Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Very Brief But Candid Conversation with Joe Lynn Turner

Fans of Ritchie Blackmore should be familiar with the name of Joe Lynn Turner. Turner was the lead singer of Blackmore’s two top bands: Deep Purple and Rainbow. Joe brought a smooth, melodic edge to Blackmore’s compositions. At the time Turner was in both Rainbow and Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore wanted to take both bands in a musical direction that was less heavy and more AOR. Some fans were taken aback by the different direction. I had grown up listening to the Rainbow records with the late Ronnie James Dio on vocals and was shocked to hear such a different musical sound when I picked up the album Difficult To Cure (Joe’s first album with Rainbow). I didn’t warm to it initially, but later on, when I picked up the record and judge the music for itself, rather than comparing it to that of the Dio days, I found myself becoming a fan of the music and Joe’s vocals.

The Rainbow/Deep Purple days are only one chapter in Joe’s musical history. Before Rainbow, Joe sang in Fandango, a group that produced not only soft rock ballads, but country-rock and funk numbers as well. After Rainbow, Joe would do his first solo album,
Rescue You, which showcased his vocal talents for ballads and AOR rock. Afterwards, he would sing for hard rock guitar legend Yngwie Malmsteen. Yngwie would play heavier than Ritchie and Joe showed he could also cut it on heavier numbers. Since then he has done several solo albums, worked with various groups such as Mother’s Army, Big Noize and Sunstorm, and appeared on several tribute albums. The musical styles vary from progressive rock to heavy rock to ballads, but one thing remains consistent: Joe gives a very smooth vocal delivery. He has also done backup vocals for Billy Joel, Cher and Michael Bolton.

The interviews I do for my blog are much longer than the one I conducted with Joe. However, Joe is constantly touring around the world and has a very busy schedule, so I could only get him briefly for a couple of minutes. In this short interview, we talk about Joe’s career with Rainbow, Deep Purple and Yngwie. We also look at some of the controversial statements he has made publicly. I really want to thank Lisa Walker, Joe’s executive assistant, for setting up the interview. Most of all, though, I want to thank Joe for taking time out to do this brief interview with me.

Jeff Cramer: I listened to all of the four Fandango records. What’s interesting is that the music is very different from the hard rock we now know you for. In fact, the music itself is not at all hard rock. (Click here to hear a sample of “Life of the Party” by Fandango.) Similarly, I read that Roger Glover said at your initial audition that your voice reminded him of Lowell George, late singer of Little Feat. Lowell was a great singer and Little Feat is a great band, but neither is a name we associate with hard rock. The question is: coming from a non-hard rock background, why do you think Ritchie and Roger thought of you to lead Rainbow, a hard rock band?

Joe Lynn Turner: Thanks for your thoughts, and Lowell George was a great singer. That is interesting that Roger said that and I will take that as a compliment. I guess they saw in me the ability to be a chameleon on vocals. I have said many times that I am not one dimensional in terms of what I can sing, how I sing. I do not stick to one style nor do I stick to one type of singing (i.e. head voice, chest voice, throat voice). I enjoy the challenge of singing all types of genres of music. I think great musicians and writers—as both Ritchie and Roger are—see more of the potential in a singer and see more character. Although when I joined Rainbow, Ritchie did prefer me to use a very pointed-note style which was a bit operatic but it is not my only style. When I was working with Ritchie and Roger in Deep Purple, they had no problem with me using a grittier style.

JC: Ritchie has been known for pulling séances and pranks. What was the most memorable séance or prank that Ritchie pulled?

JLT: I can tell you about a couple memorable things, although they aren't séances. I think séances can be a bit personal. But one situation that will forever stand out in my mind is when our regular bus driver on one of the Rainbow tours was ill and we had to get a different guy. When Ritchie first saw this new guy he was freaked out and said he had a black aura. He was replaced by a different guy, but we later heard that this driver with the black aura crashed a bus, so Ritchie's dark premonition was right on about that guy.

Prankwise, one of the most memorable was when I was on tour with Rainbow for the first time. I had gone back to the hotel after the show. I was hoping to get some sleep when suddenly the tour manager knocked on my door. I answered and then Ritchie and a couple of the other guys and crew entered and started throwing things out the window and destroying just about everything in the room. The hotel manager came up later and I tried to explain what happened. I was upset because I thought I would have to pay for all of it, but the manager laughed and told me Ritchie had paid for it all as a “Welcome to the band” kind of hazing.

JC: After Rainbow broke up, there were rumors you were asked by Survivor, Toto, Foreigner and Jason Bonham to sing for them. Are all these rumors true?

JLT: I actually did sing for the Bonham project, but they bought me out of the titles for good money! I rehearsed with Foreigner when they had “Say You Will” written...working on Inside Information. I was also being considered for Bad Company as well. Survivor and Toto were rumors although I did know members of all of those bands and I heard there was some talk amongst those camps.

JC: You were one of the very few singers that got to do your own lyrics instead of Yngwie writing them. In fact, you were the first singer who wrote your own lyrics for Yngwie. How did you manage to persuade Yngwie to trust you with the lyrical side of things?

JLT: The record company was really behind this. They made this giant push to take Yngwie, with me on vocals and as a co-writer, to super group status...they wanted to see Yngwie be more commercially successful. Certainly, he had a lot of talent and had a hard core following, but it was somewhat limited. Eric Singer was supposed to play drums in the band but that did not happen in the end. Anders was a great drummer so he filled that slot. Polygram (the record company) wanted me to contribute melodies and lyrics and Yngwie was on board with that. A couple of the songs were more mine than Yngwie's...for example, “Dreaming” (original title was “Tell Me”). It was a great collaboration, one of the strongest projects I ever worked on.

JC: You were in Yngwie's band when the notorious airline incident happened. Yngwie exploits that incident to this day in that he has named one of his albums Unleash the Fury. Tell us in your own words what happened on that airline.

JLT: I think this recording speaks for itself...LOL!! [Thanks to Joe and Lisa for providing me the audio clip of Yngwie’s notorious flight. Click here to listen.]

JC: Some of the Slaves and Masters stuff was written while Gillan was still in the band. What tracks do you remember being written before you joined the band?

JLT: There were ideas for songs but no full tracks. No disrespect intended toward Gillan at all but the truth is there were riffs and ideas but no full, complete songs. Some of the stuff written before also ended up on The Battle Rages On. There was a song called “One Man's Meat” from those sessions that I ended up doing as “Stroke of Midnight” on my solo Second Hand Life CD. [To hear a sample of track “Stroke of Midnight,” click here.]

JC: I know a series of fans took issue with you in the video of Deep Purple’s Heavy Metal Pioneers when you commented that you’re not here to sing someone else’s drivel. Could you elaborate on that comment?

JLT: That comment was taken out of context. The viewer did not have a chance to see how it was set up. The setup was harsh...and it put me on the defensive as it probably would have put anyone on the defensive. I regret saying it now because it was misinterpreted. Of course, I never considered anything written by the members of Deep Purple prior to my joining to be drivel. I am and always will be a fan of Blackmore and Gillan's. I grew up playing Deep Purple songs in a successful cover band that was known for doing great versions of Deep Purple songs.

JC: In both Rainbow and Deep Purple, your music went for more of an AOR style. Yet, some Dio fans gave you flak and Ian Paice and Jon Lord weren’t on board with you when you felt the band should follow Aerosmith’s example. What do you say to those fans and/or musicians who argue Rainbow and/or Deep Purple isn’t that type of band and thus they shouldn’t be playing that kind of music?

JLT: Was Whitesnake the kind of band that should not be playing the type of music they ended up playing in the 80s versus what they played in the 70s? What about early Def Leppard versus their more commercial stuff? Many bands who sounded different in the 70s or early 80s went commercial or went for a more mass appeal or popular sound in the 80s. But many were successful and still held on to their integrity and identity. And let's not forget that the direction that Rainbow and Deep Purple took when I was in the band was the direction that Ritchie wanted to go in.

JLT and Ritchie happy with their new music direction

JC: You’ve had a lot of great moments on vocals, but there is one vocal from you that literally made my jaw drop: it’s your cover of “Back in Black” with Def Leppard’s Phil Collen. How did you get yourself to sound so much like Brian Johnson? [To hear a sample of Joe’s take on “Back in Black”, click here.]

JLT: As I said earlier, I can sing all kinds of styles and genres. It comes natural to me. It allowed me to stretch out and show range and a different style. I also sang the song on the Classic Rock Cares tour with Brian, trading a verse or two. A lot of people said they had a hard time telling us apart. As for Brian, a lot of people don't know that he can sing in a Dean Martin type style so he is capable of doing different styles/genres also.

JC: I saw you with Big Noize on the M3 festival. (Great show, by the way.) The headliner was Whitesnake. There has been a battle of words between you and David Coverdale when you accused him of lip-synching. How did you two manage to share the same bill? What’s your relationship with David today?

JLT: We are professionals and professionals have no problem sharing the same bill. I have always had and still have the utmost respect for David. I never talked with him about this directly. He did his thing at the festival...a great fantastic set. There is no animosity from my side. I regret that my comment was misinterpreted and I did an interview with Classic Rock Magazine to clear the air about it.