Joe Lynn Turner: Hitting It Straight Between The Eyes

By Jeb Wright

Joe Lynn Turner has been the lead vocalist for Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen and Deep Purple, as well as for his own solo career and side projects. Time has not shown any wear on tear on his pipes as he continues to blast out his past hits and new tunes with ease. Not only a gifted vocalist Turner is a talented wordsmith as well. And, back in the day, it didn’t hurt that he was easy on the eyes, which helped bring more female fans to Malmsteen and Rainbow than they had ever seen before.

Turner is a great talker and he tells it like it is, “If it’s on my lung, it’s on my tongue,” Joe admits. In fact, he knew that we did a good interview below as his no holds barred attitude makes this one a fun read and, according to Joe, ‘That is why Jeb loves me, because I don’t bullshit. I tell it like it is.”

In the interview below Turner discusses how jealous male fans made him out to be a homosexual and how one famous photographer even said his name was really Jolene! Turner also tells us why he thinks Ritchie Blackmore will never reform Rainbow and admits to singing jingles.

Joe’s latest release is the third in his Sunstorm series that he has released on Frontier Records. On this one, Joe sings some new songs but also takes time to sing some of the most famous songs that he appeared on as a background singer back in the ‘80’s, including songs by Michael Bolton and Cher.

What follows is an interesting read that will help Joe’s fans take peek into his past present and future. Â@


Jeb: You recently released the third in your Sunstorm series. Give me a brief overview of how you began this project.

Joe: I had some leftover material from the ‘80’s, I actually still do, and I got a call from the owner of Frontiers Records and he said that he wanted to do an album with some of my leftover songs and then bring in some outside writers to fill up an album. It was a project to finish my demos and get them out all over the world.

Jeb: How did he know of your demos?

Joe: One drunken evening someone took a cassette of about fifteen songs out of my hotel room. It made its way onto a CD and then it was bootlegged all over. It is quite funny that Frontiers heard that. On this Sunstorm album, I don’t have any of those old songs on this album, as I was in Turkey for six weeks and I didn’t have a hard drive. I had no access to my stuff. We decided that we would do these songs that I did with Michael Bolton and Cher. I sang backgrounds on these albums back in the 1980’s. We decided to start with that and then bring in some outside writers and make another album. It really came out great.

Jeb: The last interview we did started out with a story of a leather jacket being stolen. Now this time it is a cassette of your demos. Joe, you need a guy to watch your shit while you’re out on the road.

Joe: It happens to a lot of people. You get in this business and you start to trust people and you think they are cool. Then, the next thing you know your leather jacket it gone. What are you going to do?

Jeb: Michael Bolton was not always a pop star. He used to be a rock guy.

Joe: He was a rock and roller. He was in a band called Black Jack. Lou Gramm was in a band called Black Sheep at the same time. We would play all up in New York and New Jersey. We all played the same bars. We were rockers but we were all very soulful. I strayed a bit when I went with Ritchie but I was still singing rock and soul even in that band.

Jeb: You were on Bolton’s album The Hunger. Is it true you guys sang jingles?

Joe: Michael and I knew each other a long time. We were hanging out in the bars and there was this lady there that owned one of the jingle agencies. I had just come off of a Rainbow tour and I didn’t want to sing jingles. Michael told me that I needed to understand more about it because it was really popping back then. Michael was the Budweiser guy and the Gillette guy and they needed another manly voice, and that ended up being me. When Michael became a superstar then he handed the baton over to me and I did all of that stuff.

At this time, I was writing songs with Jon Bon Jovi and Desmond Childs. Jon left and Desmond said, “I need to go do a session. Do you want to come and do some backgrounds?” I didn’t even know it was a situation where I was going to be paid. I just said, “Sure, why not.” It ended up it was Cher. I got to work with her.

It was a really small world back then. We were just big fish in a small pond. There were more clubs and more kinds of venues back then. Back in the day it didn’t matter if we were playing at a school dance, we played and we sang. We just wanted to get better. I think that is why there was so much more talent in those days.

Jeb: I have to ask you this, Joe. I like you and I like your music but Joe Lynn Turner used to get a lot of shit back in the day for being too pop to be in a hard rock band. Aren’t you fanning those flames by putting Michael Bolton and Cher songs on an album?

Joe: You know what, that was a load anyway. I did the biggest selling records for both Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen. Those were not pop records. They just had good music on them and good writing on them. What pisses me off about that whole time is that “Since You’ve Been Gone” is one of the most poppy songs of all time. I will not play that song today. Rainbow didn’t have any of that garbage on it when I was in the band. You can quote me on this: The fans that say that sort of thing, honestly, don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. I don’t give a shit. I’ve got more crap about that. I look back and listen to “Since You’ve Been Gone” and hear those clap claps and I say, “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

Jeb: The people that were giving you shit were probably cranking that song up.

