Eyes half-closed, mouth open wide, head tilted backward with guitar held high, he gyrates to the apron of the stage in full-on beast mode, firing off Technicolor shards of piercing notes like clusters of heat-seeking missiles intent on absolute destruction.
That is the power and the fury of Eddie Turner unleashed.
To witness him chew up and spit out a crowd clamoring for a dose of the Delta blues funneled through The Twilight Zone, one would think that Eddie Turner must spend his free time toying with a Ouija board - or conjuring up ancient spirits - befitting someone who has earned the nickname “Devilboy.”
In reality, that’s hardly the case.
When he’s not destroying stages from here to Copenhagen and back, one can probably find Eddie Turner at home, hands and knees in the dirt, surrounded by various forms of beautiful flora that he has lovingly coaxed into blooming.
The Devilboy, gardening? Really?
“I love to garden. I like flowers. Yesterday I was out trying to fix the pump in my pond, getting all the garbage out of there,” he said recently. “And I walked around and looked at the plants, seeing what’s blooming – the tulips are getting ready to go real soon – and the trees are coming into play. It’s a part of the world that’s just as real as anything else. It’s a huge relaxation. Because once you get in the truck and get on the road, it’s all business.”
And business, as of late, has been good for Turner.
Especially in Europe, where the dynamic guitar player and his backing band, The Troubled Twins, recently played to packed houses everywhere they went, in support of Turner’s stellar latest disc, Miracles & Demons (Northern Blues).
“It was excellent,” Turner said of his European jaunt. “Sold-out shows in every venue … it was pretty wild and crazy, as they say. Really great support everywhere we played – Germany, Poland - the response there was unbelievable – really, we’re ready to go back.”
Going back to the 1960s when the American Folk Blues Festivals made stars out of Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy across the big pond, Europe has always had a great affinity for American-based roots music and that love affair continues today, with Turner being treated like a king thousands of miles from home.
“They (European audiences) seem to be more excited, I guess. They check out all your music before they go to the show – they’ve already purchased your CD – and at least for me, it’s always been that way,” he said. “And for me, part of my success was that I was lucky enough to have been on The Crossroads (Rockpalast) television show in Germany back in 2006. It’s like Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Led Zeppelin’s been on it, Johnny Winter’s been on it … you name it and they’ve been on it. That really got me off to a good start in Europe.”
If you looked up the definition of “traditional bluesman” in Webster’s, Turner’s picture would probably be nowhere near it.
However, if there were an entry for “the spirit of a rock-n-roller, filtered through the blood of a traditional bluesman and spiked with a psychedelic chaser,” odds are pretty good Turner’s might be the only picture around.
Born in Cuba and raised in Chicago, Eddie Turner moved to Colorado to attend college and somewhere along the way, found himself playing guitar in Zephyr, the Boulder-based band that once featured the singular talent of Tommy Bolin (James Gang, Deep Purple).
That was after Turner pulled a brief stint playing in Nashville with Tracey Nelson and Mother Earth (“I was fired after about a month,” laughed Turner).
“To play In Tommy Bolin’s and Jock Hartley’s ex-band was a big coup for me,” said Turner. “Jock (who replaced Bolin in Zephyr, before being replaced by Turner in the band) was also my guitar teacher and was a great guy.”
After the sudden death of Zephyr’s lead singer Candy Givens, Turner moth-balled his guitar and quit the music business, instead focusing on selling real estate for a number of years. This pursuit even lasted after he re-emerged, along with producer/songwriter/bass player Kenny Passarelli as a founding member of the Otis Taylor Band. (Passarelli was also part of Joe Walsh’s Barnstorm back in the 1970s).
“We started playing little coffee houses in Boulder and then the next thing you know, we’re traveling the world,” Turner said of his time in Otis Taylor’s group. “But I never left the real estate business. There would be times I would fly in from France on a Tuesday and I’d have a real estate appointment at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. Or I’d be negotiating a deal on the sale of a house from the South of France. I really didn’t stop real estate until about two years ago when things got so busy that I had to make a decision.”
With his real estate career pushed to the side, Turner once again focused his laser-like sights squarely on what is his lifeblood – guitar-driven, electric blues.
The results thus far have been a trio of discs on the Northern Blues label – Rise, from 2005, The Turner Diaries in 2006 and last year’s stunning Miracles & Demons.
Not merely cobbled-together fragments or bits of an idea, Miracles & Demons harkens back to the glorious days of vinyl. Days when an album was a whole body of work instead of a random collection of MP3s that were spliced onto a disc, almost as an afterthought.
A quick look at the back cover of the disc reveals Turner’s thought process for Miracles & Demons, with half the tracks labeled as “Side One” and the other half “Side Two,” just like in the good ole days.
