JOE LYNN TURNER
Lookin' back on BENT OUT OF SHAPE
Ye Olde Metal was cooked up to pay respect to some great hard rock or heavy metal records from the past, albums that may or may not have been big sellers, but given the rapidly passing years, deserve another look. It is essentially an extended review with additional commentary from one (or more) of the dudes involved in the process of assembling the slab at hand. Enjoy...
Not counting the watery Stranger In Us All "reunion" album (and it shouldn't be counted), Bent Out Of Shape was Rainbow's last record, Ritchie breaking up the band to rejoin Deep Purple for the solid, successful Perfect Strangers album in 1984. The third of the poppy Joe Lynn Turner years, Bent Out Of Shape was nevertheless the most sophisticated, cohesive, elegantly gloomy. It worked. Sure, there's a passion for the Dio years, in fact, a certain timelessness to records like Rising and Long Live Rock 'n' Roll that has passed the Turner turners by. But Bent Out Of Shape... its seduction runs deep.
"Well, we had some trouble making that album," explains Turner, who had a big hand in the band's much-appreciated though short-lived American commercial success. "We started out in Denmark at Freddie Hansson's studio, Sweet Silence, which John McLaughlin actually named, as part of his meditation. It's an interesting story. He used to say 'stop and listen to the sweet silence.' And Freddie said 'yeah, I'm going to name the studio Sweet Silence.' So we're sitting there and we had this drummer that Ritchie had picked from Long Island or something, obviously someone who had played in a local band and we really weren't getting very far with this guy; obviously he had made the wrong decision and he was hard-pressed to admit it. I was getting completely frustrated because we had six or seven master reels of tape and no keepers. None of the track were really good enough to keep and build on. So we were running into time restrictions, money, and I was getting really frustrated. So I called up Bruce Payne, the manager and said 'look, we can't go along with this.
Something has to happen here. I have a friend of mine who is an amazing drummer; he'll come in and knock it right off.' So that's how Chuck Burgi came in. And he flew in with a bunch of trap cases and whatnot, set up and bam! We started to knock it off. So in that respect it was a little difficult at first. But Chuck had been in everything from Brand X, Meatloaf... I mean, this guy had chops up the yin yang. He was playing fusion, rock and he's an incredibly professional person."
The resultant record somehow embodied a warmth as well as a chill, graphically evident when butted up against the heavier Straight Between The Eyes and the weak dissipation of Difficult To Cure. Warmer and colder: again, a seduction, upscale but uneasy.
"I think it was a little more refined," reflects Turner. "I don't know if that's good or bad, refinement for a rock band. I think it's an extremely fine album because the material on it and the recording and the sound, everything... it's just probably one of our better efforts, although Straight Between The Eyes, in my opinion, has a magic that just cannot be duplicated; just that point in time, with 'Stone Cold' and all those kinds of songs. But then again Bent Out Of Shape with 'Street Of Dreams'... we had something going on there. And I really believe that we were headed toward becoming a melodic, heavy Foreigner or heavy Journey. I think with one more record we really would have broken through into the commercial market. Because we still had legions of fans, and we were heavy enough and obscure enough to keep them. But at the same time we were picking up new fans. Here in America we were in the Top 10 and things like that; we were on MTV, and it was just working. We were on the verge of something greater but unfortunately it broke up right at that time (laughs)."
The idea that Rainbow had become a "heavy Foreigner" rankled a lot of the old guard. Does the blame necessarily fall to Joe? Apparently not. According to Turner, both he and Blackmore drove this new elegance in tandem.
"Ritchie is a song guy, believe it or not. People think he's a riff master, but at the same time he was all for the song. And traveling through America, you had Loverboy and all these hit bands. I just think Ritchie's ear was just remarkable and he picked up on it in his own way of course. I don't think he ever sacrificed or compromised himself, but in his own way, he likes very hook-oriented, melodic rock, and bluesiness from a singer's point of view. But at the same time he likes the song. So there was no forcing Ritchie into any sort of square peg/round hole thing. He was all for it. And in fact, those are all his tracks. That was his music. What I would do was, he would give me a master tape with all kinds of jamming, different riffs, parts, and I would say, 'OK, this is the beginning, this is the middle;' in some cases, not in all cases. I would sort of be an arranger because I was also writing the melodies and the lyrics. So he gave me that freedom. A terrific collaborator really. Because he would give you all the freedom to hang yourself. If it sucked, he would tell you straight out, 'I hate that, go somewhere else.' And I would always come in with two or three sets of lyrics and different melodies and we would pick the best one that really suited the song and felt like the music. We always tried to capture what the Beatles had, which was basically the music sounded like the lyrics and vice versa. They always had that magic; some songs out there, the titles and the lyrics just don't fit the music."
