Born Clarksdale, Mississippi, November 5, 1931
Died San Diego, California, December 12, 2007
When Ike Turner joined former Blur front-man Danon Albarn and his virtual band Gorillaz onstage in Manchester last year for a live recreation of the all star Demon Days album, the extended boogie-woogie piano solo he dazzled with on the song, Every Planet We Reach Is Dead, was a long way from the booming back-street soul arrangements he recorded in the 1960s with his then wife Tina Turner. Unrecognisable from the mainstream pop success of Nutbush City Limits and the raw bombast of the Phil Spector produced River Deep, Mountain High, here was Turner getting back to his roots. On a stage shared with a super-group that included Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays, Neneh Cherry and rapper Roots Manuva, it saw him acknowledged as a true rock n’ roll maverick by a new generation of artists as well as launching him into a 21st century multi-media universe.
If Turner had made it to his scheduled show at 2007’s Edinburgh International Jazz Festival with his band The Kings Of Rhythm, audiences would have been able to see for themselves how this bundle of contradictions and alleged nasty piece of work could operate on guitar and piano. As it was, the show was cancelled, belying Turner’s claim two years ago that, despite his illness, he would never have to cancel a show. Following his death this week of emphysema aged 76, there won’t be a second chance to see a man whose 1951 song, the cars and girls inspired Rocket 88, is believed by many – including Turner himself, who subtitled his website ‘The Father Of Rock and Roll’ - to have kick-started rock n’roll itself into life. A music magazine produced out of Glasgow throughout the mid 1980s even went so far as to name itself after the song.
The Grammy award Turner won this year for his Risin’ With The Blues album confirmed his rehabilitation following a lean period caused by years of drug abuse and accusations of domestic abuse committed on Tina, with whom he won a first Grammy in 1972 for their version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s song, Proud Mary. He reached a nadir in 1989 when he received a four year sentence for drug-related offences. He was still in a California state penitentiary appealing for parole in 1991 when he and Tina were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Tina collecting it on both of their behalfs. If Ike had showed up, it would have been the first time the pair would have appeared on the same stage in almost 20 years when she finally fought back en route to a show.
The partnership may have been anulled in 1978, but the duet continued, if only on paper. Ike’s 2001 auto-biography, Takin’ Back My Name, could be said to be a response to the call of Tina’s own 1986 memoir, I, Tina. In her book she unveiled a litany of violent abuse at Ike’s hands, including suffering a broken nose in the back of a cab. Tina’s story was later made into 1993’s successful Hollywood biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With It?, with Angela Bassett playing the diva and Laurence Fishburne giving a scarifying take on Ike. The real Ike had refuted Tina’s allegations for years. In his book, however, he went so far as to say that ‘Sure, I've slapped Tina... There have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking. But I never beat her.’
Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississipi in 1931 to Beatrice Cushenberry and Izear Luster Turner, a minister for the local church. For years Ike believed his name was Izear Luster Turner, Jr. after his father, and only while applying for his first passport did he discover that he was registered as Ike Wister Turner. By the time he was eight years old he was working at the local radio station, WROX, based at the Alcazar Hotel. Initially driving the elevator, the young Turner became captivated by the station on the second floor, and before long found himself changing the records unsupervised.
Before long Turner was carrying amplifiers for blues singer Robert Nighthawk, whooften played live on WROX., and was taught boogie-woogie piano by Pinetop Perkins. This led to Turner hearing Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James and Muddy Waters, all of whom would be taken up by British would-be Bluesers the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.
Turner formed the original Kings Of Rhythm in 1949, though when Rocket 88 was released in 1951 after being profuced by Sam Phillips in his Sun studio, it was listed under Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats. Brenston sang and played sax on the song and was credited as co-writer. The number was distinctive for one of the earliest uses of the later voguish fuzz guitar. This was caused by accident after the amplifiers were dropped. Turner became A&R man for Sun, getting Elmore Leonard and Sonny Boy Williamson signed.
Turner chanced upon a ballsy singer amed Anna Mae Bulloch in a St Louis nightclub and drafted her into his band as a backing singer. Under the name the Ike and Tina Turner revue, the pair scored their first national hit in 1960 with A Fool in Love, which reached the top three in the R&B charts and becoming a top thirty pop hit in the proces. The creation of the revue also led to the soul revues of the 1960s. Inspired by Ray Charles, Turner created a trio of sexy background singers and dancers who were named The Ikettes, who often had their moves choreographed by Tina and Ike. Hits were sporadic, but over thirteen years included It's Gonna Work Out Fine, River Deep - Mountain High, I Want To Take You Higher, Proud Mary, and Nutbush City Limits.
By this time Turner had discovered cocaine, and, after the couple’s violent 1976 split, said to be only to avoid child support payments to his first wife, struggled to find success with two solo albums. Unlike Tina, who’s now known more as a 1980s icon than a 1960s one, it took Ike a whole lot longer to be welcomed back into the fold. Shortly after a now cleaned up Ike's release from prison in 1993, he went back on the road and in 2001 released the Grammy-nominated Here & Now album. In 2004, he was awarded with an Heroes Award from the Memphis charter of NARAS.
Turner was one of a troubled set of first generation rockers, including producer Phil Spector and fellow claimant to inventor of r’n’r Chuck Berry, whose creative genius was often at odds with a wildly dysfunctional personal life made even worse by success and all its glamorous attributes. As well as siring a genre, Turner might just have patented the sex, drugs and rock and roll accoutrements to it.
Ongoing projects included a collaboration with contemporary Blues duo, The Black Keys. Under the guidance of Gorillaz producer Danger Mouse, this was due to be released in 2008.
In a 2005 interview Turner reflected on his personal and professional back catalogue. “I would say that I'm the guy that went all the way to the top,” he said, “and then I've come all the way back down to the bottom again. And then bounced. And, like, today I can say that whatever I do from now, my life is great today."
The Herald, December 2007