting better. According to Turley, Martz accused him of coming to St. Louis to "take the money and run."

Turley took offense. Things got heated. The coach filed a complaint with NFL security. "There was never evidence of anything physical, but it got quite hot and livid when Martz said what he said," recalls local sports talk radio personality Howard Balzer. A year later, neither coach nor player was employed by the Rams. Ever since then, Turley has denied making a threat.

Turley believes he was rushed back to the field too soon by Martz, which caused him to aggravate his injury and permanently kill his chances of a comeback. "He did do his best to derail my career," says Turley of Martz, now the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. "I was injured, and he was a coach who didn't understand what that meant."

But mostly, Rams fans remember Turley for the happier days in 2003, when the rock & roll lineman, fresh off his fat contract, was the toast of the town. He'd leave his Ladue residence to spend time at his favorite hangouts -- the Pageant and the since-shuttered Mississippi Nights -- and do local jam sessions with acquaintances. (This included his current manager, Tim Pickett, who was then with EMI; Pickett met Turley through mutual friends on the Rams.) Turley also did charity concerts at the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, and played alongside bigger names such as Three Doors Down for Monday Night Football.

Turley says he still loves the St. Louis area, mainly for its knowledgeable fan base and hard-working citizens. "They're amazing," he says. "It's unfortunate that I couldn't finish my career there. I really wanted to. That was the plan." He says he'll soon do a re-mix of the song "Ram It."

Besides music, his other main focus these days is fighting for the rights of retired NFL players with traumatic head injuries. He's teamed with Mike Ditka to support Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, which provides financial help and social services to NFL vets in dire straits, in large part due to health issues. He's testified before Congress and donated heaps of cash to troubled vets, whose health conditions have in some cases led to homelessness and suicide.

"You think the N.F.L. cares about concussions?" Turley asks. "I don't think so. They've known about this since the 1980s and haven't said anything. They say football has nothing to do with traumatic brain injury. [Commissioner] Roger Goodell and his medical staff say this. Well go down to the courts when people are applying for disability and being denied."

Turley knows what it means to be in those players' shoes, because he's walked in them. Having suffered from dozens of NFL-related concussions by his estimate, he's been diagnosed with a form of brain damage called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. He gets constant headaches and has battled vertigo, memory loss and speech problems, on top of anxiety and depression. He's on an anti-seizure medicine called Depakote to keep things in check.

But this Sunday, he'll shelve all those issues when he takes the stage at the Old Rock House to celebrate his days as a Ram. The show will include "We Ride," his just-released single that includes a quick mention of "St.Looey."

"There's nothing processed or fake about this," Turley promises. "This isn't Deion Sanders or Shaquille O'Neal trying to sell CDs to stay famous. We'll have some fun, and hopefully the Rams will have a big victory, and we'll have a huge victory party."

Doors open at the Old Rock House at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. Turley performs a half-hour after the game ends. Admission is $6. 21-plus only.

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