Warrant’s Erik Turner Spends His Free Time Playing in the Vineyard

June 16th, 2015

ErikTurner_GA

This is an excerpt from the all-new JULY/AUGUST 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on actor David Duchovny and his new album, Les Paul and the 100th anniversary of his birth, traveling through Maui by motorcycle, chef Troy Knapp of Austin’s The Driskill, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.

RED ROCKER: While Erik Turner still tours and records with Warrant, he spends his free time in vineyards and wineries thanks to his newfound love of wine.

By Chris Gill | Photography by Kevin Scanlon

Ten years ago, about the only thing Erik Turner knew about wine was that he didn’t really like it. Fast forward to the present, and the Warrant guitarist not only loves wine but also now collaborates with South Coast Winery on his very own brand of Warrant and Erik Turner wines.

“I’m a late bloomer to wine,” Turner admits. “Any time I tried wine before with my immediate family I always thought that it was disgusting. They drank stuff like Charles Shaw, which I did not like at all—nothing against those who do like it, but it was not for me. In 2007 my family and I were camping in Big Bear with my cousin and his wife, who brought along a bottle of wine. I decided to give it a try, and it was delicious. I didn’t know wine could taste like that. That was the spark that ignited my interest.”

In 2010 when some entrepreneurial friends of Turner discovered his newfound passion for wine, they asked if he’d be interested in offering a Warrant-branded wine. His friends had just started the company Artistwine.com, and they hooked him up with Napa winemaker Kristian Story.

“I signed a two-year licensing deal with them,” Turner explains. “The first wine we did was a Napa red blend—Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfandel with a little bit of Petit Verdot. I started going to wine events to promote the wine, and I fell in love with the culture of it. I put a little acoustic band together called Sunset Stripped, and we would play at wine bars and wineries. After the two years were up I decided to work with a winery in my back yard, because Napa is so far away from my home.”

Because Turner lives only a few miles from the heart of Southern California’s Temecula wine country, it made sense to form a partnership with a winery that is virtually in his backyard. “I was playing with Sunset Stripped,” he says, “and this guy offered to introduce me to the owners of South Coast Winery. I wasn’t aggressively looking to do another wine, so this offer just fell into my lap. I got together with the people from South Coast to talk, and three years later we’ve done a dozen different wines together. I thought that we’d do just one and that would be it, but it’s grown and is going really well.”

Those wines include a variety of reds (Erik Turner Rocker Red Merlot and Syrah, Punk Rock Red Merlot, and Rock the Pink Syrah and Warrant I Saw Red Cabernet Sauvignon and Hard Rocker Red Meritage), whites (Erik Turner Dog Day Afternoon and Epic Day Chardonnay), and rosés (Erik Turner Rock the Pink sparkling Primitivo and Warrant Wick’d Rosé). The wines are quite reasonably priced, between $14.99 and $24.99.

“The Hard Rocker Red and Rock the Pink sparkling Primitivo were made from grapes from South Coast’s Monterey vineyards,” says Turner. “Now I’ve done wines from all over California. Maybe someday I’ll do a French or Italian wine, but right now I’m happy with the wines we’re making here in Temecula. Over a million people visit Temecula’s wine country annually, and the wines keep getting better every year. Some wine snobs don’t take Temecula very seriously, but many minds are changing. I think the wines will eventually get the respect they deserve.”

While Turner is now a devoted wine enthusiast, he’s more of a consumer than a collector. Instead, the storage space at his Southern California home is devoted to his guitar collection, which never seems to stop growing. His guitars include several custom graphic finish instruments made for Warrant’s world tours during the late Eighties and early Nineties, various custom GMP models that he tours with today, and even a 1979 Gibson Flying V that he bought when he was 17.

“Gear from the Seventies is my weakness, although if I see something cool from the Eighties I’ll usually buy that too,” he admits. “The GMP guitars that I play are custom made. It’s a lot of fun to design them. I’ll go to their factory in San Dimas, which is sort of hallowed ground because that’s where Charvel was originally based, choose the wood, and work with the luthier on the specs.

“I still have most of my old custom guitars—the Trojan one, the ‘money’ guitar, the Nagel, and my custom V,” he continues. “At the end of the ‘Cherry Pie’ tour I told my tech he could grab any guitar he wanted. Back then the Ibanez custom shop had made me six guitars. He grabbed this guitar with a custom graphic finsh showing Bart Simpson getting drunk. About six months later, a friend told me that he saw that guitar hanging in a shop in Vegas. I guess my tech needed the money, but it was no big deal to me. Then 15 years later when I was working part-time at Wild West Guitars in Riverside I got a call from this guy who said he had my Bart Simpson guitar. He asked if I wanted to buy it back for $750, which was a steal as I had sold similar guitars for $6,000. It’s now back in my collection, and I don’t plan on getting rid of it again.”

Other notable guitars in his collection include a 1972 Gibson SG, 1975 Les Paul Custom with cherry sunburst finish, 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, and a 1979 Gibson Explorer. Acoustics include several Crafter models and a “really nice Taylor.”

“I used to buy, sell, and trade guitars all the time when I was a kid,” Turner says. “That was when you could get a Les Paul Jr. or Melody Maker for $200 and a Seventies Les Paul for $500, at most. I bought a 1964 Fender Jaguar back then for only $15, which I still have. I got it back when Eddie Van Halen became popular, so of course I repainted it and put a humbucker in it. Years later I met a guy at Fender who offered to restore it for me. Fortunately I had kept all the original parts, so he put it back together and refinished it as close as you could make it.

“I just love the smell of old guitars from the Fifties and Sixties,” he continues. “There’s nothing else like it. You can smell the sweat and smoke and beer from all the clubs they’ve been in. I love vintage guitars that with checked finishes. Some guys do great relic jobs, but I’ve seen quite a few that have wear and tear that would never happen. It looks like someone just took a screwdriver to it. The wear on my guitars was earned from playing thousands of gigs with them. None of my guitars have the headstocks broken off or anything extreme like that. They’re used, but not abused.”

While Warrant is still going strong—the band plays about 50 shows a year and released the Rockaholic album in 2011—Turner also has other outlets for expressing his musical creativity. In 2011, Turner and Warrant bassist Jerry Dixon started a music library company called Down Boys Music.

“We now have over 20 composers on our team,” he says. “We started doing music for the second season of Duck Dynasty, and here we’re on our sixth season with them. Gurney Productions does a lot of different shows, and they’ve hired us and our composers to work on many of them. We also do music for shows produced by The Collective, including Wahlburgers, Pitbulls and Parolees, and Lockup. That keeps my creative hunger satisfied because we’re always writing and recording music.”

Turner also expresses his creative vision as the art director for the labels for his wines. He collaborated with illustrator Kevin Gudat on the labels for his I Saw Red and Rocker Red wines, and hired Mike Doyle, who he knew from a band that once opened for Warrant, to design the Punk Rocker Red label. For the Hard Rocker Red label Turner hired Jan Wolfinger “because she’s done a ton of Napa wine labels and we wanted a more traditional look for that.” Warrant drummer Steven Sweet illustrated the Dog Day Afternoon label, which is a whimsical portrait of Turner’s dog Kenny riding a Harley-Davidson through a vineyard.

“Wine is like artwork that you can swallow,” Turner say, “although once you consume it, it’s gone. But that makes it more special. I especially enjoy sharing a great bottle of wine with good friends. I’m not a wine connoisseur. I’m a wine enthusiast who lucked out and gets to be involved with this great industry.” “I’m a late bloomer to wine,” Turner admits. “Any time I tried wine before with my immediate family I always thought that it was disgusting. They drank stuff like Charles Shaw, which I did not like at all—nothing against those who do like it, but it was not for me. In 2007 my family and I were camping in Big Bear with my cousin and his wife, who brought along a bottle of wine. I decided to give it a try, and it was delicious. I didn’t know wine could taste like that. That was the spark that ignited my interest.”

In 2010 when some entrepreneurial friends of Turner discovered his newfound passion for wine, they asked if he’d be interested in offering a Warrant-branded wine. His friends had just started the company Artistwine.com, and they hooked him up with Napa winemaker Kristian Story.

“I signed a two-year licensing deal with them,” Turner explains. “The first wine we did was a Napa red blend—Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfandel with a little bit of Petit Verdot. I started going to wine events to promote the wine, and I fell in love with the culture of it. I put a little acoustic band together called Sunset Stripped, and we would play at wine bars and wineries. After the two years were up I decided to work with a winery in my back yard, because Napa is so far away from my home.”

