Bruce Turgon: Outside Looking Into A Largely Unhearalded Career.
Bruce Turgon is yet another exceptional musician that has spent a lengthy career making other people look good. Finally he gets the chance to shine under his own name, with his debut solo album for Frontiers Records.
Great to talk to you Bruce, time to talk the fabulous Outside Looking In album.
Nice to hear from you.
First of all - congrats on a great album that seems to have captured the imagination of a lot of fans.
Thank you - I'm very gratified to see all the positive response it's gotten so far.
To take things back to the start for those that don't know where did you career begin? The first time I remember hearing of you was on Lou Gramm's Ready Or Not solo debut, but the partnership went back further than that, didn't it?
In the early 70's, I developed a musical association and friendship with Lou Gramm, who lived very close to me in upstate NY. With our band Black Sheep, we worked our way up through the club circuit to eventually become the first American band signed to Chrysalis Records, and then recorded 2 albums for Capitol Records.
It was during this period that we truly started to develop our songwriting skills. By '76, Black Sheep was over, Lou had moved to NYC to work on what would become Foreigner, and I had an offer to work in LA.
I continued writing, recording and touring with various artists (Warrior/Billy Thorpe/Nick Gilder, etc,) and my own bands throughout the early 80's. In late '85, Lou contacted me about writing with him for his first solo effort. Our writing partnership was strong - we worked throughout the next year. In early '87, he released Ready Or Not which yielded the hit single, Midnight Blue
Looking back through the credits on that album - you were responsible for a great majority of the music and co-wrote many of the songs. I must admit I did not take that in fully at the time. You must have been very proud of the major success that album had.
It was great on many levels. After being apart from Lou and having worked with so many other musicians that I had little or no connection with, I really appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with my friend again. From the beginning of the songwriting process there was a great creative momentum, which continued throughout the recording phase.
Pat Moran was an integral part of that process in that he encouraged individual creativity and spontaneity, while keeping us focused throughout. Besides my own album, working on "Ready Or Not" was probably my most satisfying recording experience and yes, I was proud of the success we had
Long Hard Look was quite different though. Whereas Ready Or Not was a collaborative effort and a more cohesive record, Lou used a host of different players and different writers for Long Hard Look and although I love the album, it sounded like it was recorded - in parts. Any thoughts on your involvement in that record now, looking back?
Well, it was recorded in parts - in fact there are two different versions. We recorded one with Eric Thorngren, and while there were some good moments, it was not right, so Peter Wolf stepped in and completed the album that was released. Peter took the elements from the original recordings that he liked (which were precious few) and built on it with, as you say, a host of different players and writers, and it was during this time that I decided to tour with Steve Stevens.
I had nothing to do with this version of the record until near the end of the recordings, but just prior to leaving for NYC to begin Atomic Playboys rehearsals, Lou asked me to come to LA and work on it. For a couple of days I played bass and rhythm guitars and sang backing vocals with Lou. Like you, I feel the album is good, but fragmented - it seems to live somewhere between a pop and a hard rock record.
The move to a band name - Shadow King and a stable line up - what was the thinking behind that? It was more or less, the same set up as Ready Or Not, yet with Vivian Campbell added and a tougher sound. You and Lou co-wrote the record together, just as you had at the start. What prompted Lou to get back to basics with you?
We did eventually tour after Long Hard Look and it brought us back together again. After the tour, we started to write and had laid the groundwork for what was meant to be his next solo album. However, Lou's management and record label felt it would be stronger if there was a band identity. I was not in favor of it, but nevertheless, we went about the process of auditioning musicians and settled on Vivian Campbell and Kevin Valentine- both great players.
I could perhaps see yourself happy to be in a band situation as previously all your efforts musically were credited to Lou Gramm solely, but now perhaps you could share the limelight. Is that what happened?
Not really. As I mentioned, a band wasn't my personal druthers. If it had developed organically, it might have made more sense to me, but Shadow King was a completely manufactured situation. I have great respect for Lou and his accomplishments and I really didn't feel that whatever success we had achieved to that point, needed to be watered down with a new band identity to promote - it was like starting over to me. However, because I had both a friendship and a business obligation to Lou, I tried to find a middle ground between our original vision and what was now expected, but with varying degrees of success.