One important part of making this album special was Roger Glover's production, which again addressed a dichotomy, this idea of sounding plush and hi-fi yet with sparse componentry. "Roger was extremely important," emphasizes Turner, "more important than what Ritchie every gave him credit for, I'll tell you that. Because there was always a tension between the two. But I always thought that Roger shaped the thing, took the clay and shaped it. There's no doubt that he was the producer, but we all had input as well. Sometimes it can be a disaster without the band members having input. But I think with us, it was well-selected input. Roger would kind of listen to what we had to say, and if he agreed we would go that way; if not, he would stick to his guns. But he always made sure that the sound was good and that it had a nice finished quality. Because when I listen back to these things occasionally, I have to say that they stand the test of time. So I have to take my hat off to Roger and say I think he did a very good job. Also he was a great lyricist in my opinion. He showed me how to write cryptically, where you can write a lyric where nobody actually knows what the hell you're talking about (laughs), with a deep meaning there somehow, a lyric that could exist on different levels. So he was a master of all that as well."
What would Roger and Ritchie butt heads over?
"Philosophy, the way it should go. Roger would be sitting in the studio 24 hours a day, and Ritchie would drop in, when he wasn't needed for his parts or anything, just to listen. And sometimes he would really give it the nod and sometimes he would go, 'that's fucking awful,' and Roger's face would just drop and he would go, 'well, what's awful about it?' And Ritchie would say 'I don't like the way this is, and the way you've got this and what you think should go here' and one time he really insulted him by telling him he couldn't produce and all this. You know, familiarity breeds contempt. They've been together for so many years that you've got to take that with a large grain of salt. They were just at each other's throats a little bit because they were the veterans, they were the ones from Purple; there was some competition there. And I always thought Roger was very popular in Rainbow. He was like a cornerstone of Rainbow. But he didn't feel as popular I guess. Because when I came in I kind of pushed him to the side; not personally, but he just felt pushed to the side. Here comes this kid and the girls like him and all this stuff and now I've got to contend with that. Now I'm third on the rung of the latter. Now it's Ritchie and Joe and then me. But I mean, that's normal band shit. People go through that all the time. There are egos and personalities and you have to deal with it."
But there was also fun and typical rock frivolity. "Yeah, there was always a lot of that," laughs Joe. "I can remember, I think the roadies put a huge... at the time cocaine was pretty popular. Richie never did any of those drugs; he always did downers. He never did coke or anything like that. He didn't like to go up. He liked to go down.
Drinking and downers. But the rest of us would all indulge so I think what they did is they got this huge piece of Styrofoam and they covered it with tinfoil and then they got more Styrofoam and they crumpled it up and glued it to the tinfoil and had this huge tube; it looked like a McDonald's straw.
And there was this huge straw on what looked like a mirror and this huge line of coke. And it had to be 10 by 10 feet. You know, it was just nuts. And there were other things like this little raccoon hanging in the studio. We called him Midi because in those days Midi was a big thing. We would Midi up everything through the keyboards, and you would trigger drums and trigger things, and we would always say, 'So the question today, Midi, is...' and this little raccoon would be rolled down on the string and he'd have a little sign, 'Well, how would you Midi this particular interface with this other thing?' and that was the question of the day, all kinds of silly things.
And then another time there were so many speakers in the studio that Roger had brought in because he had all kinds of... "I want to check it out through here, check it out through the Tannoys, the Yamahas,' that the roadies started tagging it with price tags, like Crazy Uncle Rog, like Crazy Eddie's, all this audio equipment, all over the studio. So they started tagging it with prices. And of course, when Ritchie did his parts, it was always filled with candles and incense and the spirits would have to come through and things like that. So you had a lot of different colours going on (laughs)."
Bent Out Of Shape opens with considerable enigmatic presence, Turner delivering the hushed verse lyric to 'Stranded' a mere nine seconds into the track and album, the song then developing fullness, substance and volume as it progresses. It is quintessential spooky... Foreigner. Turner sets the scene. "Well 'Stranded', came about from being in Copenhagen Denmark, looking out my window from the hotel on a particularly dreary day, just having those lost emotions. I remember very clearly, thinking I could just disappear into the air here and not be heard from again. I guess it's a feeling everyone goes through at some point but I had a feeling of estrangement and being literally stranded. It's a true lyric."
Track two is actually quite similar in whispy tone, 'Can't Let You Go' featuring some extremely tasty guitar textures from Ritchie. "'Can't Let You Go' is one of my absolute favorite passionate songs," notes Joe. "That song's magic. It just came alive. True story again, just about my relationship, anybody's relationship really. Again, written in Denmark."