Joe: They were listing to that and I was playing “Stone Cold” and they called me a pop singer [laughter].

Jeb: Do you think part of it was that you were not a bad looking guy.

Joe: I think most of it was because chicks loved me. These punters hated me. You are absolutely right. All of the guys hated me because all of the girls loved me. There is jealousy in every business, as you know. In this business, there is a ton of jealousy and ego. I have been told that radio stations wouldn’t play my records because chicks loved me so much. What happened next was that they started calling me a fag. Give me a break. Here I am having a great old time with the girls and I couldn’t believe that they were calling me a fag. To be rude, it was like you calling me a fag after I had just fucked your wife.

Jeb: You were also being called Jolene at the time.

Joe: Oh, that was a huge Dolly Parton record. Ross Haflin was calling me that. You just wait till my book comes out. I have some great stories about Ross. Shakespeare had a great quote. He said, “Me thinks thou protests too much.” You know that is the sort of thing that homophobics do. If there were homosexual experiences then I can tell you that it wasn’t me.

Jeb: I love Dio era Rainbow.

Joe: I love Dio era Rainbow too.

Jeb: I didn’t see where you were trying to do anything overtly pop. It would have been much worse if you had tried to copy the Dio era stuff. I saw Ritchie as trying to stay current but still be a hard rock band. The album between Dio and you had Graham Bonnet on it. It was okay but it is not a Rainbow album I go back and listen too that often.

Joe: It was the one album that most people who are Rainbow fans don’t like. It is the album with “Since You’ve Been Gone” on it. I follow it up with “I Surrender” and “Stone Cold” which are both great rock songs; not pop songs. We sold millions of albums. Einstein said, “I don’t know which is greater: The infinite universe or the infinite stupidity of mankind.” I think it is the latter.

Jeb: It was a very smart move at the time. Foreigner, Boston and bands like that were having success. Straight Between the Eyes is a great album with some of those elements but it is not a copycat record.

Joe: It is its own thing. It was done very well and millions of people agreed with us. For every fan we lost, we picked up five. Ritchie certainly went all the way to the bank with it.

Jeb: I am not a Cher fan but I wonder if, as a vocalist, you have a wider range of musical styles than most hard rock fans.

Joe: These were paid gigs and you have to realize that I was rubbing elbows with some big stars of the day. I was making contacts and singing with guys like Hall & Oates. I even sang on Don Johnson’s record, which is really hilarious, but he paid me way too much money not to sing on it. Bon Jovi once told me, “We are all whores but now we are just negotiating on price.” I don’t give up my principals but for a few extra greenbacks you start to go, “You know what, I’m a singer. This is what I do. I am a professional singer. I am paid to be good.”

Jeb: There is a double standard for musicians and singers. Steve Lukather can play on everyone’s albums, even Thriller, and he is in a pop band called Toto but all of the guitar players in the world still worship him. If a singer does it, like you, then you’re a sell out.

Joe: It is a triple standard; it is ridiculous. I used to be really angry about this but I really let go of it. I may sound pissed off but I am just getting excited about it. The truth is that I really couldn’t give a flying rat’s ass about it.

Jeb: On the new Sunstorm album, I have to tell you that your pipes sound great. How have you kept singing at this level all of these years?

Joe: I don’t know, man. I can’t tell you. People ask me that but I don’t know. Every time I get up I don’t know if its still there. You just wake up and start singing and thank the Lord that it is still there. I stopped doing all of the bad things that I used to do. Even when I did do all of the bad things I knew when to stop partying and start working; that is one of the things that Ritchie loved about me. I would never screw around on the mike; I would get down to business. I think Ritchie respected that about me.

Jeb: I wish Ritchie would let his wife take a year off. He could send her to a spa or something and he could put the band back together.

Joe: Did you say, “Give the wife a year off?” That is funny. It really is a shame, though; as I know he wants to do that, in his heart.

Jeb: Do you think it will ever happen?

Joe: No, I think they’ve got him right by the balls. He’s trapped. He’s mind fucked. He just can’t seem to see daylight. To me, I watched Ritchie go through three or four wives when I was with him. I saw the same pattern in everyone that he married. I am not putting Blackmore down; I am just saying that it is not going to happen. It is all going to be in the book.

Jeb: You recorded a song with Blackmore’s Knight.