I'm not sure if you are aware, but the Shadow King record is to this today routinely debated on my message board with some still not 'getting' that album, but many others (myself included) regard it as a classic and somewhat of a highly underrated and under sold record!
Thank you - regardless of sales, I always felt it was an album that distanced us from the pack in those days and would stand the test of time. I do know that there is a strong following from the people that are aware of it, but I didn't realize they were still debating the merits of it
After listening to Outside Looking In, I instantly knew where the talent behind Shadow King came from. Were you disappointed that album did not take off as it should have? And do you have any idea why it did not? Did the label drop the ball, or what?
Thank you again and I appreciate that you recognize my contribution, but at its core, the heart and soul of the record is a collaboration between Lou and myself, very similar to "Ready Or Not".
In fact, a harder, more intense version of that record is what I had originally intended to accomplish prior to the whole band thing. Musically, because of my songwriting contributions and the instruments I played, it's weighted in my direction, but all the players contributed excellent, vital performances. However, early on, it was determined by Lou and producer Keith Olsen, that I should establish the rhythm section and song identities by playing the core instruments as I had done on the demos.
This created distrust and animosity, which we never really overcame. After everyone's eventual participation, the fact that a good album emerged was not enough to hold us together. The whole Shadow King experience was frustrating for all the musicians involved in that everyone was compromised in the process and there was no cohesive thread to make it feel or act like a band.
Lack of sales was just another step down that road, but not totally unexpected by me because despite the marquee value of the players, it was a new entity that would need to be heavily promoted and we released that album just as grunge was happening. The album was lumped in with all the other metal bands, which I never considered it to be.
Of course, I would have liked the album to sell, but it wasn't really a surprise when it didn't.
You followed Lou back to Foreigner, for arguably one of the band's finest and most mature records in Mr. Moonlight. Again, a classic record that continues to find fans that missed it back in the day, but another record that was criminally under-promoted and under sold. What went wrong in this particular case?
Again, I agree with you - it is a very musical, mature record. I think the fact that it was somewhat different from previous albums, plus coming from a new band lineup, it was probably hard to embrace by some of the fan base. Also, Mick and Lou had made a label and management change, so the traditional promo/marketing machine was not in place and although we worked very hard at promoting and toured extensively in support of "Moonlight", it didn't translate to great sales
You continued to tour with Foreigner and Lou for sometime - up until not too long ago. In fact, I saw you guys live in Toronto in 1993 - fabulous show. Why did things come to an end and what happened with your relationship with Lou?
There was no definitive end to my participation in Foreigner - it just faded away. We ended the 2002 tour and all was well, but when Mick and Lou went to Europe for the "Night Of The Proms" shows, old rivalries flared and they once again reached an impasse in their relationship.
Consequently, there was no Foreigner tour or recording planned for the next year. Lou wanted to tour solo, and I put together a show that focused on his (and to a certain extent, our) career highlights. It was a very long, difficult tour and a hard time for Lou personally. By the end of it, we were both exhausted and it was around this time that I was approached by Frontiers about doing a solo record. I wanted to take a break from touring and decided that I would finally commit to doing my own album. Lou put a band together to continue doing shows and recording, so really, we have just gone about our own projects for the time being. He is meant to be releasing a Christian album soon and I look forward to hearing it.
Moving on to the fabulous Outside Looking In - was there a portion of the songs featured on this album that were intended for a second Shadow King album?
They sound sonically compatible - or...were some of the songs originally demoed for a solo project? How many were written for this project after being signed by Frontiers?
Songs written for future Shadow King - none. The initial ideas for "Walk Thru Fire" and "Living A Lie" were developed in the early 90's in anticipation of a solo album that I obviously never recorded. The bonus track for the Japanese release, "Walk The Walk", was an idea I started with Lou around '91-'92 for what was to be his next solo album, before we went to Foreigner. However, the version on "Outside Looking In" is considerably different. The core ideas for "Heart So Strong" and "These Tears Must Fall" were written in the mid to late 90's, but have also been majorly revamped for this album. Everything else is new material.