“That’s how I’ve always listened to records – I still call them records – I know they’re MP3s and CDs, but when it comes down to it, if it’s something I really like, it’s a record,” Turner said. “So that’s what I’ve always known – you have a Side A and a Side B. And if you play all three of my CDs together, they really make sense as three separate pieces that work together. And my producer, Kenny (Passarelli) is the same way. We sit there and go, ‘Hum, what’s the best song to lead off the disc?’ And we move them around until they kind of tell a story. I know a lot of people don’t get that, but that’s the way we do it.”
Miracles & Demons kicks off with “Booty Bumpin’” a track that starts off as a straight blues shuffle before Turner’s tightly-compressed guitar licks from Mars lifts it in the stratosphere.
“I got tired of people saying, ‘Well, you don’t do a lot of blues.’ I laugh and say, “Do I have to actually do it (the blues) for you to understand – running through all the music that I do?’” he said. “I mean, who really wants to do a straight-up shuffle? They’ve pretty much all been done by every major blues artist out there. And when I did two Freddie King songs, they turned out like nothing Freddie King would ever think of doing. That’s out of my respect for Freddie King. Why would you run around and try to be Freddie King? He’s a great, great performer and his stuff needs to be enshrined, not copied.”
Although those that are exposed to Turner’s music for the first time might be quick to toss around the Jimi Hendrix name, especially when it comes to comparing vocals, the tie-dyed legend from Seattle is not at the very top of Turner’s list of vocal influences.
“Vocal-wise, everyone keeps telling me I sound like Hendrix, which I don’t think so, but I’m not going to fight it,” he said. “But if I could, I’d sound like Bobby Blue Bland, who is my favorite singer of the blues. He’s one of the greatest blues singers ever, along with Magic Sam, who I also love.”
The gone-before-his-time Magic Sam was also an influential figure in Turner’s eyes and ears when it comes to sliding up and down the neck of a six-string with reckless abandon.
“Oh ,yeah, definitely. Him and Peter Green and Jeff Beck … I’ve always been a fan of their guitar-playing,” he said. “And like everyone else, Muddy Waters …there’s just been a bunch of players I’ve heard over the years, rock, blues and jazz players ... old George Benson from the Bad Benson era. You’ve got that whole slippery-slidey thing from British blues and then that really precise thing from Chicago jazz … I’ve heard everybody. I’m an old guy.”
He may not do paint-by-number recitals of those larger-than-life guitarists on Miracles & Demons, but Turner is certainly not afraid to let his influences creep through, either.
“You’ve spent your life listening to every great player and you try and sneak in those influences. Like this is the Fleetwood Mac part circa Bare Trees, or this is Creedence Clearwater Revival doing their swamp-blues thing,” he said. “And a lot of people don’t get that, but if you really look at it, you’ll find every artist you like, sneaking a look out of that CD.”
But when you manage to carve out an instantly-recognizable style that is uniquely you, that’s when you can say you’ve arrived.
“I’ve had other guitar players say, ‘We can tell your guitar playing right when you strike a note, because you play everything really strange,’” said Turner. “That’s what I want. I want people to say, ‘Yeah, that’s Eddie Turner.’ You know, there are really only 12 notes. It’s how you use take those notes and put them with emotional content that’s important.”
Turner’s “strange playing” really found its stride during his days touring and recording with Otis Taylor.
And in exchange for producing a whole slew of “weird noises” on Taylor’s first five CDs, Turner was also rewarded with the “Devilboy” moniker, straight from Taylor himself.
“Sometimes your mouth gets you in trouble faster than you can get out,” said Turner. “So whenever that would happen, he would just call me “Devilboy.”
With a handle like “Devilboy”, it wouldn’t do for your backing band to have a run-of-the-mill, bland name.
Thus, The Troubled Twins (drummer Robert Walker; bass player Andy Irvine) were born.
“In Europe, everybody calls me “Devilboy” so once you get that going, the next thing is, what’s a good name for a band?” Turner said. “Well, how about “Troubled Twins”?” They’re two guys that look absolutely nothing alike. People go, ‘Is it “Trouble” or “Troubled”?’ And I go, “Pick whichever one you like. It’s fun and it’s funny.”
While Turner’s records are one thing, catching “Devilboy and The Troubled Twins” live at a festival or in a club is another story entirely.
“My live show is different from the record, which is how it should be,” Turner said. “If it’s not different, why go to the show? Just buy the record and go home. But my live show is completely different. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s fast, it’s furious and it’s loud. We get in your face and have a wonderful time. And once people see it, they enjoy it and want more. We don’t have a certain set that we play. It’s all based on how I feel and how the crowd feels. We don’t do the same show in every club. ”
Currently burning up the road all across the globe, Turner clearly has no plans at easing off the throttle anytime soon.
But if we had use of a crystal ball, where might we find “Devilboy” five years from now?
“Let me see … five years from now, hopefully I’ll be spending two to three months out of the year in Europe, two to three months touring the United States and then I’ll be spending two or three months gardening in my yard,” he said.
Because, after all, “Devilboy” sure does enjoy his flowers.