THE RAINBOW STORY
part 2: Interview Joe Lynn Turner & Roger Glover
Part Two: Interviews with JOE LYNN TURNER and ROGER GLOVER by DANTE BONUTTO plus another instalment of the Rainbow History.
Traditionally, fun and enjoyment aren't words you associate with Rainbow. Reflecting Blackmore's struggle to find both a compatible line-up and a fulfilling, commercial viable musical style, the atmosphere in and around the band has rarely approached the jocular. Indeed, on certain albums the sound of grinding teeth can almost be heard in the mix.
"There used to be a standing joke that if we were laughing everyone would go 'this is Rainbow, please no fun, be sombre'." Vocalist Joe Lynn Turner moderates his tone as if about to impart information that might nudge the world of its axis. He comes close. "Listen, I don't want to blow anyone's image or anything but (eyes flick to and fro) we're having a f--ckin' great time!"
C'mon, you're not serious. No feuding or fighting? No hint of change?
"Well I'm not saying we couldn't be axed tomorrow and a whole new Rainbow brought in. But everything seems to be going smoothly and I think you can sense it on the new album. There's an honesty there... a passion! We actually like the people we're with and I hate to say it but, yes, we're enjoying ourselves."
So there you have it. Rainbow is 'no long faces' shock. And talking (or rather listening) to Joe you get the feeling that this influx of merriment, almost a disruption of the natural order, is due, at least in part, to him. Being more of a visual counterpoint to Blackmore than Bonnet or Dio, he's provided the band with a new element in showmanship and helped dispel much of the pre-existing tension with an open 'let's go for it' mentality. Not one to bottle things up, he could push Nugent hard in the syllables per second stakes. But whereas the latter's stream of consciousness raps would seem to flow directly from the mouth without straying too close to the brain, Joe's commentary is founded on an impulsive yet discernable logic. A one-man think tank, he serves up ideas with the full blooded pace of an in-form McEnroe, meaning only a limited number can ever be returned.
One sentence is barely finished before he's on to the next, the conversation all the time spiralling into new, often unpredictable, areas. Bach, Mendelssohn, Beethoven, van Gogh, all receive the full Turner treatment. "I don't mean to babble on," he confides, sweeping into top gear, "but what is art...?"
Though hailing from Hackensack, New Jersey, Joe now spends most of his off-duty hours in New York's Greenwich Village. A cosmopolitan, craft-ridden area, as close to quaint as the City gets, we made a quick local tour before cooling our heels in one of the many coffee bars where, appropriately overshadowed by a ceiling-high fresco, Rainbow's fast-burgeoning frontman responds to his own query.
"If you can't communicate your art what are you proving? If you're going 'blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, la-dida' and someone says 'what?' you're not getting anything across. Nothing was learned, nothing was transferred. You got no communication, you got no art!"
Simple. The answer to a question that has racked great minds from Aristotle to Tolstoy and, on the level of rock'n'roll, an artistic justification of Rainbow's recent efforts to widen their appeal. To be commercial.
"For some reason that seems to be a dirty word with everyone," says Joe, clearly fed-up with talk of Rainbow selling out, "but all the bands I know, Zeppelin included, they're commercial. Who're they kidding? Listen, we're tired of not reaching the American public, tired of not reaching people who like a decent song. If you can play it, do it! We were in some hell-hole, Edmonton, Canada, I think, and I said to Bruce (Payne) our manager 'we can crack the commercial market and keep our integrity'. And he looked at me and went... 'have another drink'. But I said 'no, I swear it, we can' and I've started to see that happen on 'Straight Between The Eyes'. We're getting into a bluesy feel and Ritchie's not so uptight about it all being smash headbanging stuff. I think he'll enjoy playing 'Stone Cold' onstage."
For Joe, establishing himself with Rainbow was no easy task. Although he'd completed five tours and recorded four RCA albums with Fandango, his previous band, lining-up alongside the likes of Blackmore, Glover and Airey still induced a slight weakness in the cartilage area. In addition to which the backing tracks for 'Difficult To Cure', virtually complete when he joined, had been written with the Bonnet vocal chords in mind so he was forced to sing in a higher key than usual to cope. Having been central to the recording of 'SBTE' from the off, however, the key is his own as are most at the lyrics which he prefers to write from experience - a tradition stretching back to 'Jealous Lover'. The first Blackmore/Turner composition, it began life as the B-side of 'Can't Happen Here' but, finding the latter too weighty in terms of social and political content, American djs latched onto the flip and proceeded to play it to death for some 16-17 weeks. Remarkable for a song hashed together at a theatre in Minneapolis while the band was on tour.
