In an ideal world Ike Turner would be as well-known an entrepreneur as Sam Phillips, as revered a bluesman as B.B.King. But the truth is that it has been a hard and rocky road from Clarksdale, Mississippi where he was born on the 15th October 1931 to his current unwarranted obscurity in St Louis, Missouri. Along the way he has spread his huge talents as musician, hustler and ladies' man rather too thinly. And like that other Southern rebel from the other side of the tracks, Jerry Lee Lewis, he has made enemies with his ungovernable ego. Remember the family history and you can see why.
His father, the Reverend Turner, was systematically kicked to death by a redneck thug known locally as Bird Doggin’ and it was left to his mother Beatrice, a seamstress, to raise young lzear Luster Turner alone. She taught the boy sewing and together they struggled to make ends meet where they lived on Washington Street. Almost inevitably Ike was sucked into the bustling blues world centred on Fourth St & lssequena on Clarksdale's east side. At a cafe run by Raymond Hill’s mother he came under the spell of guitarist Robert Nighthawk although it was to be some years before he took up that instrument. His natural inclination was to play piano and to that end he lived in the shadow of Pinetop Perkins. By his early teens he was playing the honky tonks where eventually he joined the Tophatters under the aegis of sax man Dr E.G. Mason. ln 1948 this aggregation split into the Dukes of Swing and the much rougher Kings of Rhythm. Led by pianist Ike the latter comprised Raymond Hill, Jackie Brenston and Eugene Fox, all on sax, along with drummer Willie Sims, guitarist Willie Kizart and lke’s nephew Jesse Knight on bass. A chance meeting with B.B. King at the Harlem lnn in Chambers, Mississippi, resulted in a trip to Memphis in March 1951 where they cut the immortal ‘Rocket 88'.
Probably because it was covered by a fledgling Bill Haley this is often cited as the first rock record, a somewhat spurious claim but there is no gainsaying its importance to lke. Phillips had reservations about Ike’s singing on this number so Ike put forward Jackie Brenston and contented himself rattling out some barrelhouse piano licks. To lke's chagrin the side was credited to Jackie Brenston with the Delta Cats, a total fiction if ever there was one, and to make matters worse it sat smugly atop the R & B chart for May that year when it was issued on Chess 1458. Brenston was conceited enough to go solo and Ike made next to nothing out of the deal. Not to put too fine a point on it Ike teamed his business practice in the school of hard knocks.
When Ike returned to Memphis he sat in on a B.B. King session where his keyboard skills mesmerised Joe Bihari, one of the brothers who owned RPM/Modern Records. Joe signed Ike and together they scoured the South for talent, recording legends like Howling Wolf, Elmore James or Bobby Bland on a portable tape recorder just about anywhere they could, be it a Club, the local YMCA or someone’s living room. But the Biharis were based in Los Angeles and while Ike was on retainer for them down South he remained very much his own man forever in pursuit of the best deal. Between 1951 and 1958 he assembled an incredible portfolio freelancing for Sun, Chess, Modern, RPM, Flair, Crown, Vita, Ultra, Federal, Cobra, Artistic and Stevens Records with a slew of acts including Little Milton, Jr Parker, Houston Boines, Johnny O'NeaI, the Prisonaires, Raymond Hill, Billy ‘The Kid' Emerson, Eugene Fox, Dennis Binder, Sonny Blair, Boyd Gilmore, Clayton Love, Matt Cockrell, Billy Gayles, Moose John, Tommy Hodge, Betty Everett, Otis Rush and Bobby Foster. And if that isn't indigestable enough take time to remember that he was also recording under his own name as well as pseudonyms like lcky Renrut or Lover Boy!
