Rolling Stone‘s interview series King for a Day features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and singers who had the difficult job of fronting major rock bands after the departure of an iconic vocalist. Some of them stayed in their bands for years, while others lasted just a few months. In the end, however, they all found out that replacement singers can themselves be replaced. This edition features former Rainbow and Deep Purple singer Joe Lynn Turner.
Ronnie James Dio and Ian Gillan are two of the most beloved singers in the history of hard rock. After they laid down their vocals on Rainbow and Deep Purple classics like “Man on the Silver Mountain,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and “Highway Star,” it was almost impossible to imagine anyone else delivering them.
But when each of them parted ways with their band, Rainbow/Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore turned to the same singer to fill the voids they left behind: Joe Lynn Turner. He fronted Rainbow from 1980 to 1984, helping them score the biggest American hits of their long career, including “Stone Cold” and “Street of Dreams.” He then joined Deep Purple in 1990 for the Slaves and Masters album and tour. This time around, fans were less willing to embrace him as the new guy. The album sold poorly, and it was ripped apart by critics. Gillan returned to the band shortly after the tour wrapped, and he’s still at the helm of Deep Purple today.
“My theory is that fans find it difficult to reconcile what they’re used to hearing with something new,” Turner tells Rolling Stone via Zoom from his home in Eastern Europe. “I don’t care who you replace or whatever happens. If they don’t hear that old familiar, they’re going to crucify you. I got crucified several times.”
Long before his hard-rock crucifications, Turner grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey, as Joseph Arthur Mark Linquito. His grandmother was a country music fan who loved Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard since it reminded her of the Italian folk music of her youth, but Turner gravitated towards acts like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis instead. “I had older cousins that would spin 45s at sock hops,” he says. “I was too young to go into the parties, but I still checked out all the girls dancing with the guys. It’s really what turned me onto this stuff.”
His parents bought him a tiny Galanti accordion when he was little, and he learned to play. But he put it away forever once the Beatles and the Rolling Stones arrived on the scene. “It was a real unsexy instrument,” he says. “The guitar was much sexier. One day, my dad took home an acoustic guitar and a Beatles songbook. I put my fingers where the tablature said they should go, and I started playing. That was it. I just went from there.”
Hackensack is just over the river from Manhattan, and Turner came into the city constantly as a kid to see acts like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, and the Temptations at the Apollo Theater. When he was a bit older, he became a regular at the Fillmore East. “It was just five bucks to get in,” he said. “My friends and I went almost every weekend. They booked really diverse acts. You’d see Yes, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and Sly and the Family Stone on the same bill. There was no splitting up of the genres. It was all in one place.”
Turner played guitar in his early high school bands until one night when his lead singer drank too much Southern Comfort and couldn’t get through a set at a school dance. “I stepped up to the mic and started singing, and the crowd came forward,” he says. “All of a sudden, everyone was like, ‘Hey man, you can sing. You’re better than this guy!’ So we fired the singer and I got the job.”
His parents didn’t see a lucrative future for him in rock music and urged him to attend college. He was unsure himself until he saw Grand Funk Railroad at Madison Square Garden. “They were spectacular that night,” Turner says. “Mark Farner was my idol. I was so blown away by the show that said, ‘That’s it. That’s what I have to do.’ I knew it right there.”
His two early bands, Ezra and Fandango, gained enough of a local following that he had the chance to open up for Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, and Dixie Dregs. It was invaluable experience, but money was tight and neither group gained a nationwide profile. He wasn’t quite sure where his career was going until the phone rang one day in 1980 and Ritchie Blackmore was on the other end, setting him on a path towards Rainbow and eventually Deep Purple.
Were you a fan of Rainbow and Deep Purple when you were young?
I was a fan of Deep Purple, big time. And I knew Dio from playing in clubs. Ronnie was from Cortland, New York. We would play in the same places in Utica and Cortland and other places around Jersey and Connecticut. There was a circuit and you’d meet people like Ronnie when he was in Elf, or [future Foreigner singer] Lou Gramm when he was in in Black Sheep.
What impressed you about Ritchie as a guitarist back in the Seventies?
I was primarily a guitarist. Early on, I bought the Machine Head record. I just loved his style. It was different. It was innovative in many ways, very classical. He was experimental in many ways. I loved his style, so I’d copy his leads. Of course, there was Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, the blues, all this kind of stuff. But Blackmore stood out to me just because he was so unique. As a guitarist, that’s what really got me. And I learned the “Highway Star” lead and all that stuff back then.
I would sit with those records for hours. And believe me, it was difficult back then because we didn’t have the slowdown or any of the tools these kids got today. You had to keep that putting that needle back on. You had to want to learn it.
How did you first hear from Ritchie?
It was after Fandango broke up. I’m living downtown in the West Village in a one-room studio apartment, looking for gigs, going to auditions with a guitar on my back. I was running out of money. One day, I get a call. It’s a guy named Barry. I later found out it was Barry Ambrosio. He happened to be Ritchie’s personal assistant. He didn’t let on who he was at first. He was just asking a lot of questions. I was like, “Hey, who is this?” I thought it was a friend of a friend putting me on.
He was like, “Do you like Deep Purple? Do you like Ritchie Blackmore?” I was like, “Look, I’m going to hang up right now because this is ridiculous. Who the hell are you?” He goes, “I’m Barry. I’m Ritchie’s personal. He’s standing right here and wants to talk to you.”
He gets on the phone and is like, [British accent] “Hey mate. Fancy coming to an audition?” I was like, “Who is this really?” He goes, “It’s me.” I didn’t believe him. He said, “Look, I’m going to put you on the phone with Colin Hart, the tour manager, and he’s going to give you the details and directions.”
