From Fandango to Purple, from Rainbow to Yngwie – the king of AOR lead vocalists Joe Lynn Turner has done it all. But he never chooses the easy route.
I grabbed the great man for an extensive chat about projects past and present including his time spent with notorious guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow and Deep Purple, his history with current blues master Joe Bonamassa, and ‘crazy’ six-string virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen.
Tuner’s most recent album, Emotional Fire, with his Sunstorm project has been on the receiving end of some extremely positive reviews. This seemed like a good place to start.
Geeks of Doom: First of all, you’ve had so much great feedback for the Emotional Fire album you must be really pleased.
Joe Lynn Turner: Well not only am I pleased, I’m very surprised. I’d like to preface this by saying I didn’t have any chance to put any of my old material on it. Usually [on albums with] Sunstorm I’ve got three to five songs on it of old material that has never been recorded. I was in Turkey at the time for like a month down in Antalya and I had no hard drive with me, I just had this little mini computer so I told Serafino [Perugino, album executive producer] ‘I really can’t get to any of my material.’…He went around in search of material [and] came up with the two Michael Bolton’s and the Cher [songs], which I sang backgrounds on [originally], God only knows how long ago that was.
Why I was surprised is because when we were doing some of this material the demos sounded so dated when I would listen to them I was like, ‘Well geez, [bassist and producer] Dennis Ward is really going to have to do his magic.’ But he did and kudos to Dennis because he never ceases to amaze me with the production and what he can do to a song.
I’m extremely pleased at how it came out and the reaction has been just beyond me. I’m really so happy for this reaction, I didn’t expect it. I mean, I expected it to be good, but not this great reaction that’s happened.
Geeks of Doom: I think you’re being a bit hard on yourself.
Joe Lynn Turner: Well probably, but I always am…I’m never happy with anything I do. Maybe “Street of Dreams” [from the Rainbow album Bent Out Of Shape] I had a moment. But really I’m just always going like, ‘Well that’s alright then, I guess.’ ‘I put everything I could put into it.’ ‘Could I put a bit more there? Nah.’ It’s like a [journalism] piece, if you’re writing it it’s the same thing; did you cover the bases? Did you put your heart and soul into it? When you read it back you’re too close to it; forest for the trees theory, you know? So I’m ecstatic over the great reaction, I’m not sitting around like all impressed [because] I knew it, nothing like that, just, ‘Wow, great!’ I’m so happy everybody really enjoys it because it’s a good piece of work. I love the writing on it, I love the people who wrote on it the Martin brothers and [Soren] Kronkvist and these guys.
Geeks of Doom: You have a lot of interesting upcoming projects including working with Joe Bonamassa.
Joe Lynn Turner: Well Joe Bonamassa and I, not many people realize this now that he’s huge, that Bonamassa was on my first solo albums…he was sixteen I think at that point and we had written a lot of songs. So I was thinking of putting an album out, and all this has to be cleared with Joe of course and Roy Weisman his manager and everybody else, but I was thinking of saying, ‘I’ve got all these songs that we never put out on a record, titles like “As Far As You Can Get.”’ A friend of mine who produced [Bonamassa album] Blues Deluxe who used to produce Joe’s first albums he brought it up and said, ‘I’ve got all these stems, all these tracks’… I was like, ‘Wow, we got an album here.’ …so it’s kind of a cat in the bag right now because I’m doing a couple of other different projects and it’s on the back burner but it’s something to think about because it’s such a great idea. [Back then] Joe wasn’t even a singer.
Geeks of Doom: Really?
Joe Lynn Turner: Oh I had to kick his ass to sing! I was like, ‘Come on!’ Like a coach, you know, I was like, ‘You’ve got the tone, you’ve got the blues, you’ve got the soul. You got it! Just keep singing,’ I said. It’s like a muscle: you flex it, you work at it. Now he’s like singing like a champ, it’s unbelievable. I remember those days he was afraid to sing.
Geeks of Doom: Amazing. You’ve also said recently you’re working on a reality TV show.
Joe Lynn Turner: Yeah, we’re working on it. Well we have it but what we’re doing now is raising money for, well, it’s like sort of an umbrella company, No Mystery Productions and it’s got a soundtrack company which my partner just called me this morning [we are] signing the first film tomorrow.
Geeks of Doom: Oh wow!
Joe Lynn Turner: Yeah it’s amazing and it’s really modeled after Cutting Edge, a soundtrack company out of England, and it’s a brilliant prospect because what you do is you pay the film company, you pay the producer, director to gain the rights to do the music to the film. Most of these guys don’t give a shit about music yet music is everything that makes the film happen in my opinion. It gives you the tension or it gives you that love feeling, gives you whatever it is happening up on the screen. Anyway we had to raise a whole bunch of money to do this so what happened was we started to raise money and the ball started to roll and people started to hear about it and all of a sudden people are throwing money at us. We’ve raised I think over $4 million now – $4.2 million – and that’s a great start. The reality show is called Two Worlds, rap meets rock, and we already have the trailer of it…its Rich Kruspe from Rammstein and Rakim the godfather of rap…so it’s all moving in the right direction. I want to try to phase out some of this live stuff. Not that I wouldn’t play live, but it’s like I just want to get more into the business angle of things, creatively, and use other talents than just shaking your ass onstage.
