MAKING A LIVING AS A BLUES MUSICIAN IN THE 21ST century is a daunting
task. And if you happen to take an unorthodox approach—as Eddie “Devil
Boy” Turner does— you’ll likely find that your dues are even steeper.
“The blues Nazis hate my stuff,” says Turner. “These days the blues
gatekeepers only want to hear very traditional sounding music, because
they are afraid that it is being lost, and they are trying to hold onto
Ironically, Turner’s blues credentials are more authentic than those of most of today’s more conventional players. Now in his ’60s, Turner was raised in Chicago, where he had the opportunity to see many of the legendary bluesmen firsthand, as well as witness performances by younger guitar deities such as Bloomfield, Clapton, Green, and Hendrix.
Turner has played with a string of notable artists and bands throughout his career—including replacing Tommy Bolin in Zephyr—but he reached a considerably wider audience beginning in 1995, when he added his soaring lead lines and psychedelic atmospherics to live shows and five remarkable studio albums by Otis Taylor. Since parting ways with Taylor in 2005, Turner has released three solo albums, the latest of which is Miracles & Demons [Northern Blues].
Produced by longtime associate Kenny Passarelli—with help from engineer and tone guru Tim Stroh—the album features drummer Mark Clark, Passarelli on keyboards and bass, and cameos by Turner’s touring bassist Jimmy Trujillo.
Are you still playing the Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster?
Oh yeah, that’s still my main guitar. But on the new album I also played a Gibson Historic 1959 Les Paul Standard reissue on a few tracks.
What amps did you use when recording?
Tim always sets up three or four amps and combines them in various ways, depending on what sound we are looking for. My main amp is a ’57 Fender Deluxe, and I’ve also got a Budda Twinmaster with two tens that I use for recording. It was one of the first amps Budda made and has serial number 5. Tim also always throws in an old white Magnatone that has a killer tremolo, and sometimes he’ll add an Ampeg Rocket 2, or another amp from his collection. Also, he has a really great compressor, and we just ran the guitar directly into that, and then right into the board. That tone is all over the record, because it’s just so biting and meaty.
Did you use many stompboxes?
Yes. I’ve got a Keeley Compressor and a Keeley modified Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer, a Fulltone Clyde Deluxe Wah, an Ernie Ball VP Junior volume pedal, and a few Red Witch pedals. I’ve also got a Boss Chorus Ensemble and Boss DD-6, DD-5, and DD-3 Digital Delays.
What happened to the Roland RE-201 Space Echo that you used on your previous albums?
It broke down, and the only guy I know who can fix it will take two years to get to it, so there’s no hurry.
Do you use a combination of Boss delays to get the multi-head sounds you used to get from the Roland?
Sometimes. And sometimes I’ll just have a second, longer delay that will come up when it comes up. It’s all about the vibe in the moment, and a lot of what I do isn’t planned.
Do you have favorite strings and picks?
I love the Thomastik-Infeld Power Brights, but I contacted them about an endorsement when I was touring Europe, and they wouldn’t even return my phone calls. So, I just stick with my Ernie Ball .010- .052 sets, which sound just fine. As for picks, whenever I go onstage there are always a bunch of picks on the floor, so I just look around until I find a heavy one. I recently found a 1.44mm Dunlop Tortex with the gator grip that I really like, because it sticks to my fingers and is easy to hang onto.
There are a lot of effects sounds on Miracles & Demons. How many were coming out of your amp, and how many were added at mixdown?
About 70 percent are coming out of the amp. Tim did do a lot of production things, like having me overdub the Dobro three times on “Say.” He said, “Trust me, trust me,” and I was furious, but I did it, and when I heard it back I hated it. Then he said, “Now watch this,” and he messed with the mixing and effects, and suddenly it sounded really cool. When it comes to the processing and overdubs, that’s where I get into my Hendrix phase. I say, “Okay, I’m a guitar player. Let’s put a little bit over here and a little bit over there.” Because being in the studio and performing live are two different worlds, and in my view people that say they should be the same thing are out of their minds. Music is art, and when I get into the studio, recording becomes an art project— let’s go in there and see what we can do. A lot of the subtle little touches are aimed at guitar players, or people that love music, and want to hear new things upon repeated listening. If it’s a whole band playing live in the studio, it’s all there, and you only have to hear it once to get it. But I like to be able to go back again and again and hear new things that I hadn’t noticed before. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, every band did that. I can still go back and hear things on a Hendrix album that I hadn’t heard before.
You are frequently compared to Hendrix. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s pretty damn weird, because Hendrix is an icon, and I’m no icon. I’ve seen lots of guys play like Hendrix—Randy Hansen could really do it—but I think people compare me to him because I have my own thing. With Hendrix it was a vibe. It was a place in time, and if you weren’t there, you’ll never understand. I was there.
Was Hendrix a blues guitarist?
He played the blues, of course, but like a lot of guitar players at that time, he did it mostly within new contexts. Like, when you think about it, the Doors were a pretty damned good blues band. Robbie Krieger was a smoking blues guitar player, and though the music was another context, he was still a bluesman. Or Jerry Miller, who played with Moby Grape—he’s one of the most smoking guitar players on the face of the earth. I’ll go back to my Moby Grape albums just to get inspired. Even Steve Miller, the joker character, is a great blues guitar player. I read somewhere that he has a blues album he recorded that was never released, and I want it.
Are you really a blues guitarist?
Yes, if you look at it historically, because the first music that I learned to play was blues. When I was a kid, I used to go see Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Dawkins, and other great bluesmen, and I learned how to play by copying them. I also knew Peter Butterfield, Paul’s brother, and I’d go see Paul and Michael Bloomfield whenever they were in town. I learned how to play jazzy by listening to the Butterfield Blues Band’s East-West, and that’s probably why my playing sounds so perverted. So, am I a blues guitarist? I’m probably the most hardcore blues guitarist. But at the same time, are my eyes open? Yeah, they’re really open.