"'Fool For The Night', that's me, totally about me, very autobiographical," explains Turner on the album's melancholic third track, a quick but poppy rocker with a sinister, gothic chorus. "I was really sort of self-deprecating, looking at myself saying, you know, you're just so hung up for the lights and you're so addicted to all of this, all the trappings of this world that I was living in, that I had become a fool for the night. I was living by night and sleeping by day." 'Fire Dance' is one of the album's three metal rockers, this one featuring a typical Blackmore widdle riff circa 'Burn' or 'Light In The Black'. Yet still it hums along with a smooth pop disposition, especially during the verse. "That's about our side of the occult that we used to dabble in, sometimes more greatly than others," reveals Joe. "I was basically literally possessed to write about it because it is one of my favorite subjects, even today on this album. I'm into all of that kind of stuff. I'm into all kinds of occultisms, conspiracies, Illuminati, you name it. I am a David Icke freak. This guy will open up a whole new world. Do yourself a favour and get yourself a book called The Biggest Secret. Icke will rock your world. He will give you information that you will never have thought of in your life and document it... bibliographies, footnotes, other books you can refer to, cross-referencing."
Was Ritchie into the occult too?
"WAS, I believe. I don't BELIEVE he was, I KNOW he was, I don't think he is so much anymore though. Neither am I. In fact, I burned a lot of books and altars that I had. We were into Wicca and a lot of things, Aleister Crowley, 'thy will shall be the whole of the law,' all this stuff. We used to do séances with Jimmy Page, all kinds of shit like that. Early on we were into it a lot deeper than we were later on. Because I really found that it works and it's a dangerous place to go if you don't know how to handle it. And obviously I was somewhere in the middle. So it overtook me and like an addiction, I had to give it up. Because there are a few incidents that would probably raise your eyebrows if I told you about them. You'd say 'wow, that's some really freaky shit that happened,' and yeah, all kinds of really strange stuff, poltergeists and witches and my finger almost being cut off. So I realized I was messing around the wrong powers and I said that's it, I'm out of it, I'm walking back into the light and I'm staying there. It's really a very heavy spiritual transition."
Turner recalls the lyric to 'Fire Dance' as an example where Roger's sense of wordplay helped Joe unlock the key to the song.
"'Fire Dance' is a good example of that, yeah, because most of the other ones were my titles and lyrics. You see, sometimes I would lead the lyric and sometimes Roger would lead the lyric. But on 'Fire Dance', he actually had the chorus lyric and then I went and put this whole story to it and followed his lead on that. When 'the wrong begin the rite', RITE, the fire dance, this whole ritualistic thing. But he would always come up with a spark of genius and that would ignite me. 'Stone Cold' was like that. He walked in the room and he was going through a divorce and he said, 'she left me stone cold' and I wrote it down and I made a song out of it (laughs). So that was basically about his, or anyone's breakup, but it was essentially his and his mood. So I just wrote down this whole moody dreamy sequence and it works. So we were always jumping off each other, igniting each other. And there was tension sometimes. There's a statement I'll never forget that says, 'out of the fire comes steel.' And that's kind of what happened with us. There was a lot of fire and sometimes you need that. Out of chaos comes order. So we always had a lot of fire and chaos but we always came up with the steel or the order."
Closing side two was a drafty, icy, brief instrumental called 'Anybody There', again Ritchie and Roger collaborating on a guitar sound that is pure precious alchemy.
"'Anybody There' was an instrumental that Ritchie wrote," begins Joe. 'You see, the first three words of any séance are 'Is anybody there?' That's what that's about. You say that, and you get people coming through, spirits coming through, entities coming through, what have you, if you're lucky. If not, you have a dead night. But that's what 'Anybody There' is about and that was always one of my favourite instrumental tracks.
'Desperate Heart' was another track that was a reinforcing glue, fitting nicely between 'Stranded' and 'Street Of Dreams', underscoring the record as a pomp rocker with a hidden black disposition. "'Desperate Heart' was done back here in the States, the vocal anyway. We were up in New York, at Bear Tracks, which was Spyra Gyra's studio. They were a jazz band that was pretty big at the time and they had a lot of money so they bought this beautiful studio, and we needed a place up and around the New York area. So we were at Bear Tracks and I remember finishing the lyric as I was singing the track, literally (laughs). It's pretty autobiographical. You know, I always feel that I'm just a transfer for Everyman. Everybody experiences these emotions and these feelings it's just that somebody has to put them down, like any artist does, whether it's painting, lyrics, poetry. You jump inside that lyric and you find yourself. So that's basically for Everyman, but again, it starts in an autobiographical place. I mean, I was the desperate heart, obviously."
