with Eddie Turner
by Dave Rubin
Eddie “Devilboy” Turner is a thoroughly modern bluesman
in the very best sense of the word.
Born in Cuba to
a Cuban mother and African-American father, he was raised near Chicago
and grew up listening to and loving the 1960s counterculture rock of
the era, as well as the blues. Relocating to Denver, Turner earned his
stripes in a variety of bands, ending up in the psychedelic rocking
Zephyrs after taking the place of Tommy Bolin. In 1995 he signed on
with the Afro-centric Otis Taylor. The result of his experiences arrived
in 2005 when he finally stepped out from his consummate sideman role
with the release of Rise (NorthernBlues). The spectacular debut is incantatory,
hallucinatory, hypnotic and dripping with serious mojo. It features
deep, thick blues roots that snake back to Africa along with a sidelong
debt to Jimi Hendrix, while breaking free of all the usual clichés
and bursting with stunning guitar work.
were you able to pull all those influences together?
It’s not a conscious thing, it just happened. I’ve been
influenced by so many things that I don’t even remember. It’s
just “Eddie music” and genres be damned, in some cases,
because it’s not about that. It’s about “me”
(Laughs) and what I like to listen to. There were some songs that I
once heard that I just wanted to try, for example.
“Gangster of Love.” Here, this is a little “twisted”
(Laughs). I got into Johnny “Guitar” Watson because I was
a Steve Miller fan. I was right there for all that. One of my first
big shocks was when Boz Scaggs quit the Steve Miller Band (Laughs).
It was like, “How can you do that, he’s got that whole “thang”
going?” Anyway, if you listen to my version of “Gangster
of Love” you will see that it’s a lot like Steve’s,
except I took out all the chord changes. And, the reason why my vocal
is kind of spoken (rapped? – Ed) is because I was thinking, “How
am I going to do this live,” because that riff is such a killer.
Steve just sort of touched on the riff, but I thought, “Oh man,
that’s really cool,” but I couldn’t sing and play
it at the same time (Laughs).
you think other musicians do that as well?
Yeah, I think they do; I think you have to. When you write a song, I
think you do everything to your own current abilities, and if does not
allow you to go a certain way, you change it.
other songs did you arrange like that?
“The Wind Cries Mary.” I was the first person in Evanston,
Illinois to buy the Jimi Hendrix LP. I knew the night before that the
record was coming and I was there the next morning at 11 A.M. when the
store opened and bought three copies because I knew I was gonna wear
it out. That was one of the songs that has always stayed with me, like
I’ll be driving around and all of a sudden start singing it. Now,
I can sing and play it at the same time pretty well, but when I was
arranging it I was fooling around with this weird chord change and thought,
“All these open strings are really cool.”
also changed it from a major to a minor key
Yes, and it was an accident that just kind of “happened.”
I always wanted to do a Hendrix song because everyone always says (In
slacker tone of voice), “Oh, you have this Hendrix-thing going,”
and I don’t. It’s just that people “think” it’s
there, but it’s a combination of so many other things, along with
Not using that particular song as an example, but if you break it down
you’ll hear Stevie Miller, ZZ Top, the Buckinghams (! –
Ed), Motown, Paul Butterfield Band, Blue Cheer (! – Ed) all that
stuff, because I played it. If you listen to Fleetwood Mac’s Then
Play On, you’ll say, “I see where that bastard stole all
that shit!” (Laughs). By the way, the first time I heard a Nat
Adderly tune was “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Buckinghams.
I thought, “This is such a way cool, very bluesy song” that
I went back to see who Adderly was and then I went, “Oh yeah,
(Julian – Ed) Cannonball Adderly and Nat Adderly.”
are going to get the “blues police” after you for those
That’s a problem, which is the reason Freddie King’s “Play
It Cool” was put on the record. It’s like, okay, not to
be egotistical: I’m not just a blues player, but an amalgamation
of everything I heard. There’s just as much Muddy Waters as there
is the Cryan’ Shames from the 60s. Same town! Chicago! (Laughs)
When Kenny Passarelli (producer, bassist, keyboardist – Ed) played
keyboards, I went,” Man, c’mon, give me that Jimmy Smith
thing, just beat those keys and get that real B-3 thing going.”
The songs he played that on are not the typical ones for B-3, but we
made them that way. So, is it blues? Yeah, it’s blues...
think it is
...I grew up in Chicago. I saw all those guys and I learned all that
stuff. You know, you’re 15 years old and everybody’s into
the blues and it’s like, “How blue ARE you?” (Laughs).
“Well, I sound just like Muddy Waters.” “I sound like
Michael Bloomfield.” All those guys are in there. Even today I
will pull out a Bloomfield record and play it.
your ethnicity, do you ever have people question your music?
I, as a “black guy” in America, should supposedly know all
about the blues, which I don’t. Blues was an acquired taste. My
parents never listened to blues in the house. I didn’t connect,
basically, until Hendrix and it wasn’t even him. It was the vibe
of a thirteen-year old in America who wasn’t a jock and I loved
guitars. In reality, no one has ever questioned my style for one simple
reason: I’ve never really craved the limelight. I’ve made
a career of wanting to be that incredible guitar player that sits in
the back of the stage. I’ve always wanted to be the consummate
sideman, which allows me to concentrate on playing the guitar, but not
have to be “Mr. Happy,” “Mr. We’re Going To
Have A Good Time.” I could just sit there and go, “Okay,
the vocals are over now, let’s go have some fun and play some
music. We’ve done the head of the song, let’s get twisted
and get totally out there.”
is a strong religious theme to several of your songs
Oh yeah. It’s very funny. My mother was Cuban and very Catholic.
My father was American and very Seventh Day Adventist – you see
where I’m going with this? (Laughs). I would go to church from
Wednesday through Sunday. I had way too much religion as a little kid
and just rebelled against it all the time. I remember all of it, it
drives me nuts and it just comes out.
the songs a commentary on your upbringing or a reflection of how you
You know, I never really gave it any thought. I like to get the musical
ideas first and then sit in the basement with headphones and a microphone
and just start singing into the tape machine. It’s a lot of babble.
When I listen back I find there’s sense below all that trash.
Then, all of a sudden a story starts to come out that is a part of your
life; that you don’t even remember. I guess it’s like putting
yourself into some kind of trance. It’s like that song “Sin.”
One day I was sitting at home feeling weird and all of a sudden, “Oh
Lord, please save me from this sin I’m in.”
music in your songs is often trance-like. Is that a deliberate decision
on your part?
Yes, I am always conscious of it. That style has been a part of my life
since I’m 18 years old.
Where does it come
I think it comes from the fact that there are a lot of guitar players
in this world who are a lot better technically than I am. But I noticed
early on that people get sucked into the John Lee Hooker, one-chord
thing. When I played with Zephyr we did that a lot, where you have one
chord and you take it to wherever you can and eventually a trance-thing
starts to happen. When it does, it’s very powerful and people
can’t help themselves – I can’t help myself. I just
get this really warm feeling and the way I play guitar just enhances
that, like I’m talking to you. And, I have always preferred talking
to people with my guitar as opposed to singing. I think it’s much
more universal. Or, like we used to say when I was in my twenties,”If
the chicks don’t dig it, it ain’t no good” (Laughs).
If there’s a bunch of guys in front of the stage pounding their
fists, you suck (Laughs).
we assume that your music has had the desired effect over the years?
Over the years, yes.