By July 1953 the Kings of Rhythm were back in Memphis and in the lineup was a pianist Bonnie Turner, erstwhile girlfriend of Raymond Hill and now lke’s wife. At Sun she had already had the dubious honor of being the first female vocalist to record with his band' albeit in somewhat lacklustre fashion, and it soon became clear that the partnership, professional or otherwise, was doomed to oblivion. In 1954 Ike remarried and this time the unlucky recipient of his divided attention was yet another piano player, Annie Mae Wilson from Greenville, Mississippi. lt was her urging which propelled Ike to East St Louis. a wide-open town where the Kings of Rhythm set about carving a reputation at venues like Club D'Lisa, the Harlem Club, the Bird Cage and Booker Merritt's Club Manhatten. Now free to step upfront Ike sliced through the humid smoke-filled rooms with some of the most vicious guitar licks ever heard in that benighted city. Although tutored by Willie Kizart he succeeded in sounding totally idiosyncratic, completely original. There can be no doubt about his stature. Even the most cursory listening to cuts like ‘Sad As A Man Can Be' or 'l'm Tore Up’, which he recorded with vocalist Billy Gayles for Federal on a trip to Cincinatti in the late summer of '56, reveal a gutarist of chilling intensity. The same rivetting, reverberating style remained in evidence throughout his career, including the years spent with Tina, most notably on albums like "His Woman...Her Man" (Cenco 104, Capitol 571) and "Outta Season" (Blue Thumb 5 & 8805) from 1965 and 1969 respectively. One is forced to conclude that had he not met Tina he would be better known as one of the great bluesmen. Instead he has entered the twilight zone of eminence grise. A strange nemesis is had been coming down the line ever since that fateful morning of the 26th November 1939 when Anna Mae Bullock squalled her way into the world at the Haywood Memorial Hospital in Brownsville, Tennessee. She was raised just outside Nutbush city limits on the Pointdexter farm where her father, the Reverend Floyd Richard Bullock, worked as an overseer. When he moved with his wife Zelma to nearby Knoxville in 1942 Anna was left with her paternal grandmother, Roxanna. The following year she joined her parents in Knoxville where she made her first aquaintance with the ecstatic dancing and hollering of the Pentecostal church. And when the family relocated at Springhill darker, more dangerous realities began to impinge on her childish dreams. ln particular she would sometimes slip down to the Hole, a raucous strip of jukejoints in neighbouring Ripley, Tennessee, where all the fine browns would strut their stuff. During the early fifties these stirrings were reinforced by the harshly abrasive sounds of R & B pumped out from WDIA Memphis alongside the whining, stinging country laments of WSM Nashville. Anna Mae absorbed both and by the summer of 1956, while still in her late teens, she was ready to carry these musical seeds to her estranged mother in East St Louis.
There her older and more glamorous sister Alline introduced her to the Kings of Rhythm at the Club Manhattan. An impromtu rendition of B.B. King's 'You Know I Love You' caught lke’s fancy whereupon she found herself wailing down the small hours with a cluster of blues, the latest hits of Littte Wille John and a selection from the repertoire of Mr Turner himself. Clearly she had done her homework.
From then into 1957 she was featured regularly as Little Ann whose thin and diminutive figure seemed scarcely capable of housing such banshee sounds. Clayton Love compared her to Bessie Smith standing four square, head back and hitting hurricane force. Whether she knew it or not she was in that great tradition represented by Big Mama Thornton and Big Maybelle. Throw in the sanctified soul of the male singers especially, pioneers like Ray Charles, Little Richard and James Brown; add something of Solomon Burke’s downhome countrified preaching; stir in a suggestion of Ruth Brown’s squealing sensuality and you begin to get some measure of the incipient Tina Turner. Later, in the freewheeling sixties, contemporaries like Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Koko Taylor simply confirmed her direction. And there really is no need to ask where Janis Joplin came from!
Anna Mae had been going with sax-man Raymond Hill, lke’s friend from Clarksdale, and sometime in November 1957 she became pregnant. On the 20th August 1958 Raymond Craig was born and in October of that year lke’s lady, Lorraine Taylor, bore him a child in Ike Jr. Undeterred Anna moved in with Ike at Virginia Place, East St Louis, and the following year she made her recording debut. The song in question was 'Boxtop' (Tune Town 501), coupled with 'Calypso Love Cry', and on the label she was billed as Little Ann.
But she was not yet centre-stage because Ike himself was still hot on the scene with innovative instrumentals like 'Prancing', a number which he intended to put out locally on Stevens Records. Also in his repertoire was 'A Fool In Love', a song which he had earmarked for Art Lassiter erstwhile of the Trojans. A session was arranged at Technisonic in nearby Brentwood, Missouri, for early spring 1960 but when the Artettes showed up, minus Lassiter, Ike decided to cut a demo with Little Ann instead. Among those who eventually heard it was Henry 'Juggy‘ Murray, a black New Yorker who owned the recently formed Sue label.