Joe: I did a version of “Street of Dreams.” I did an acoustic version of it on my album Undercover. I think that is a great song and I thought we did a great version. It was back when his band was pretty new.

Jeb: Bent Out of Shape was a good hard rock album but some people really got bent out of shape over this era of the band?

Joe: You tell me. I don’t get it. Tell me what is wrong with that album.

Jeb: Talk about “Can’t Let You Go.”

Joe: Ritchie had this idea to put this piece in front of the song by a German composer. One day we just knocked it out. We just had a moment. It was really a well put together and perfect type of song. We had chills when we listened back to it. We knew we had a classic song when we heard the tape played that.

Jeb: Storm Thorguson from Hygnosis directed that video.

Joe: They were all over those videos, good or bad. The video was based on the movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Ritchie played the doctor in the video; he wore that top hat. It was kind of like Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. By day, he was a doctor, but by night, he would go out into the night, find woman and bring them back to the lab and, boom; it was scary and gross.

I was the alter ego of the doctor. I was a zombie. He created me but the zombie had him inside of him. We loved it. At the time we were into very dark and heavy things like Aleister Crowley – which we will not repeat again. We knew the entire story would be our little secret, as we knew no one would ever research it and see it was based on this movie from 1920.

Jeb: Why was the video to “Street of Dreams” banned?

Joe: That was unfortunate. The band never wanted to do videos. We were on tour and they called us up and they found some basement that we had to go crawl around in. They took some video of that and then they had this professor hypnotize this girl and do that stuff. We had nothing to do with any of that; we were just crawling around a basement for about a half a day and then we were back on tour. It was such a cheap shot. Ritchie hates videos. Video killed the radio star, right?

We even won an award for “Can’t Happen Here.” It won a Gold Medal for animation infused with real video at the Cannes Film Festival. I got a call backstage and I am sweating and wiping myself down with a towel, as it was after a performance and they told me we had won. I told the guys that we won an award and they all said, “Oh fuck off.” I just looked at the phone and said, “Fuck off” and I hung the phone up.

We were nominated for a Grammy. I have it in my guest bathroom. When you’re taking a pee you can look up from the toilet and see our Grammy nomination. We were never into awards. The one good thing I can say about that band is that we were not full of ourselves. The egos were massive but we were not full of ourselves.

Jeb: To quote Joe Perry, “Let the Music Do the Talking.”

Joe: We really did let the music do the talking; that really was our credo. I respected that and I was very happy to be a part of that.

Jeb: Let’s go through the songs on Straight Between the Eyes. The first one is “Death Alley Driver.”

Joe: That video was on MTV. We were in that graveyard. We brought the drums and amps and everything to the graveyard. What got me was that one video, “18 and Life” and there were people shooting each other and our video got banned on MTV. Murder is okay but do not go into a graveyard! I think there really were a lot of dark forces chasing us around, I really do.

Jeb: What was that song about?

Joe: That song was about drug runs on 1 and 9. Springsteen wrote about Highway 9. That highway goes all the way through from the pier to New York. That song, I wrote about going on a drug run on Highway 9. I was with a friend, who I found out I really didn’t know that well. I ended up in this place where there were all these machine guns. This guy was a doctor that was brought in to analyze the cocaine that was coming in from Columbia. There were pounds of it. I stood there and I was thinking, “What did you get me into to?” He was all coked out and I was like, “Get me outta here.” I was sweating bullets. I wrote the song about that.

Highway 9 is a crap highway. It is a two lane highway about as wide as an alley but it was the run where you went to get the Columbian blow, which was the best blow around.

Jeb: “Stone Cold.”

Joe: I have a really good story on that one. We were out on the first tour and Roger had been left by his wife for a famous race car driver – it will all be in the book. He was very, very broken up over it. I looked in his room and I said, “Rog, let’s go to the bar.” He looked up at me and he had crying eyes.” I said, “What happened?” He just looked at me and said, “She just stone cold up and left me.” I knew there was a song there. I ran back to my room and started writing the lyrics. It didn’t come to fruition until we got the music.

Ritchie would record a bunch of tracks and Roger and I would go through them and we would find the song and then we would teach it back to Ritchie. All Ritchie would do is jam on music and then we would take these pieces of music and make songs. We would then rehearse the song and work it all out.

Later on, we were in the studio and it was totally a cold and snowy place. We were across from the studio and in between us was this little lake. Roger said, “Let’s go across the lake to the studio.” It was frozen over. We started walking across the lake. We didn’t think anything of it because we had been playing hockey on it. All of the sudden we started hearing cracks. We looked at each other and we lay on our stomachs and sort of swam across the ice and snow until we got to the other side.