"I've got a good story about 'Street Of Dreams', explains Joe on the album's biggest hit, a song that is essentially 'Stone Cold' Part II. "That came to me literally in a dream. See, I'm a reincarnationist; I believe in souls and that we have all been here and that there are a limited amount of souls and that we reincarnate and we come back to sort of clean up our past lives, and we suffer from all that. All the reincarnationist theories. Because I studied all kinds of contemporary religions and comparative theologians and things like that and was very deep into organized religion as a child. I was born Catholic and I went through all that, studied Latin for 15 years, wanted to be a priest, so I digress. What I'm trying to say is that this was always a major interest of mine. And 'Street Of Dreams' really literally happened to me in a dream, and I jumped up - again in Copenhagen; we were doing the record in Denmark - and I jumped up and wrote the lyric down and went back to bed and when I awoke that morning it was there. And it was quite unusual because it was fitted to this track that I had put together with Ritchie, the intro, the verse, the chorus and it all fitted. So it was one of those magical moments that you just went 'Holy shit!' This is like transference. This is like something coming out of the ethers and just like channeling through you. So it reinforced all my beliefs of course."
Turner delves deeper into the psychic darkness. "I don't think people can really believe in things like this unless they experience something that really happens to them time after time. When you're into it, it's just like exercise. The muscle comes up. If you don't exercise, it won't. That's just it. So if you exercise these belief systems and you exercise these incantations, things happen to you, that cosmically you can really go through. You go 'yup, OK, here it is,' a manifestation of it. It's like anything else: use it or lose it. So 'Street Of Dreams', I barely remember getting up and scratching some lyrics down. And then, we got into the studio, and this is really strange too. Ritchie was intimidated by the melodies and the lyrics because I guess I had done a pretty good performance, I have to say. I had a lot of emotion in my voice and I was singing it like I believed it. And he was just like, 'fuck, how am I supposed to play a lead? This vocal is so strong.' And he was telling this to me privately. And we went over to the refrigerator in the studio in this little corner by the galley and took out some Heinekens and we were talking about it, and it was during a terrible storm. If you know, Copenhagen is on a grid pattern of weather that is incredibly electric. Electrical storms happen over there all the time; high-intensity energies. So all of a sudden, we're talking and this crack came out of nowhere. And we both almost hit the floor. It was like, what the fuck was that!? It was like a gunshot. And what had happened is that a lightning bolt had hit the lightning rod on the top of the building. We had an incredible surge of lightning hit us, right above us, and knocked all the electrical out. It knocked all the guys that were watching the videos, the VCRs, knocked that out, knocked the studio out. It was just like Bam! Like God threw down a hammer. And we were like, fuck! And I said, 'you just go in there,' - after they fixed all this - 'and just play and sing your lead' and that's what he did, and he came out with one of the most memorable guitar leads that I can to this day, still sing. It was a real moment."
"Again, we're in Copenhagen, and it's a wild town," recalls Turner on the album's rip snortin' death rocker 'Drinking With The Devil'. "A lot of beautiful women and clubs, so the roadies were out all night, fucked up. Everybody would do that occasionally. But this one particular time, Charlie came into the studio and he was just so hung over and I was like, 'What's up man? What were you doing? Out drinking with the Devil?' That just came out of my mouth, because I was totally into all of that at the time anyway. And he was like 'Man, that motherfucker kept pouring one drink after another,' and it became this... and we're talking this animated, anthropomorphic thing, like he was actually out with some invisible sidekick, the Devil, getting fucked up (laughs). So I just went, 'that's a great title.' So when I heard this really steaming track that they had, I just said 'That's it! That's it! I'm writing this song.' 'All night till the sun comes up... I'm gonna explode... heading for an overload,' and then I get into this story where he sits me down, pours one more and says 'I'm at your command.' So here we are, drinking with the Devil, man, face-to-face. And Charlie said, 'The last time I saw God, I threw up on his shoes.' (laughs). We were cracking up."
Next up was another instrumental, lending a sense of balance to the original album's second side, the same way 'Anybody There' tempered side one. Joe on this delicious interlude: "'Snowman' was nominated for a Grammy, which was a very proud moment for Ritchie, I'm sure. That was a song from a cartoon, that basically this old gentleman, Howard Blake did. And Ritchie interpreted it, how shall we say, his way? Ritchie was so taken by this theme and this cartoon. I'm pretty sure it was black and white, and probably silent, just animation, about how a snowman lives and the kids play with him and how he eventually melts and disappears into this puddle. And it's so reflective about life in a way on different levels that Ritchie was really moved by this thing. And we all saw it, several times. Of course it was all part of... you know, he had it on the bus, and this snowman cartoon was becoming like our philosophy."
