Joe Lynn Turner
|JOE LYNN TURNER
JLT, Hughes Turner Project II (HTP2)
Shrapnel, MTM Music
by Todd K Smith
Born Joseph Linquito in Hackensack, New Jersey, the lanky teen with a voice for soul found his only road to salvation in the pews of his local Baptist church. “I was born Catholic but every time I walked by the Baptist church on the way to mass those ‘Hallelujahs, Praise The Lord’ choruses sucked me in,” says Joe Lynn Turner when we called him to talk about HTP2 and JLT - two versatile yet monster rock records from one of classic rock’s finest voices. “My first band was with ‘Filet Of Soul’ with J.T. Taylor. It was four black guys and me, the only white guy, on guitar. Man, we had all the Temptation moves down, the spins, the kicks, the harmonies. We even dressed alike.”
It didn’t take long for Linquito to figure out his calling in life. Several band’s later (after J.T. Taylor of ‘Filet Of Soul’ went on to join Kool and The Gang) Joe was playing guitar and singing harmonies in Ezra a Deep Purple cover band when the band’s lead singer couldn’t make the gig. Says Turner, “I stepped up to the mic and started singing and all of a sudden all these people started gathering around the front of the stage. It was wired at first but I realized they were responding to my voice. The next song was a ballad and so I went for it. By the time I was done these girls in the front were crying. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had done but I knew there was something special there.”
After a brief stint as an English Literature teacher following college, Linquito adapted the stage name of Joe Lynn Turner. His Italian good looks, a silky smooth voice and the ability to play several styles of guitar from country to blues to soul to rock landed him a spot with the Long Island pop band Fandango. “Ricky Blackemore (Fandango’s guitarist and head songwriter) was like the brother I never had,” says Turner. “He really guided me. When we got signed to RCA (1977) the record company made me the front guy. I had no idea where to put my hands I was a guitar player. Suddenly I’m out there without a guitar, nowhere to hide. Ricky showed me what to do.”
Fandango made four records for RCA. The writing was scattered but had occasional glimpses of stardom. “Everybody in that band was a real musician,” says Turner. “They all wrote, played some even co-produced. But that was the problem. Eventually egos eat up the band. Sadly our records never showed our true potential. But if you can get a hold of a live tape we smoked. There’s a couple out there from New Orleans off the radio and man, we killed live!”
When the band broke up Turner found himself in a studio apartment in New York doing session work and trying to get a full time gig. One day his phone rang with guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on the other end. “He asked me to come out this studio on Long Island to try out a couple songs,” says Turner. “I walked in, shook hands with Ritchie, said hello to Rodger Glover and went right to mic - it wasn’t even ten minutes. The whole session was orderly but not really friendly. I started singing tracks from ‘Difficult To Cure’ then I got out my lyric notebook and started writing. Songs like ‘Freedom Fighter’ and ‘Tunnel Vision’ came about from that session. They offered me the gig in Rainbow and a beer and the deal was done. I never went back to New York. They kept me in the hotel for two weeks and we finished the record.”
Turner has nothing but the highest praise for Blackmore. Says Turner, “He taught me more than I ever could tell. To this day I pass on what he taught me about being in this business. The most important thing was he supported me…always.” That support took Turner on a whirlwind ride including numerous world tours, hit singles and three classic rock records under the marquee of Rainbow. “Madison Square Garden was probably the panicle,” remembers Turner. “Straight Between The Eyes was a huge hit. 'Stone Cold' was all over the radio. We had this huge production. All my family and friends were there. Rainbow was selling out the Garden with the Scorpions opening. I felt I had arrived. Local boy makes good. The dream was real.”
Deep Purple lured Blackmore back to record Perfect Strangers (1984). A mammoth tour ensued and thus ended the Rainbow machine. However, In 1985 Hollywood came knocking. Turner was offered a role in the Jim Johnston (Babylon 5) produced Blue Deville. The story was an engaging cross-country odyssey in which three diverse characters travel in a classic 1959 Deville. Turner (aka Eric Fury) played a stadium rocker whose love interest, played by Jennifer Runyon (Charles In Charge TV, Falcon and the Snowman, Ghostbusters) lives through her fantasy of dating a rock star. Turner happened to be working on a solo record (Rescue You) for Elektra and the film featured the track “Losing You”.
Taking full advantage of the Rainbow connection, Swedish “Blackmore” protégé Yngwie Malmsteen recruited Turner for his “Odyssey” record. “That record broke Malmsteen in that he was able to crossover to a wider audience,” says Turner. “We had a great tour but, like my other bands, egos got in the way and it was over in a year. But I still stand behind that record and the live one, ‘Trial By Fire’ as great LPs. When he was in town for the G3 tour he gave me a call so we still talk.” While Turner was working up his nest solo outing Blackmore called him to replace Ian Gillan in Deep Purple. Turner agreed and another era of “the Joe and Ritchie” show hit the road. “Slaves And Masters (1990) is still one of Ritchie’s favorite Purple record,” recalls Turner. “I’ve read it in a number of interviews. Too bad those guy resented it so much.” Professional jealousy cut the tour at the quick and within weeks Turner was back in New York finishing off demos for what would become the stellar “Nothing Changed”
It’s been nearly ten years since Turner became a solo artist exclusively. Six records and a lucrative business as a high profile session man have put him in a very good position. “I got to tell ya,” says Turner, “I’m so thankful I got my head above water. This is a tough industry and I’m just glad I’m still going. My father brought me up crooning like Frank Sinatra so fortunately I have a very diverse voice. I’m your typical FM singer. In session work it helps to sound like a lot of guys but it can be a curse too.”
What has helped separate Turner from the pack is his two current projects, JLT (Shrapnel Records) and the Hughes Turner Project (MTM Records). “I do all this controlled singing as a session singer - sometime I just want to growl - go out there with your balls hanging out. That’s what I do on JLT.” Turner’s latest platter is rich with melodic hard rock in the wake of prime cuts like “In Cold Blood” and “Crying Out Loud”. Several of the songs where written over the span of five years. Turner along with guitarist and musical director, Al Pitrelli sorted through a number of old cassettes compiling ideas and working up existing compositions until they found “melodies that bite”. Guest stars from keyboardist Jane Mangini (“Blood Fire”) to blues wiz Joe Bonamassa ("Excess"). Lend their talent in making this one of Joe’s finest.
As for HTP, syndicated radio personalities Opie and Anthony (“who hate everything,” says Turner) have raved about the record counting it among their top favorite releases of 2003. Amazon.com also added the record for their pick of the month (November). “It’s also the first time classic rock ever gave us a good review,” claims Turner. “Glenn and I kept the focus on the HTP sound, classic rock in a new way. We want to be seen as top musicians with a fresh approach. We realize we can’t be in this arena if were going to come out like a bunch of tired old men. We have our pride and I think it shows in the music.”
HTP will kick off a nine-week tour of Europe starting at the end of January 2004. They will also be recording a DVD from their Russian shows. Turner recently announced his plan to join the Christmas phenomenon, The Tran Siberian Orchestra in the later half of 2004 as well as a combined touring troop called Rock and Pop Masters (RPM) spotlighting singers from the ‘70s and ‘80s with a truckload of FM hits.
We thank Joe and his publicist Lisa Walker for setting up our interview.
Website: Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes