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Interview with Eddie Turner
by Dave Rubin

Guitarist 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.

How 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.

Like which ones?
“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).

Do 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.

What 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.”

You 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 Hendrix...

Who else?
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.”

You are going to get the “blues police” after you for those rock bands
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...

I 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.

Given 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.”

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.

Are the songs a commentary on your upbringing or a reflection of how you feel now?
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.”

The 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 from?
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).

Can we assume that your music has had the desired effect over the years?
Over the years, yes.

Published at PlayBluesGuitar.com

 

 


 

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