Colin got me a train ticket and picked me up in Syosset, Long Island, to go to the studio, which was Syosset Sound. That’s where I met Ritchie and [Deep Purple/Rainbow bassist] Roger [Glover] at the desk. After about five or ten minutes, they were like, “Now get in there and sing at the mic.” The rest is history.
How anxious were you at the moment you walked up to the mic?
I was anxious, but I needed a gig, so I was really more concentrated on, “I want this job.” I didn’t even realize at the time how big it was. I think that helped the nerves, a bit. I just love Blackmore and was thrilled. At the same time, I was so desperate for a gig that I just … All my will and everything just rose up and went, “You’re going to kill this on the mic right now. You’re going to do whatever you got to do.”
They started throwing tracks at me. Then they said, “We’ve got a song called ‘I Surrender.’ We’d like you to sing it.” I said, “Sure. Let me hear it two or three times.” And so they did. I went, “Can I change some things?” They said, “Yeah. Do what you want.”
I sang it my way. Later I got accolades from [“I Surrender” songwriter] Russ Ballard saying that I delivered a wonderful performance and different structures on some of the melody lines. He wouldn’t give me any writing credit, but that doesn’t matter.
The song was a Number Three [hit]. We did really well with that. But that’s what sold them, and the fact that I could write. I have a writing pad with me all the time. I’m always writing lyrics, poetry, call it what you want. A lot of the tracks that they threw at me had nothing on them, so I had to make up melodies and lyrics right there.
How did they tell you that you had the job?
Maybe a half hour or 45 minutes later, I see them nodding. Roger and Ritchie are nodding to each other. I’m thinking, “OK, this looks good.” Ritchie comes in with two beers. He hands me one and says, “You have the job if you want it.” I go, “Want it? I need it.” He goes, “All right, cheers.”
Now I’m starting to get nervous. I say, “Look, I’ll go back to the city, grab some clothes, and come back.” He goes, “Oh, no you won’t.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “You’re going to stay right here. We’re going to check you into a hotel with Roger. You’re going to start writing these songs. If you need anything like jeans, T-shirts, we’ll buy them for you.” And that was it. I never went back. [Laughs.]
This was a record they had started with Graham Bonnet, the singer they briefly had after Dio, right?
Yes. Graham’s vocal was on “I Surrender,” and the backgrounds and everything. I had to replace it all.
Was it challenging because that was written for another singer at first?
I listened to what he was singing, the melodies, but I had a different kind of style. I come from a little more of a soulful, roots place. I just smoothed it out, and did it my way. They loved it. So did Ballard, obviously, because of his comments. He thought it was a throwaway song.
You’re credited as a co-writer on “Midtown Tunnel Vision.”
That was about New York City, obviously. I wrote it with Roger. Sidewalk cruisers, stiletto heels, the whole time when there were prostitutes on Fifth Avenue. It all about the city.
When you read about Rainbow in this period, everyone says that Ritchie wanted to get a more modern, radio-friendly sound like Foreigner. Is that accurate?
That’s absolutely accurate. He wanted some chart action. He was really tired of … Ritchie is Ritchie. He goes from black to white to yellow, to whatever he wants to do. At this point in time, he wanted a more commercial accessible approach. He loves ABBA. They are one of his favorite groups. He loves melody and all this. He said directly, “Look, we’re looking for this approach, less Dungeons and Dragons and more street value, talking to the people.”
I said, “Well, that’s pretty much what I’m about. I can write that fantasy stuff, if you want. But I’m really more about stories and real life and things like that.” That was the first opportunity. We wrote “Freedom Fighter” because of Kosovo. There were social things going on that we wrote about as well.
We took the song “Magic” from Brian Moran, who was a good writer. He wanted that sound. But yet, we wanted to keep the integrity of the work. A lot of people, I read back then, gave us credit for launching melodic hard rock, since that’s what it was.
It was a great lineup. Don Airey is a fantastic keyboardist.
Super. And a fun guy. Super guy.
Tell me about the tour preparations.
We finished the album. We had some really great critical and commercial success. We began rehearsing in Long Island since Ritchie was living there at the time. We made up the setlist. It still had “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” and things like that. I had to sing a couple of Dio songs. Bonnet did them too.
I would try and show respect to the original versions, but I still had to do it my way. I wasn’t changing entire melodies or anything, but I had to sing my way. Kerrang magazines and the English press can be pretty tough. They said, “You’ve got some pretty big shoes to fill.” I said, “Well, I’m going to make my own footprints.”
A song like “Man on the Silver Mountain” is so strongly identified with Dio. He actually had that song title chiseled onto his grave. But you did find a way to make it your own.
When I’m doing the quote-unquote “Purple/Rainbow” program, which I get called for a lot … People want me to do that since nobody else is doing that. Ronnie is gone. Ritchie is obviously not doing that. Purple is doing something completely different. I do “Man on the Silver Mountain.” I do “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll.” I do “Catch the Rainbow.” I did it with Rainbow. I sang it on the stage of Madison Square Garden and all the big stages with them.
Seeing “I Surrender” chart all over the world must have been very gratifying.
Absolutely. It was Ritchie’s desire to get more accessible, commercial. Jimi Hendrix once said, “There’s no disgrace in having your song on a jukebox.” He said, “Pop music means you’re popular.” And we were popular. In the end, we sold more records and played more big arenas and expanded it. So yes, getting on the charts was sort of a redemption for him. Then he says, “Look, now we need to follow it up.” That’s always difficult.