We get to the studio and this front comes in and we are in this blizzard. I am singing “Stone Cold” during this storm. I actually looked out of the studio as I was recording and looking at this blizzard and that is when I sang, “Put me in the deep freeze.”

Jeb: “Bring on the Night (Dream Chaser)” to me, has you all over that song.

Joe: Ritchie wrote the music and Roger had a part during the B section but the lyrics are all about me. It is all about trying to get into this business. All of those verses were about me.

Jeb: “Tite Squeeze” is more just like a song built around a riff.

Joe: Blackmore was making all of those great riffs. It is a great track. There was a lot of magic going on during those days.

Jeb: I was not into “Tearing Out My Heart.” I thought it was a bit predictable.

Joe: Some people have told me that it is their favorite song on the album. I always give license to people’s opinion. The song went over great in concert. The song had a lot of drama.

Jeb: “Power” is a killer song.

Joe: We got ripped on that song because everyone said it was too commercial. That song was the concert favorite. Everyone was up off their seats and screaming “Power.” I knew it would be that way when I wrote it. It is an autobiographical song. I was indulging myself to myself.

Jeb: “Miss Mistreated” was a title very close to the Coverdale Deep Purple era song “Mistreated.” Did you anticipate people getting riled up about that?

Joe: That is why we did it. Ritchie was very into shoving things up other people’s asses from afar. It didn’t matter if it was Gillan or Coverdale or whoever. I remember telling him, “I have this lyric called ‘Miss Mistreated’.” He said, “Well, we’ve already got one called ‘Mistreated.’” I said, “I know, but this one is ‘Miss Mistreated.’ It is more like who’s mistreating who?” Ritchie loved it and he said, “That is great. Let them suck on that for a while.”

Jeb: “Rock Fever” should have been a hit.

Joe: It was another concert favorite and it is another Blackmore/Turner song. Ritchie would write these riffs and I would take over and tell him, “We’ve got to be more mainstream, Ritchie. We can’t just keep writing about dragons.” We wrote about spiritual things like ghosts but we started writing about things that people on the street could relate too. It went over huge in concert. We were designing these songs for the live performance. It should have been a hit but in those days there was a lot of pay for play going on. There still is.

Jeb: “Eyes of Fire.”

Joe: That is one of my wife’s all time favorite songs. I was in this very, very exclusive bar that was right across from the studio. I was across the bar from this very, very beautiful woman. I could see her looking at me in the mirror. In the mirror it really looked like her eyes were glowing. Okay, maybe I had a couple of beers but it was really weird. I ended up talking to her and she was a designer from Montreal. I have always wondered if she even knows she was the inspiration for that song.

Jeb: What else is going on with you?

Joe: We are starting to get some radio play with this Sunstorm album in America. I know there are a lot of internet radio stations but Lisa Walker, who set up this interview, showed me a list of actual radio stations that are playing my song in America. Frontiers have a new rep over here and the owners are coming to the States more often and they are pushing it. I never expected anything from Sunstorm so this is great. The album really came out well.

Jeb: Any solo dates coming up?

Joe: There is a rock opera that I wrote a number of years ago that I am working with Tribeca Films, which are Robert DeNiro’s people. It is about Galileo. Nobody knows that Galileo invented the telescope and that he was a drunken womanizer. He was a rock star for his time. He proved the earth revolved around the sun and he survived the Inquisition. We are hoping to get something going with it. There are songs written for the thing and we are feeling it out.

I am going out on tour in Norway, Turkey, Russia and a lot of other places in April. We are doing two boy’s nights out here in Jersey. I am playing one of my favorite little rock places here called Dingbats. It only holds a couple hundred people and your feet stick to the floor from all the beer spills. I think that is total rock and roll. Backstage is a hallway and a toilet and that is it. We are doing a place called Ollie’s Place in Long Island. It is just a club and is nothing special but it is a boy’s night out weekend and will be a ton of fun to play.

Jeb: Where is Over the Rainbow at?

Joe: Over the Rainbow is on hiatus. I have given them permission to look for another singer. The cost of traveling was too high because these guys are bringing all of this equipment. I would just show up with my microphone. Over the Rainbow was my idea. I cut everybody in equally and tried to be a nice guy about it but it got out of hand. I decided that I just didn’t want to put up with anymore of that shit.

Jeb: Last one: When is the book coming out?

Joe: [laughter] I have picked out a writer, although I went through a few before him. I was going to use the guy who did Glenn Hughes’ book but he didn’t work out because he wants too much money.