Ike Turner: 1931–2007

Ike Turner, who was either born Izear Luster Turner, Jr. or Ike Wister Turner, has died a 76. He's probably best known today for having been the discoverer, husband, and serial abuser—by her account—of Tina Turner, from whom he was divorced in the mid-'70s.

I don't mean to excuse Turner for raising his hand to his wife. After all, even while denying that he was a monster, he did confess to having struck her and cocaine was frequently involved, which means that he might not have been the best judge of his own actions.

However unadmirable he might have been, he was a giant in rock'n'roll and R&B. He wrote the epochal keyboard-thumping intro and first verse to the 1948 hit "Rocket 88," commonly credited with being the first rock'n'roll single. He led a fabulous blues band during the 1950s and he discovered Anna Mae Bullock, recruited her for his band, married her, and created one of the legendary band personae in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, where Ike stolidly played bass and anchored the band's sound with his deadpan baritone, while Ms. Turner whipped crowds into a frenzy with her frenetic singing and dancing.

The song you'll be hearing a lot in the next week is the Revue's re-working of "Proud Mary," with its declaration that "We don't ever take things nice and easy; we like 'em nice—and rough." It was a great single, but I prefer the 1961 "I Think It's Going to Work Out Fine" and the definitive (but oh so different) "River Deep, Mountain High," with its Wagnerian Phil Spector production.

I caught the Revue in 1967, when the bass player for the (white) soul band I did lights for dragged me along to the fairgrounds down by the Rivannah River. We weren't simply the only white kids in the audience, we might have been the whitest kids in the county—and we were almost certainly the only sober males in the audience.

But, oh my goodness, we got an education that night! Tina and the Ikettes shimmied harder than anything we'd ever seen. Our jaws dropped open during the first song and I doubt we closed them during the next two hours. The band was tight as a drum and the Revue paced things so that the audience was teased into a lather, then cooled out, then lathered up again, cooled off with some slow blues, and worked up for an explosive finale that tested the endurance of the audience—and certainly of Ms. Turner and her Ikettes.

Somehow my friend and I were "walked" to the stage over the course of the evening. I have no memory of moving, but there we were, surrounded by grown men who seemed to be in on a joke we weren't even aware of.

It would be an exaggeration to say my initiation into sex was a let-down after that, but it wouldn't be stretching things to say that the cycle of tension and release seemed familiar. What's more rock'n'roll than that?

Jon Pereles' obituary is here. Adam Bernstein's obituary is here. Turner's own website is here. A 2005 interview with Guy Adams is here.

Keith Spring's picture

To be fair to Wes, circumstances of various natures might have required Ike to be the bass player on that particular evening (the road is full of surprises, after all).

Wes Phillips's picture

Keith Spring, who played n a bill with the Revue as part of the Whole Wheat Horns, takes issue with my claim that Ike played bass. The YouTube record bears him out, but I could have sworn he played bass the night I saw the band. OTOH, I wasn't watching Ike that much.