JOE LYNN TURNER
Joe Lynn Turner has always been one of my favorite singers. At first, I liked him only because he sounded similar to the great Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) but after hearing the wide variety of vocal work he has done over the years he continues to amaze me with his chameleon-like way of adapting his voice to any genre of music. Most classic rock fans think of Joe as more of a vocalist than a songwriter, but the lyrics he has composed along with the melodies he's put together have touched the lives of many.
His former Deep Purple bandmates agree that he has some special gifts as a songwriter. Drummer Ian Paice said, "... sometimes Ritchie [Blackmore] will start something, a piece of music that has never existed before, and Joe will sing something, he has the ability to ad lib and be totally spontaneous about it and create a song from nothing. We couldn't do that before [he joined DP]."
Legendary guitarist and JLT's former co-worker in both Rainbow and DP, Ritchie Blackmore agrees, "...seriously, the older I get, the more I want to hear melodies. [when Joe was in Deep Purple] We really worked hard on constructing good, memorable songs and interesting chord progressions. That's what excites me at the moment. It also helped that Joe Lynn Turner, writes and sings great melodies. With Joe, we didn't have to rely as much on heavy riffs. When I was 20, I didn't give a damn about song construction. I just wanted to make as much noise and play as fast and as loud as possible."
Joe recently told me that within the last few months he has had to write material for both his forthcoming solo album as well as the one he is recording with fellow Voices of Classic Rock member, Glenn Hughes. I thought to myself, "That's a LOT of writing in such a short period of time," so I thought it would be interesting to talk with him about his songwriting process and philosophy.
I have always liked JLT's songs because a large percentage of them have lyrics that are not so profound as to make them un-relatable; not so shallow that they are frivolous. However, I know there are critics of Joe who think he is "not deep." This is FAR from true! Anyone who spends any quality time getting to know him will tell you that it is easy to get into a profound philosophical discussion with him on just about any subject. During my last conversation with Joe, I found myself discussing two subjects that (as a personal rule) I usually never talk about with anyone: politics and religion!
THE SONGWRITING PROCESS
Since I am not a serious musician, myself, I have always been fascinated by the songwriting process. It always seemed like "voodoo" to me. I asked Turner how songs usually come together for him. He said, "You sometimes have music and no lyrics or a lyric and no music or maybe a little bridge and nothing more. Maybe you have a collection of great riffs. With songwriting there is no hard or fast rule in any situation. What I mostly do is add lyrics and melody to what might be a great guitar track for example."
Joe said that while working with Ritchie Blackmore, he carried around a notebook that Blackmore referred to as Joe's "bag of tricks." He'd often have a riff and ask Joe to "pull something out" of his bag to go with it. Blackmore also had the habit of handing Turner tapes of music parts, guitar tracks, etc. Joe said "I would go to bed with my headphones on and listen to all these pieces of music. I might hear one part I liked maybe in the beginning of the tape and then 40 minutes later hear the perfect part to go with it. Then, I'd put them in a key and play it.
Many singers are not musicians. I've always played the guitar as you know. Of course it behooves a singer to know an instrument. The better singers and writers are musicians. Look at [Voice's of Classic Rock's own] Mickey Thomas. He is a drummer, and also a great singer and writer."
Some mis-informed people (including me!) had always thought of JLT primarily as a "lyricist," but Joe explained that he is also usually responsible for coming up with the melodies in collaborations. He explained that, "There are two categories for songwriting in publishing: music and lyrics. Arrangements and parts of melodies cannot be copyrighted. So music and lyrics are divided up 50-50. I will often come up with a melody on the music track that has already been written. I'll also usually come up with variations on a melody."
THE "BEATLE THEORY" AND JLT'S SONGWRITING PHILOSOPHY
When I asked Joe about overall philosophy, he mused, "I try and subscribe to what I call "the Beatle theory." They were masters at making the lyric sound like the music or the music like a lyric. If you listen to almost any of their songs, the lyrics fit the arrangements and mood of the of the music. Whether it is 'Here Comes The Sun' or 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds' (which has a cosmic sound to it that fits what it is about) and even 'Eleanor Rigby' totally had this whole morose feel to it. They nailed this concept so well which is why they are so highly regarded as some of the greatest songwriters of our time. This is what I try to reproduce and when you 'hit it' it is like a marriage made in heaven. When the emotion of the lyrics support the way the music sounds. When it sounds like it says and says like it sounds you have a great song. When I listen to a music track I will think 'what is this music saying to me?'"
I asked him about songs he has written that he felt had that "ideal marriage." He cited, "Street of Dreams" and "Stone Cold" as good examples. "'Street,'" he said, "Felt dreamy, very moody. The lyrics and the music matched and low and behold it was also a big hit for us so there you go!"
Turner says imagery is important when constructing effective lyrics. He said Cream did it well in classics like "Tales of the Brave Ulysses" and "Deserted Cities of the Heart." "Having a knack for rhyme can also help," Turner explains, "songs that rhyme flow better and are easier to sing effectively. As a vocalist I am aware of how a word sings. I will often substitute one word for another because it sings better, if you know what I mean. There are certain words that are tough to sing. It's also important to choose words that allow a singer to be passionate. Roger Glover used to joke with me and say, (imitating Glover's voice) 'Joe, you could sing the phone book and make it sound good.' But, I would not be able to put enough passion into that, obviously."
Joe feels that some artists make the mistake of getting so quirky with their lyrics that it becomes an issue of "art versus stupidity". A lyric that is bizarre or ridiculous may be memorable to some people but Turner feels that it is not the most effective way to reach people.
ARGUMENTS DURING THE SONGWRITING/COLLABORATION PROCESS
What happens when it is obvious that someone does not like an idea?
Joe responds, "Arguments do go back and forth during the process, absolutely. I do have one personal rule and that is if you don't have an alternative idea don't go saying (to me) I don't like this or that. If you have a complaint, fine, but have a solution or idea to go with it. If someone says they do not like something and has no alternative the wheels just stop turning and the whole creative process can shut down. On the other hand, you cannot be so philosophically attached to some part of a song that when someone makes a suggestion that you can't be flexible with it."
INSPIRATION: DOGS, DRUGS, ALCOHOL AND DON HENLEY?
I am always curious about where songwriters get their inspiration from.
"Fans often argue or have fun trying to figure out the deep meaning behind a song," Joe responds. "That is part of the magic. I like it when people come up with their own interpretation, especially if it ends up meaning something to them personally. But what happens a lot is that someone will tell me they think I am writing about a former girlfriend when I am actually writing about my daughter. Or even my dog, Lola! (laughs) She can be an inspiration!"
OK, I admit it! Joe's dog is adorable but an inspiration for a song? Joe basically said that the term "inspiration" should not be taken too literally. Perhaps his dog might show him unconditional love so he might write about a relationship between two people that also shares that concept. So the affection his dog shows may inspire a theme. It's also important not to go jumping to conclusions about an artist if they write something that was inspired by something religious, for example. An artist may read a book about witchcraft just because it's interesting. But, that does not mean he or she is a practitioner of Wicca.
Turner admits that, "Inspiration can come from the weirdest places. As a professional I have to come up with the goods and don't always have a lot of time."
This explains why he has to really observe everything around him in a unique or analytical way. He recalls some words of wisdom Don Henley once gave him: "I was in Fandango and down in Florida making 'One Night Stand' for RCA records. We had the same producer as the Eagles and I am this young, wide eyed kid. So I met Don Henley and he said to me, 'You got 25 years or so to come up with all this great material on your first album [after being signed by a major record label]. Then after that you have only 1 year to come up with the next one. It's hard not to shoot your load with the first one but it happens."
