'Idiosyncratic' Eddie Turner performs in Aztec
FARMINGTON – Eddie Turner is well aware of the fact that his genre-bending style of guitar playing, innovative as it is, has perhaps not always been a quick route to career advancement.
“For those that own the keys to the gate, it has hurt me a lot,” he said during a telephone interview last week, explaining how his difficult-to-categorize sound often gives club owners or promoters an excuse to dismiss him. “But once you get in the gate, for those who listen, it has helped me. So it’s a double-edged sword.”
The longtime Denver resident – born in Cuba and raised in Chicago before he headed west to study at the University of Colorado – doesn’t run from the fact that he isn’t easy to pigeonhole. In fact, when asked to describe how his playing has evolved over the years, Turner, who performs in Aztec this weekend, didn’t mince words.
“I think it’s become more idiosyncratic,” he said after a short pause. “Over time, it’s become stranger and stranger. I spend a lot of time trying to find new combinations of chords and sounds and trying to put them in my music.”
Turner combines the Afro-Cuban rhythms of his native land with the blues and rock he heard growing up in Chicago, so for self-styled “purists” of either of the latter two genres, his approach can be a little distracting. But the tone he coaxes from his guitar, and the instrumental and vocal phrasings he employs, conjure up quick comparisons to none other than the great Jimi Hendrix. So it’s not as if Turner’s sound can be written off as inaccessible.
Naturally, he loves it when his music clicks with listeners. One of the best responses he ever got was from a club owner in Edmonton, Alberta, who said, “It’s like listening to Pink Floyd and Johnny Winter at the same time.”
Turner’s response to that assessment was, “Perfect – that’s exactly what I want.”
And then there was the longtime friend, a fellow guitar player, who once told him, “All you have to do is play two notes, and I know it’s you. I can tell by your tone and phrasing.”
He acknowledges that not everybody appreciates what he does. Another guitar player offered the following observation after hearing Turner play: “Wow, that was a really interesting choice of notes,” he said, his voice tinged with more than a little sarcasm.
“I said, ‘Yeah, that’s because you didn’t think of ‘em,’” Turner shot back.
That urge to push his music in new directions is something that’s always been with him, Turner said, though he spent the early part of his career as a sideman in far more traditional rock or blues bands, including such acts as Zephyr and the Otis Taylor Band. Turner was playing with Taylor when fate intervened and sent him on a solo path.
“Basically, I was fired from the Otis Taylor Band,” he said, laughing. “Otis and I had known each other since I was 13, and we had never gotten along.”
The only reason they had started playing together in the first place, Turner said, was due to the urging of Denver native Kenny Passarelli, the well-known producer, co-author of “Rocky Mountain Way,” and side man for artists ranging from Joe Walsh, Elton John, Dan Fogelberg, Hall and Oates, and Stephen Stills. But the relationship wasn’t built to last.
“We got back from Europe one day, and Otis told me, ‘You’re not in the band anymore,’” said Turner, who responded that it was fine with him and that he intended to go back to making a living as a Realtor, something he had dabbled in earlier.
But when a representative of Taylor’s record label called Turner and urged him to record his own album, he jumped at the opportunity. The result of those studio sessions, “Rise,” came out in 2005 and earned several award nominations from blues and independent music organizations. Over the next few years, Turner would release two more discs, 2006’s “The Turner Diaries” and 2010’s “Miracles & Demons,” all of which were produced by Passarelli.
These days, Turner finds himself surrounded by a different supporting cast. For the past two years, he’s been playing with bassist Anna Lisa and enjoying the impact she’s had on his sound.
“She’s got a really funky groove, which is something a lot of players don’t have,” he said. “It really makes my music flow a lot better.”
The group has been rounded out with the recent addition of drummer Chad Zilla, who both Turner and Lisa had played with before on various occasions.
Turner was forced into the frontman role 10 years ago when he and Taylor parted ways, and he insisted that was something he never wanted.
“I’d rather be dealt with than deal,” he said with a laugh, though he said he’s adapted to the position well over the years. The only time he regrets the choices he’s made, he said jokingly, are when his banker calls.
Turner then became serious and described his occupational hazard of finding himself constantly analyzing and breaking down the music he encounters in the course of his everyday life.
“Sometimes, that takes away from the pure enjoyment of anybody’s music,” he said, describing his habit of taking apart every song he hears and considering the choices that artist or group made.
“I get kind of pissed off at myself,” he said. “That keeps me from enjoying the full onslaught of sound.”
But it’s such a deeply ingrained habit, Turner knows better than to resist it.
“Right,” he said. “I cannot not do it.”
It’s that same urge that drives him to constantly tinker with his sound. Turner plans to release a new disc, a live album recorded during a series of dates in Canada, early in 2016, and said the recording will feature previously recorded material.
“I’m looking at it as the end of an era,” he said, explaining that the project, likely to be called “Naked in Your Face,” is designed as a way of putting those songs to bed while he begins a new chapter with Lisa and Zilla.
He also has made several trips to New York this year to record a new studio disc with producer Kirk Yano, better known for his engineer work with Mariah Carey, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Public Enemy.
Turner is hopeful both those projects will nudge him back into the public eye in a way he hasn’t been during his five-year recording hiatus. He said he has no regrets about having made the transition from backing player to bandleader, despite the grief that often comes with being the guy in charge.
“It’s great to be noticed,” he said. “I’ve been really happy with that, and I love music. It’s what I really enjoy more than anything else in the world.”
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Eddie Turner and the Trouble Twins concert
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 at crashmusicaztec.com, by phone at 505-427-6748 or at the door
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