Joe Lynn Turner: "I was so tired of doing this AOR cookie-cutter bulls**t"

Joe Lynn Turner group shot
(Image credit: Agata Nigrovskaya)

On April 12, 2019, Joe Lynn Turner suffered a heart attack. During his recovery he had an epiphany; the former Rainbow and Deep Purple singer decided: “A change has to happen here.”

That change brought about a new album and a new image that are true to his real self. The album, Belly Of The Beast, is heavier – musically and lyrically – than anything he has previously recorded.

And after wearing a wig for most of his life, having lost his hair to alopecia when he was a child, Turner is now presenting his true image to the world. “I’ve joined the brotherhood of strong, shiny men!” he says with a laugh.


It’s a big reveal – the real you.

It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done! But it was a huge decision to make, and I have to credit my loving wife for this. When you have the support of that one amazing person, the rest of the world can kiss your ass. 

She said: “You gotta do it! And this is the perfect time. New album – update yourself. You’re seventy-one years old, who are you trying to impress?” I said: “Okay, I’m scared shitless but I’m gonna do it.”

When you released the photo of your natural look, you received a heartfelt message of support on social media from Graham Bonnet, the singer you replaced in Rainbow back in 1980.

I know Graham very well, and that message showed what a compassionate and warm human being he is. Bless him.

Ever since you became famous with Rainbow, there were always rumours that you were wearing a wig.

It’s been an open secret, yes. But I wasn’t the only one. 

And back then, long hair was de-rigueur for rock stars.

Right. It was a uniform.

As a child, how did you cope emotionally with losing your hair?

Well, I was born with a full head of hair, but when I was three my mom was washing me in the tub and it all fell out. You want a laugh? My mother tried this treatment using eggs – I had to sit there with all this yolk drying on my head! And I had no eyebrows – nothing. My eyebrows now are tattoos, so you have some facial definition. Without that you look like a fucking alien! 

So yeah, it was tough when I realised I looked different from other kids, and when I got to kindergarten I felt really ostracised. When I was seven I got a wig, and it looked ridiculous. Later I got a better wig. But there was still the bullying at school. I had some idiot rip the thing from my head and throw it down the hall. How embarrassing is that? What does that do to you?

After all that heartbreak you experienced as a kid, how did you find the confidence to become a singer?

Thank god my parents gave me the support I needed. But anger was a great motivator, and I had more balls than brains. I wasn’t going to let this stop me. So instead of hiding I went on to the biggest stages in the world. That’s quite insane when you think about it.

In the late seventies you made four albums with the group Fandango, but your big break came in 1980 with a call from Ritchie Blackmore.

I was living in a studio apartment in New York City, with roaches crawling all around. The phone rang one day and it was Ritchie asking if I wanted to audition for Rainbow. I said: “Yeah! I need the gig. I don’t want it, I need it!” So I went to Long Island where they were recording. We cracked open a six-pack of Heineken, then they threw me right in the room and said: “Here’s a song we’re working on called I Surrender...”

You had a great run with Rainbow, and then a few years with Yngwie Malmsteen. Then Blackmore brought you into Deep Purple after singer Ian Gillan was fired. Was that because Ritchie rated you so highly, or because he couldn’t bear to work with Gillan again?

I think it’s both. And I think Ritchie wanted to piss everybody off. At that point I’d been working with Foreigner. But then [original Foreigner singer] Lou Gramm came back. Then I got a call from Bad Company’s people. And then I got the call from Deep Purple. It was unbelievable.

Long before you joined Rainbow, you were a Deep Purple fan. Did it feel surreal being in that band?

A dream came true. I always had this philosophy: be it, act like it, and it will happen. So I was in Deep Purple and it felt other-worldly, but I kind of took it in my stride. I’d been there before with Rainbow, filling big shoes, and it was the same with Purple.

So after all that history with Blackmore, how did you feel when he relaunched Rainbow in 2016 with a new singer, Ronnie Romero? Had you been expecting the call?

I was in touch with them way before, and if we’d put a Rainbow extravaganza together with the singers and players from the past it would have been enormous. But someone told Ritchie that I wanted a million dollars, which of course wasn’t true, so in the end Ritchie did what he did.

Your new album, Belly Of The Beast, was made with Swedish producer and death-metal musician Peter Tägtgren, and it’s surprisingly heavy stuff for you.

I was so tired of doing this AOR cookie-cutter bullshit. I needed to do something different. And when I had the heart attack, I had a revelation: You need purpose and meaning in your life. You need to dig deep – physically, professionally, creatively – to become the artist you truly are.

It has the feel of a concept album. Is there a central message in it?

Yeah: wake up, people! We’ve been sleeping too long. We are spiritual beings but we’ve lost our way. Look at the state of the world – how did we get here? And we’re not here for ever, so make it count.

With the new album and the new image, do you feel that this is a new beginning for you?

This is a new era in every way. And I am lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to do this.

Belly Of The Beast is out now.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”