Because Turner lives only a few miles from the heart of Southern California’s Temecula wine country, it made sense to form a partnership with a winery that is virtually in his backyard. “I was playing with Sunset Stripped,” he says, “and this guy offered to introduce me to the owners of South Coast Winery. I wasn’t aggressively looking to do another wine, so this offer just fell into my lap. I got together with the people from South Coast to talk, and three years later we’ve done a dozen different wines together. I thought that we’d do just one and that would be it, but it’s grown and is going really well.”

Those wines include a variety of reds (Erik Turner Rocker Red Merlot and Syrah, Punk Rock Red Merlot, and Rock the Pink Syrah and Warrant I Saw Red Cabernet Sauvignon and Hard Rocker Red Meritage), whites (Erik Turner Dog Day Afternoon and Epic Day Chardonnay), and rosés (Erik Turner Rock the Pink sparkling Primitivo and Warrant Wick’d Rosé). The wines are quite reasonably priced, between $14.99 and $24.99.

“The Hard Rocker Red and Rock the Pink sparkling Primitivo were made from grapes from South Coast’s Monterey vineyards,” says Turner. “Now I’ve done wines from all over California. Maybe someday I’ll do a French or Italian wine, but right now I’m happy with the wines we’re making here in Temecula. Over a million people visit Temecula’s wine country annually, and the wines keep getting better every year. Some wine snobs don’t take Temecula very seriously, but many minds are changing. I think the wines will eventually get the respect they deserve.”

While Turner is now a devoted wine enthusiast, he’s more of a consumer than a collector. Instead, the storage space at his Southern California home is devoted to his guitar collection, which never seems to stop growing. His guitars include several custom graphic finish instruments made for Warrant’s world tours during the late Eighties and early Nineties, various custom GMP models that he tours with today, and even a 1979 Gibson Flying V that he bought when he was 17.

“Gear from the Seventies is my weakness, although if I see something cool from the Eighties I’ll usually buy that too,” he admits. “The GMP guitars that I play are custom made. It’s a lot of fun to design them. I’ll go to their factory in San Dimas, which is sort of hallowed ground because that’s where Charvel was originally based, choose the wood, and work with the luthier on the specs.

“I still have most of my old custom guitars—the Trojan one, the ‘money’ guitar, the Nagel, and my custom V,” he continues. “At the end of the ‘Cherry Pie’ tour I told my tech he could grab any guitar he wanted. Back then the Ibanez custom shop had made me six guitars. He grabbed this guitar with a custom graphic finsh showing Bart Simpson getting drunk. About six months later, a friend told me that he saw that guitar hanging in a shop in Vegas. I guess my tech needed the money, but it was no big deal to me. Then 15 years later when I was working part-time at Wild West Guitars in Riverside I got a call from this guy who said he had my Bart Simpson guitar. He asked if I wanted to buy it back for $750, which was a steal as I had sold similar guitars for $6,000. It’s now back in my collection, and I don’t plan on getting rid of it again.”

Other notable guitars in his collection include a 1972 Gibson SG, 1975 Les Paul Custom with cherry sunburst finish, 1976 Les Paul Deluxe, and a 1979 Gibson Explorer. Acoustics include several Crafter models and a “really nice Taylor.”

“I used to buy, sell, and trade guitars all the time when I was a kid,” Turner says. “That was when you could get a Les Paul Jr. or Melody Maker for $200 and a Seventies Les Paul for $500, at most. I bought a 1964 Fender Jaguar back then for only $15, which I still have. I got it back when Eddie Van Halen became popular, so of course I repainted it and put a humbucker in it. Years later I met a guy at Fender who offered to restore it for me. Fortunately I had kept all the original parts, so he put it back together and refinished it as close as you could make it.

“I just love the smell of old guitars from the Fifties and Sixties,” he continues. “There’s nothing else like it. You can smell the sweat and smoke and beer from all the clubs they’ve been in. I love vintage guitars that with checked finishes. Some guys do great relic jobs, but I’ve seen quite a few that have wear and tear that would never happen. It looks like someone just took a screwdriver to it. The wear on my guitars was earned from playing thousands of gigs with them. None of my guitars have the headstocks broken off or anything extreme like that. They’re used, but not abused…”

GW_2015.07_1024x1024-sm
This is an excerpt from the all-new JULY/AUGUST 2015 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story, plus features on actor David Duchovny and his new album, Les Paul and the 100th anniversary of his birth, traveling through Maui by motorcycle, chef Troy Knapp of Austin’s The Driskill, and more, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.