By Carol Anne Szel
Joe Lynn Turner. The name is synonymous with the sound that any singer would hope to attain. His career spans the course of 30 years and includes 70 album credits and remains one of today’s most distinctive vocalists.
His first band Fandango garnered success in 1976 touring with The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, The Beach Boys, and Billy Joel, and after they split a few years later from their stint with RCA, Joe Lynn met Richie Blackmore.
He did a stint as front man for Richie Blackmore’s band Rainbow, and later on vocals with superstar band, Deep Purple. Turner has, without a doubt, earned his reputation as the soul/rock singer that is bar-none.
In November of this year Joe Lynn Turner released the debut CD for a new project entitled Rated X, with an all star lineup including Turner, drummer Carmine Appice, bassist Tony Franklin, and guitarist Karl Cochran.
I met up with Joe Lynn to talk about legends, legacy, rock and roll, the past, and his future.
Carol Anne Szel: What were your top five musical inspirations?
Joe Lynn Turner: Well, I’d have to say Jimi Hendrix number one, I’m just a big Hendrix freak. I love the band Free with Paul Rodgers as vocalist. Led Zeppelin of course. Black Sabbath and Deep Purple I would have to say. I’d say Zep and Deep Purple are neck and neck.
CAS: What was it like then when you were in Deep Purple? That must have been a trip for you.
JLT: Yeah, it was pretty much a dream. When I got the call from Richie to come up and audition for them, I just went ‘oh, this is incredible!’ I mean at that time I had two different offers. One from Foreigner and one from Bad Company. So it was really amazing at that point, I was riding a wave so to speak. I thought I know Rodger really well and I know Richie really well, so I went up and auditioned for them – it was the first time I met John and Ian. And I was in the band right there and then. It was amazing. It was probably my best choice to stay in the family.
CAS: At what age did you start to get involved in music?
JLT: Early, early on. I can’t remember when I wasn’t. My family was very, very musical. I can remember being three years old… and my mom had pictures of us and stuff at weddings and me trying to sing and dance. And then of course I grew up, and my family was very musical. Oh, my grandfather, my grandmother, you know on both sides of our family were very musical. My uncle actually taught me to play guitar and sing. He was a big country artist. Like the old country, Merle Haggard and all that stuff. And of course my grandfather played the accordion, so I started playing the accordion at six or seven years old! They had a mini one made, of course, because I was only six or seven!
That’s what I started on, and then when I grew up it started to become a very un-sexy instrument! The Beatles had just come out and my dad bought me a beat up old Acoustic guitar to play. So I took the book, put a couple of fingers down on the frets, and the next thing I knew I was making better music than he was! So all of the sudden I became a guitar player.
Guitar is my first love. I became a singer by accident!
CAS: How did that happen?
JLT: You know, local bands and everything like that I went through. And I was the guitar player, background singer. I was in a band called The Other Side and the lead singer, I guess he was drinking too much or something; he was throwing up and everything. So somebody had to take over. So I stepped up to the mic and started singing and playing guitar of course. And people started coming up to the front of the stage and I said “woah, maybe we’ve got something here.” (Laughing). So I said, okay so I’ll take over here and play lead guitar and sing lead vocals.
CAS: I know everyone says you’re an amazing guitar player.
JLT: Yea, there’s actually, if you go on my Facebook right now there’s a link to these unknown Fandango videos that were done, this is going back man. But you’ll see me singing lead and playing guitar with Fandango. Pretty cool band. You know we had five-part harmonies. Like the Eagles but we rocked more. It’s cool; you can get a taste of it.
CAS: Who did you model your singing after?
JLT: Well I grew up on R&B, I grew up on R&B music. When I was very young I would sing with the big black guys in the park drinking Ripple wine. And I would always take the high parts because I was young and my voice hadn’t changed yet. And they would take me to the Apollo Theater in New York City. And I was like the only white kid there, and I saw all the greats from James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, I could go on and on! It really was amazing. They protected me.
I grew up in a ghetto you know, in New Jersey, definitely an R&B town down there. So that’s how I started singing.
CAS: I’m out on Long Island, I know Jersey well.
JLT: Oh cool, when I first got into Rainbow I took a train out to Long Island, I was living in the Village on the West side of Greenwich Village, and I was down on my luck and the next thing I knew I was sleeping on the floor on a mattress in a one studio room with roaches and all that stuff. And I got a phone call from a very nice guy, Barry Ambrosio who has since passed from cancer. But he was Richie’s personal assistant, and he called me and said look do you like Rainbow, do you like Deep Purple, and I didn’t know this guy. And somehow he got my phone number. And I started to say, what are you the IRS, what’s going on here??? So he said, “well I’m standing here with Richie Blackmore, he’d like to talk to you.” And I was thinking which one of my friends was pulling my leg! And that’s how I got it, Richie just got on the phone and it was boom, boom, boom come out to the studio. And as I was singing he came in and said, “You got the job.”
CAS: You went from sleeping on the floor to getting the job in Rainbow! How incredible.
JLT: Yea, so here we go. They wouldn’t let me leave Long Island and go back to New York City, so I said “well I have to go back and buy some clothes.” And he said no, we’d buy some new ones! Really. So he put me up in a hotel right there, and I didn’t leave Long Island for like a month or something, until we finished the record! We were in Syosset actually; it was called Syosset Sound Studio.
