By Adam Waldman
Joe Lynn Turner – the voice of many fan favorites by Rainbow – is out on the road with his stellar band performing the music that was the soundtrack of the youth of an entire generation. While this isn’t a true Rainbow reunion, it’s as much as you can hope for at this point (yes, this includes the “Rainbow” shows that feature Ritchie Blackmore).
It isn’t often that you can compare a rock star to a professional athlete, but in this case, it’s warranted. Two decades ago, Michael Jordan played in the fifth game of a tied series in the NBA Finals with the flu. In basketball circles, it is simply referred to as “The Flu Game.” On that night, suffering from flu-like symptoms that left him dehydrated and staggering, Jordan willed himself to play 44 out of 48 minutes while scoring 38 points to lead the Bulls to victory. So what does this have to do with JLT?
After two years of working to get JLT to play at Brian’s Backyard BBQ in Middletown, NY, Turner was committed to making the show happen regardless of his health. On the day of the show, he had no voice to even speak, much less sing, and there was a chance that the show would be cancelled. Having dealt with the same illness during the course of the week, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to make it out to review the show. Thankfully, we both made it.
It would have been a tremendous disappointment to all those who attended the show (and the club owner) if the show had to be rescheduled, but it also would have been justified. When you can barely speak, the thought of singing for over an hour-and-a-half is a daunting proposition. Like Jordan, JLT not only willed himself to make it into the arena (so to speak), he delivered an exceptional performance that will be remembered for a long time by those in attendance.
You could see the adrenaline kick in and begin coursing through JLT’s veins as he energized the room with “Death Alley Driver” to open the show. It would have been understandable if he decided to limit the talking between songs, but being the ultimate showman, JLT shared a message of inspiration before delivering an inspired version of “Power.”
To help “power” through the set, and to clear his pipes, Turner took a shot of “medicine” (aka Jagermeister) before sharing the backstory behind “Jealous Lover.” Given Blackmore’s decision to do a “Rainbow reunion” without any former members of the band, you have to think that JLT has referred to his former guitarist in unflattering terms before, but on this night, he called him a “motherfucker” for a different reason.
Back when Rainbow was recording Difficult To Cure, Blackmore decided at the last minute to change the riff of the song that they had planned on working on. JLT had already written the lyrics for the other riff, but Blackmore told him to write new ones. It took about 10 minutes for Turner to come up with the lyrics for “Jealous Lover.” The entire set was filled with memorable moments, but one of the highlights of the night was the heavy groove of “Jealous Lover.” Of course, the vocals were spot-on as usual.
The intimate setting of Brian’s Backyard BBQ was ideal for storytelling. Though I’ve been a fan of JLT’s for over 35 years, I was unaware that he started out as a guitar player, and a serious one at that. He talked about how he did his thesis on Jimi Hendrix before launching into an electrifying rendition of Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic.”
“I Surrender” has some challenging moments for even the healthiest of singers, so it would have been understandable if JLT chose to leave it out of the set, but that’s not his style. While you could tell that it wasn’t easy, he managed to muscle through the song.
Although JLT was only in Deep Purple for one album in 1990 (Slaves and Masters), his ability to perform all eras of the band’s material is undeniable. In fact, some of the most powerful moments of the show came during the performance of Deep Purple songs. Taking on “Perfect Strangers” right after “I Surrender” was a ballsy move, but it worked perfectly. If you closed your eyes during the song, you would have thought that Blackmore had entered the building. In actuality, it was Angus Clark, a brilliant guitarist with the showmanship to match.
Although the crowd is always more enthusiastic when they hear the hits, I really enjoyed hearing JLT perform “Blood Money” (off of his 2005 release, The Usual Suspects). The song was co-written by producer Bob Held (who also happened to be the sound man for the show).
One of the surprises of the evening was the lack of enthusiasm that the crowd showed towards original Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Often times, there is a competition between replacement musicians and the originals, but JLT has incredible deference for his predecessor. His tribute to his friend before launching into “Long Live Rock and Roll” was heartfelt and moving. Why he had to prompt the crowd to show their appreciation for Dio is beyond me.
To the crowd’s credit, they did jump in to sing “Smoke On The Water” when JLT and company brought down the house (well, at least they blew out the house sound system for a few minutes). That shot of adrenaline seemed to kick the crowd into overdrive during the final song of the evening, “Highway Star.”
Ending the show on a high note was the least that the crowd could have done for a man that left everything that he had on the stage. During the finale, in true rock star fashion, Clark made his way through the tight crowd, shredding away without missing so much as a note.
There aren’t many vocalists of any era that can deliver like JLT does on a regular basis. Even the challenge of battling a severe cold couldn’t derail his performance. It won’t ever get the recognition of Jordan’s “flu game,” but as someone who witnessed both firsthand, I can say that this was just as impressive.
If you get the chance to “catch the rainbow” with Joe Lynn Turner, do not make the same mistake as Blackmore and miss out on this rare talent.