Closing the record was another stomping riff rocker, again, like its two companioins, quite sweet for the verse, nastier for the chorus. "'Make Your Move' was probably something that me and Roger were just saying. It's just a point in life where people have to do something different, and you just have to have the balls; you have to do it. And it was nothing more than a motivational song, like 'Power' was a motivational song. When you see that somebody is out there listening and it's motivating in their life, sending them in a certain direction, that's the reward. It's not the money and it's not the fame, it's really listening to these letters I used to get and still do. It's amazing, it brings tears to your eyes, or if someone is in the hospital and they listen to your song constantly and it helps them heal. It's unbelievable."
Joe made no bones about trying to get a message through to Ritchie that he would welcome another shot at Rainbow Version 3.0. "I think we had a very popular band," says Joe, looking back fondly. "Our incarnation of Rainbow was probably one of the most popular ones. I mean, there are a lot of Dio freaks out there but it wasn't across the board liked this was. Our audiences definitely had a different demographic. There was somebody at a radio station that sent me a chart, funnily enough, that the demographics of Dio are these guys that work at Wendy's, leather jackets, toothless. And my demographic was college-educated, white collar, six figures a year-type people, more intelligent. Not that that's better. But there's a real contrast."
So how successful was this version of Rainbow, anyway? What were the sales?
"I really don't know, maybe a couple hundred thousand. I never did get a gold record for the states. I think we were at 450,000 or something crazy like that, which was frustrating because they weren't really interested in chasing gold records. Ritchie was indignant about being popular. Although in the back of his mind, I think he loved it. He's the kind of guy who was just like, if that's popular, I don't want any part of it. There was a certain kind of popularity he wanted, meaning more to the left than center. He wanted popularity but on his own terms. I think he was getting it and he always gave me a lot of accolades and respect because he felt we had a really good team. And it was a whole different vibe from the Dio thing or Bonnet. It was a completely different demographic. Like the audiences that we picked up... well, for the first time in their lives, they had girls in the audience, which the roadies thanked me a lot for. But at the same time, a female audience... he always wanted popularity on his own terms, and a girl demographic came in, we had females, MTV opened it up, and the 'Stone Cold' video obviously portrayed that and brought me into that. Whether I liked it or not, that was the role I was playing. That's the way it went and we just followed it in a natural progression. One more album and I think we would have cracked the commercial rock market."
Of course, Rainbow never got the chance to break big. According to Turner, nefarious backroom dealings ultimately killed the band.
"We toured the album all over Europe, Japan, South America and then we came to the States and I think it was a limited tour on that particular record and I'm not entirely sure why. We headlined. But going back one, with Straight Between The Eyes, that was one of the pinnacle points in my career because that was the first time we ever played Madison Square Gardens, here in New York, which is like my hometown. So that was thrilling, we were headlining and Scorpions opened. That was a funny thing. Metallica used to open for us and look how huge they became and Scorpions, look how huge they became. Def Leppard open for us and they became incredibly huge. And we at that point of course were broken up, but that's why I say, if we had stuck together and kept on the path, something like this would have happened because we were destined; we were going that way. And I guess a lot of personal things got in the way as well as business. What really happened was that the manager got an opportunity to put Purple together. Only a couple years ago did I really find out the truth about this, and so did Ritchie, which is really surprising to both of us, that we were really played and duped. The manager told Ritchie, 'Well, Joe wants to do his solo album for Elektra Records and he doesn't want to do Rainbow anymore so we have this opportunity to do Purple.' Then he came to me and said 'Ritchie wants to do Purple and he doesn't want to do Rainbow. He'll come back to it at some point in time and you've got your solo career so shuffle off and have a good time.' And the band was never really communicative, so Ritchie and I never went up to each other and said 'Hey, what's your fucking problem? How come you don't want to do another record with Rainbow?' Because I found out later that he was disappointed that I didn't want to continue with Rainbow. And I did! I would have easily put off the solo record for one more Rainbow album. We were duped. Because there was a lot of money involved in the reunion of Deep Purple, and they put out an absolutely fabulous album, Perfect Strangers. So I always felt like a part of that. It is like 'Well, I helped, because I didn't get in the way.' I took a sidestep, and I helped to put this band back together. I always felt a little part of the reunion, and I think rightfully so. But at the same time, I really felt we were going to get back together at some point in time and continue this. But as we all know..."
Martin Popoff, Ye Olde Metal 2004