By Jeb Wright
Joe Lynn Turner was the perfect voice to bring Ritchie Blackmore Top 40
success. Turner was a young, good-looking kid with a Lou Gramm style
voice that was both powerful and sensitive I have often called the
single “Stone Cold” Foreigner with a killer guitar player. While that
is a bit tongue-in-cheek, Rainbow took a directional turn with Turner
in the band that paid off big time.
Rainbow had three successful studio albums, Difficult to Cure, Straight Between the Eyes and Bent Out of Shape with the Blackmore and Turner coalition. Unfortunately, Blackmore returned to Deep Purple and left this version of Rainbow behind him.
Instead of lying dormant, Turner lent his vocals to many bands, tribute albums and even commercials but through it all he keep on singing. His latest studio album, Second Hand Life, sees the vocalist returning to the level of musical success he had with Rainbow. Easily this is JLT’s best solo effort.
Read below as we discuss the new album in detail as well as who should be the singer if Rainbow were to reunite. Joe, as always, is honest, witty and wears his emotions on his sleeve. Be sure to check out Second Hand Life for yourself, as this is one of the best melodic rock albums to be released in years proving that JLT still has what it takes to smack you straight between the eyes!
You are having success due to your latest album Second Hand Life because this is the best thing you have done in ages. You have done a lot of albums over the last few years, both solo and with Hughes Turner, and they are all good, solid melodic rock but Second Hand Life kicked it up a notch.
Joe Lynn Turner: I really appreciate you saying that — especially coming from you. It was a conscious effort. I will tell you what happened, and I will be very candid about it. Ritchie Blackmore taught me never to believe a good review because then you would have to believe a bad review. He said, “Don’t believe any fucking reviews.” He is right. I know what I have done and I have never taken reviews to heart.
Some people would say it was brilliant and others would say it sucked and it really didn’t matter to me. But I came across a review that a fan had written and it said, “Joe is swimming in circles.” I thought, “Yeah, maybe I am. Maybe I am just putting stuff out thinking my worst is somebody’s best.” Now, that’s pretty arrogant and egotistical and I didn’t want to be that way so I started to dig in. There were a couple of tunes that were written before with some other guys and I had a track that was emailed to me from Ritchie that was left over from Deep Purple. I wrote a few songs and I think they sounded fresh but still classic. I feel that it is a step in the right direction. Now I have to beat this one but that is the challenge.
I get a ton of CDs and it is tough to write reviews because it is just what I think and people should listen to it themselves and see if they like them. But people just love reading reviews.
JLT: I don’t want to be demeaning, but I think a lot of people are looking for someone to follow. I love the fan reviews and how they bicker back and forth. I have now become very comfortable with reviews. I love the gay remarks I get. I have to tell you one thing that is hilarious. I did a cover of “Back in Black” for an AC/DC tribute album. It came to my attention that there was a lot of banter back and forth about that track.
One guy was going, “This is Bon Scott on this song.” Another guy would go, “That is some other guy.” When it came out it was Joe Lynn Turner they start going, “Oh, that guy is gay” and “that guy is a wanker.” It is funny because before they knew it was me, I was brilliant. The next minute I was a wanker.
When Second Hand Life showed up in the mail I thought, “Oh, another Joe Lynn Turner CD. I will have to get around to checking it out.” I set it aside and then I finally decided to put it on. I was impressed. I hear so much music that I know I have something good when will want to listen to it again — and that can be rare with as many new releases that come my way.
JLT: It came from that genre and it is really just a return to my roots with a whole bunch of experience. It is simply just great songs recorded decently.
Did you know that this album was one step above what you had been releasing recently or were you too close to the project?
JLT: Maybe it is like you, as I was going along with the songs I would get chills. I burned the demos and I would play them for people and I would ask them what they thought. I told them, “Am I crazy or is this stuff pretty fucking good?”
