Joe Lynn Turner’s classical gas

Vocalist for Rainbow and Deep Purple to ‘rock the opera’ with Ra’anana Symphonette

Joe Lynn Turner (photo credit: Courtesy)
Joe Lynn Turner
(photo credit: Courtesy)
He grew up on Italian opera greats like Enrico Caruso and crooners like Frank Sinatra in his native New Jersey, fronted hard rock bands like Rainbow and Deep Purple, and sang in various configurations with middle of the road pop stars ranging from Billy Joel to Cher and Michael Bolton.
With a career scope as broad as Joe Lynn Turner’s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his latest project involves a genre-bending pastiche of classical rock & roll – literally.
Rock the Opera takes 20th century standards by Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and recreates them in full orchestral splendor with Turner’s powerful vocals keeping them anchored to their origins.
Led by the conductor of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, Friedemann Karl Riehle, and featuring three international vocalists – Sabina Olijve, Leanne Jarvis and Markéta Poulícková – along with special guest Turner, the musical extravaganza utilizes local orchestras in the cities where they perform. In the case of the two upcoming shows on November 19 at the Charles Bronfman Auditorium in Tel Aviv, and November 20 at the Haifa Auditorium, the Ra’anana Symphonette is going to unleash its inner rock.
“We performed in August at the Vienna Opera House, and it was phenomenal. To play at that venue, well, it means you’ve arrived,” said Turner with a laugh during a phone call from Dubai last week where he was taking a short break from touring.  “Friedemann is just a brilliant conductor, and easy to get along with.”
Getting along has been key for the 68-year-old vocalist who credits his ability to integrate into diverse musical settings to a general love of all kinds of music.
“My father, who was real Italian music lover, always said ‘listen to everything,’ and he was right. By being open-minded, you’ll become a bigger and more rounded singer,” said Turner.
“When I walk into new situations, what I bring with me is a professional attitude and the philosophy that I’m creating for the project, not to try to outshine everyone else. The project is the diamond and I just try to polish it.”
That ethic helped Turner when he found himself destitute in New York in the early 1980s after his band Fandango broke up after releasing four albums for RCA.
“We were robbed at ChicagoFest along with Billy Joel and Jethro Tull of $80,000 of equipment – it took the wind out of our sails. I really needed a new gig, and out of the blue, I got a mysterious phone call from this guy asking me if I liked Deep Purple and Rainbow [the band Purple founder Ritchie Blackmore started],” recalled Turner.
“DEEP PURPLE is my all-time favorite band, and it turned out that the person calling was Blackmore’s personal assistant. I thought somebody was pulling my leg when he said ‘Ritchie wants to talk to you.’ Even when the next person said ‘ello mate’ in a British accent, I didn’t believe it.”
But it really was Blackmore, who had heard Turner sing, and asked him to audition for Rainbow who were about to go into the studio to record an album.
“I took a train out to this studio in Syosset in Long Island, walked in, and saw Blackmore and [Deep Purple organist] John Lord sitting there, and realized it was the real deal. At that moment, I may have been slightly intimidated, because you’re meeting your idols, but I really needed the gig so I was pretty calm,” said Turner.
They hired him on the spot, and the three albums Turner recorded with them – Difficult to Cure, Straight Between the Eyes, and Bent Out of Shape – propelled the band into the Top 40 and MTV mainstream.
When Rainbow broke up in 1984. Turner ventured off into a solo career, with stops on the way back with Blackmore in a revamped Deep Purple and even a week as lead singer for Foreigner.
“Then Lou Gramm decided to come back, so it was like, ‘sorry,’” laughed Turner.
In Rock the Opera, which also includes songs by U2 and Queen, Turner said that he’s approaching the music like he does every other project, with committed professionalism.
“You have to own the songs and do them your way,” he said, adding that adapting to singing with an orchestra has its moments of adjustment.
“Sometimes when I’m singing, if I hear violins take a guitar part, it might catch my ear and throw me off momentarily. You don’t necessarily have a slamming drummer back there to keep you on the beat so you can be floating in mid-air. So I just try to keep myself in the basic format of the arrangement, especially because some of these orchestras have some really wild things going on back there.”
Turner, who suffered a heart attack earlier this year, said that he’s fully recovered and healthier than ever.
“Calling it a wake-up call is exactly right. After 40-plus years of touring and the heat of the sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle, it’s going to catch up to you sooner or later,” said the grandfather of two.
“I’ve cleaned up my act a lot and feel like I have a new lease on life. I’ve got new opportunities to comprehend my mortality and to be more grateful. It was just a hell of a way to do it.”