Geeks of Doom: Well you’re clearly very good at both!
Joe Lynn Turner: Well, thank you, I appreciate your kind words. I mean after a while I’ll be like, ‘Argh! I gotta play live!’ I’m doing a couple of shows back here that my friends, my drinking friends pushed me into…so we got this little place called Dingbats down the road that you can fit about 200 people…and we’re doing another show out in Long Island…I’ve got a lot of friends out there. Ritchie [Blackmore, original Deep Purple guitarist] actually lives in Huntington so he might show up, you never know! He does those things; he comes in in a cloak.
Geeks of Doom: I wanted to ask you about him. A lot of people have talked about their troubled relationship with him, but how did you get on with him?
Joe Lynn Turner: The only difficulty we had once was we were going to have a punch out and we threw everybody out of the dressing room and we were staring at each other, glass of scotch in hand, yelling, ‘Fuck you!’ All of this kind of stuff. I said, ‘You want to hit me? Go ahead but you better take your best shot because I’m coming back [at you].’ It just kind of ended into a drinking session and talking it out and everybody was against the door kind of listening, I’ll never forget that; it was like a comedy and we ended up laughing hysterically about the whole thing and because of what jerks we were and how foolish we were about things! We thought about it: what’s the problem here? You’re the singer, you’re the guitar player. There’s no problem here, you’re doing a different job than I am. We got along great, I can honestly say Ritchie and I had a very frank, honest relationship. He had said to me, ‘I don’t like to get too close to people’ and we’re drinking again and I said, ‘I know that this will come to an end at some point.’ …but I think there were evil forces at work beneath this. I was surprised [at] the Stranger In Your Ass album or whatever it is [laughs – referring to the final Rainbow album Stranger In Us All] because he had promised me to do a third Rainbow album and I thought it would have been brilliant just three, done. Except for the EPs and all that other crap and that would have sort of rounded out the trilogy, that would have been great. I was a little surprised but in getting friendly with Doogie [White, lead vocals on Stranger...] …Doogie kept telling me that he kept saying, ‘Sing it like Joe Lynn Turner, sing it like Joe Lynn Turner would sing it!’ [laughs]
Geeks of Doom: From Rainbow you worked with Yngwie Malmsteen, who is another ‘character’…
Joe Lynn Turner: Oh isn’t he?! I love him to death, though. He’s so crazy. I’ll tell you in one simple way we made up tour shirts that on the front said ‘you can’t intimidate me’ and on the back said ‘I toured with Yngwie’! [laughs] He puts you through the ringer. He put everybody through the ringer and as Nietzsche says ‘what does not destroy me makes me stronger’ and I think that’s how we all came out: much stronger individuals, much more knowledgeable. Psychotic, but knowledgeable! Look, Yngwie’s a brilliant guitarist, I’m not going to take that away from him. He’s got the gift. He said he saw the schematics of everything in his mind before he even did it. I think I brought him out quite a bit, I think we had the best album of his career, probably one of the best of mine. I mean we really had some magic going on and I was just disappointed that we didn’t do at least a second one, I thought that could have been even more brilliant. But he’s a tough guy to get along with and he seems to feel that he has to control everything and I think by witness of the Odyssey album that he doesn’t have to control it…and it’s just a cornerstone album that I think many people still have in their libraries because how do you get much better than that? The combination between his style, playing, song content, commercial content for Christ’s sake; it’s not a dirty word…it used to be a dirty word and I still can’t understand why. The same thing with Purple, the whole idea with that was to make Purple a bit more commercial but yet still retain Purple and I think we did that [on the] Slaves and Masters album.
Geeks of Doom: When you joined Yngwie and Purple and Rainbow you were joining well established bands. You not only seemed to fit in well, but your arrival often triggered their most successful period.
Joe Lynn Turner: Well how about that! Thank you, I’ll take that as a compliment…I took enough shit for it, you know, in the press and I had to prove myself. I remember somebody saying once ‘You know you’ve got some big shoes to fill’ and I said ‘I’m going to make my own footprints.’ I was arrogant about it because in those days you had to be because if you weren’t arrogant about it and strong and had that fire of desire to do this thing you were going to be crushed, just crushed. I think that I had to have that, I think that also sharpened my skills and also gave me a bit more of a pointed direction because I had so much coming down on me. When you’re on the pitch if it’s not a pressure game you could relax…you always try your best but when you’re under pressure and it’s in the finals you really got to show your stuff. It was the fact that I was always in the finals with these bands because they were well established, legendary or whatever, even Yngwie he was this gifted guitar player. Somebody had to come up and it was me…Yngwie he was jealous in my opinion of that, he really felt put out which I can’t understand because again just like Ritchie and I figured out: you’re the guitar player, I’m the singer. It’s Plant and Page, it’s Mick and Keith; it’s what rock and roll was always made of.
Geeks of Doom: Yeah you have to have the two. You can’t be all about one or the other.