It’s interesting that Deep Purple and Rainbow were always bigger outside America than in America. Difficult To Cure only hit #50 in America. It did much better most everywhere else. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. Europe is huge. I mean, the people just got it. The United States is very trendy. I mean this with all due respect, but it’s a very trendy country. We’re very diverse. The States are like little countries in their own right, in some ways. Europe is a lot more close together and unified in taste like this, especially the fans. You can go to Germany or Spain and get the same reaction from the fans on the same songs. This is what they identity with, as opposed to what happens in the States. Although, we did very well in the States with “Stone Cold” and “Street of Dreams.” And we played very big places in the States, bigger than they ever played with Dio.
The Rainbow singer before you, Graham Bonnet, lasted just a single album before he got the boot. Did you feel anxious in those early months the same thing might happen to you if you didn’t really prove yourself?
Oh, sure. You’re never secure about anything. I was really, at that point, locking into the whole thing. I was like, “This could really go somewhere.” The fact of the matter is that if you don’t produce, you’re out. Ritchie is a production in his own right. He wants things a certain way, and he’ll let you know. He’ll tell you right to your face. Yeah, there were some fights and some disagreements. But the whole point of the respect that we had for each other is that when we wrote, we wrote for what his vision was.
I’ll never forget what happened on “Street of Dreams.” I had a good day in the studio. The story came to me literally in a dream. It’s a very personal story. I’m married to the girl in that story to this day. I kept seeing her face. That’s why it’s all about reincarnation. I lived my whole life this way.
I came into the lounge while Ritchie was trying to do the guitar solo. He said, “I just can’t do it.” I go, “Why?” He goes, “Because your vocal is intimidating me.” That threw me back. I went to the fridge and got a couple of beers. I said, “Come on, man. You go in there and just play those melodies that you love. You got this thing.”
All of a sudden, there was a crack. Lightning had hit the rod above the studio in Copenhagen, Denmark. All of the lights went out. There were candles burning. We looked at each other like, “Holy fuck,” since we were into that spiritual type of black magic shit. And I said, “It’s a sign.”
He went into the studio with candles and they started the separate generator so that the machines, since they were tape, would be at the proper speed. If you have an iota of extra electricity coming in, it’s going to be warped. He went in, played that lead, came out, lights went back on. It was just this magical type of atmosphere that had happened. It was really moving. We knew it was a sign.
Tell me about Straight Between the Eyes, your second LP with Rainbow. This was the first time you had an opportunity to record a record with them from scratch.
That was really exciting because of that fact alone. We went up up to Le Studio in Quebec. The Police were finishing up their album [Ghost in the Machine], so we overlapped a couple of days. They allowed some of us to come into the studio and listen to some things. It was a very nice atmosphere. And then they left, and we moved in.
They had a band house, which was just beautiful. There were fireplaces you could walk into. You’re talking Canada with old chateaus, which Ritchie loved. I’m in a separate house by a lake, which was frozen over. We used to play hockey on it. I needed that alone-ness sometimes just to concentrate on writing.
That’s where I came up with “Tearin’ Out My Heart” and “Death Alley Driver.” And “Stand Cold” has a great story. The lake was frozen over, at least we thought. Glover and I were going into the studio that night. He was producing. He said, “Instead of taking the jeep, let’s walk across the lake.” The studio was across the lake from the house.
As we’re getting closer to the middle of the lake, we hear a cracking. We look at each other like, “Oh, fuck. What are we going to do?” We laid down. That’s the first thing they tell you to do so you distribute your weight. You lay down and you kind of your turtle your way back to the shore. We jumped in the jeep and were like, “OK, we aren’t doing that again.”
We got into the studio, and a huge snowstorm broke out. There were icicles three or four feet hanging from the studio. The studio was made up of glass, rock, and wood. It was beautiful. I’m on the mic and I’m singing this song called “Stone Cold” and all the ad-libs at the end of that song came from just the atmosphere that was happening around me. It was another inspiring moment. This is how that was crafted.
When you toured it, you did very few old Rainbow songs from the Dio era. It was almost a new band by this point.
Absolutely. Correct. It was a new band. I gotta tell you, that band was shit-hot. It was tight. We had [keyboardist David] Rosenthal, who was brilliant. He’s still working with Billy Joel as his music director. [Drummer] Chuck Burgi came in. He’s my old friend. I got him in the band when Ritchie fired Bobby [Rondinelli]. Bobby was also great, no doubt about it. But they had whatever they had.
I look back at the live videos and the band is flawless. Ritchie was playing at the top of his game. I hadn’t seen him play like that even in Purple. He was just unbelievable. The energy we were putting out … everyone pushed each other in that band, whether it was Rosenthal’s solo or Burgi really pounding it out. Ritchie loved all that. You can see it in his whole demeanor. He was playing his ass off, man. It was unbelievable. I’m very proud of that band.
Tell me about your goals for Bent Out of Shape when you were heading into it.
By the time Bent Out of Shape came around, we were following the more commercial attitude. I think the production was a little more slick at that point because Roger was gaining in his competence and his production abilities. Maybe if we left it a little bit more raw, it would have been different. Just the same, a lot of people love that record. It’s a commercial rock radio-oriented record. But we had great songs on it. Look at some of the heavier songs like “Fire Dance.” These were heavy songs.
The industry was really changing at this time due to MTV. The visual element was becoming very important. Did you have mixed feelings about all this?
Well, yeah. We were never big on doing videos. In order to do a video, you had to break our arms. We just wanted to stay on tour. We couldn’t care less about videos. But you had to do videos since otherwise you just weren’t in the game anymore. We didn’t know what we were doing when we did the video for “I Surrender.” I’m working with mirrors. We were absolutely babes in the woods.
