Turner, Ike

views updated May 14 2018

Ike Turner


Songwriter, musician, music producer

Often vilified for the widely reported physical abuse of his partner, vocalist Tina Turner—who outstripped him in renown—producer, pianist, guitarist, and songwriter Ike Turner nevertheless exerted major influence in several forms of contemporary popular music. Ike Turner gave Tina Turner her name and helped make her a star. His compositions and hard-edged electric blues style provided the underpinnings of several of her most famous recordings. Ike Turner's band performed on the 1951 single "Rocket 88," often reckoned as the first true rock and roll recording. In his later years, recovering from a cocaine addiction that had landed him in prison, Turner returned to music and became a living link to the blues of the Mississippi Delta, the land where blues music began.

Ike Turner's full name has been given as Izear Luster Turner, and also as Izear Wister Turner, the latter appearing in his 1999 autobiography, Takin' Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner (written with Nigel Cawthorne). He was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the heart of the Delta region, on November 5, 1931. Turner's father was a preacher, and one of Ike Turner's earliest memories was of seeing his father attacked by a white mob. In addition, Turner was sexually abused by a female neighbor. Music became his refuge, and then his life, after he and a friend heard piano music coming through a window—it was the first time he had seen a piano played live, and the pianist was boogie-woogie master Pinetop Perkins. Turner's mother agreed to buy a piano if Ike was promoted to third grade. She signed Ike up for classical piano lessons, but he talked Perkins into showing him some blues moves instead, and he often spent the dollar he was given for the formal lessons on the entry charge at a pool hall.

Formed Kings of Rhythm

Even before his tenth birthday, Turner had immersed himself in Clarksdale's rich music scene. Disc jockeys at the city's legendary radio station WROX let him execute the segues between records, and by the time he was eleven he was skilled enough to back bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson on piano. In high school he formed a band called the Kings of Rhythm. The group had as many as thirty-two members at one point, but it was pared down to a smaller ensemble that played the high-energy rhythm-and-blues (R&B) hits of the post-World War II era. The band began to play weekend gigs not only in Clarksdale but also up the road in Memphis, Tennessee, where they got noticed by the fast-rising blues guitarist and singer B. B. King. King got Turner and his band a one-shot recording deal with producer Sam Phillips.

On the way from Clarksdale to Memphis, the Kings of Rhythm decided they needed an original song for the recording session. The result was "Rocket 88," a tribute to a popular Oldsmobile car model of the day. Turner set the song's rhythmic pattern with its hard-charging piano introduction; other band members filled out the lyrics; guitarist Willie Kizart contributed a rough sound formed by a damaged amplifier; and saxophonist Jackie Brenston took the vocals. Eventually the recording, released on the Chess label (Phillips had not yet formed his Memphis-based Sun label), was credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, and Turner received only a pittance for his efforts—twenty or sixty dollars, according to various accounts. Turner, however, was recognized as the record's true creator by both Phillips and Los Angeles-based Joe Bihari of the Modern label; both executives hired Turner as a talent scout, and he played session guitar (which he taught himself to play) on some of Phillips's early Sun recordings. For Modern he brought about recordings by B. B. King and Howlin' Wolf, among others.

In the mid-1950s Turner moved his base of operations to St. Louis, Missouri, where he became a major attraction at clubs with a fan base that included whites as well as blacks. "On the bandstand, he was the strictest man I knew," club owner George Edick told I, Tina biographer Kurt Loder. "Ike's band had to be dressed—they wore suits and ties. And he wouldn't let them have drinks up on the bandstand."

Met Future Tina Turner

Around 1957 (accounts of the exact date vary), sixteen-year-old Anna Mae Bullock began visiting the Club D'Lisa in East St. Louis with her older sister Alline, who was dating one of Turner's Kings of Rhythm. One night Anna Mae grabbed a microphone being offered to Alline and launched into B. B. King's "You Know I Love You." "And boy, Ike—that blew him away," Tina Turner recalled to Loder. "He went, ‘Giiirrrlll!’ And he stopped playing the organ and he ran down off that stage and he picked me right up! He said, ‘I didn't know you could really sing. What else do you know?’"

The two soon became romantically involved, although Bullock was worried by signs of violence in Turner's private life. But their professional partnership also caught fire as Bullock propelled the band to a new level. Turner renamed her Tina Turner because he liked the sound of the name, derived from such movie serials as Sheena, Queen of the Jungle that he had liked as a child; the two were not married at the time and may never have been legally married, although they obtained a dubious marriage certificate in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1962. The band, renamed the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, cut several records and honed its skills—Ike Turner pink-slipped a young Jimi Hendrix at one point because he felt he was not up to snuff. One Ike & Tina single was snapped up by the Sue label in New York, which paid Turner a $25,000 advance.

At a Glance …

Born Izear Wister Turner (some sources say Izear Luster Turner) on November 5, 1931, in Clarksdale, MS; died on December 12, 2007, in San Marcos, CA; married Lorraine Taylor (divorced); married Anna Mae Bullock (known as Tina Turner, 1962; marriage possibly not legal; divorced, 1978); married Jeanette Bazzell (divorced); married Audrey Madison; children: Ike Jr., Michael, Mia, Twanna; (with Tina Turner) Ronnie.

Career: Recorded early rock and roll song "Rocket 88" with band Kings of Rhythm, 1951; session musician, Memphis, TN, early 1950s; performed in East St. Louis, IL, mid-1950s; met Tina Turner and formed duo Ike & Tina Turner, 1956; recorded (with Tina Turner, as Ike & Tina Turner) "A Fool in Love," 1960; recorded (with Tina Turner) "Proud Mary," 1969; toured (with Tina Turner) with Rolling Stones, 1969; formed Bolic Sound studio, Los Angeles, c. 1970; split from Tina Turner, 1976; published autobiography, 1999; continued to record, releasing solo albums.

Awards: Grammy Award (with Tina Turner) for best rhythm & blues vocal performance by a group, 1971; inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1991; inducted into St. Louis Walk of Fame, 2001; Grammy Award for best traditional blues album, 2006.

Tina Turner's suppressed screams propelled that single, "A Fool in Love," to the R&B top ten and the pop top 40, touching off a string of Ike & Tina Turner hits and earning the band several years of profitable touring on the so-called chitlin' circuit of black-oriented clubs. The grind of touring, often seven days per week, took its toll on the relationship between Ike and Tina, who had one child of their own (Ronnie) as well as three children from previous relationships (Ike was father to Ike Jr. and Michael, and Tina was mother to Craig Turner) to raise. Ike later fathered two other daughters, Mia and Twanna. Ike Turner began using drugs, appar- ently introduced to them by members of his trio of backup female vocalists, the Ikettes. Another source of stress was the Ike & Tina Turner single "River Deep, Mountain High," which bombed in the United States but was a major hit in Britain and added to Tina's renown; although Ike's name was on the record, he had been barred from the recording sessions by producer Phil Spector.

Hit Commercial Peak

Ike & Tina Turner reached their commercial peak in the late 1960s, touring twice with the Rolling Stones and scoring a million-selling single in 1969 with a cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Proud Mary." Ike Turner founded a Los Angeles studio, Bolic Sound, in order to try to extend his musical empire. But his run of success ended in the early 1970s, and a pattern of violence against Tina, which had begun in the 1960s, became entrenched. "She would come in in pretty bad shape, all beat up and bruised, face swollen, bloody noses, hematoma on the eyes, all puffed out and black," an emergency room nurse told Loder. Among Tina Turner's own statements in I, Tina was this: "Yes it finally got to the point where I was ready to die. Ike was beating me with phones, with shoes, with the hangers." Ike Turner later hotly disputed his portrayal in What's Love Got to Do with It?, the film version of I, Tina, but his denials on the subject of domestic violence were generally not total. "There have been times when I punched [Tina] to the ground without thinking. But I never beat her," he was quoted as saying in London's Guardian newspaper.

After Tina left him in 1976, Ike Turner spiraled downward. He developed an insatiable cocaine addiction, spending more than $11 million on the drug by his own estimate. Bolic Sound was lost in a fire in 1982, and, after eleven arrests, he was imprisoned in 1990 in California on a charge of driving while under the influence of cocaine. "I had to hit bottom. And when I hit bottom, it was like jail was the best thing ever happened to me," he told Scott Raab in Esquire in 2002. He was still in prison when Ike & Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. The release of What's Love Got to Do with It? in 1993 further damaged his reputation, and from the mid-1990s onward he suffered from emphysema.

In spite of all these difficulties, Turner managed a significant comeback toward the end of his life. He formed a new Kings of Rhythm band and had some success touring with the hard-edged R&B that was increasingly often recognized as a key building block of rock and roll. In his autobiography, Takin' Back My Name, Turner responded to some of Tina Turner's charges as well as offering a wealth of information about the musical world of his early years. He released new music: Here and Now in 2001, and Risin' with the Blues in 2006. The latter won a Grammy Award for best traditional blues album, presented in the spring of 2007. On December 12 of that year, Turner died in San Marcos, California. Although he had given up cocaine in prison, medical examiners determined that a cocaine overdose was the cause of death.

Selected works

Albums, with Tina Turner, as Ike & Tina Turner

The Soul of Ike & Tina Turner, Sue, 1960.

The Sound of Ike & Tina Turner, Sue, 1961.

Dance with Ike & Tina Turner & Their Kings of Rhythm Band, Sue, 1962.

Please, Please, Please, Kent, 1964.

The Ike & Tina Turner Revue Live, Kent, 1964.

River Deep, Mountain High (Ike Turner not heard on recording), A&M, 1966.

So Fine, Pompeii, 1968.

Her Man His Woman, Capitol, 1969.

The Hunter, Blue Thumb, 1969.

Get It Together!, Pompeii, 1969.

Fantastic, Sunset, 1969.

'Nuff Said, United Artists, 1971.

Something's Got a Hold on Me, Harmony, 1971.

Feel Good, United Artists, 1972.

Nutbush City Limits, United Artists, 1973.

Sweet Rhode Island Red, United Artists, 1974.

Live! The Ike & Tina Turner Show, Warner Bros., 2000.

The Ike & Tina Story, 1960-1975, Time/Life, 2007.

Albums, solo

Ike Turner Rocks the Blues, Crown, 1963.

A Black Man's Soul, Pompeii, 1969.

Bad Dreams, United Artists, 1971.

Blues Roots, United Artists, 1972.

I'm Tore Up, Red Lightnin', 1978.

Hey Hey, Red Lightnin', 1984.

My Blues Country, Resurgent, 1998.

Here and Now, Ikon, 2001.

Risin' with the Blues, Zoho Roots, 2006.


(With Nigel Cawthorne) Takin' Back My Name: The Confessions of Ike Turner, Virgin, 1999.



Collis, John, Ike Turner: King of Rhythm, Do-Not, 2003.

Turner, Tina, with Kurt Loder, I, Tina, Morrow, 1986.


Chicago Tribune, December 13, 2007.

Economist (US), December 22, 2007, p. 142.

Entertainment Weekly, June 1, 2001, p. 54.

Esquire, January 2002, p. 100.

Guardian (London), December 14, 2007, p. 46.

Guitar Player, November 1997, p. 41.

Jet, July 19, 1993, p. 14; February 4, 2008, p. 54.

New York Times, December 13, 2007, p. B8.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 2007, p. C1.


"Ike Turner," and "Ike & Tina Turner," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (accessed March 14, 2008).

—James M. Manheim

Turner, Ike

views updated May 29 2018

Ike Turner

Songwriter, singer, guitarist

Ike Turner was around since the dawn of rock and roll. In fact, some credited him with instigating the original sound that became so imitated that it created a world-changing phenomenon. He was best known for his work with Tina Turner during the late 1960s and early 1970s, but after decades out of the limelight, Turner returned in the early 2000s to add yet another chapter to the long and winding story of his life. That chapter had a purpose, as Turner explained to Scott Raab of Esquire: "The rest of this life that I got in me, man, I'm gonna use it to get black music back on the radio." Throughout his career Turner held many roles, including those of talent scout, bandleader, producer, and musician.