Joe Lynn Turner: Exactly…it’s just something rock and roll’s been made of. If you have a great singer and no guitar player; if you have a great guitar player [but] no singer there’s always something missing. Nobody ever goes, ‘Whoa, the fucking drummer sucks!’ It’s not that. Although you do need a great drummer, don’t get me wrong, but we always have these drummer jokes: ‘what’s your IQ?’ ‘Ninety-eight.’ ‘Oh, what sticks do you use?’ Drummer jokes. ‘What do you call a guy that hangs out with musicians?’ ‘A drummer!’ But we love them! Really the secret of rock and roll has always been a singer and a guitar player, that was always it for me. I mean unless you had Hendrix who was really beyond anything. I would call him one of the greatest singers because his style is so relaxed he’s so himself. Bonamassa his style is now relaxed and he can sing, so you’ve got a package there.
Geeks of Doom: Bonamassa also works well with Glenn Hughes in Black Country Communion.
Joe Lynn Turner: I saw them last summer, the guys, talked to them, wished them great luck [they’re] doing so well. Thank God somebody’s doing something [in] rock and roll…it’s a great outfit but at the same time you can have that [mixture]. I worked with Hughes Turner [Project] there was nothing wrong with Hughes Turner and in fact I think our songs are more memorable than BCC, I’m sorry but they were. We had a lot of power in that project. This business is filled with egos and filled with insecurities because artists are generally insecure. I am and that’s why I’m never happy with my stuff because I’m always [thinking], ‘Ah, could’ve sung that with that turned up,’ and my wife will look at me and go, ‘Are you fucking out of your mind?!’ …as one producer once said: ‘you can’t sing your whole life in three and a half minutes,’ and he was right.
Geeks of Doom: When you approach your next album do you have that in the back of your mind: I didn’t like what I did on the last album so I’m going to do it differently now?
Joe Lynn Turner: Always. But they’re different albums, it’s like children; you raise one child this way and you wonder why that one’s in jail when the other one’s getting a Pulitzer prize [laughs] and you’re like, ‘What the fuck happened here?!’ [laughs]
Right now I have an album in the can with a Swedish partner of mine…it’s just singing the song from the heart and no big tricks, no trapeze, no circus acts, just singing the song and it works. So I could never judge what people really like. I mean you get metal heads out there when you do a scream they all go crazy – what’s that about? It’s just doing a scream. Anybody can scream but not everybody can sing.
Geeks of Doom: When you were younger you grew up listening to a lot of RnB music and from that soul and Motown as well.
Joe Lynn Turner: I actually grew up with Country from my grandmother and then I went huge soul and Motown. Huge.
Geeks of Doom: And did that have an influence on your voice and your delivery?
Joe Lynn Turner: Well I always said I never sang rock and roll I sang rock and soul…in Rainbow for example when “I Surrender” came out the voice was different and there was something unique about it. Then when we went to “Stone Cold” and things like that again it was even more soulful…most of the bands fashion themselves after the nasally, whiny, high pitched singers. When I was in Fandango there was a lot of Country influences there but at the same time the soul was there. I grew up singing in a Baptist church. I was passing this black church one day because we lived in the ghetto and I just walked in because they were all singing and they sounded so happy and I’m in the back of the church and they pointed me out – one of the most embarrassing and greatest moments of my life because they were like, ‘You’re the only white boy here and we hear you singing! You want to come up here and sing with the choir?’ They made me feel so comfortable and I went up and I went every Sunday to sing with that choir and I learned how to sing in group and I learned how to step out and take a solo and I learned how to step back in and I learned how to blend harmonies. It was the biggest lesson of my life, absolutely.
Geeks of Doom: Do you think a lot of modern rock singers would do well to encompass other genres and other influences rather than the nasally rock guy?
Joe Lynn Turner: Look, I’m not putting down anybody’s mutation in their own head voice or what have you but I’m just saying that my teacher showed me how to sing with your body. I stood there in lessons for a half hour, I was drenched in sweat like I was on stage for two hours, it was unbelievable. I didn’t even make a move! Because you’re singing with the muscular power of the diaphragm and you’re releasing the tight neck and a lot of singers [makes nasally noise] they wrench the neck and then they sing through here [gestures to his nose] and it gives them that silly tone.
Geeks of Doom: I just have one more thing to ask you: you’ve always been really busy, you have so many projects on the go, you’re constantly touring. When you hit sixty last year did you think it’s time to slow things down a little bit?
Joe Lynn Turner: Well I don’t surrender to age. I’m an organic freak, I’m a vitamin freak, I’m in the gym. I got to lose a few pounds because of my bad days. I had some bad days and you still carry that a lot of the time you know from the past but I’ve certainly cleaned up my act a lot and thank God to my wife; she’s a beautiful international Belarusian lawyer, absolutely stunning and she’s twenty-six years old so I got to keep up with her! … so I never thought of slowing down. I’ve got friends who are ten, fifteen years younger than me and they’re just surrendered to age…I still feel like I’m nineteen. Oh yeah, I know I’m not, believe me! I mean there are things your mind wants but your body can’t fulfill!
Geeks of Doom: Joe, thank you so much for your time.
Joe Lynn Turner: Thank you, I really appreciate it.