For him the selling point was the amazing female lead unleashed on an intro which could strip wallpaper, whereupon Ike dredged Tina from some dim memory of a jungle goddess featured in a tacky cinema serial made by Republic. Or so the story has it. Meanwhile the Artettes, comprising Robbie Montgomery, Frances Hodge and Sandra Harding, were quickly hijacked and recast as the lkettes. When 'A Fool ln Love' (Sue 730) made number 2 R & B wise in August 1960 and settled at number 27 nationally by October the die was cast for an Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
Tina herself does not admit to any earlier recordings so just where the session of November 1959, which yielded 'That's All l Need' (Sue 722) backed with ‘My Love', fits in is hard to say. Possibly it was released out of sequence alter 'A Fool In Love'. Likewise the rumours surrounding 'Letter From Tina', which was tucked on the reverse of 'l ldolize You' (Sue 735) and issued in November 1960. If indeed this was the first demo Tina ever made, sometime in 1959, then Ike must have already decided on her name and a course of action long before their initial success as a duo.
What remains fascinating about the Sue sides is their completeness. Tina arrived with her talent full-blown from the outset. Ike deftly established their personae and their recordings ran the gamut of black music through blues, soul, R & B, jazz and gospel. When Tina snarls "All right boys! C'mon and see ol' Tina now. l want a man to give me some of that lovin' like my other man used to give me" on 'Gonna Find Me A Substitute' (Sue LP 2007) it's difficult not to see Ike as the cause of it all. When Ike writes himself into 'lt's Gonna Work Out Fine' (Sue 749) using the soubriquet 'Killer', you must know he's enjoying the notoriety even if Micky Baker is left to sing the line!
From the testifying fury of 'Poor Fool' (Sue 753) through the screaming exhortation of 'Sleepless' (Sue 765) to blues ballads like 'Foolish' (Sue LP 2007) Tina touched all the bases. Even ilI~advised jazz workouts like 'Tin Top House' (Sue 135), or album cuts like 'Desire' (Sue LP 2005) where she sounded more like Big Maybelle crying ‘Candy', still served notice that all America had supplied the music. The formula reached its apotheosis on Sonja, lnnis, Kent, Modern, Warner and the latter's black music subsidiary Loma between 1963 and 1965 as lke’s powerhouse revue restlessly criss-crossed the nation for 51 weeks in every year. It was a schedule only James Brown could equal. Sickness, pregnancy, nothing stood in the way as the caravan lashed itself into a sweat-drenched fury on the chitlin circuit. By now the image was complete as Tina cut up the floor with the mashed potato, skating, shimmying, strutting and howling into the darkness. Audiences hung from the rafters to catch this spectacle, the fabled 79 sleek gowns, and the dervish hair which had become such a black American fetish ever since Tina had bleached her own tight curls into oblivion and replaced them with a wig.
Our collection erupts from this period with four scorching cuts lifted from "The Ike & Tina Turner Show Volume 2” (Warners LP 5904). Recorded at a string of black clubs between Memphis and Fort Worth in the summer of 1964 they include the torrid 'All I Could Do Was Cry’, a performance so wracked with pain and contempt that it virtually stands as a definition of soul. Almost as powerful is Tina's agonised rendition of ‘A Fool For You' a song which had scored for one of her favourite artists, Ray Charles, in 1955. However improbably she takes Curtis Mayfield’s 'You Must Believe In Me' way back to the blue side”, with Ike laying down some heavy duty guitar, and finally trifles with the monolithic sound of 'lt's All 0ver'. The latter, an Ike Turner confection recorded earlier the same year in Los Angeles, was being actively promoted by Tina on tour. The original studio cut was issued with the fat and brassy ‘Fingerpoppin' (Warner 5461) sometime after July.
'No Tears To Cry' (Warner 5433) was cut in February 1964 with a view to matching the extravagant orchestral sounds emoployed by the Drifters, Gene McDaniels and their ilk. But despite the strings, castinets and choral support Ike still managed to inject some soulful reality before this epic was revealed to the public flipped with 'A Fool For A Fool'. lke remained in control while a deep-voiced Tina wrapped herself sinuously round 'Just So I Can Be With You' (Loma 2015). This anxious testimony to his sexual prowess has been variously attributed to sessions held in 1964 or early the following year. The most probable data seems to be April 1965 when the coupling, 'Somebody (Somewhere) Needs You', was recorded. This lightly optimistic number was appended later to "The Ike & Tina Tumer Show Volume 2" with crowd noises dubbed on. Bob Krasnow, a founder member of Loma, produced Ike & Tina's only hit single for the company in the shape of 'Tell Her l'm Not Home'. Originally recorded by Chuck Jackson this was definately one to silence doubters and as impassioned a slice of raw soul as one could hope for. Yoked to 'l’m Through With Love' (Loma 2011) it lodged at number 33 in the R & B listing for April 1965.
