Ask the Cuban-born, Chicago-raised guitarist and singer Eddie Turner how he ended up in Colorado about five decades ago, and he says, “It’s actually pretty simple. I saw the band Zephyr when I was in high school, and I was just like, ‘Wow, what an amazing band!' I just kind of said to myself, ‘I'm going to join that band one day.’”
In the early ’70s, Turner moved to Boulder to study liberal arts at the University of Colorado, and after playing in the band Mother Earth, he did finally get that guitar spot in Zephyr in 1980, four years after the death of guitarist and co-founder Tommy Bolin. Turner appears on the band’s final album, 1982’s Heartbeat.
Turner went on to play in bluesman Otis Taylor’s group for a decade, was part of jazz artist Ron Miles’s electric band, and released three studio albums under his own name, including 2005’s Rise, which was nominated for Best New Artist Debut by the Blues Foundation, followed by The Turner Diaries and Miracles & Demons.
When writing the songs for his previous three discs, Taylor says, the music came first and the lyrics appeared to him in a stream-of-conscious manner. In contrast, the lyrics for the original cuts on his new album, Change in Me, which drops on May 14 via his 7-14 Records, came first.
“I can't say that I was depressed or anything,” Turner says. “But things were starting to change, and I just started writing little bits of this, that and the other.”
On the album’s gritty blues-rock lead single, “Dignify Me,” Turner writes about racial and social issues, including in the lyrics “It’s past time for reparations / I’ve seen all I need to see / No golden calf, observations / In the Sea of Galilee / I’ll take half, give no quarter / To the man I’ve come to hold / You’ve got to dignify my presence.”
“It’s about what I had been seeing for years and years of my life, and I decided to write about that. I mean, I had a line floating around in my head for maybe ten or fifteen years, and so I was finally able to put it all together.”
Turner says a similar thing happened to him on the mid-tempo groove-laden cut “Standing on the Front Line.”
“It was just this line that I've had for a while,” Turner says. “I felt I could do something with it. The music that came from that was completely unexpected.”
About seven years ago, Turner started learning how to use Apple’s GarageBand recording software to sketch ideas, and the lyrics began to inform the music. On Change in Me, Turner draws from growing up in Chicago and seeing legendary bluesmen like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor and Son Seals while also absorbing the music of jazz players like Jimmy Smith and Phil Upchurch.
Although the Beatles and the Rolling Stones made him want to play guitar at the age of twelve, his uncle turned him on to jazz guitarists like George Benson and Wes Montgomery.
A teenage Turner also saw Cream play in a Chicago club that held about 300 people and saw Jimi Hendrix play with the Soft Machine at the Chicago Civic Opera House in 1969.
“I probably completed 80 percent of my musical education when I was seventeen or eighteen years old,” he says.
Blues, jazz, psych rock: It all soaked into Turner’s genes, and there's some of it all on Change in Me, along with a few covers, including the Hendrix deep cut “My Friend,” which was recorded in 1968 during the Electric Ladyland sessions.
“It's really intimate, first of all,” Turner says of the Hendrix track. “You feel like you're in the room with him and he's just hanging out, playing. And how much more real can you get off of a recording than to feel that you're actually there?”
But instead of conjuring a Hendrix-flavored guitar solo on “My Friend,” Turner says the solo has more of a Brian May vibe. He also takes Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man,” slows it down considerably, then mashes it up with Taj Mahal’s “She Caught the Katy." The disc closes with a funky rendering of Willie Dixon’s Chicago-blues staple “Hoochie Coochie Man.”
Turner started working on Change in Me about five and a half years ago.
“I'm relatively slow,” Turner says. “I don’t run in, record it and then put it out. It’s a thought process for me.”
He began recording the album about three years ago at Studio 99 in Brooklyn with engineer Kirk Yano, who recruited Soulive founder and former Lettuce member Neal Evans to play keyboards and drums.
“And after about a year, I realized I didn't really like doing it,” Turner says. “So I put it on the back burner for a while and kept what I wanted to keep.”
He eventually decided to continue working on the album at Grammy-nominated producer/engineer Tim Stroh’s Mad House Recorders in Leadville. Turner has known Kenny Passarelli, who was in Barnstorm with Joe Walsh and co-wrote “Rocky Mountain Way,” for about three decades, and both were in Otis Taylor’s band. Passarelli plays bass on Change in Me and is the album’s co-producer with Turner and Stroh, a Pro Tools wiz who used parts from the Brooklyn sessions and wove them together with sessions from his studio, sometimes joining tracks from two or three different drummers.
While Passarelli sings harmonies on some of the cuts, Leadville-based singer Jessie Lee Thetford also sings on the album.
“She was embarrassing us, she was so good,” Turner says. “’Do you have to sing so well?’ She and Kenny just worked on vocals, and there are some songs where she sings where my vocal performance wasn't great but hers was perfect. And so I ended up harmonizing with her as opposed to her harmonizing with me. We get these really kind of interesting harmonies.
“Hands down," Turner says, "the girl was great.”
For more information, visit Eddie Turner online.