Henley also told Turner that he sometimes "made situations" that later provided inspiration for great songs. JLT said that he found himself doing the same thing throughout the years, "Yeah I actually made trouble or got myself in strange predicaments so that I would have something to inspire me. I actually lived as an emotional vampire, especially in the earlier days stripping people of their deepest thoughts, pushing their buttons, provoking people into situations where I could use the result of it to write a song. Then I also purposely would pursue interests just for inspiration. You take songs like 'Drinking with the Devil' and 'Fire Dance' (off Rainbow's "Bent Out of Shape") those were all inspired by the occult."
Joe admitted something that few artists have had the guts to reveal. He said, "Yeah, alcohol and drugs can be very inspiring and absolutely can play a role in creativity. But nowadays I have to find other sources of stimulation. Even the (now "detoxified") guys in Aerosmith have admitted that drugs and alcohol used to help in the creative process until they realized that if they continue to abuse the stuff they would die! So finding other sources of inspiration can sometimes be a challenge. I'm also not falling in love every day on the road (like I used to). My life is more settled now so I have to draw more from TV, books, other things around me."
On his latest CD, "Holy Man," there is a song called, "No Salvation" and it's about a serial killer that Joe saw profiled on TV. There's also the cryptic "Babylon," inspired by the writings of the controversial but compelling author, David Icke. JLT's albums with Mother's Army (a band that also features Bob Daisley, Jeff Watson and others) are loaded with songs that contain some pretty "deep" provocative messages. We'll take a closer look at these songs in a future Part 2 of this feature but anyone who has heard them knows that they aren't all about "love and sex." Joe says, "If you are not constantly questioning things around you (in society), you are living in a vacuum."
A "STRONG" PERSONALITY
One thing I have always liked about Turner is his blatant honesty. Sure, it's unsettling to some people and a few fans may bristle at some of things he has spouted off in interviews, but one thing is for certain.a conversation with him is never boring! Plus, people who have worked with him onstage, offstage and in the studio agree that his honesty allows them to always know "where they stand" and this actually makes him easier to work with. Turner believes that being uninhibited and having a "strong" personality has helped him as a writer and musician.
He revealed that, "Now I am almost overcompensating for being quiet when I was younger. I was kind of a loner as a kid, read a lot, played by myself. Now I worry less about what people think. This is all part of living for the today and not for the tomorrow. Too many people might say for example, 'when I am rich tomorrow I will be happy.' Well that may never happen. I say if you have something to say, speak your mind now. I may absolutely be a belligerent, obnoxious, thoughtless fool sometimes but one of the facts of songwriting is that you have to be a bold personality."
In Part 2 of this feature, we'll talk to Joe in more detail about collaborating with classic rock icons like Ritchie Blackmore and Roger Glover (Deep Purple), Al Greenwood (Foreigner), Bob Daisley (Black Sabbath), Jeff Watson (Night Ranger) among others.
In our first feature about songwriting with VCR's Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow/Deep Purple), he gave us his thoughts on the actual writing process. In this interview with Lisa Eichholzer-Walker, he talks about some of the people he has collaborated with. Joe co-wrote almost every song on all the Rainbow and Deep Purple albums he made when he was with the band. For Rainbow, these albums were the most commercially successful in the band's history. This was due, in part, to Turner's contribution both behind the microphone and behind the scenes.
Who was the most inspiring person that you have met or collaborated with?
JLT: It's actually someone who was not a songwriter in the pure sense. I would have to say as far as inspiration goes, there was a girl from my past who really was this very wordy, very brainy flipped out of her mind woman. We would get into these incredibly deep conversations on the tour bus and challenge each other. It's really hard to describe. She was a genius and scared the crap out of me with what she'd come out with. This was when I was touring with Jason Bonham and Yngwie Malmsteen, that time period.
What about professionals ... are there any more well-known names that you can list that really touched a nerve, provoked you to write better than you thought you could?