All of which brings us to a rank outsider and the only studio item on this set not recorded in LA. 'Merry Christmas Baby' (Warner 5493) was cut in Memphis in November 1964 and issued immediately with a "live" version of 'Ooh Poo Pah Doo' hidden on the reverse. A perennial favourite since Johnny Moore recorded it in the late forties it had been revived by Charles Brown and Chuck Berry, in 1956 and 1958 respectively. To hear Tina dust it down and spit it out is an experience, to say the least. In her wake Otis Redding and Elvis Presley have released equally beguiling, if somewhat more restrained, versions.
After Loma the hits remained thin on the ground. Only the chopping fury of ‘Goodbye So Long' (Modern 1007), which made Number 32 R+B wise in June 1965, and the wailing 'So Fine' (Innis 6667), hanging at number 50 in the listing for May 1968, helped keep the duo current. For them Phil Spector's classic production on ‘River Deep Mountain High' (Philles 131) had been an abberation appreciated only in England. Cocooned by their reputation as a "live" act Ike and Tina were not overly bothered and it took Krasnow, now ensconced at Blue Thumb, to persuade them otherwise. He suggested Otis Redding’s 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' as a likely chart contender and his faith was rewarded when their salacious rewrite made number 68 nationally on Blue Thumb 101.
After an absence of some seven years from the pop charts they were back in business. Tina was awakening, as if from a long sleep, and straightway embarked on production work with Krasnow. Touring with the Rolling Stones opened her eyes further to the creative possibilities of rock. ln her view it was only a new slant on R & B anyway and she quickly persuaded Ike to let her record material like Lennon & McCartney's 'Come Together' (Minit 32087), Sly Stone's 'I Want To Take You Higher' (Liberty 56177) and, above all, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 'Proud Mary’ (Liberty 56216) which shot to number 4 nationally in February 1971.
Ike was finally convinced that rock and soul could meet - he had a coke habit to maintain - and the pattern was set for the international tours of the seventies. With their new, wide and predominantly white audience they were financially secure. Only their marriage faltered as Ike became increasingly erratic, pouring dollars into his Bolic Sound Studio (a corruption of Bullock) and staring down the LA nights in manic isolation. lronically these were inventive years musically and much of what they laid down was at the cutting edge of a funk-rock fusion usually attributed to Sly, Stevie Wonder, Tower Of Power, the Ohio Players and their like. Ike too was a "genius", or about as close as a popular musician is going to get, but nobody said it at the time and most of the evidence was left in the can to be anthologised when it was much too late.
After twenty turbulent years their marriage ended in acrimonious divorce. From the summer of 1976 Tina set about a solo career in what must have seemed to many a vainglorious attempt to meet insurmountable debts. But in 1982 she was finally snatched from limbo by her European fans in the shape of Martyn Ware and Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17. A version of the Temptations' ‘Ball Of Confusion' (UK Virgin BEF 500) led to further work for the British Electrical Foundation and a revival of her fortunes with 'Let’s Stay Together' (Capitol 5322). This confident reworking of an Al Green favourite made number 26 stateside in February 1984 and by June she was perched at the top with Terry Britten's 'What's Love Got To Do With It' (Capitol 5354). Now, with seven solo albums under her belt, all but two recorded since Ike, she has become her own woman. From Nutbush to St Tropez is a quantum leap and she can take her pick, duetting on disc with pop royalty like David Bowie and Eric Clapton. But it is worth remembering that, whatever she may say to the contrary, hers are Southern roots nurtured by blues, country and soul. "The Warner Brothers Years" forms a substantial part of the evidence.
CLIVE ANDERSON, October 1987
Acknowledgements: "l Tina" Tina Turner with Kurt Loder
Pub. Viking 1986 Penguin 1987
Research: Iean Anderson