Most times you will make a record and then you don’t listen to it for six months. You’re so close to it that you can’t see the forest through the trees. On Second Hand Life I had a feeling that this one had legs to stand on it’s own. Each time I played the songs I would find myself not listening to myself but rather listening to someone I wished I could be. I usually don’t do that. I am not going to be a fan of my own music. Some guys go, “This is the best thing I have ever done” and they say that about every album they put out. I understand that there are peaks and valleys in life. Sometimes you have a hit and sometimes you have a miss but this time I realize that I had a peak. This album takes the listener on a journey. In the old days that is what a great album did for me. It was not about just the hit single. It was about the whole album being listened too and then 45 minutes went by and you didn’t even realize it. You put it in the car and then you are at your destination and you keep driving so you can finish the album.
Tell me how the Blackmore track came to be.
JLT: I have to confess, the Blackmore song, “Stroke of Midnight” was actually “One Man’s Meat” on The Battle Rages On. If you take that album and listen to it then you will see that it is Ritchie’s signature sounding riff. We had this song over it when Jim Peterik had come in to work with Deep Purple. They were trying to have Jim do the same thing Desmond Child did with Aerosmith. We knew that Deep Purple was a huge worldwide band and we thought that we could bring in a great writer and kind of sanitize it and take it to a more commercial market without turning too foo-foo.
Roger [Glover], Jon [Lord] and Ian [Paice] had a mutiny against Ritchie. They were afraid it was becoming The Ritchie & Joe Show. When Jim came in they were afraid that things would be stolen from them even though Jon and Ian had no interest in the writing. Ritchie got fed up with it all. Ritchie had made them millionaires through his publishing. He used to tell me that they were not even in the room when he wrote songs yet they got publishing for it. He was sick of it. He said, “If you don’t work then you don’t get.” That became the credo. At that point, the relationship became very strained. History will tell you that they finished the album and went on tour. Ritchie was on tour for less than a month. They were passing notes back and forth by roadies because he wouldn’t talk to them. Ritchie then quit and they got Joe Satriani and now they have Steve Morse. You can connect the dots but that is pretty much the story.
Anyway, Ritchie had emailed me to come to his Christmas party but I couldn’t make it because I was in the studio. He told me to work up this number so we did. The other song he sent is called “Cruel” which is a song that Ritchie wanted to do back in the Rainbow days but I am saving that one. I was so busy that I didn’t have time to sit down and write – we wrote a handful of songs on that record, which is great. At the same time we were writing all of the songs for Purple, I was given a book by Desmond Child. This was before he became super famous. The book’s title was an Indian word that when translated means second hand life. The book talked about the fact that most of us live a life that is not our own. It is either the life handed down from our parents or the life that the corporate world dictates we live or that society or religion demands we live. That made a lot of sense to me. I knew we had a song there.
We wanted to give the song a hopeful message that shows that we are not going to live that second hand life. That song was laying there in my demos for years. I listened to it and changed it to be more modern. It really kicked things off. We did the whole thing – from rehearsals to recording to mixing – in twenty-five days. You didn’t have time to get too close to it. You would just get those chill bumps and you would just hope that it would come through on CD like it was coming through the speakers at the time. I was like a madman. I was screaming at my co-producers and co-writers and saying, “What the hell is this?” While I was doing other things they would put tracks together and then I would come in and give them my two cents about it. It was a really tense time because I knew that I had to come up with something here. I knew they were not as into my record as I was — because it was my record. I was like the big bad mama bear. It strained the relationship to the point that the co-producer looked at me and said, “You’re insane.” I told him, “You’ve gotta be in this business.”
How do you get the music out in the States where people can hear it?
JLT: Joe Reagoso from Friday Records, has released it in the States. He is a big fan of classic rock and he started Friday Records to try to get the album out. He has Rykodisc, which is a really good distributor. It came out August 28, 2008. It did okay because I know they were reordering the CD. In the meantime, I am selling the thing on my website and I recently got onto iTunes. It has been a difficult time because all of these things are walls that you have to break down. You know what we are up against better than anyone. I am blessed to have my foot in the door.
I think that with guys like yourself – and I mean this as a sincere thank you. Guys like you keep guys like me alive. You are kind to me and people like you have kept me in the public eye. I am like a bad cold that just doesn’t go away. I keep coming back and sooner or later people go, “Oh yeah, I like that guy.”