JLT: People like Desmond Child, Diane Warren and Holly Knight ... as you know they have written so many hit songs for some major names. Sure, they are inspiring because they are so good at their craft. I also learned a lot from them Jack Ponti. He's a very diverse writer, he's even working with rap artists now. It's also a challenge to come up with something original every time. One thing I learned from Desmond Child is that if you are gonna cop something make sure you do it better the second time, and disguise it, even if you are coping your own work!
For example, the Aerosmith song, "Angel" is a cop of "Rage of Angels" by Bon Jovi. It's all about taking a piece from a song that is inspiring and building around it. So yeah nothing out there is completely original but it's all in how you present it. As far as artists go, Dylan was always inspiring. Then, of course there's Hendrix, Jimi was my mentor, I even wrote and English lit piece all about "Axis Bold As Love." Hendrix was a visionary (author's note: JLT has a degree in Education and taught college-level English Literature).
You mentioned those big name songwriters like Desmond Child and Diane Warren ... I remember having lunch with one of your record promo people from Elektra, back when they were working the "Rescue You" album and he surprised me when he said that you were working with Screen Gems, writing with all these people who were legendary.
JLT: It was the thing to do back then and a lot of people did not realize that I was doing that. I was literally thrown in with these great writers and came up with some great ideas. I had a few run-ins with some of them but that's to be expected. It was one of those situations where here I was working with these major names in songwriting and many of them copped my ideas but since they were the darlings of the industry, I had to shut my mouth when that happened. I was the underling back then. I'm not bitter about it, it's just the way it was. You had to have publishing clout or name clout. It's about politics of the industry. Hey you can't stop a good song [from getting out].
OK, let me just name some names of notable people you have collaborated with ... and you can just give me some random thoughts on them: Ritchie Blackmore.
JLT: Ritchie loved ‘The Song.' He was a REAL song man and this may surprise people. He was NOT just a guitar guy. Working with him was very collaborative ... he would allow room and growth. Working with him was productive, too, because it was always important to him to get the best song out possible... he could care less if he played a long solo.
A lyric or message would really move him and you would not think that about him being a guitarist but it's true. He is very fair and would actually leave a lot up to me. As I told you last time, he'd give me bits and pieces of music and I'd end up putting it all together sometimes.
You and I have talked about Ritchie a lot and I have never ever heard you take a shot at him. While he rarely does interviews, in the few that I have read he has also had high regard for you. But, both of you get some heat from fans about not exactly being politically correct with some of your opinions, you both have a rep for being outspoken.
JLT: Voltaire, the great French Revolutionist said you need to have contempt for audience and most people don't really know what that word means so if you don't, look it up! As an artist, you have to just do what you do! You can't react to every remark or every bad review and Blackmore was a big believer in this. You can't always dignify their remarks, you cannot stay in the middle of it. I have my motives and I have my opinions and not everyone has to agree with them.
Well said. Another related name: Roger Glover.
JLT: Roger could also be very inspiring. He really touched on deep subjects. I really enjoyed working with him, he often would bring out another element or character in my writing.
What about Bob Daisley? You worked with him on the Mother's Army project.
JLT: Bob is amazing, you know he wrote all those great Ozzy lyrics for songs like "Crazy Train" and "Over the Mountain" and he is involved in a lawsuit about that right now for back royalties. Bob brings up subjects that are very deep, like Peter Gabriel, Sting, lyrics about changing the world, writing about what's happening.
Not everyone wants to listen to a song that is so deep, lyrically, though.
JLT: This is true but people need to step back and take a look at what's happening around them and if a song can make them do that, so be it. This planet needs help were not getting it. It's all about making a fast buck nowadays more then ever. No one has any accountability anymore.
There are also too many choices, especially for young people. George Carlin was on Larry King the other night and he said something real true that kids these days are growing up as little consumers, we're (society) not trying to educate them. They are a spiritually bankrupt generation.
What about the music that is popular today ... some of the rap and other more modern stuff ... do you think that is part of what is wrong with the world?
