Ike Turner

As a talent scout for Sun Records and, then with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, he helped revolutionize R&B music.

Izear Luster Turner Jnr., b. November 5, 1931 in Clarksdale, MS, d. December 12, 2007 in San Marcos, CA. R&B stalwart Ike Turner was a music business legend for the best and worst of reasons. As the undisputed leader of the Ike And Tina Turner Revue he helped to revolutionize the world of R&B and live performance in the 60s. As a husband to Tina Turner (b. Annie Mae Bullock, 26 November 1939, Brownsville, Tennessee, USA), he was given to numerous bouts of alleged cruelty and violence, and also spent periods of his later career as a self-pitying prison inmate. Enfeebled by cocaine abuse and his own deluded view of his importance in the subsequent rise of Tina’s career, he cut a sad figure in his later years.

Ike Turner first learned to play piano in the 40s, inspired by the Clarksdale performances of Pinetop Perkins. With a clutch of local musicians he formed his first band, the Kings Of Rhythm. Turner made his first record, ‘Rocket 88’, at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis in March 1951. It went to number 1 on the R&B charts, but the singer featured on it, Jackie Brenston, chose to carve out a solo career on the back of its success (the record was released under the name Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats). Some view this as the first rock ‘n’ roll record, although its strong R&B pedigree makes this highly unlikely. In the meantime, Turner played the piano parts on Howlin’ Wolf’s first record, ‘How Many More Years’, and worked as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers’ label Modern Records (helping promote Wolf and B.B. King to major success).

In the mid-50s, having set up his own studio in Clarksdale and taken up the guitar as his primary instrument, Turner released a number of singles credited either to himself or Lover Boy. Then, accused of ‘fraternising with whites’, Turner was run out of town, choosing St. Louis as his next destination. There, recording once again with the Kings Of Rhythm, he had further success with efforts such as ‘I’m Tore Up’. The band enjoyed further success, and Turner also made records with Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. By 1960 band member Anna Mae Bullock had become Tina Turner (they married in 1958). The Ike And Tina Turner Revue was adopted as the band’s name, and they achieved an immediate hit with the release of ‘A Fool In Love’ on Sue Records.

After over a decade of success as Ike And Tina Turner (see separate entry), Tina finally opted to leave Ike and the band in 1975. Ike never recovered mentally from the shock, and he ultimately reached rock bottom by spending time in prison after narcotic offences. However, rejuvenated by marriage to new wife Jeanette (allegedly his thirteenth marriage), and a drug and alcohol-free lifestyle, by the mid-90s Turner seemed to have finally straightened himself out. He attempted to regain some sense of personal dignity with only cult success, touring with a new version of the Kings Of Rhythm. An embarrassing ‘I Like Ike’ campaign was undertaken by the UK purist fanzine Juke Blues, which failed to convince the outside world that he still had anything to offer musically, although to his credit Turner kept releasing new material and was finally rewarded when he won a Grammy Award in 2007 for the album Risin’ With The Blues. In 1999 he published Takin’ Back My Name, a typically flamboyant account of his life in music and his relationship with Tina, which attempted to parry the accusations made by his former wife in her revealing 1985 autobiography, I, Tina. After years claiming he was drug free, it was ironic that his cause of death in December 2007 was attributed to a cocaine overdose.

Whatever his personal failings, Ike Turner was one of the musical legends of the period, and some of his background work in the 60s should be seen as crucial to the early development of R&B. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1991 alongside Tina.