What are the reasons that you think classic rock is still around and doing well?
Joe: I have a college age daughter and her friends and her all are wearing t-shirts by Zeppelin and Floyd. They were all over the other day and I told them, “I see you wearing classic rock t-shirts. Come here, I have a trunk full of this shit.” They were picking out all these vintage t-shirts and having a great time. They told me that today’s music doesn’t have any soul to it. Now, not all artists today are like that but I am talking about the cookie cutter crap. They told me they were into Big Charlotte when they were 12 but they are not into it now that they are 18. The Goo Goo Dolls will never go away but then again they have quality music with soul and I like them. Bon Jovi reinvents himself every six months, so that is great [laughter]. Now he has made a National album — not a country album.
I will be honest with you, my roots were pretty much country. My grandmother loved George Jones and Hank Williams. My band Fandango was a country rock band in the early days. We played with Poco and Loggins and Messina. Rainbow threw me off in another direction. All I did in Rainbow was sing rock and soul, not rock n’ roll.
The next album is really going to have some great songs on it. It is going to be more introspective and mature. When I say the word ‘mature’ I don’t mean old. I just mean that we are not 18 or even 21 anymore. We are not going to just go ‘hey baby’ anymore. The subject matter has to change with you.
Do you think Blackmore will ever quite doing Blackmore’s Night?
JLT: That is the question of the universe. There have been so many rumors about a reunion with different lineups. Ritchie always gets tired eventually. This one is waning. I have heard that he is now hit and miss with the band as some gigs are full and some gigs are not full. He is also picking up the electric more and people are always screaming for Purple and Rainbow. I think it is possible that a reunion could happen – that is a political answer but he always gets tired of things and he always is looking for new blood so there is always the chance of something happening.
If Rainbow were to get back together who should be the singer? Ronnie James Dio or you?
JLT: I know it won’t be Dio because I talk to Ronnie and he is doing quite well on his own. We were offered to do the three singers of Rainbow but that would have been a nightmare. Actually, we all get along so that might have been cool but I know Ronnie would never do it. Graham would do it.
I will tell you something funny. One night I was in Madrid with my friend Doogie White and we were absolutely plastered. Doogie goes, “F*@k you, it should be me as the singer if Rainbow reformed.” I was like, “You’re going to sing my songs?” I was really digging at him. I said, “What was the name of the Rainbow album you were on?” I was taking the piss out of him and then three Jack Daniels later were hugging. He thinks he was the unsung hero of Rainbow. He e-mails me all the time about the gigs he does with Yngwie Malmsteen.
He once told me he had to sing seven shows in a row. I asked him, “How do you sing seven shows in row” and he said, “Nobody gives a shit about the singer in this band.”
OK, now I will answer your question directly: It should be me. I will tell you why, Dio had the heavier sort of dungeons and dragons stuff — don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff and I am even singing some of his stuff like “Last in Line” and “Rainbow in the Dark” in Big Noize. I am a huge fan of Ronnie James Dio but we [Rainbow with Joe Lynn Turner] did have the sales. We also had the worldwide notoriety and the commercial success. They had a poll one time about who should be the singer and overwhelmingly it was me — and I need the work [laughter].
You are the one guy who had always got along with Ritchie Blackmore. How in hell have you pulled that one off?
JLT: Many, many psychology courses [laughter]. I have an un-reactive mind. I have learned the Buddhist way to respond and not react. If you react to Ritchie then that is what he expects. If you learn to not react to him but instead respond with something that challenges his psyche then he respects that. Ritchie is the kind of guy who likes to push and pull you so he can see what kind of person you really are. It is a power struggle with him.
One night we were crawling around on the floor drunk and I told him, “We are not going to last very long because I am afraid of intimacy.” Ritchie goes, “And we are getting way too friendly.” I just said, “We better enjoy it while we have it.” He still says great things about me in interviews and I am really proud that he does that. The only differences we ever had were when we were fighting over what we thought was best for the music. Ritchie wanted everything to be the best it could possibly be. He wanted you to dig into the lyrics and the music and make it the best. When it was not up to snuff, he would just call the guy out on it. When he would say that to me then I would go write another lyric and sing another song better than I did before and he would say, “Now that’s it.”