Once again we find you playing a majority of the instruments - how challenging is it to play/record and then mix yourself into the perfect result?
For this record it was absolutely necessary for me to play most of the instruments and sing - it is, after all, a true solo album
I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse, but at a songs inception, I generally have a picture in my mind's eye of what it should be like and spend all my time in pursuit of that, so it's better for me to just play the instruments rather than try and communicate what I want. Mixing, however, is another thing completely and while I do have a definitive opinion, I also realize that I cannot be entirely objective with such a wealth of material. Dennis Ward did a great job mixing and mastering and it was no small feat - there was an enormous amount of data for him to handle, but we worked well together and got great results.
Some fantastic guests on the album too first of all, Denny Carmassi on drums how did you know Denny (one of the great rock n roll drummers!)
About 10 years ago, I tried to recruit Denny for Foreigner, but he was busy with Whitesnake. However, from those initial conversations, we remained friends and eventually I was able to get him to tour with Foreigner in 2002. When I decided to do this album, he was my first call and he absolutely played a vital role in the power and feel of this record. I'm very grateful for his contribution and friendship and yes, he is one of rock's great drummers.
And solo guitar parts from the likes of Rocket Richotte and Ronnie Montrose!
Both are good friends and amazing guitarists as well as Scott McKinstry, who while he is not as well known, did some really great work as well.
And lastly - backing vocals from a good friend of mine - Ricky Phillips. A fellow LA bud?
Yes, and a very good friend that I finally had the opportunity and pleasure to collaborate with. We had a lot of fun working at Ricky's studio, both in the recording, but also the post work hang
We actually did two backing vocal sessions - one with Ricky alone, the other with Rick and Tom Gimbel, which was also very cool and great fun
Lou Gramm provides backing vocals. Were those vocals from some of the original sessions or did Lou come in to help out an old friend?
Lou sings on songs we wrote together. They were recorded during those writing sessions and worked great as I continued to develop this album.
After getting to know this album, it's easy to see what Bruce Turgon's sound is - it is very distinct. Previously I wouldn't have been able to definitively state that. Is it nice to finally get a solo release out there?
At this point in my career, the recognition factor was one of the major reasons for doing a solo album. My approach is a little off the beaten path and I don't expect everyone to get it - but I appreciate that some do. Collaborations can be great, but it generally means compromise to some degree, at least for me. There's been much speculation over the years as to what my contributions have been to all these high profile projects, so for anyone who has followed my career and wondered, I think "Outside Looking In" is revealing.
Very revealing\ Bruce! Favourite songs? I love These Tears Must Fall, Living A Lie, Any Other Time...Walk Thru Fire also...
Well, it is a solo album in which I wrote or co-wrote all of the songs, so choosing favorites is difficult as they're meaningful in one way or another. However if I had to pick one, "On A Wing And A Prayer" encompasses most of the elements that are important to me for this kind of record.
What next then Bruce? Will we see another solo album in 2006/2007?
I'm not sure yet. Right now, all my attention is on this album, although I am continuing to write. Much really depends on the outcome of "Outside Looking In". However, I do also have an opportunity to score a film later next year as well as developing a very artistic project that I'm not at liberty to elaborate on at the moment. I've been approached to produce some younger bands and am considering it, depending on how their songs develop. We'll see
Is there anything else you are working on? Do you do a lot of session work in LA?
I'm not really a studio gun for hire. Although I have done session work in years past, I really tend to get involved more in projects that I can sink my teeth into on a few different levels. I've done quite a bit of TV/film work over the last few years and will be doing more as I really enjoy it.
Anything else you would like to add Bruce?
Just that I would like to thank you, Andrew, and everyone who has followed my career and supported my work all these years. Outside Looking In is the next step down this road - I hope you enjoy it!
Many thanks for talking today and I look forward to more music to follow soon I hope!
Thanks again Andrew, and Merry Christmas!