Saturday, January 23, 2016


If, as is widely surmised, 'Rocket 88' was the first evidenced relic of ye olde rocke and roll, by definition, Ike Turner, tho' neither the writer nor the singer was the first rocker. Sung, written and credited to one Jackie Brenston (and his Delta Cats), the band was actually Ike's Kings of Rhythm, for whom Brenston played sax. Dating from an astonishing 1951, when Ike was 19, a cocktail of western swing, jump blues and the accidentally 'fuzzed' guitar produced by a damaged amplifier. Raw and raggedy around the edges, to my ears it holds up a lot more successfully than other and later contenders for title as first.

Which made me think a bit about Ike, more famous now for his alleged misogyny and mistreatment of Tina, than for this or any other part of his wide-ranging legacy. Now this is not the place to assess his character and I won't. If we are to only glory those spotless in reputation, then the canon of modern music, like literature and art, will shrink to nought. OK, neither should we necessarily celebrate the blemishes and behaviours, even though we often do. Especially as it is difficult to tiptoe through the morals of one era in the shoes of another. So what about Izear Luster 'Ike' Turner, junior, 1931 - 2007?

Born the son of a minister, a recurring theme in rock music, he immersed himself in the musics of the juke joints from an early age, boogie boogie, blues, jazz, setting up and setting out on the road with his Kings of Rhythm, gaining experience by backing anyone from Sonny Boy Williamson to Muddy Waters. The success of 'Rocket 88' led to a temporary suspension of the band, as Turner became a session man and record producer, until, with 3rd wife Tina, or Annie-Mae Bullock as she was christened, a reformed Kings of Rhythm hit the road in 1956, becoming the Ike and Tina Turner Revue 4 years later. No more the rock'n'roll frontman, Ike was now the understated conductor of the band, Tina and her Ikettes taking the full focus of what was and to become a full blown R'n'b extravaganza, second only to James Brown. Arguably their best remembered early song would be the Phil Spector production, 'River Deep, Mountain High', the deal for the song being that Ike had little to do with it. And Ike, maybe uncharacteristically, always shrewdly, went along with it. Not initially a hit in the U.S., it was huge in Europe and beyond, leading to tours with the Rolling Stones.

Roll forward into another decade, popular on both sides of the atlantic by now, a staple in the charts, with covers, 'I Can Take You Higher' and 'Proud Mary', there was one further classic in store, with even now there being barely a wedding disco, or similar, that doesn't include 'Nutbush City Limits.' Both of mine did!

After that it was all about Tina, her revelations about life with Ike piling on the wretchedness already there courtesy old showbiz faves, drink, drugs and paranoia. I can't help but note some irony in that, aged 30, he was teetotal and drugs eschewing, and yet to introduce Miss Bullock into his band and his life, but that's conjecture. He did, however, manage to survive the storms, reputationally and personally, reviving again the Kings of Rhythm in 2001 and achieving his 2nd Grammy in 2006, for solo album, 'Risin' with the Blues.' He died the following year.

So let's get a bit of his finishings, remembering him for his music, not just his onetime amanuensis. (Sadly YouTube didn't have an available version of '18 Long Years', his re-write of earlier Ike and Tina song '5 Long Years'. They, inevitably, were married for 18.)

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