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Joe Lynn Turner

Joe Lynn Turner missed the memo.

The missive instructed all frontmen to go grunge and fly the flannel. It promised big bucks for faux angst, payoff for selling off. But Turner drew the line.

"I could never understand why some of the great vocalists chased that trend," says Turner.

Of course, the aforementioned memo never existed. But it may as well have. The quest for relevance has led countless crooners to disavow hard rock in the pursuit of profit. What they failed to consider was the fleeting nature of pop culture. Today's Radiohead is tomorrow's Right Said Fred.

"Great rock and roll is timeless," says Turner, whose storied career is legend. Plucked from obscurity to front Rainbow in 1980, Turner left an already successful Fandango. The Jersey act released four albums and packed clubs at the snap of its fingers. But a single phone call changed everything.

"When Ritchie Blackmore calls, you don't hang up," laughs Turner, whose seductive singing reshaped Rainbow's epic metal. Gone was Ronnie James Dio's mystic melodrama; in its place were gritty vignettes of everyday life - odes to wine, women and song that, while radio-friendly, retained street cred. "The music still rocked, but in a different way," says Turner, who recorded three studio releases before the ride screeched to a halt when Rainbow disbanded in 1984.

You've played with many virtuoso musicians, but do you find vocalists overshadowed by sharing stages with the Ritchie Blackmores and Yngwie Malmsteens of the world? It can't be easy wrapping lyrics around those time changes and instrumental breaks.

Yeah, but my new solo album's a return to hard rock blues. I tried to make a good, positive vibe on the album that's true to myself. It's the first time that (Classic Rock magazine writer) Dave Ling gave me four-and-a-half stars.

Blackmore once told me if you believe a good review, you've got to believe the bad review. So what's the point? I can't be making music for myself alone. That would be masturbatory. I make music for the people.

So it's making music for fans while remaining true to yourself?

Exactly.

Let's talk Rainbow. What made Ritchie pick you? Up to that point, Rainbow as a dark, gothic metal band with Ronnie James Dio on vocals.

Ritchie was after a different sound. I tried to inject my bluesy vocal style over the heavy riffs. Not only with Ritchie, but with Yngwie, too, who's a bit more studied. You got this marriage when "Stone Cold" came out. The reaction was, "Wow, here's a soulful rock band but harder than Bad Company, more commercial than Foreigner," etc.

Did you fight with Ritchie to recast the band with a more straightforward rock sound?

No, not at all. Listen to the Down To Earth album. "Since You've Been Gone" was really bluesy. Then when I joined, you had "I Surrender." Russ Ballard wrote some great stuff, so to make a long story short, they were looking for a more commercial sound. Graham (Bonnet) had a more commercial voice, anyway (than Dio). So Ritchie was looking for a more commercial sound by the time he found me.

If you listen to Straight Between The Eyes and Bent Out Of Shape and ... the one before Straight Between The Eyes...

Difficult To Cure.

Yeah.

Difficult To Remember?

(laughs) But my point is that you'll hear it sounds a lot more rock, but it's commercial at the same time.

Let's go back to the beginning. You fronted Fandango and had quite a solid following. What led to the Rainbow gig?

Ritchie heard of me through the Fandango records. A friend of his did, actually. He turned him onto Fandango and Ritchie was listening to "Blame It On The Night" off the Cadillac record. They called me up when I was down on my luck. I was living in this studio apartment with a mattress on the floor, the whole bit. I had a guitar strapped to my back. I play guitar, but I've played with the biggest guitarists in the world. I am the only guitarist ever to play with Ritchie Blackmore on stage so I have that claim to fame.

So how did you get the gig?

I got this phone call. I said, "Is this the I.R.S.?" This guy says, "My name's Barry, and I'm standing next to Ritchie Blackmore and he wants to talk to you." I said, "Yeah, right. Put him on then." So he puts him on: (performing a performs Blackmore impression) "Hello, mate! This is Ritchie. What's up?"

Great impression!

Yeah. He says, "I'm a fan of yours." I said, "I'm a fan of yours!" So he says he wants me to audition for Rainbow. I said I thought Dio was singing. The next thing you know, I'm going down to Long Island and singing "I Surrender" and that was it.

Was it a shock when Rainbow broke up in the mid-'80s?

Not at all. I knew they (Deep Purple) were putting together the Perfect Strangers record. You have to understand that Deep Purple was my favorite band in the world. I also love Free and Bad Company, not so much Sabbath. Ozzy's not that great a singer.

I knew that (the Deep Purple reunion) was happening, and I was on my way out but with the promise to reform after a Purple record or two. Then the shit hit the fan with them. We reformed and the jealousy started with the other guys. The other guys wanted Gillan and Ritchie wanted me.

So why the separation?

The label told Ritchie they'd give him $1 million to get Gillan back and finish this record.

Ritchie sold you out?

I said, "No problem." I was ready to quit.

How did working with Ritchie compare with working with Yngwie?

Ritchie is a song guy. He only plays leads because he has to. He only plays music because he wants to play soccer (laughs). But he wrote songs. Not to say I didn't write songs with Yngwie. We were a fantastic combination.

A. Lee Graham, The Electric Basement 26 August 2003 (edited)

 

You can read the complete interview here: