JOE LYNN TURNER
Classic Rock Revisited Interview 2003
Let's start with the latest happenings in the JLT camp. HTP has been released in the U.S.
HTP has finally been released in the U.S.
When was it released?
I guess as we speak, just a couple of days ago. It was originally released 9 months ago in Japan and Europe. We already toured it. We did eight weeks in Europe and like three weeks in Japan. It's on Shrapnel in the U.S.
How has the album done in other countries?
Well enough to make another one. They've recouped, made money, what have you. We've toured; it's been successful.
HTP Live in Tokyo will be released in the U.S. also.
Live in Tokyo is gonna come out in another month from now. Shrapnel took both of them as a package.
How long were you shopping the albums around to get a label that would release the albums in the U.S?
Oh, I gotta tell ya, it's been a nightmare. We went to CMC, Eagle Rock, Sanctuary and a whole bunch of places and we couldn't get arrested, could not get arrested. Meanwhile, they're doing the Warrants, the Poisons, all the hair bands, but at the same time it's like anything with true substance they weren't doing. We really couldn't understand because the record is outstanding and we were scratching our heads. We went where we were wanted: Europe, Japan, and South America. It's just that simple. Mike [Varney] always comes through. Mike is a great aficionado, which is how he made a dynasty out of Shrapnel; it's simply because he knows good shit when he hears it. He bought both packages and thankfully we can at least have that released in the states and people don't have to pay import prices. I know he doesn't do a shitload of advertising, but if you're in the stores, you can at least find it in most of the larger Towers and Virgins and all that.
What reasons were these other labels giving you for not signing the band?
No reason. No reason! The only thing my management could come up with - and he's a pretty astute guy - is the fact that they just wanted something very quick and easy that's already had a very high profile. HTP is actually a new project, regardless of [the fact] Joe Lynn Turner and Glenn Hughes are now hooked up, which is an absolutely newsworthy thing. People would really be interested in that. However, they don't see it that way. They're very cut and dried. There's no gray, it's all black and white. What they really wanted to do was like, "well, let's get Ratt again," and they made an awful album. And all this other shit; Warrant and whoever else and they pretty much failed with that too.
For those not familiar with HTP, what's the story behind you and Glenn putting together the band?
Well it actually happened in Japan. I was going over there to do promo work for a solo album called Holy Man. We were having sachi and sushi and stuff one night with my record company, Pony Canyon. They were saying, well who is gonna be in the band? I said, we know that we're gonna have the Japanese players because they're the great rock players of Japan. I said I need a white guy to sing in English, I need a bass playin' white guy. Greg Smith from Alice Cooper and Rainbow and everybody else, he was really tied up so I couldn't get him. So I says, you know what? I kind of told him half-jokingly, but half-serious, I said I'm gonna get Glenn Hughes and they laughed! I said, I'm serious, I'm gonna get Glenn Hughes. I looked at the time difference and I got on the cell, so I just went "bam!" and I called Glenn Hughes and he says at that moment, we'll work out all the details later but tell him it's a yes, I'm gonna do it. I got off the phone and their mouths hit the table. When we finally got over and played, the kids went crazy. They just couldn't believe it. I gave Glenn a spot where he was doing all his…ya know, "Seventh Star" from Sabbath, solo stuff, and Deep Purple stuff and all that. I gave him like a showcase spot; he's not just some bass player or singer. That went over incredible, so at the end of this Japanese tour, they were like, wow, this was fantastic, did you guys ever think about doing a record. Throughout our 20-odd year friendship, we wrote songs together, we demo'd songs together, we partied together, we did everything, but we never got real serious about it. This time we wanted to get serious. My manager went in and got the contract together and the rest is history. That's really how it was born.
Who do you think HTP will appeal to most?
Wow. I think it'll appeal to anybody who likes great music. Personally, we do come from the Deep Purple/Rainbow camp and all that stuff, but there is more to this music than just that. This really kind of tips its hat towards that direction, but it really has its own sound too and it really has its own direction, which is obviously coming from Glenn and I. Like my manager said, your solo album is straight rock, bluesy-based; Glenn does a little bit more articulating on this edge, a little more funky. You put that together and you can hear HTP. You gotta hear this record. We find that not only would it appeal to the core audience that we had before, but it also brought in other people who never even heard of us because there are some songs on there that just strike people right in the gut. It's like, wow, this is just great shit. At our concerts, we got young kids, our generation. These kids are into it and they know every word. It's wild to see them singing HTP songs.
You've got a bunch of Rainbow stuff on the Live in Tokyo release too.
You gotta do it! That's why our show live is so incredible because we're drawing from all of these avenues. We're doing some Sabbath, we're doing some Purple, his era, my era, Rainbow, all those hits. It's ridiculous. If you wanna hear the legends of classic rock, it's right up that alley.
You've got a new solo album coming out as an import in June. What's it called?
To make a long story short, it's simply called JLT. I had a whole bunch of different titles, song titles and other titles. I learned last time that if you have the wrong title at the right time or vice versa... I had my album called Slam, and that's when the 9/11 happened and it was a very dark album. There were songs like "Eye for an Eye," "Dark Days", "Slam," "Evil," "Cover Up," meaning conspiracy theory with the government and things like that. People were writing my web site going, "how did you know about this?" and "what are you, a prophet?" I'm like, far from it; I just look out my window and I look at the world. And yes, I am a conspiracy freak. I'm into the illuminati and secret societies and things like that; that's my hobby for the last 30 years. So I'm very adept and I do write about it. I am up on all the crimes that these presidents and administrators and Tony Blair and everybody else does, and the oil fields... I'm into that. So this album does come out at the wrong time with the wrong title and people were like, "uh uh, we don't need this." We don't want to recognize this any further than we have to. This album is just straight up rock n roll. I really wanted to keep it straight up rock n roll. There's a tip of the hat to Rainbow and Purple on one or two cuts, and then the rest of it is really blues-based hard rock, with the exception of a beautiful ballad, all scaled down; no big productions, but really solid playing and singing and writing. I call it more American rock in this respect because it's not so English, that gothic, Euro type sound. I've got shades of Grand Funk harmony and all that stuff, just my influences. There's one very Free type of cut called "Blood Fire" and it's really just very reminiscent of early Free. It's got a nice feel to it. Everybody I played it too said it's probably my strongest album yet.
How would you compare it to Slam, Holy Man and your earlier releases? Is it just more straight ahead?
Yeah, it's more straight ahead. I got a new friend writer that kinda added some fresh blood, which is really great. The guy is coming from the same school as me, blues rock and all that. So we hit it off fantastic. He co-wrote about half the album with me. We just went on a flurry of writing. And of course you've still got the old stand-bys, all the usual suspects as I call them. My friend Al Pitrelli on guitar co-writing stuff. We've got a whole bunch of guests. Joe Bonamassa, I'm not sure if you're aware of who he is yet.
Why do I know that name? He's a guitarist. Yeah, actually I reviewed one of his CDs.
You should have because he's a badass. I've known him ever since he was a kid. He's great.
You've got Al Pitrelli. You've got some industrial strength players.
Oh forget about it! Chris Caffery from Savatage plays a track. John O'Reilly on drums who played with Rainbow and BOC and you name it. I've also got Paul Morris from Rainbow on keyboards. Also a couple of new guys. I've got Pitrelli's wife playing piano on the ballad and on "Blood Fire" because she is amazing. Jane is amazing. She just had her own jazz album released. Everybody just came in and wanted to contribute. It's like when all your friends show up at a party and there is no negative vibes. It's just everybody you love and everybody just has fun together. It was just like that for 30 days straight.
You've been with Pony Canyon for quite a few years. I take it you're happy with the label then.
Oh, I can't even tell you how wonderful Pony Canyon is. Pony Canyon is like one of the old record labels that actually develops and nurtures their artists, whereas most of these labels, especially in the states, don't ever do that anymore. Even some of the newer bands that come out; the first album sells five million records, the second album one million, they drop them. What's up with that?! That's pretty fucked up, huh?!
Yes it is as a matter of fact.
That is just blatant greed. That's why I think the record companies shot themselves in the foot with all the Internet and everything else. It serves ‘em right for pulling this kind of greed and all this crap, screwing up the artists for all these years. Now finally it's almost like the revenge. My daughter's like 13 and she's downloading all kinds of great new bands and unsigned bands. There is some really fabulous music out there and we'll never hear it if we leave it up to the record companies.
At the risk of digressing, you have an interesting point. At least since I've been reviewing albums for webzines I've been absolutely amazed at how much good music there is out there that a lot of people will never hear and are on labels that people don't know about.
Well, you know why? It's because you're being spoon fed the crap that they sign and they promote, and as far as I'm concerned, they care not about content or integrity, it's all about, "will this evil-sounding bunch of shit sell to the kids." I think what they're doing in the end is creating generations after generations of fuck nuts. I mean these kids are going after all the wrong aspects of it. To me, in the old days rock n roll was about us against the world. Of course it was rebellion, but there was always a hope at the end of song. In other words, rock n roll was the thing that was gonna prevail, set you free, and beat all the corporate crap. But this is not. This is corporate crap. They have immersed themselves in corporate crap.
I assume that you would want to keep releasing both JLT and HTP albums. It's got to be a burden to do both at the same time, but I'm assuming it's something you really want to do.
Well, it does get a little cumbersome. I just finished 40 days in New York, ran down to Miami and did a corporate show down there, flew back up, had two days to pack, ran out here, then come up to West Hollywood, blah, blah, blah. At some point, you really feel like, "I'm burned man." I just need to rest; I just need to collect my brain. But it's always this way at this time of the year and however it happens I always get through it. I think the pressure adds to the creativity. When you're in that clutch situation, you gotta throw the ball and you throw that fuckin' ball man.
Of course, I can't let you go without asking a couple Rainbow questions. What was your initial reaction when you found out that you had gotten the Rainbow job?
They had called me out in Long Island. I took a train out there, living in Manhattan. I was looking around for gigs. The same old story prevails. I wasn't getting any gigs because I figured it out; I was better than the front guy that they were trying to promote. I was in the back line, singing and playing guitar and just being better than their front guy. Naturally, I'm not gonna outshine the star.
So I get this mysterious call from Ritchie - it was actually his roadie and then he put Ritchie on. I was like, "you're kidding!" So I get out there and start singing. They test me. They throw all these tracks up, they say can you sing melodies to this, do you have any lyrics. I had my writing bag with me, always, and guitar sack with me. And there I was. I was starting to sing things and make up melodies.
Then they say, well here's a song that we already have called "I Surrender" and I started to not only sing that song, but actually change some of the melodies, which they liked better than the Russ Ballard version. We never got credit for it because Russ would never concede, but that's ok. It did well for us. To make a long story short, as I'm doing the big backing harmonies, Ritchie comes in with a beer and says, "you want the gig?" I take the beer, clink his, and go, "yeah, I'd love the gig." We have a drink and I go, "I figured I had the gig since I'm already wiping out Graham Bonnet's vocals." I figured you weren't gonna do that unless you wanted this guy in the band. You covered your ass. I never went back to Manhattan for about two weeks. They just kept me out there. I had the clothes on my back, so we went out to some Army/Navy store and bought a bunch of t-shirts and jeans and I just stayed there. They put me in a hotel and that was it. They kind of kept me prisoner.
Out of all the songs you've done with Rainbow, which ones get the biggest crowd reaction?
Well obviously the more popular ones.
Ok, it's as simple as that.
I mean they're not necessarily the best songs or the worst songs, but they're the most popular songs. It's just a matter of promotion and advertising.
So it's just going to be "Stone Cold" and stuff like that.
Well no, actually, for example, in Europe, "Jealous Lover" was a B-side and it really climbed up the charts and became like an A-side. So "Jealous Lover," although it was a secondary song, became an "A" song instead of a "B" song. Over here it was "Stone Cold," "Street of Dreams," but over there you can have more obscure songs become popular. I didn't mean to mislead you in the sense of in America what's popular because those were more or less designed for the American audience hook, line, and sinker. And they did well; I'm not complaining. That was what we were going after at that time. If you play "Burn" and you play "Spotlight Kid" and stuff like that, they go nuts for that stuff.
Like many before me, I was curious what your personal favorite Rainbow songs were, but you'll probably tell me they are all your children and you love them equally, right? But I take it that you think some songs were in fact stronger than others.
Absolutely. Some children are stronger. Some children grow up to be right and others are losers. But you don't love them any less. Your mother loves all your brothers and sisters. What I'm saying is that you may be the shining star of the bunch or something. When people ask you that, it's kinda like saying am I supposed to pick this kid over that kid? Are there songs that I like, prefer to play, sing?
Any of that man. Go with it.
Well, first of all, it's fortunate that the popular songs here, like "Stone Cold" and "Street of Dreams" are great to sing and play. They're fabulous songs. Put a little more edge on ‘em, especially live and they happen to be really strong songs that are great to sing and play. Personally, I like a lot of the rockers. I like that up-tempo shit. But you can't have it all up-tempo because you need light and dark. That's why I got dubbed the king of the ballads. You've got to have that ballad in there for that release. Out of the Rainbow catalogue, I love "Spotlight Kid," even though that's a popular song. For example, "Tite Squeeze" off of Straight Between the Eyes, I love that song. Just a sexy low down riff and vocal. I think it's just so cool. It's the epitome of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. It's not a big message or anything and it's not saving the world, it's just talking to some bitch and trying to get laid. So hey, what's wrong with that?!
I always dug "Drinking with the Devil."
Yeah! See, there you go! It's one of my favorite songs and it's an absolutely true story. I was in the studio in Copenhagen and we were doing the records. The roadies came in all trashed up from the night before. They were really hung over, so I says, "where the hell were you, drinking with the devil?" Charlie looked at me and said: "is that a song?" And I said: "It is now." And I went and wrote this song about this whole thing because I've drank with the devil before. Literally, I made up this fictitious story about how he sits me down, puts another one in front of me, and says, c'mon man whatever you want. That's the life I was livin' at that point - a touch of the dark side, Aleister Crowley, the whole thing. So it really means a lot more than what you think. And of course, the end of it is, "you think you have your fill, but he sticks you with the bill." You pay for it; you pay for your shenanigans man. It's such a cool track though, right? [Imitates main guitar riff].
"Jealous Lover" was a favorite and we did it live on the HTP tour. Let me tell you, people dig that song because it's that whole funky dirty swaggering kind of beat. That's a funny story. Ritchie had sprung that one on me at a mobile recording stuido in Minneapolis/St. Paul on two days off. They brought in the Rolling Stones truck. The next thing you know, we're recording this riff. Ritchie had given me the wrong riff and I wrote a different song so he goes, "no, no, we're recording this riff," and I went, "dude, I wrote to the other riff" and I showed him the tape and he went, "oh fuck." I go, "you had a few beers that night?" And he goes, "oh fuck!" So I went in the back room and wrote about a fight I had with my girlfriend and that's how "Jealous Lover" came out. It was written in ten minutes and some of the best ones are written that way.
Did you like the Ronnie James Dio Rainbow material?
Oh yeah, actually I'm good friends with Ronnie.
I don't mean in any kind of a negative way, I was just wondering if you really dug the music from that period.
Well, let's put it this way. I'm not a dungeons and dragons guy. I'm as medieval as the next and know all about it, but I thought some of the bands that were really doing it... Look, Ronnie is still doing the same thing and going stronger than ever, so who the fuck am I to say what? But what I am saying is that I wanted to take the band away from the dragon thing and bring it into the sex, drugs, and rock n roll of the 80s, which was really what was happening then. I wanted to make them a bit more of a modern band, and Ritchie was all for it. I would still write mystical lyrics, "Eyes of Fire" and all kinds of things we had, but they weren't so "aaaarrrrggggghhhh," and dungeons and dragons kind of crap. It was more along the lines of mysticism and mystery, spiritualism, occultism, that kind of stuff we wrote about. I mean, "Drinking with the Devil" was a great way to introduce that dark side and yet keep it real street.
You're going on eight solo albums now. Are you still going for some of the same vibes, topically speaking?
Always. The same topics are gonna be throughout life because life is filled with these same topics. Whether it's music, art, religion, politics, government, philosophy, spiritualism, metaphysics, whatever - it's still your life. The only thing that changes from album to album is an emphasis or an observation. My autobiography is my music. If you want to know what I've seen, what I've done, where I've been, and what I think at any individual time, just pull out that record and you will see a reflection of me at that time. Good, bad or indifferent, that's the way it will be. It's really an experience thing. This particular new album has couple lust songs on it - the flesh is weak and temptation is real and everybody loves to do the dirty deal. It's got this whole invitation to indulge yourself in your sexual side. It's got another song called "Fantasize," which is again indulging yourself in your sexual side. I tried to keep it less political and kept it more personal. There's another song on there called "In Cold Blood" and that's all about some girl doing you wrong when she told you she loved you and she didn't. There is one that's very funny called "Jump Start my Love." I came home from the session one night and my old lady was really up for fooling around and I was dead dog tired, which is the lyric, and she just had the right gear on and I went for it. All of a sudden I became a brand new man. I wrote the lyric out of it. I said I'm gonna write about that night because everybody has those nights. So it's really street, very everyday.
I was reading the news on your website about "Pro Secrets of Heavy Rock" singing. Tell me about the book and your contribution specifically.
I was asked politely to answer some questions and do a short interview and I said sure. I found out some of the things that were gonna be in the book. They range from classic singers to alternative grunge, all that kind of stuff. Funny enough, I end the book; I guess he did it in alphabetical order. If you read the last part of the book, it's kind of one of these aphorisms that I used and it's pretty powerful stuff. To me, it was just coincidental how it ended on that note. What I'm trying to say is, I've read about how some of the other guys sing. A lot of it is the same with singers. [What some singers say] completely conflicts with what other singers say to do and what not to do. Then again, you have to look at who is the singer. If you're talking about Geoff Tate or me, or some singer from a grunge band or something, there is a different vocal style there - you're not trying to stay high and clear.
Are you still doing any of the voice over stuff?
Yeah. The industry has really slowed own due to the economy and stuff and they're using a lot of source music, which is just music that has already been instrumentally done. I've got a couple running still, a couple of jingles. I guess it's not dirty anymore to do jingles when you're Led Zeppelin.
Are there any you can mention?
Well, right now I'm not really sure which ones are out there. They come and they go - Gatorade, the Gillettes, this that. I have no idea what's really running because I don't watch regular TV. I just did the theme for the Yankees, which I'm real proud of. I've also got the Red Wings, "Hockey Town." I love that sports stuff. Right now there's this thing on HBO called "Crank" - coming out of Iowa and all the crank that's being manufactured and stuff like that. I'm the singer that's doing all the actual screaming in horror, very death metal stuff. Glenn Hughes is going [in British accent], "oh I saw this thing on crank on HBO and it was fantastic, unbelievable, and the music was great." I looked at him and said, "that was me."
There is clearly a significant number of fans out there that miss this style of classic melodic hard rock and metal, as especially evidenced in Europe. Just how much demand do you think there is in today's world for this style of music?
In the world? South America, completely; Europe, completely; Japan, overwhelmingly. Parts of Canada. The only place that is influenced extremely by the "television culture" is America. These kids are being brought up and brainwashed, mind controlled by all this crap. What I mean by that is they're only getting what the companies decide and that's not necessarily the best, the greatest, or any of that.
Why isn't that happening in other countries?
All our newscasters here are the same. That's not the way it is in Germany and France. Those are different countries all in the size of our country. They don't necessarily have the same commercials at the same time and the same news items. You can go to any of your major networks and it's the same fuckin' newscast. All they're doing is reading the goddamn news and they're reading what people are telling them. It's not the BBC. Go to the BBC and at least you'll get half the truth. Here you don't get any of the truth. If you look at America overall and you really break it down, you'll understand exactly what's going on and why. I've got a 13 year-old daughter, so I'm completely abreast of all the new bands. She's got every freakin' CD. She's into Good Charlotte and Sum 41 and AFI and bands like this. What I'm saying is she's not into death metal. She likes Gwen Stefani and Aerosmith and the Beatles, and she plays piano and guitar and sings, and all this stuff. So what I'm trying to say is that I'm on top of the shit. I know exactly what's going on. Sometimes I can't tell what singer is what because they all sound alike.
A lot of Creed stuff.
Well he sounds like everybody and everybody sounds like him. You tell me who these singers are. Nobody is identifiable anymore.
You've had a long career. What are the most important things you've learned about "making it" and lasting in this business?
I'll tell you number one. There's an old saying by Lord Buckley, the great American humorist. I had it on my wall as a kid. I thought I followed it to the letter then, but I interrupted it for a while when the fame and the money hit and all that kind of stuff; it really changes you and you struggle with it. The statement is, "the angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." Don't take yourself so seriously because too many people in this business and the movies and things, they really start believing their own press. They really start thinking they're God or that they're better than everybody else. Look, my philosophy was you were given a gift, so try to find the best outlet you can to do the work and to give something to the world, instead of just taking from it. Don't believe that you're some supreme being. You've just got to be a regular guy and find your inner peace and find your moment in time.
Scott Alisoglu, Classic Rock Revisited, June 2003