With “Street of Dreams,” they pulled us off tour just for one day. They took us into a basement. They shot the hypnosis scenes. We were just like, “Good? Are we done? We’re out of here.” They made up some story about this professor hypnotist. We didn’t really care about it. We didn’t care much about the videos. Maybe we should have because all these other bands, all the hair bands, were doing nothing but beautiful girls with tight asses and all this other crap. We weren’t into it. We just weren’t really into it.
If you got a video to take off back then, you’re in the living room of every suburban kid in America over and over and over. It was the best marketing tool in the world for a band.
It really was. It’s far from that now. It’s a whole other medium now. But you better believe it back then. When you had Mötley Crüe and Ratt and Bon Jovi and everybody, these videos were it. They were bigger than life. We never cared for that. Maybe we missed out on that. But we don’t regret it. We stayed true to the music.
The last shows you played with Rainbow were in Japan in 1984. Do you recall the last night at Budokan?
Yeah, pretty much. I remember the ride back. That’s when I learned that they wanted to put Purple back together. I was doing a solo album for Elektra. I was supposed to be the new heartthrob or whatever. Roy Thomas Baker was producing my record. He spent a million dollars on the budget. Roy is a character. I got stories up the ying-yang about that.
I remember playing Budokan at the last show. Ritchie and I had a promise that we were going to get Rainbow back together. We said, “Look, we’ll take a brief interim and then get back together.” But [former manager] Bruce Payne …. He’s the one that pitted us against each other.
During your time in Rainbow, did you feel like it was likely that Purple would reform at some point?
Sure. Why not? I was actually, at the time, very happy that I would step back. I had a solo album. I had the world on a string. It didn’t bother me none. I was happy that one of my favorite bands was back. I was able to contribute in a small way, by stepping back and letting this happen. Now, we later found out, Ritchie and I, that we were played, totally played. But managers do that.
How do you feel you were played exactly?
He said to Ritchie, “Joe wants out. He’s doing a solo career. He doesn’t want to be in Rainbow anymore.” Ritchie was actually hurt, he told me. And Bruce told me, “Ritchie really wants to do Purple.” I said, “He said we’re going to get back together.”
You have to understand something. People still ask, “Are you in touch with Ritchie?” It’s like a marriage. When the marriage is over, you don’t really call up your ex-wife all the time. You’re not really in touch. We were friends and partners and colleagues then. It doesn’t mean you carry that on forward. We were friendly enough, comrades in arms, so to speak.
It’s funny to think that Ian is in Black Sabbath in 1983 and he’s singing “Smoke on the Water” at every show. You’re in Rainbow that same year playing that same song most nights. It’s pretty weird.
[Laughs.] It’s insane. The whole thing is incestuous. When I saw that your column is about replacement singers, I thought “Gillan was a replacement singer, too!”
You’re right. Twice over. He was a replacement singer in both Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.
There’s so many of us that come and go in the family tree. I’ll never forget what Don Airey said to me one day. He’s such a funny guy, very intelligent. He said, “Maybe we should have a retirement home for Rainbow/Purple people. It can be a small place with about 300 rooms.”
Was making your solo album Rescue You a positive experience despite the low sales?
If you play that record today, I swear it stands the rest of time, production-wise as well. I thought the performances were amazing, the writing was great. The production Roy did was fantastic. But he spent all of Elektra’s money. You have no idea. This guy had limousines and a house on a hill, a personal chauffeur. He even had all these cooking utensils. He would blow out the power in the studio because he would plug in his apparatus for making Indian food. The studio couldn’t handle it. We’d blow out and go, “It’s fuckin’ Roy.” He was brilliant though.
By the time we delivered that whole record in front of the staff over there, the big meeting … I don’t think we even slept that night. We brought it in, and they loved the record. They just kept saying, “Roy, you spent all the money. You spent over a million dollars.” I just kept saying, “What happens now?” The support was extremely minimal. What did they have? One video for “Endlessly.” People use that as their wedding song. You’d be surprised. It’s a good record. Getting discouraged is very difficult for me. I’m a survivor, and I’ll just keep going.
You started working with Yngwie Malmsteen right after this. How did that go?
Jim Lewis from Polygram called me up. He goes, “Look, I have a great guitar player, but he doesn’t write songs.” I said, “What do you want me to do?” He goes, “Do the same thing you did with Rainbow and write the songs. He needs content.” I said, “OK.”
I flew out to L.A., met Yngwie, and spent three or four days partying with him. It was nonstop heavy partying. After that he was like, “Yeah, you’re OK. I like you!” He was a young, super-gifted guy, though he was very arrogant and guarded. But I’m used to Ritchie, so I got a whip and a chair like a lion tamer, and I went into the cage. I used my psychology.
Then he got into an accident. I had all the demo tracks. While he was laid up in the hospital, I was writing the lyrics and the melodies to all these tracks. I was also the senior person because the other guys could barely speak English. I had to take care of all the bills and the doctors and everything else.
I read online there was talk after this of you joining both Bad Company and Foreigner around this time. Is that true?
Yeah. Just before I got the call for Purple, I went to New York City to audition for Foreigner. It was the original guys in the band. I had run into Mick [Jones] at the China Club and he was like, “Look, Lou [Gramm] is a little shaky right now. You got a hell of a voice. Come on up.”
I came up, and they loved it. But [Bud] Prager, another rock & roll manager, who has passed now, was a son of a bitch. I got the job, and then he started in on me. He was trying to intimidate me, poking me in the chest and all this shit. I’m like, “Hey, look!” I’m from Jersey and New York. I don’t take that kind of shit. I was a street kid. I may be small, but I’m a scrapper. I was like, “Keep your fuckin’ hands off me!”
He didn’t like that. And two days later, I get a call from Mick. He says, “Joe, man, look … Lou heard you were auditioning.” And I knew Lou. He knew me. “And he’s coming back. We convinced him to come back. Bud Prager just can’t stand you.” I said, “I figured that. I can’t stand him either.”