JLT: Writing should be a reflection of the world you live in so long as it is coming from that place it is valid. Most of the rap stuff is totally valid, some of the stuff is not, though. Take the whole Sisquo Thong Song thing.
Basically something like that is not going to change society. But most of the rap is legit. These people are actually oppressed and live in slums. Those are the real poets, people like Tupak Shakur, he was one of the great ones, absolutely. Even someone like Eminem ... he LIVED the life he raps about and what he talks about is very real to him.
I know we have talked about Roger Glover and Ritchie Blackmore as separate entities but what I'd like to know more about are the dynamics of working with them in the context of Deep Purple versus Rainbow?
JLT: It was very different in some ways. There were a lot of band politics going on. Roger sided with the Gillan camp (as you know they have been friends for years). So in that sense it was not as collaborative. Now Ritchie was still pretty much the same. The best way to describe it all is tense. Now it was all very professional and there was sense of honor and respect for each other. After "Slaves and Masters," when we started to work on the second album, is when the real trouble started. That's when the mutiny problems surfaced. Jim Peterik came in and worked with us and some of the band members resented that. It's too bad because the material Jim wrote was really great and now it will never see the light of day.
JLT: It's a legal issue and it's too complex to explain here but basically there would be no way to even-steven it up or divide the money. Fans deserve to hear it, it's too bad. There's this great tune, "Stroke a Midnight" that has a real "When the Levee Breaks" sound to it, it's great!
What about Yngwie Malmsteen?
JLT: Yngwie was a gifted genius in many ways but overall he was (at the time) somewhat immature and jealous. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies on "Odyssey." He would come up with song titles. As I have said he was less collaborative but we did have a productive relationship ... out of our partnership came some real fire ... out of the fire comes steel. Yngwie was very guarded, territorial and possessive. But, I agree we did some great work. It was a very proud moment in time but we were like two bulls in a china shop.
I know you worked with Mick Jones and Al Greenwood of Foreigner.
JLT: Yes ... consummate pros. They are incredible writers. Mick always said he never wrote a song unless he had to, until the record was due. That was when he did the best work and they have written some great commercially successful songs.
Speaking of great writers, I do not think you wrote with Billy Joel but I know you worked with him in the studio.
JLT: Yeah, that was a great time, very inspiring. It was during the "Storm Front" sessions. I remember when Billy was writing "Go to Extremes" that his drummer, Liberty DeVito said he would not play the tracks until he knew what the lyrics were. Remember the last time we talked, I told you how I strongly believe that the music has to fit the lyrics and vice versa. One of the greatest memories I had from those sessions was when a few of us were sitting around after a long day in the studio. We were listening to "And So It Goes" which was actually inspired by an old Scottish folk song. It's just Billy and the piano and it completely knocked us out. Billy started to cry at his own lyric and that got me crying so here we were, these grown men just crying our eyes out at this poignant lyric.
Can you name any other songs that make you cry?
JLT: Yeah, there is this song by The Blue Nile.
JLT: I'm not going to tell you, THAT, it's too personal but it comes from a place that I relate to so much that it is revealing. That's all I'm going to say.
I know you have recorded some tracks with VCR's Leslie West. Did you two ever collaborate?
JLT: Yes and no ... we did dabble in the early days. Leslie is very down to earth, I really like his stuff.
Is there anything you'd like to say as we wrap things up?
JLT: Yes, one major point: most people don't listen to lyrics or have very little knowledge of what the words of a song actually are. Most of us [songwriters] beat ourselves up to get it right so I wish people would listen more attentively. Also ... we've talked about all this deep stuff but remember that not every line can be so strong and profound. I used to think that every line had to be a great one but I've unlocked that prison that I once had myself in. You look at the Henleys, the Dylans and the Billy Joels and EVERY LINE is a killer, it's either so deep or so meaningful but I have realized that as long as I am getting a point across it's a good thing ... I've accomplished something.
Lisa Eicholzer-Walker, Voices Of Classic Rock, Rockforever, May 2001