Ike & Tina Turner
Ike Turner usually gets dismissed as Tina's abusive husband. Or he is so overshadowed by his famous ex-wife and her high-energy performances that he seems hardly worth mentioning. In fact, Ike was an R&B star long before he met Tina. The Kings of Rhythm, led by Ike, scored with "Rocket 88" in '51. The track, recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis while Elvis and Jerry Lee were still in high school, is considered by many to be the first Rock 'n' Roll record.
Ike met Anna Marie Bullock in an East St. Louis club in the mid-50s. They married with Ms. Bullock becoming Tina Turner, a part time, and then full-time member of the band. For the recording of "A Fool In Love" the scheduled singer failed to appear and Tina filled in; and the rest was, as they say, history. The song was a hit and Ike decided to make Tina the group's focal point. Smart move. Through the late '50s and early '60s the Ike & Tina Revue scored several R&B hits and logged countless tour miles.
Pop success, which meant big or at least bigger money, had eluded Ike & Tina. But that looked to change when legendary pop producer and Ike & Tina fan, Phil Spector stepped in to work his "magic." By '66 though, Spector was at his nadir and it showed. For "River Deep, Mountain High" Spector pulled out the production stops: multi-tracking/wall of sound orchestral arrangements topped by Tina's vocals. The single was considered "overblown" for the time (the '60s?) and stiffed. So did the accompanying album. The failure caused Spector to retreat from the music biz for a few years only returning to salvage the Beatles' "Let It Be" disaster and produce early John Lennon solo albums.
All was not lost. "River Deep, Mountain High" hit #3 on the UK charts and went on to become a Rock war-horse. Eric Burdon and the Animals, speeded "River Deep" up making it sound awkward and forced. An early version of Deep Purple managed to further mangle the song, saved only by Ritchie Blackmore's guitar work. When all was said and done, Ike & Tina's version stood as the best, if only by default.
Ike & Tina's pop failure seemed to steel their resolve. Their next phase was as an inspired covers act. They did C.C.R.'s "Proud Mary," the Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" and the Beatles' "Come Together." While never eclipsing the originals they did manage to add their own horn drenched R&B kick to the songs. Tina's sassy intro on "Proud Mary" stands as one of the highlights. Their own "Nutbush City Limits" was another stunning track with Tina's hard-edged vocals giving the lyrics bite. In what goes around comes around, Bob Seger covered "Nutbush."
Ike & Tina went on tour with the Rolling Stones in '69, which gave them some well-deserved exposure. Just when Rock was getting all-serious there was the serene Ike on guitar, the bandleader, always in control, while Tina gyrated around the stage backed by three slinky Ikettes. It was an old-fashioned R&B revival. Lotta fun.
The whole thing ran out of steam in the early '70s. A few years later Tina slipped away from Ike and they were divorced. Free but broke, Tina re-launched her career with the help of superstar friends. Her focus was clearly on the pop market with "What's Love Got To Do With It" being her biggest hit. "Better Be Good To Me" showed Tina could still Rock but the track also had a pop sheen to it.
Ironically, as Tina's career rose, Ike's sank. Long standing drug problems bought Ike a prison stint. Shortly after his release Ike suggested in an interview that his ex-wife should make him the opening act on her mega-tour. Ike strongly implied that it was the least she could do after all he'd done for her. Didn't happen.
e trouble with being around for a long time is that your music gets packaged and re-packaged until it all becomes a jumbled mess. Of all the compilations (most of the original albums are long out of print) "Proud Mary: The Best of Ike & Tina Turner" is the strongest. This collection takes from the group's R&B and Rock periods. With "River Deep. Mountain High," which is ultimately much better than it is given credit for, the set even extends to Tina's version of "Acid Queen" from the "Tommy" film. Now that's overblown! "The Great Rhythm & Blues Sessions" is just that and covers their work from the mid-50s through the mid-60s. Of the original albums "Workin' Together" is among the best. It includes "Proud Mary" and demonstrates a masterful blending of R&B and Rock. Tina's post-Ike solo work has a definite pop spin.