About five or six years later, a friend of mine was at Prager’s office. He mentioned my name, and Prager jumped out from behind the desk and went nuts on him just because he mentioned my name. He still carried that grudge. That’s how crazy he was.
How about Bad Company?
Mick says to me, “All is not lost. Bad Company is looking for a singer.” I went, “Ooooh.” Now, Paul Rodgers is, without a doubt, my favorite singer in the world. He’s got the soul, the style, the range, the attitude, the emotion. I love this guy. I grew up on this guy. I could get into him since I have a very bluesy voice when I want. Before I even had the chance to call them, since I was given the number, I got a call from Colin Hart to come up to Vermont to audition for Deep Purple. Being comfortable with Ritchie and Roger [Glover], and Purple being my favorite band, I said, “I’ll give it a shot.”
I drove up to Vermont. They were recording in an abandoned ski lodge and bar. They love to do that kind of stuff, haunted house and all that stuff. I walked in and Ritchie saw me and started playing “Hey Joe.” We played that and jammed on it for about half an hour, literally. Then I shook hands with [keyboardist] Jon [Lord] and [drummer] Ian [Paice] since I had never meet them.
Then Jon started playing this keyboard bit, which became “The Cut Runs Deep” off the Slaves and Masters album. Right there and then, I pulled the lyrics to the chorus out of my magic bag. To this day, that’s the actual lyrics to the song.
Before you came in, they were talking to Jimi Jamison from Survivor.
First of all, Jimi was a good friend of mine, rest his soul. We hung out a lot. We were doing a lot of different projects together. I knew him very well. But he had problems, and all this other stuff. I didn’t feel bad about it. I also knew that Terry Brock was up for it too. He’s an excellent singer from New York City. I said, “Look, I’m going to roll the dice and see what happens.”
They eventually said, “OK, you got the job because you can not only sing, but you can write.” They needed that at that point. Ritchie was bound and determined to bring Purple along where Rainbow went. That’s where you get Slaves and Masters, which is sort of like Deep Rainbow. It sound more like a Rainbow record than a Purple record.
Did you have fun making it?
Absolutely. We had a great time. I think that’s one of Ritchie’s favorite records. I just saw a little video snippet of YouTube where he says, “Slaves and Masters is a great record.” And you have to take it for what it is. It was a commercial attempt at bringing them onto the charts. At the time, all this grunge and everything was coming in. It was really bad timing. It was not good for the hardcore Purple fans since they’re not used to hearing this. They all want Gillan back, or they want Dio back. I find it difficult that people don’t like change very much. They resist change.
If you loved Deep Purple as a teenager, and Machine Head and Made in Japan ere really important to you, like they’re almost part of your identity, you cling to it very tightly.
Right. This is what is happening. The fan club, Highway Star, was really slamming me. But for what it was, and what Richie wanted, Slaves and Masters is terrific. The production was great. The songwriting was great. The performances, I think, were really great. Ritchie played great on it. That’s what it was. But most people didn’t want to accept it for what we intended it to be.
Ian Paice said in an interview that was I was the glue that held us together. “Without Joe coming into the band, Ritchie would have bolted. He would have been gone.” They never would have gotten back together to make such a horrible album, The Battle Rages On. And by the way, that sold less and charted worse than Slaves and Masters. Figure it out!
You’re a co-writer on every song on Slaves and Masters. Let’s talk about some of them, starting with “King of Dreams,” the first single.
Roger had the title, and the idea for the chorus. I said, “That’s a great idea.” We were being really self-deprecating as the “rock stars” we’re supposed to be. It starts off “It doesn’t matter if you like my song/As long as you can hear me sing.” In other words, it’s not how much you’re loved or hated or anything. It’s about us doing what we love to do, and we only love it for the music. “I’m a real smooth dancer/I’m a fantasy man” relates to Ritchie. It goes, “Master of illusion/Magic touch in my hand/All the stages are empty when I steal the scenes/A beggar of love, second-hand hero/King of dreams.” Self-deprecating, right?
Tell me about “Love Conquers All.”
[Laughs.] That’s my fault. When I say that, I’m very proud of that song. I just found out it had over five million streams. That’s pretty damn good for a record that never went anywhere, apparently. People use it as their wedding song, just like “Endlessly,” so I’m reaching some people.
The song is about a person, a musician … could be a military guy, could be anyone, leaving their home and their loved ones in search of his dreams, and hoping to come back some day for this love to pick it up where it left off. That’s why I sing, “I know it’s worth every teardrop that falls/Love conquers all.” This lyric was really about that situation, and it touches a lot of people because that’s what happens in life, you sacrifice.
Tell me about preparing for that Deep Purple tour. It’s one thing to make a record. It’s another to go on the road, play the old songs, and face the fans.
Yes it is. We thought we had a great record. We loved playing the new songs, but we knew there were some standards we had to do, which I loved. Why wouldn’t I? I’m a fan. I did that all my life. It’s no disgrace to try and do that well.
You were willing to sing songs from all periods of the band, even the Glenn Hughes era.
That’s right. I know some singers refuse. Maybe they can’t sing it. Maybe they are just egotistical. But I’m a singer’s singer. I said, “I’ll take a shot at it. And I’ll try to put my best foot forward, my way, and try and be respectful to the original, and still do it. What? Are we not going to play those songs just because I’m in the band? That would be pretty stupid of me, and egotistical and arrogant.” And I took shit for that.
Did you feel nervous before the first few Purple shows?
