Ike Turner 1931 - 2007
by J. P. Ryan
Like many music fans of my generation, Years as well as early records by B. B. King
I first heard the name Ike Turner in the and other legends recording in Memphis.
early 1970s, when Ike and Tina Turner
were at the peak of their popularity Turner absorbed a broad range of styles
after having crossed over following a and was beginning to display his trademark
decade of playing to predominantly Strat prowess when, in 1954, he recorded
African-American audiences. Their new- an astonishing series of sides at his own stu-found popularity with young white audi- dio. On the slow blues, “Way You Used To
ences began around 1969, when the Treat Me” (credited to Lover Boy), the influ-Rolling Stones offered Ike and Tina an ence of Guitar Slim is especially evident.
opening slot on their legendary come- Several terrific instrumentals from these ses-back tour. This exposure led to a brief sions feature dazzling effects Ike was able
but incendiary performance on 1970’s to create using distortion and the whammy
Gimme Shelter, articles and profiles in bar manipulation. The Latin-influenced
magazines such as Rolling Stone and “Cuban Get Away” and “Cubano Jump,”
Hit Parader, and exposure on AM and and the scorching “Stringing Along” exem-FM radio with a series of hit singles, plify how far Ike had developed by the
including “I’ve Been Loving You Too age of 22. These sessions formed the basis
Long,” “Come Together,” “I Want To for the album Bangs had praised, and the
Take You Higher,” “Nutbush City Limits” centerpiece of those sessions is undoubt-and their immortal re-invention of John edly the nine-minute “All The Blues All The
Fogerty’s “Proud Mary.” When the pair parted ways in 1975 as both Time,” where Ike demonstrates just how deeply he had studied
a married couple and performing entity, subsequent events, such John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Son Jackson, and Muddy Waters.
as Tina’s ascendancy as a pop superstar in the 1980s and Ike’s long Ike absorbed and produced his own brand of rough, southern soul
decline into drug addiction and incarceration, seemed to indicate from the early sixties, notably the Sue recordings with Tina, as well
just which partner had been riding on the other’s coattails. as the couple’s dirty, early funk on the Blue Thumb label.
My own curiosity was piqued around 1980, when the legendary, late
rock critic Lester Bangs wrote about his top ten favorite guitarists,
which included Pete Cosey (Miles Davis’ lead axe-man during the
furious mid-seventies period that produced Agharta and Pangea),
Otis Rush, and Ike Turner. He did not cite Ike & Tina, but Ike’s mid-fifties work for the Modern label, specifically an album called Ike
Turner Rocks the Blues. Both as an unabashed enthusiast and unforgiving detector of all that is false or artistically dishonest, Bangs had
the ability to vividly articulate with humor and passion not only what
the music meant, but how it felt on a visceral level, making his inclusion of Ike worth a look.
Ike Turner was born on November 5, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
According to the New York Times, Turner’s minister father was beaten
to death by a white mob when he was a young boy. By the time Ike
reached adolescence, he was already an old hand at cuing up Delta
blues records at the local radio station, and soon learned to play
piano from the legendary Pinetop Perkins. After forming Ike Turner’s
Kings of Rhythm, Turner gained the attention of B. B. King, who recommended his tight, high-voltage R&B band to Sam Phillips, founder
of Sun Studios, and later Sun Records, in Memphis. Phillips gave
Turner various gigs as A&R man, arranger and session musician.
In March of 1951, at the age of 19, Turner recorded the hit, “Rocket
88,” credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, arguably the
first ever rock ‘n’ roll record. That same year Ike played piano on
Howlin’ Wolf’s debut classic, recorded at Sun, How Many More
In 1991, Ike was absent from his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction due to being incarcerated. When he finally received his statuette, it was broken.
I had the opportunity to see Ike play live in 2001 after Ike’s autobiography, Takin’ Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner, had been
published and he had released a new CD. It was a wonderful and
joyous show, and Ike’s band even featured his boyhood friend Ernest
Lane on piano. This tight, enthusiastic and heartfelt performance
before a packed House of Blues was both party and vindication.
In honor of his influence on rock n’ roll, here are a few Ike Turner
Ike Turner - Blues Kingpins – (Capitol, 2003)
Classic early material with the Kings of Rhythm dating from the
1950s, including the legendary Memphis sessions from 1954.
The Sun Sessions – (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
More Memphis recordings spanning from 1951 to 1958.
I Like Ike! The Best of Ike Turner – (Rhino, 1994)
A brief but terrific overview of Ike’s first 20 years, covering 1951-
1970, including some rare singles not available elsewhere.
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