Wednesday, December 12, 2007

R&Bobit: Ike Turner

The death of Ike Turner has been announced. He was 76.

Born in Mississippi in 1931, the young Ike started to earn money from his music when, as an eleven year-old, he played piano for Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk. By the end of the second world war, he was combining djing for WROX with performance work. His piano work was a vital part of Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88; constantly in demand, he also appeared on records with Elmore James and Howlin' Wolf. Solo records were less well-received - his voice wasn't as strong as some of his competitors - but his nose for a hit saw him land a talent-scouting job for Modern Records. Discovering acts, producing them, and often embroidering his role in some groups' success, Turner's greatest stroke came in 1957. Having relocated to East St Louis, Turner came across Anna Mae Bullock. Persuading her to join his band, The Rhythm Kings changed their fortunes - and everyone's names. Anna Mae became Tina Turner; the Kings became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

The details of the relationship between Tina and Ike are confusing - she moved into his house while pregnant with a child by the saxophonist of the Revue; Tina married Ike in Tijuana, only to discover he was already married and the ceremony was void. Ike married four times legitimately, but it's believed he might have been through fourteen ceremonies.

While their partnership provided some great musical moments, their relationship was less glittering. Ike beat Tina; he spent much of the last thirty years slagging her off to anyone who'd listen (for example, blaming her love of "cold fish lesbian sex" for the collapse of their marriage, rather than his love of domestic violence.) The pair divorced in 1975.

While Tina fought her way back, Ike struggled a lot - he wasn't helped by Tina's biography and the film based on her life, What's Love Got To Do With It, fixing his violence in the popular imagination. Drugs and gambling didn't help - in 1989, he served a sentence after being caught with a large amount of coke.

He continued to record, however, slowly salvaging some of his reputation: a Grammy came in 2001, ten years after he and Tina were simultaneously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. In 2005, he released what he knew would be his final proper album, containing a surprising safe sex message:

'Sex / I want it every day / There ain't no-body going to take my sex away / Condoms is my best friends / Without condoms I ain't gonna go in.'

He even got a genuflection from Damon Albarn, with a guest vocal slot on a Gorillaz track.

Asked how he felt history would view him, Ike summarised his life:
"I would say that I'm the guy that went all the way to the top, 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."


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