"I remember it well," says Joe, "it was Ritchie's birthday and he'd just had his Framus acoustic stolen so there was a bit of a moody going on. Anyway, Bruce had been calling us repeatedly saying we needed a B-side for 'Can't Happen Here' but we kept putting it off until finally we got a mobile unit and Ritchie and I made an arrangement in a little room in the theatre. Then he went out and showed the music to the band while I sat frantically putting my thoughts together lyrically. In the end we did it in front of an audience of one - our tour manager Colin Hart!"
Completing 'DTC' wasn't the only nerveracking aspect of Joe's first few months with Rainbow, however. Once 'Surrender' et all were in the can he then had to get himself accustomed to going onstage without a guitar - In Fandango he was 50 per cent of a twin lead attack - and to varying his performance from country to country. The quiet ripple in Sweden, the instant ecstasy in Japan, for someone who'd never toured outside America and Canada it was a confusing business, and in his efforts to do well he sometimes went a little over the top.
"I had a lot of phone calls from the States telling me to quit bouncing around like some Rod Stewart fag. I appreciated that! The thing is, I was used to working for my applause, doing everything possible physically, mentally and emotionally to get across, and then all of a sudden I come out and there's 12,000 people on their feet screaming and I haven't even done anything yet!"
In this country, however, it wasn't just the applause and the encouragement of the fans that rocked Joe on his heels...
"ENGLAND! (waitresses scatter instantly as arms begin to fly). My God, I hate to tell you about England. The press there, God, they're such c---s, and you can tell them I said it."
Now criticism arising from the band's tour here may have been a mite harsh, but not even Blackmore's staunchest defender could claim that all journalistic barbs were poorly aimed. There were times, particularly during Beethoven's Ninth, the only number for which Joe took up guitar, that he resorted to tactics better suited to Fandango than Rainbow. He admits it himself...
"One night while Bobby was doing his solo, Ritchie came running round the back of the stage and went 'what the hell are you doing?!' He was right to shout, I was really overstepping the mark. I had the guitar over my head, I was twisting it about and throwing picks out to the audience. I used to do all that stuff and it's hard to break old habits, but there I was doing it with the greatest guitar player in the world going 'oh shit, I've got myself in hot water this time'."
In fact the matter was settled with a handshake. Joe accepted Ritchie's advice as the latter, had (finally) accepted his on the 'Smoke On The Water' issue. Joe recalls the details with relish.
"We'd been fooling around with the song in rehearsals and Bobby and I went 'Ritchie, it's great, let's do it' but he kept saying 'no, I left that behind long ago'. Then one night, I forget exactly where, he started the riff on the encore and we just turned round, looked at each other and went 'right!' The drums and the bass came in and we did it with smiles on our faces from ear to ear, we were bustin' a gut and the people went crazy. I think that's fine, we should do it now and again. I mean that's the legend, why f-----g not?".
Having weathered all the initial trials and tribulations, Joe now feels considerably more at ease with the band. Certainly he's no longer covered by Blackmore's long, often intimidating shadow.
Mom's apple pie up front, call me what you want, but live now developed a following of my own. A lot of our new fans are saying they never particularly liked Rainbow before I was in it, so maybe I'm speaking out of turn but I think at this point I'm helping Ritchie as much as he's helping me."
As his presence has both boosted the romantically inclined content of the band's repertoire and given them a more overtly sexual appeal, it's not surprising that many new supporters are of the unescorted female variety.
"Well, before it was like celibacy, all geezers. But now we get these 16-year-old honeys walking in all feathered up, and really they're taking their lives in their hands. Our stagehands often have to douse the people at the front with water to stop them passing out and you get a girl in that situation and she's just not going to cope. But in Japan they all sit there and get up when they're supposed to and if they make one false move they've got like 90 Ninjas on them. It's complete control."
Despite the hazards of garrulous enjoyment, however, Japanese fans still remain loyal to the Rainbow cause. As far as they're concerned, JLT can do little wrong but closer to home his onstage persona has spawned some colourful rumour and gossip.
"Well, there's been talk about me being a poof and wearing a wig but neither of those things are true (he tugs a lock of hair to emphasis the point). The fact is I grew up with stilettos in a rough Italian neighborhood. Every day I'd get beaten up by the bigger kids. I've had my share of chipped teeth, and a lot of that I bear on my shoulders to this day. Sometimes I get drunk and I just get real awful, obnoxious, and the band's helped me a great deal. I've had hours and hours of talks with Ritchie and Roger and we've become friends rather than just business partners."
Ah, friendship - the recurring theme. It seems strange to think of Rainbow in this context and stranger still to think of Blackmore sending up his mean'n'moody image by taking part of Death in the video for 'Death Alley Driver'. And who should be responsible for the casting...