Absolutely. You had people going, “Where’s Gillan!” It was the same people that saw Rainbow and went, “I want Dio!” I had been through the war before. I had gone through it. So really, it just went off my shoulder. My father, God bless his soul, said to me, “Joe, if you’re going to be in this, you need to have some thick skin. You have to be a warrior. You can’t let what people say about anything … whether it’s the wig or the songs or anything. You have to do what you do, the way you want to do it, and live your own life.” I respect that. It was some of the best advice he ever gave me. “Be your own man.”
What Deep Purple shows from that tour stand out in your mind as especially great?
We played Radio City Music Hall. New York City is always great. We played the Garden with Rainbow and we played Radio City with Purple simply because the acoustics were much better and the stage setup could be more polished. That was a fabulous night. I just saw the video on YouTube. Some guy said, “I didn’t really like the Slaves and Masters album, but this show was pretty damn good.” That says it all. We delivered it live. That stands out since it was a hometown show. Whenever you come back to your hometown and hit a home run, you remember it.
You were fronting an absolutely killer band. It’s you and the Mark II lineup. You don’t get any better than that.
Yes. Look, I’m truly blessed. I’m grateful, proud, and honored to be a part of that legacy. Absolutely. No doubt about it. It was thrilling. It was a dream come true. Pinch me. To look back and think, “Hey, you were in that band. You’re part of that lineage. You’re in that legacy.” Holy shit, wow. That’s an accomplishment. I don’t take it as that most of the time. You’re usually in your career, and you don’t look back. I just try to move forward. But when I look back, I go, “That’s pretty damn good, man.”
This tour took place during the Gulf War, when many other bands cancelled their European tours.
We were in Zagreb when the bombs stated to fall. People were loving it. “You came to us. You aren’t afraid.” We were like, “Things happen. Whatever. We’re here to play.” It’s the same way I feel now. I don’t play for politics, because they’re all full of it. I know a lot from traveling around the world, meeting presidents and people. I have to say that I play for the people. I don’t play for ideologues or ignorant lies that are told to people to make them believe a certain thing, and all of a sudden, everyone believes the same thing. I play for the people. “You want me to play? I’m coming to play for you.”
We took our lives in our hands. I’m very proud of us. We’d talk to the people. We’d talk to the translators, and asked them what was happening. When I went to Russia, for example, with Yngwie, it was such an amazing experience. It was the second Glasnost, and we played 22 shows, 11 in Moscow, 11 in Leningrad. We have over 23,000 people every single night. They came in droves. They loved it. If you look at Live in Leningrad, which is a great video since the band was so hot and precise, they went crazy. That was life-changing for me.
On the Purple tour, did you find the fans in Europe or America were more accepting of what you were doing?
That’s hard to tell since they all went crazy. It was thunderous applause all the time. I don’t recall a bad night. Like that guy said, “I don’t like Slaves and Masters, but that show at Radio City was amazing.”
The last Purple show with you was in Israel. Do you recall that night?
Yeah. On the Sea of Galilee. We were on the side with all the hospitality and everything before the show. There were these Christmas lights all strung out, and tables with food. There were Porta Potties too. Ritchie and I are talking. “That lake over there is where Jesus was walking on the water.” We said something a little bit blasphemous. I can’t remember remember it. But I went into a Porta Potty, and a string of lights came down on top. I was like, “What the hell happened?” Ritchie was like, “Those lights fell right on the Porta Potty. You better shut the fuck up!” [Laughs.] True story.
The audience was great that night, very accepting. They are happy for the music. They weren’t there to judge me. If you didn’t like me in the band, why would you come? Unless you were a certain small group of people that thought we sucked, and we didn’t. We proved ourselves.
Did you begin work on a followup record to Slaves and Masters?
How far did it get?
Let’s put it this way. The track “One Man’s Meat” [from The Battle Rages On] was “Stroke of Midnight” written by me and Jim Peterik from Survivor. Ritchie loved it. It was very Purple. It had a great bluesy riff. I heard he’d play it later through the PA when Gillan was there to piss him off because it was a great track. I put it my solo album Second Hand Life. He would play that to piss Gillan off.
How did they tell you that you were out of the band, and Gillan was coming back?
Well, like Bruce always did. He was a very underhanded kind of guy. I had to hear it from Colin Hart. He was your mom, your executioner, your travel agent. He’ll tell you through this day that he had good jobs and dirty jobs. He said, “Joe, son, you need to pack your bags since they don’t have any need for you anymore.” I go, “What do you mean? I’m out?” He said, “You said it, I didn’t. But I’ll help you pack up.” I said, “Do I get a reason?” He goes, “They never tell me a reason.” I said, “Colin, it’s not important. At this point, I’m a little pissed off at everyone myself. I don’t like the way things are going. It’s so much bullshit going on with these guys. It’s not a band. A band should be like you’re in combat. You watch each other’s back. You take care of each other.”
It wasn’t like that at all. It was starting to be all spread-out and separate. Egos were enormous. I said, “You know what? It’s sad and disappointing, but I knew it was coming. And I know it’s about money.” As soon as Ritchie did it, he split. It was take the money and run.
Jon Lord did some interviews a couple of years after Slaves and Masters came out where he was very critical of the album, and your time in the band in general. Did that bum you out?
It only bummed me out since he was hypocritical … Sorry, I loved Jon … but hypocritical to me to my face. There was only one song he didn’t like, which was “Love Conquers All.” He almost refused to play it. I was in the booth, and he was giving us a hard time. I pushed the talkback button and went, “Jon, why don’t you just fuckin’ play this song right, and I’ll worry about the rest.”
I don’t think he really appreciated that, with seniority and ego and all, God love him. But that song became a very popular song. It still is to this day. People request it. That’s a true story. And I love Jon. I don’t hold any grudges with anybody. But I had to acquiesce to certain things to be in the band. “I like it this way, not that way.” I’d go, “OK, let’s keep the peace. I would have done it this way, but OK.” There’s a give and take.
When Ritchie got Rainbow going again in 2016, did they call you up? Why weren’t you a part of it?
I’ll give you the short version of this. Months and months before, a friend of mine, Barry Summers, who did the Guns N’ Roses 3D movie [Appetite For Democracy 3D: Live at the Hard Rock Casino] and all that stuff … He wanted to do the same thing with this Rainbow reunion. I was getting phone calls from Carole [Stevens], Ritchie’s manager. That’s Candy [Night]’s mother.
What happened is that she convinced Ritchie I wanted half of everything, and I wanted all this and millions of dollars. I spoke to Rick Franks at Live Nation. He was the main guy back then. We had a conference call without four or five other agents. I was on the call with the agents first. All of a sudden, I heard “Hello, this is Rick Franks.” And then silence. It was like the king walked in. I didn’t know who he was.
He said, “Joe, if you can get the nod from Blackmore, I’ll put you out 164 dates a year. I’ll get you the best slots on the festivals. I’ll make you ‘special guest.’ You name it. Blah blah blah. Because your idea of an extravaganza reunion is just perfect.”
I wanted that reunion. I wanted a real reunion. I wanted to call in [Nineties singer] Doogie White. I wanted to call in Graham Bennet. Had Dio been alive, I would have called him in. I wanted all the ex-members to play a good two- or two-and-a-half-hour show. There’s a lot of people, including my wife, who is half my age, have never seen us live. They love the records, but they never saw us live. I wanted to put something together like this. I had the go from Barry. I had the go from Rick. I was trying to convince Carole, but she’s a control freak. Anyone will tell you that.
And I heard from a very reliable source, an insider, a producer, exactly what she was telling him. She was telling him a bunch of lies. I got offered a wage. I went, “A wage?” I told that to [bassist] Bob Daisley. I wanted to bring him in. He’s a good friend of mine. Daisley went, “I won’t work for a wage.” I go, “No. How could we work for a wage? We need a little percentage of this thing. Throw us a bone.”
With that, she just nixed the whole thing. Candy apparently found this singer [Ronnie Romero] on YouTube, sold Ritchie on the ideas, and paid him peanuts. There was your replacement singer. Never wrote a song. And they called it Rainbow. That’s not fuckin’ Rainbow. That was a money grab. He would have made more money doing what I wanted with this production than he’s ever made with her.
The fans were really bummed. They didn’t want ringers. They wanted legit band members.
He had Blackmore’s Night as his band. I saw videos. There was no fire. There was nothing there. It was flat. It was pointless. He wasn’t even playing well. And I came out in the press and accused him of destroying the legacy, which is true. I speak my mind.
How did you feel about Ritchie’s decision back in the Nineties to turn away from hard rock and towards medieval folk rock?
I always knew he loved that music. He used to love this German four-piece that played in the castles that we stayed at. He would be a groupie and follow them all around. When he finally went full-blown with the uniforms and everything else, I was not surprised at all. This was really a love of his. He always said that he was born in the 16th century and he doesn’t belong here now.
I’ll tell you a story about [his wife/bandmate] Candice, too. [Laughs.] During the recording in Florida of Slaves and Masters, we were having a football game with a radio station in Florida for charity. After the game, I’m taking off my sneakers and throwing everything in my sport bag, and this girl comes up and goes, “Hi!” I don’t know if you know, but Florida is full of girls like that.
She’s asking me all these questions. I finally get the idea, “Hey, wait a minute. She thinks I’m Ritchie.” I go, “Excuse me, what’s your name?” She goes, “Candy.” I looked her up and down. Say, “I bet you’re as sweet as candy,” or some chauvinistic remark. I go, “I’m not Ritchie. I’m the singer. Ritchie is there doing an interview.” She goes, “Oh, I’m sorry.” And she walks over to him. That was it. Oh, she also asked me, “What kind of music does he like?” I go, “Truthfully? Renaissance.”
And that’s still going on, all these decades later.
She always wanted to be a singer and famous.
They can make whatever kind of music they want. More power to them. But to many rock fans, it’s just madness.
Nobody said he was sane. [Laughs.] Genius and madness is a fine line, and I think he erased that line.
When is the last time you spoke to Ritchie face to face?
Years ago. Forever. It was so long ago. Had to be early Nineties.
What do you think of the current lineup of Deep Purple?
Well, it’s changed again, and with good reason. [Guitarist] Steve [Morse]’s wife is very sick. I think he’s a splendid human being for going to her side and getting her through this cancer. Hopefully she survives it. And Simon McBride is a brilliant guitar player. Here’s the thing … There have been so many incarnations of Deep Purple and other bands. What’s the big deal with all this shit for people? Why can’t they just shut the fuck up and enjoy the music for what it is? I can’t understand that.
You’ve done a lot of work to keep the legacy alive with the Hughes/Turner Project and Over the Rainbow and other tours you’ve done. They serve the fans a lot more than most of Ritche’s recent tours.
That’s right. At least I go out and sing five Rainbow songs, and I always dedicate them to Ronnie Dio. Believe it or not, Ronnie and I knew each other quite well. We weren’t great friends, but we knew each other. He’d go, “Hey man, you still writing those love songs?” I said, “You still writing those Dungeons and Dragons songs?” And we’d laugh. It was a persona. All of this is theater. Rock & roll is theater. It’s an illusion. Just like movies or entertainment or writing.
You played with Richie’s son Jürgen in Over the Rainbow.