On “Street of Dreams” Ritchie came in after I sang the vocal – I had a really great moment on that song, obviously. He said, “I can’t play the lead. I’m intimidated.” I said, “What?” He said, “Your vocal is spot on.” I said, “It is a good vocal and it is just what we believe in with others lives and reincarnation.” I broke open two Heinekens and I said, “You go in there. This is our creation; this is our baby.” He lit the candles and got in the mood but he rose to the occasion. He came out and said, “Cheers mate. Thanks for the inspiration.”
We were in Copenhagen at the time and there was a huge storm. They are at a point of longitude and attitude where there is a lot of huge electrical storms. They had a huge electric rod on top of the building. We were discussing this and there was a loud snap and all the lights went out. We were sitting in the dark. All of the candles came out and then he looked at me and said, “This is a sign.” It was pretty eerie. Eventually, the lights came back on and the machines pumped back on and we went back to work. He would say, “Now we are working with other powers – not the lower powers but the higher powers.”
You were not a young kid when you joined Rainbow. You were 27 or 28.
JLT: I was immature. I was an American, and I was used to seeing guys on stage trying to entertain an audience. I was overzealous, and I was overdoing everything. Ritchie and Roger helped to grow me up. Ritchie would say, “Just wrap your f@!&ing legs around the mic stand and sing with all that soul power that you have. Quit prancing around the stage like some sort of poofta.” It made sense, and I finally got it. Now, I kind of combine a little of both because I am an American and not a stoic, pretentious Englishman.
How did you get the Rainbow gig in the first place?
JLT: I was literally living in a studio apartment in the West Village in New York City. Fandango lost all of our equipment at the Chicago-Fest. We lost $80,000 of our own equipment and it really took the wind out of our sails. RCA — The Recording Cemetery of America — was trying to help us out, and we bought some new amps and guitars. Back in those days there was a huge ring that was stealing equipment. They stole Jethro Tull’s stuff and ours. They rammed it through Chicago and over the Peace Bridge into Canada. Believe it or not, I actually found a pair of my platform shoes in Japan.
It was really a ring of thieves who were stealing music equipment. We even went as far as to take the router out of the truck and backed it up against a wall. The roadies were playing cards in the Holiday Inn looking down on the truck. There were 10 minutes when they didn’t check the truck. The thieves had routers for all kinds of U-hauls and they reinstalled it and stole the truck. The wind really was out of our sails. I was back in my studio apartment, sleeping on a mattress on the floor and wondering how I am going to get a gig. I had my guitar on my back going after gigs and every time I got turned down. The truth is that I was usually better than the artist they were trying to develop. I am not trying to be egocentric, but I actually got information that I sang better and I looked better than the person who was going to be the front man of the band. I decided that I needed my own band.
I got a phone call from Barry Ambrosia, God rest his soul. I got a phone call last year telling me that he was dying from cancer. I sent a message to him telling him how thankful I was for everything he had done for me. Barry was Ritchie’s personal assistant in Long Island. He was a fan of Fandango. He told Ritchie to come see me sing. Months before the band had broke up Ritchie came to a show. Well, months later I got a call and Barry asked me if I had heard of Rainbow. The only album I had owned was Rainbow Rising. Barry goes, “I am sitting next to Ritchie Blackmore.” I said, “Put him on.” I hear this guy say, “Hello mate.” I said, “Is this really Ritchie Blackmore? Who is this? Is this one of my friends pulling my leg? You know what kind of state I am in. This is really not funny.” This guy goes, “What state are you talking about? You’re in New York, aren’t you?” I knew that was a really innocent answer and I knew then this was really him. Ritchie said, “I am a fan of yours and I want you to come down and audition for Rainbow.”