CAS: So you’re living back in Jersey again now?
JLT: You know I’m a Jersey kid anyway. I’ve actually lived all over the world for a while, and I had to come back home. My mom passed a while ago and all that kind of stuff. And actually it was going to be temporary here, I was living in Turkey on the sea… and I totally miss it because it’s just beautiful. So we came back here and we took this luxury apartment… but to make a long story short we’re here four years! We never left!
CAS: What comes first for you, lyrics, melodies, music?
JLT: It all depends. You know sometimes you’ll get a lyric. And I have what Richie always calls my Magic Book. Because we’ll write a riff or something and he’ll say ‘go look and see if you have anything to match this.’ Just like the Beatles did, we like to put music that corresponds to the lyrical idea. Sometimes I’d have a lot of lyrical ideas and I’d say ‘let’s try this one.’ Some of them worked, some of them didn’t, some of them became classics, and some are still here. So it’s hit and miss. But in the writing process I think most people will say it’s a combination of any of the three at the same time. Kind of like it can happen in magical ways. There’s no one method.
Unless someone has a track or an idea and they say here’s some music, then I sit with it and I go through my book and if there’s nothing there then I start writing it, and that’s how it is.
Otherwise, like when I was with Malmsteen, we’d sit around drinking … and we’d go ‘okay you write this, I’ll write that’ and that’s what we’d do. It was a good exercise. It is so cool because some of the best things come out that way. And I like to speak to everything from the political to spiritual, déjà vu and all that. About souls. Because I’ve had experiences in my life where I know I’ve been in places, and I know I’ve known people like a soul mate. That kind of level. It is deep, but that’s what art’s supposed to be. And of course love is always a good topic!
CAS: The thirty years and seventy album credits, like you said playing with all these superstar musicians, what do you most credit with your success?
JLT: Well as I’ve said I have been in all kinds of bands, Fandango for example that had four records on RCA but never went anywhere. But Richie really gave me a leg up, I always credit him for that, I respect and thank him for that because he saw the potential in me and took me under his wing. He taught me the ropes in the big time. And I still credit him for that and respect him for that. We still have a great respect, we had magic together. We had a great run. That situation really put me on the world stage.
CAS: How would you classify your sound?
JLT: I think vocally I’m rock and soul. But not the Glen Hughes type, he goes really deep into the soul. And my dad always told me ‘don’t black it up too much because you’re still a white guy doing your thing to a white audience.’ And on a business level, or even on an artistic level, that’s pretty true. And I remember those words. He actually used the N-word, not in a derogatory way, but he’d just say ‘Don’t Nigger it up.’ He said, ‘because you are appealing to a white audience.’ And I said you’re totally right. Because there’s more prejudice in music in black and white than there is anywhere I’ve noticed. Except now it’s kind of crossing boundaries.
Now, for example, Lou Graham who I love was also a friend of mine and we have a similar style. Because it was coming off that Paul Rodgers style. The first time I heard Paul Rodgers I thought he was a black man until I saw a picture. I really did. He’s got that thick, chunky, sexy phrasing and everything. And so that’s where my style came from.
I grew up on that black rhythm and blues. And so that’s basically where I keep myself. Although I’ve learned to sing rock as well. You know there’s a learning process to doing that. The learning process in the sense that. For example when I was with Rainbow, Richie wanted me to do more pointed tones. Operatic almost, very operatic. You know that whole big thing. Now I’m using more of a growly voice at times, but still clean. And on this new Rated X cd I found a new tinder which is complimentary and works with the music. So I grew up with country, with jazz on the guitar, and jazz singers. So my influences were vast and wide. So when I teach at the School of Rock or anything, I always tell the kids number one, never limit yourself to what you can do. If you’re playing drums pick up a guitar, you never know you might be able to play it! You know as I said I never was a singer and I found out I’m a singer and now I’m known as a singer. Things can turn around. So don’t limit yourself, take your influences and use them wisely. And try to listen to all kinds of music so you’re well rounded. And I think that’s what keeps me more than one-dimensional as a singer or a player.
CAS: So alright, tell me about Rated X. I’m so excited about the new band.
JLT: So Rated X is a band that (they said) we really need to highlight your vocals. And I said cool, okay. And as you know nowadays the time of selling cds is over, and the only way we can make money is to play on the road. So I’ve been on the road a lot. I’m fortunate that people still want to see me. You know I’m out there in Europe mostly. The money’s not here so I go where I’m welcomed. I mean you’re wanted there, you go there. So I’m on the road a lot. I came home for a couple of weeks for some rn’r
We wanted this to be a band, not just a project for us. We wanted a band with seasoned players, with lack of ego, lack of BS and all that. And these are all seasoned professionals and they’re great guys.
None of us were ever in the same room as each other, and yet it’s done like live. And that’s the mark of proficient musicians. Professionals. Most of the people are in the studio a couple of months to do that, and we just did it separately and in our spare time!
There are no production tricks on this record. It’s all clean and live like there’s a player playing. It’s really deep in that sense, you listen and you hear what good players there are. You really appreciate that but yet it really comes together as one unit.
CAS: And finally, what would you like to tell your fans out there?
JLT: I always tell them that I love them. For all their love and support all these years, all the faith they put into me. My real fans never let me down.
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