"Yes, thank you, I do take credit for that. There's a line in the song 'he takes you on a corner with a wave of his hand, Death is in the back seat of a big old black sedan'. So I said to Bruce why don't we get Ritchie to play Death, why doesn't he sit in the back, and nobody went 'right, good idea' but the next thing I know Ritchie's coming in with the make-up man and his face is all white. And the figure who sits next to him in he car wearing a skull mask is actually his wife Amy!"
Involving a stunt motorcyclist and a good deal of location shooting around Connecticut's English-looking hills, it's an ambitious project - a welcome change from the standard heavy rock video that tends to be of the lipsynched, pseudo-live variety. Of course a video, no matter how exciting, can't make a bad song good but Rainbow needn't worry on that score as with 'Death Alley Driver' (and it's true of the album as a whole) they've struck a vein rich in commercial promise that should allow them to gain a wider audience without compromise or loss of credibility.
"If the album gets airplay and is successful, fine," says Joe, serious for a moment. "But we played the music we wanted to so as far as I'm concerned it's a success already."
ROGER AND STILL IN
Rainbow, to all intents and purposes, is Blackmore's band. Aside from being the focal point onstage, he supplies the initial musical input on all the songs , determines the fate of group members and, up until the recording of the '79 album 'Down To Earth', was responsible for the band's direction in the studio as well. In the wake of the turmoil, bad feeling and general lack of inspiration that blighted the recording of 'Long Live Rock'n'Roll', the preceding LP, Ritchie decided he could no longer cope on his own and, after consulting with manager Bruce Payne, asked Roger Glover to join first as producer and additionally as bassist. On 'Down To Earth' the final decision in the studio was his, an arrangement that's remained intact on both 'Difficult To Cure' and the new 'Straight Between The Eyes'.
"If that decision goes against someone we might make some kind of compromise," Roger explains, "it really depends on the situation. The thing is, every producer has his own style. There are some that completely dominate and don't let the group have any say whatsoever and others who let the band do exactly what they want. I fall somewhere between the two. I listen to everyone but, basically, I have the final say."
Believing neither in chasing fans or assuming what an audience wants to hear, Roger's aim is simple. To produce the best album he can with 'best' defined according to his own standards. Being involved with the band on a number of levels, however, gaining an objective view of proceedings is a clear and acknowledged struggle.
"I'm aware of how difficult it is - it is a problem. On the last couple of albums it's shown itself in my concern not to mix the bass too high. You tend to push yourself back so you don't get accused of hogging the limelight because you're at the controls. This new album is the first where I've asked for the advice of the engineer on the bass level."
As Ritchie plays at one volume (LOUD!) be he in a club, a concert hall or a studio, his level also requires careful monitoring though, paradoxically, the problem Roger works hardest to overcome when recording with him is his virtuoso approach.
"In a way Ritchie's too good," he explains, "he tends to do things very technically but, for me, musical ability is the least important factor. The most important thing, I think, is to communicate with an audience and you can sometimes say more in a scream than you can in the most articulate, well-sung piece. I like to see Ritchie just open out and let loose. Sometimes when he's tuning up he plays the most brilliant things, then when he actually comes to a solo they're not there.
Of course they can be, it just requires a lot of talking. There have been occasions when he was totally at a loss to know what to do and I've just said the right thing."
'Weiss Heim', the haunting instrumental B-side of the feminist-slated 'All Night Long', is a case in point. Ritchie had the tune but no clear idea how to play it, and it was Roger who recommended what proved an ideal tack.
"In the space of about five or six seconds he played it a certain way and I said 'that's great, fantastic, you should play the whole thing that way', which he did and it turned out great. A couple of days later he came up and said 'you were right' but, then again, there are other occasions when I've been wrong. So we work off each other a lot."
While angry slogan-chanting hordes lay siege to New York's Hilton Hotel, a response to the imminent arrival of failed screen star/US President Ronald Reagan (apparently in town to receive an award, though no one seemed quite sure what for) across the road in the Rainbow management office Roger Glover remains unperturbed. The band's anchorman onstage, his experience and cool, quiet optimism make him an anchor for the group offstage as well, the aforementioned qualities proving the ideal foil both for the relative inexperience Of Rainbow's US trio (at top level, at least) and the doom-laden outlook of a certain sombre-clad guitarist.
In concurrence with the later, Roger cites 'SBTE' as one of the easiest albums he's worked on. When Graham Bonnet was fronting the band he had to take charge of the writing and keep him supplied with ideas and lyrics but on the new LP, the first Rainbow album he's produced that's been started and finished by the same line-up, everyone pulls their weight. Initially the band rented a house in the US skiing resort of Vermont where, with all the equipment housed in the basement, they came up with four or five viable ideas that were later developed, honed and rounded off in a studio near Montreal, Canada, sought out by Roger on Nazareth's recommendation.
Finding themselves there in November/December the temperature rarely crept above 30 below, Stone cold indeed, but like Spring in St Tropez compared in a nearby village where an extremity-freezing 115 below was the norm. Blackmore naturally took advantage of the polar conditions to stage a variety of practical jokes with Roger his number one target, in between which the band recorded some of their finest songs to date. Roger was particularly pleased with the funky 'Tite Squeeze'.
"It was a very natural song to do," he recalls. "Sometimes when you work in the studio and spend days on a track it ends up sounding a bit mechanical, whereas the tracks that sound fresh are the ones you accept, mistakes and all, because they happen to feel good and to me that's one of those tracks - and 'Stone Cold' is another. It could have been played better by all of us but it just felt good the way it was."
When Roger first assumed the mantle of Rainbow's producer his prime intention was to bring Ritchie's guitar to the forefront of the band's sound but, with 'DTE' finally emerging as an over attempt to be commercial and expand the band's following, Strat attack was sacrificed and song content pushed to the fore. With 'SBTE', however, the Blackmore guitar once again has its safety catch removed and with JLT now fully invoked on the writing front the sort of hooks the band previously relied on Ballard to produce are slowly starting to filter through. Coupling an all-enveloping commercial quality with a near Purplesque dynamism, Rainbow has shifted course, subtly yet strongly. Vision as ever sharpened by hindsight, Roger still sees room for improvement but generally he's pleased with the overall sound and feel, something that hasn't been true before.
"When 'Difficult To Cure' was finished I went through terrible nervous breakdowns wondering if it sounded right and just before it came out I was shitting bricks. I didn't think it was good enough. 'Difficult To Cure' I thought was basically a good album but I was worried about the sound. I couldn't put my finger on it but there was something about it I didn't like, a certain clarity that wasn't there. I wanted to re-do it completely. About a week before it was due out I was calling up our manager saying 'can I re-mix it? I really think I can do better' and he's going 'no, it'll cost too much money'."
Although Roger now owns a house just outside New York City, it's uncertain how long he'll remain resident in the US. It's a matter of weighing up the pros and cons. On the pro side is the NY atmosphere which from a creative point of view he finds both stimulating and inspirational, and opposed to that an instant disposable lifestyle that thrills him not at all.
"Everything seems so impermanent here," he explains. "I've just bought an American car with a 12-month warranty and after 13 months the whole thing's falling apart. You kind of despair. Nothing works for very long here, you've always got to get it replaced or repaired, which kind of sums up the American attitude to life. It's more dollar and business orientated, there's no joy of craftsmanship."
This impermanence, the curious and unique ability all things American to come away in the hand, contrasts sharply with an indigenous music scene that, regulated and stifled by an all-powerful radio system, has acquired a fixed, stoic nature. In a society reassured by the known and wary of the new, all records tend to sound the same and the innovative and the offbeat don't stand a chance.
"American music really brings me down," sighs Roger, "though we're moving in much the same direction. On a personal level I don't know if I'm too happy about that. I'm happy if the band's successful doing it, but I can understand people's criticism of Rainbow going American, as it were."
In Britain the last three or four years have seen music of a varied, often experimental, nature reaching the charts. Roger views the trend with interest and no little pleasure.
"It might sound strange coming from an old fart like me but I'm really into new stuff as well," he reveals going on to declare his support for Talking Heads, Bow Wow reveals going and, above all, TC. That 'Drums And Wires' album was a turning point for me. All of a sudden I started listening to new wave without this mental block I'd had before and, quite frankly, I'd rather listen to classical music than anything. The thing is I'm involved with HTM so much that I know everything about it, all the ins and outs, so as a listener it's ceased to have the same impact on me as classical music. I'll always play HTM but for mental stimulus I just like to hear something different once in a while."
At the end of the last world tour Rainbow went through a sticky period that saw the departure of Don Airey and very nearly the departure of Roger as well. There was no bad feeling as far as he was concerned but after eight months on the road a bit of peace and quiet seemed like a good idea. Today, that good idea couldn't be a more distant proposition. Although he came close to producing Journey's last album, his commitments to rainbow generally leave little time for independent activities and, at present, there's no sign of a new solo album though when it does materialise, and Roger's adamant that it will, it looks likely to be off-the-wall to say at least and will probably be released under a pseudonym to facilitate public acceptance. The one thing Roger certainly hasn't got time for is talk of a Deep Purple reunion, though in both Britain and the States stories to that effect continue to bounce around the business.
"It would be very much a money-making venture and not a particularly creative one at that. To turn it into a massive billion dollar tour would defeat the object for me, but I wouldn't mind doing it for a couple of pubs in England - just for fun!"
Dante Bonutto, Kerrang! April 1982