Ike Turner was born on November 5, 1931, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He learned to play piano at a young age. When he was old enough, Turner formed his own band and started touring the South. To earn extra cash, Turner also scouted for talent along the way. His work in this area brought him to play with such blues legends as Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. In 1951 Turner was in the studios of Sun Records where a song of his was recorded with his saxophonist Jackie Brenston on vocals. The song, called "Rocket 88," became a hit and was deemed by many as the first rock and roll song ever. Unfortunately for Turner, Brenston received all the credit at the time, until industry insiders several decades later corrected the long-standing mistake and gave writing credits to Turner.

Blazes a Trail with Tina

In 1954 Turner and his backup band the Kings of Rhythm made the move to East St. Louis, Missouri. It was there that Turner made the fateful acquaintance of Anna Mae Bullock. A demo tape of her singing a song that Turner had originally meant for a man to sing impressed Turner so much that he changed Bullock's name to Tina Turner and renamed his entire band the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. From the late 1950s until the early 1970s, Ike and Tina Turner blazed a trail that included originals and stunning covers of recent hits. The two married in 1962 and divorced 16 years later, when Tina left with only her name and the bills from a cancelled tour, asking for nothing as far as a settlement from Ike. In 1971 they earned a Grammy Award for their song "Proud Mary."

In 1991 Turner and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. Turner was serving a prison sentence for drug possession at the time and could not attend the event. Turner told Raab how jail served as a wake-up call for him. "I had hit bottom. And when I hit bottom, it was like jail was the best thing ever happened to me." Turner's addiction to drugs began in the 1960s. By the time the 1980s rolled around, he was broke and broken down, having lost his Los Angeles recording studio to a fire.

In the 1960s Turner had the chance to meet and work with many musicians, some of them before they be- came famous. He regrets that he fired rock and roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix. He recalled to Raab, "I fired this guy because he was too slow on them pedals, and come to find out … it was Jimi Hendrix. You can't win 'em all."

Found a New Lease on Life

Since 1993 Turner claimed to be free and clear of drug use. He told David Hinckley of New York's Daily News, "I'm boring these days. Music is my vice. But I'm 69 and I feel like 19. Music is the best high I've ever found." It was a rap song by Salt-n-Peppa that helped revitalize Turner's career. The rap duo reworked his 1963 hit song "I'm Blue" into the popular hit "Shoop," and Turner started receiving royalties that in the end added up to several hundred thousand dollars. With the money, he built a new home studio and started relearning the art of production.

In 1999 Turner published his autobiography, Takin' Back My Name, the title of which is a response to the widespread public condemnation he received after the release of the Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got To Do With It. In the film, Laurence Fishburne portrayed Ike Turner as an extremely violent, controlling, and abusive presence in Tina Turner's life. Turner told Raab, "That movie is not me. They had to have a villain." Turner was deep into his drug use when Disney representatives came to him with an offer of several thousand dollars if he signed over the use of his likeness to them. Turner signed without reservation, but later, he explained to Hinckley, "Then the movie comes out. … You couldn't give me a million bucks to assassinate my career that way." Ironically, in 1997 Ike and Tina performed in New York City during the same week: Tina at Radio City Music Hall and Ike in Central Park. His audience was standing room only, thrilled by his piano and guitar playing.

In May of 2001 Turner released his first album in 23 years. Called Here and Now, the album was written, produced, and arranged by Turner. He described his feelings about the album to Rolling Stone: "It is one of the greatest things I've ever done. For once, I have what I really want on record. … This music is me. This is my heart here." That same year he played at the Chicago Blues Festival.

Talking about how he saw himself, Turner told Raab, "I'm an organizer. Next, I'm a piano player." A bit more detail about how Turner saw himself was revealed in his self-description to Dan DeLuca of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I've always been bashful. I'd show you how to do it, how to say it, how to sing it. But for me to go out there and do it myself was always a no-no."

For the Record …

Born on November 5, 1931, in Clarksdale, MS; married: Lorraine Taylor (divorced); Tina Turner (1962; divorced, 1978); Jeanette Bazzell (divorced); Audrey Madison; children: Ike Jr., Michael, Ronald, Mia, Twanna; Died December 12, 2007, in San Marcos, Californina.

Formed Kings of Rhythm, late 1940s; wrote and recorded "Rocket 88," 1951; music scout for record labels, mid-1950s; played guitar for Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James, late 1950s; Anna Mae Bullock joined Kings of Rhythm, late 1950s; released "A Fool in Love" with Bullock, now named Tina Turner, reached R&B top three, 1960; renamed band to Ike and Tina Turner review, added backup group Ikettes, 1960; released "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" and "I Idolize You," 1961; released "Poor Fool" and "Tra La La La La," 1962; released "River Deep, Mountain High," produced by Phil Spector, 1966; opened for Rolling Stones tour, released "Come Together" and "I Want to Take You Higher," 1969; released "Proud Mary," 1971; released "Nutbush City Limits," 1973; founded Bolic Sounds, mid-1970s; Salt-N-Peppa sample "I'm Blue" for their hit record "Shoop," 1993; released compilation album I Like Ike: The Best of Ike Turner, 1994; performed Central Park, 1997; played at Chicago Blues Festival, released Here and Now, 2001; released Risin' With the Blues, 2006.

Awards: Grammy Award, Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group, 1971; W. C. Handy Award, Comeback of the Year, 2001; Grammy Award, Best Traditional Blues Album, 2007; Mojo Award, Legend Award, 2007.

Addresses: Manager—Thrill Entertainment, 1141 Catalina Dr., Ste. 159, Livermore, CA 94550, phone: 925-456-9299. Website—Ike Turner Official Website: http://www.iketurner.com/.

In 2007 Turner won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for his 2006 release Risin' With the Blues. He continued to tour extensively and work towards making a difference in the music industry until his death. In 2007 he collaborated with the contemporary blues-influenced rock band Black Keys on an album produced by the popular Danger Mouse. He explained his gratitude to DeLuca: "I'm just glad God gave me a second chance to get past the drugs and past the image they made of me. There aren't many of us left that really know the history of this music. I've got a lot to give. And I'm going to give it, man." Turner died on December 12, 2007, at his home in San Marcos, California, at the age of 76 as a result of a cocaine overdose.

Selected discography

With Kings of Rhythm

Ike Turner & the Kings of Rhythm, Sue Records, 1963.

Here and Now, Ikon, 2001.

With Ike and Tina Turner Review

The Soul of Ike and Tina Turner, Collectables, 1960.

The Sound of Ike and Tina Turner, Sue Records, 1961.

Dance with Ike and Tina Turner and Their Kings of Rhythm Band, 1962.

Don't Play Me Cheap, Collectables, 1963.

It's Gonna Work Out Fine, Collectables, 1963.

The Ike and Tina Turner Review Live, Kent, 1964.

Ike and Tina Show 2, Tomato, 1965.

River Deep, Mountain High, A&M, 1966.

Get It Together!, Pompeii, 1969.

Her Man His Woman, Capitol, 1969.

Workin' Together, One Way, 1971.

Something's Got A Hold On Me, Harmony, 1971.

Nutbush City Limits, United Artists, 1973.

The Gospel According to Ike and Tina Turner, United Artists, 1974.


Ike Turner Rocks the Blues, Crown, 1963.

A Black Man's Soul, Pompeii, 1969.

Get It Get It, Cenco, 1969.

My Blue Country, Resurgent, 1998.

Risin' With the Blues, Zoho Roots, 2006.



Daily News (New York), May 25, 2001.

Esquire, January 2002, p. 100.

New York Amsterdam News, July 31, 1997, p. 26.

Palm Beach Post, February 11, 2007, p. 1J.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 25, 2001.

Rolling Stone, March 29, 2001, p. 24.

—Eve Hermann