Ike Turner’s music career was famously tied in with that of his former wife, and singing superstar, Tina Turner. The tempestuous relationship between the two was legendary, but the duo produced some classic pop music together.
Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on November 5th, 1931, Ike Turner suffered tragedy early in life. After the devastating racist assault of his father, that left him an invalid and effectively killed him, music was to prove to be an escape route for Ike from his harsh environment. He showed himself to be a talented boogie woogie piano player and DJ before he was out of his teens.
Kings of Rhythm
Turner also developed an eclectic taste in music during his time as a DJ, playing anything from country and western to blues. Turner then began to get serious about making music, and formed his first band in the late 1940s, The Kings of Rhythm. They recorded their first record, ‘Rocket 88′, in Memphis in 1951. The song was recorded in a studio what was to become famous all round the world – the Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio. Some consider ‘Rocket 88’ to have been the first rock ‘n’ roll song ever recorded, and it topped the rhythm and blues chart.
From this early success, Ike Turner and most of his band went into session work, and backed some of the most respected blues figures around at the time, including Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Buddy Guy, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Turner also changed from playing the piano to the guitar, and he also became an influential figure with Modern Records in Los Angeles, where he was used to find new talent. Blues guitarist B. B. King was one of Turner’s ‘finds’.
Relationship with Tina
Ike Turner’s world changed when he met a young singer from Tennessee called Anna Mae Bullock. She was to become a singer with Ike’s band The Kings of Rhythm, and she was in a relationship with Ike before she was out of her teens. They had a child together, and married in 1958. Anna Mae Bullock would go on to become better known as Tina Turner. She cut her first record in 1959, ‘A Fool in Love’, and in 1960 it was a big R&B hit on the Sun label. The Kings of Rhythm were then renamed the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, as Ike realized the star potential his wife had.
As well as gaining fans for his guitar work, Ike Turner also showed his songwriting ability, by penning several top ten hits for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in the early 1960s. Fame is rarely without cost, however, and Ike Turner began to develop a cocaine habit. He became more temperamental, with Tina often on the receiving end. How extreme the violence did become, depends on which side you want to believe.
Another man with a reputation for being difficult in the music business, Phil Spector, cut Ike Turner out of having any input into Tina Turner’s classic ‘River Deep – Mountain High’, which was released in 1966. A fallow period followed for Ike, but the Revue started to cover rock songs, and found success with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Proud Mary’ in 1971, which won a Grammy. Two years later, the exuberant ‘Nutbush City Limits’ was well received, and the couple seemed on the crest of a wave again. But in 1975 Tina left the tour, and they divorced the next year.
Ike Turner’s career plummeted over the next few years. He lost most of his money to feed his coke addiction, and his recording studio was destroyed by fire in 1982. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, along with Tina, in 1991, Ike couldn’t attend because he was in prison. Ike did, eventually, sort his life out, and went right back to his roots, as he formed a new Kings of Rhythm. He was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Blues album category, for ‘Here and Now’, which was released in 2001.
On December 12th, 2007, Ike Turner’s eventful life ended. He suffered from emphysema, and had become an increasingly reclusive figure in his final years. A troubled man, Ike Turner’s musical legacy, at least, is secure.