Great idea, right? And we got permission from Ritchie. He gave us the blessing. Jürgen was a great player. The band kicked ass. We were going along quite spectacularly. Let’s put it this way … We played a couple of huge festivals, and the people were packed in back to the trees and beyond. The promoters were like, “We need to have you back.” However, like a lot of bands, the infighting and jealousy was just too much. [Drummer] Bobby [Rondinelli] would come up and be like, “We gotta get rid of [keyboardist] Paul [Morris].” And Paul would come up and be like, “We gotta get rid of Bobby.” I’d be like, “Listen, let’s get rid of both you, you fuckin’ assholes. What are you doing? We have a good project here. Shut the fuck up, make money, and do the music.”
I got so sick of it. They said, “Well, we’ll get Doogie White.” I said, “Go get Doogie White. See if it works!” Nobody wanted them with Doogie White. I’m not saying that arrogantly. I just mean that we knew what we were doing.
You also did shows with Graham Bonnet and Glenn Hughes.
I love Graham. He’s such an honest, sensitive person. Down to earth. Glenn I’ve known forever. Before we were involved in music, we were doing drugs together. You name it. We were criminals together. Then we had two great albums together. To this day, we are like brothers. Graham as well. No problems with them.
Did you have fun when you toured with Voices of Classic Rock?
Absolutely. You had Jimi Jamison … Look at all the people that run through Voices of Classic Rock. It later became Rock and Pop Masters. We had Mickey Thomas from Starship. We had my good friend Leslie West. I miss him terribly. We had Edgar Winter, Mark Farner … Everyone came through. It was hilarious. We had such a good time on the road. I’d sing backup for the guys, and vice versa. It was fun.
Tell me about your new solo record, Belly of the Beast.
I met [producer] Peter Tägtgren and his brother Tommy at a private birthday party I played in Switzerland. A bunch of us were there and we were drinking like Swedes do. It was a great party. We started talking, “What if we did something together?” He goes, “That would be really interesting.” I go, “Keep it in the back of your mind.” We got along really well. We both like supernatural things. We both like paranormal things. We were kindred spirits in that way.
When he drove me back to the train to Stockholm where I was flying out of, he handed me a track, which later became “Don’t Fear the Dark” on the Belly of the Beast album. I sent it back to him with my lyrics and vocals, he said, “Amazing. It’s great. Why don’t you come to Sweden and we’ll do some more.”
We were both touring, but I found an open window and I went. I was there for about five days. We wrote two more songs, “Tortured Soul,” an epic song, and “Black Sun.”
What happened from there?
We then both went on tour, and kept in touch. Meanwhile, I’m always writing. It’s in my blood. And he sent me some more tracks. The pandemic hits, everyone was locked down, and that gave us the opportunity to actually work on the album. We did everything virtually, and finished 11 tracks.
That’s how Belly of the Beast came out. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a lot heavier. We wanted to make a melodic, industrial record, his side and my side. We kept conscious of that path. Whenever it got too heavy, we brought it back this way. Whenever it got too hard rock melodic, we brought it back this way. I think we accomplished that goal. It sounds fresh. It doesn’t sound like anybody out there that I know of. Also, the messages, in my option, are pretty reflective of what’s happening today.
They say that art should be a mirror of society. It should be disturbing since whether you like it or hate it, you won’t forget it. It changes you. It can be “I love that piece” or “I hate that piece,” but it should grab you. It should shake you. It should make you see something from a different perspective. Whether it’s a song or a film, it should make you think about something you didn’t think about before that particular way.
I was bound and determined at this age, 71, to really put something down that had artistic merit as opposed to just being some balladeer pop singer being accused of this and that. I have to say, it really got critical acclaim. They were surprised. They were shocked. We’re still doing pretty well with it.
You generated some headlines recently for speaking about your childhood hair loss due to alopecia for the first time. Why did you decide this was the time to address it publicly?
Well, I was never trying to hide it. It was an open secret. But back in the day, hair was important. [Laughs.] I’m trying to make it in this business when hair is important. My only option, and after being bullied in school and all these things, I decided to wear a hair piece, a wig, a rug, call it what you want. It served me well.
I’m an older guy now. I have nothing to prove, truthfully. I’ve done what I’ve done. My wife loves me this way [without hair]. I’ve accepted myself this way. I said, “Gee, I’m making a metal album. I think I look more brutal this way, Maybe it all comes together. Maybe this was meant to be. God works in mysterious ways. Fine.”
I also said, “When I do a Deep Purple/Rainbow classic show, I’ll put the hair on. That’s the way they know me.” But when I’m doing Belly of the Beast, I take it off. “Here you go, motherfucker. This is what you get.” It’s theater. Now 98 percent of these guys out there these days are wearing hairpieces or wigs, whether it’s David Coverdale or Gene Simmons or any of them. They don’t want to admit it. Fine. I don’t care. But I was done with it. And I’m free to do what I want. If I want to wear one, I wear one. If I don’t, I don’t. I am not under anybody’s scrutiny anymore. They have no power over me.
I gotta tell you, it’s the most freeing feeling in the world since it was always about the wig. People were like, “You’re wearing a wig!” What about the voice? What about the songwriting? Isn’t that the important thing? It’s not what’s on your head. It’s what’s in your head.
Are you hopeful that one day the real Rainbow can tour and you can get back onstage with Ritchie after all these years?
When Hell freezes over, like the Eagles said. Hey, you know what, I’ll play with them. You can make up with your ex-wife and go, “Come on, let’s go out to dinner one night. What’s the difference?” I don’t hold animosity. Hate is a very negative emotion. It’s a cancer inside. I don’t have any of that. I’m thankful for everything that’s been given to me, and everything I’ve worked for. I’m doing very well. I’m comfortable. Thank the universe for that. I’m comfortable with anything. Let’s see. Put a proposal in front of me.