I had a terrible cold but I needed the work. I wasn’t sure how big Rainbow was or wasn’t. I got directions on which train to take out of the City and to Kingdom Sound in Long Island. Ritchie’s tour manager picked me up at the station. I waked in and there Ritchie was with Amy, his third wife. Roger Glover was at the boards and I just said hello. They literally pushed me into the studio and go, “We are going to play you a track. Can you make up sounds? Just syllables or something?” I said, “Let me hear the track.” I reached into what Ritchie later called my Magic Bag and began shuffling through my lyrics. I found one that kind of fit the groove and I started singing these melodies and lyrics. They shut the track off and they are all in the studio behind the glass. There is dead silence and I was like a goldfish in a bowl. They said, “Here is another one” and they did the same thing. After that they said, “Here is one that is already pretty much done” and they played “I Surrender” with Graham Bonnet on it. They said, “Can you mimic that?” and I said “No, but I can sing it my way.”
The end result was that we brushed it up a bit but we knew we were never going to get any publishing from Russ Ballad, the guy who wrote the song. The version that made it onto the record is actually different that the demo. It is not a whole lot different but it did make it better. I started singing the song and I started stacking the vocals on it. I was thinking, “What’s going on here.” Finally, Ritchie came in with a six-pack of Heinekens and said, “Do you want the job?” I said yes. Ritchie goes, “You’re in. Now get to work.” They didn’t even let me go back to New York City to get some clothes. They took me to a department store and I bought some jeans and sweatshirts. They put me in the Burt Bacharach Hotel and that is where we wrote “Freedom Fighter” and all of those songs.
So at that moment you replaced Bonnet.
JLT: He had all the stacks done. When they were wiping his stacks out and putting my stacks on then I knew I had the job. They were not saying anything because they are very quiet and keep the cards close to the vest. I was thinking that they were putting me on the record and then finally Ritchie came in and gave me the job.
I can still hear the cold on that album. My teacher had taught me to sing above a cold. You pass through the congestion and everything but I can still feel a dullness at the top of my range. It actually gave it a pretty good sound. Only I know that I had a cold but I can hear it.
How long did it take you to go from hired gun to being a part of the band?
JLT: I co-wrote a few songs on Difficult to Cure but I didn’t really blossom until Straight Between the Eyes. I think that is one of the band’s signature albums. It was straight on. There were songs on that album like “Power” and “Bring on the Night” and “Stone Cold” that were just great. We had some Blackmore-Turner songs but I also had some Glover-Turner songs. I think that album really showed them who I was. I was writing and singing and performing. I honed the image a bit. They actually told me that they never had girls in the audience before me. MTV came out simultaneously and there I was with my dark, good looks and these girls started coming to the shows and they were coming up to me going, “Thank you for joining the band. We can actually get laid now.”
Last one: I remember the video to “Death Alley Driver.”
JLT: It was banned because we were in a graveyard promoting death. It was all politics.
I loved that you had Marshall stacks in the background when you sang.
JLT: We even had them in the graveyard. We thought it would be stupid to prance around without any amps. Believe it or not, it was my idea to do that video. I told Ritchie that he could be the merchant of death and I could be the guy on the motorcycle and you are jinxing me.
The lyrics went along with that when they said, “Death is in the backseat of a big old black sedan” and there he was in the backseat with his top hat. Those were the days. Now videos are just soft porn.
Maybe we should put the old music on and just turn the sound down.
Joe: [laughter] I am not here to berate the current status of the industry and the artists but what happened? Give me back Nirvana; at least it was genuine. Green Day was fun. I think this is exactly why kids are looking back to classic rock. The singers and guitar players are identifiable in the older music. Now I can’t tell you who anyone is. I just know the singers can’t sing, the players can’t play and the writers can’t write. MP3s make everything sound like shit. In the old days you would listen to Hendrix and crawl into the sound. There was a big article in Rolling Stone that said that.
I would say Rolling Stone is as much to blame as anyone else.
JLT: What is it now, a fashion magazine? It’s all about perfume or clothes. Well, sometimes they have a decent political article, but it is lining the litter box. I still get it because I want to know how bad it all is. I don’t take it as the bible, but it is good bowl reading material.