9:30 a.m. Dec. 13
Like a scratchy ’45, a revolving restaurant spun atop the rock n’ roll Holiday Inn in Hollywood, Ca.. It seemed like the right place to meet Ike Turner in the autumn of 1988. He had just graduated from an 11-day stay at the Schick Shadel Hospital in Santa Barbara where he was undergoing sodium pentothal and shock treatment for his 18-year cocaine addiction.
Life was no holiday for this cornerstone of rock n’ roll.
Turner died Dec. 12 at his home in suburban San Diego. He was 76.
He leaves Jerry Lee Lewis and Phil Spector as the last ornery men in rock n’ roll.
Turner and I talked over tall glasses of Coca-Cola and chicken wings in the hotel lounge. “I’ll tell you: in 1982 I stuck a Magnum in my mouth and snapped it,” Turner said. “But I’m glad it didn’t shoot. Maybe next time I won’t be quite as fortunate. (He grinned). I don’t know if I was fortunate or not. I feel pretty good about myself now.”………….
…… Just a year earlier Turner has been arrested on a cocaine charge in West Hollywood. He had only 11 cents with him. In early 1988 he had pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine for sale and was on five years probation. As he was trying to kick cocaine, portioins of his shock treatment were shown on Los Angeles television.
Talk about a reality show.
Turner had also been in the news for shooting a Los Angeles paper boy. “The last five years have been hell,” he said. “They say Ike Turner shot his paper boy. Damn paper boy was 49 years old, 6-foot-7, slapped my old lady three times and he had a gun. They don’t put that in the paper.
“It gives me a bad image.”
Sadly, two years after we met at the Holiday Inn, Turner was in a state prison in San Luis Obispo, Ca., serving 18 months for a probation violation. He was in prison in 1991 when Ike & Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Over and over again Turner told me he was intimidated by the thought of picking up the pieces of a landmark career that included the discovery of Little Junior Parker, the hiring of Jimi Hendrix and the development of Tina Turner. He did rebound enough to receive a 2007 Grammy in the traditional blues album category for “Risin’ With The Blues.”
In a 1985 Spin magazine interview, rhythm n’ blues singer and Los Angeles disc jockey Johnny Otis said, “Ike Turner is a very important man in American music. The texture and flavor of R&B owe a lot to him. He defined how to put the Fender bass into that music. He was a great innovator. I like Ike.”
Turner grew up in Clarksdale, Ms. helping his parents pull through the Depression by working on chicken farms. One of his earliest influences was boogie-woogie piano player Pinetop Perkins, who became Muddy Waters’ sideman. At the age of nine Turner ran away to Memphis, Tn.
“I left home on a bicycle, grabbing on to the back of a truck,” he said with a laugh. “I did that for about 30 miles. I got a job cleaning doors as a hall boy across the street from the (luxirious) Peabody Hotel. I slept in the back where they kept the Coke crates. I remember taking the bottles out of the crates, turning them upside down so I could sleep on them.”
B.B. King gave Turner his first big break. “I had gotten the Kings of Rhythm together,” he said. “First they were the Top Hatters when there were 32 of us. We went to Greenville (Ms.) for a Sunday matinee and on the way back I saw a sign for Riley (B.B’s real name) King. We stopped and I saw B.B. on stage. We got up and played our songs. Even today you can’t tell him I play guitar. He don’t believe I play nothing but piano. But he was impressed. He made an appointment for me to see Sam Phillips (at Sun Records in Memphis). We were excited. And we got arrested on our way over to Memphis. The policemen who arrested us had an ’88 Oldsmobile. That’s how I came up with ‘Rocket ’88.”
In 1951, Turner cut “Rocket ’88” with saxophonist Jackie Brenston for Sun Records. When the strident piano parts and distorted electric guitar met replete horns under Phillips’ seminal production, the table was set for modern rock n’ roll (post-Louis Jordan). Little Richard would later riff on “Rocket ’88” in
his hit “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
Turner also introduced Phillips to the foreboding yodel of Chester Arthur Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf). Phillips recorded Wolf’s “How Many More Years” in his studio. Ironically, Phillips left the recording business in 1962 to become one of the original stockholders in what hotel chain?
After continuing work as a talent scount in Memphis and sampling life in Los Angeles, Turner moved to St. Louis in 1954. His sister had married and moved north, so Turner followed.
Turner made two important discoveries in St. Louis and in the more wide open East St. Louis: Jimi Hendrix and Annie Mae Bullock, who became Tina Turner. “Jimi was in East St. Louis in the late 1950s,” Turner said. “I had made this sound board and he’d stay up all night messing with that crap. He’d experiment with fuzzes. I couldn’t understand who would want to listen to all that distortion. I’d be trying to get clarity.”
Turner, of course, is best known for his feisty 1960-76 collaboration with Tina Turner. Laurence Fishburne portrayed a controlling and haunting Ike Turner in the 1993 movie “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” based on Tina’s autobiography. Fishburne and Angela Bassett (who played Tina) were nominated for Academy Awards. Ike was willing to talk about Tina.
“Her sister was going with my drummer,” he recalled. “I was goin with another girl named Pat. We were playing East St. Louis. I was sitting onstage messing around with the piano and a girl took the mike off and gave it to Tina. Afer that Tina started going with my saxophone player.”
Turner said he was onstage one day and saw Tina jitterbugging on the dance floor. She was wearing a sequin dress he had bought for her. “I thought, ‘Boy, that chick can dance.’ I got drunk and we went home,” he said. “She was wearing one of those little short things I had got her from Frederick’s of Hollywood. She was trying to wrestle me and make me drink black coffee. I felt I was going to bed with my sister. I didn’t want to mess around. We were always more sister and brother than husband and wife.”
Turner contended he was never legally married to Tina. He said they were mass “married” with two other couples by a tourist photographer in Tijuana, Mexico. In 1988 Turner told me he had been married 10 times. I asked if he was presently married. Turner replied, “I think so….I don’t know.” Tina was Ike’s second “marriage.”
“Every word that ever came out of her mouth came straight from me.” Turner declared. “All the steps onstage, the arrangements, the management. I did it all. I have a good imagination. I’m a good organizer.”
Turner’s bodacious attitude was so large there was enough left over for him to dress in outrageous 1970s Ban-Lon shirts and colorful jumpsuits with leather and coin-studdded belts. The New York Knicks had Walt Frazier. Rock n’ roll had Ike Turner.
Artistically, Ike & Tina Turner peaked with the riveting “River Deep, Mountain High” produced with layers of pathos by Phil Spector, and their slow-to-fast live version of the Creedence Clearwater hit “Proud Mary.” In 1969 the duo opened for the Rolling Stones on their North American tour.
On Dec. 13 Tina Turner’s publicist Michele Schweitzer told the Los Angeles Times, “Tina is aware that Ike passed away earlier today (Dec. 12). She has not had any contact with him in 35 years. No further comment will be made.”
Ike Turner had told me, “As far as Tina’s career is concerned, it don’t mean nothing to me. I don’t have any thoughts, positive or negative. I really don’t know the woman I see now. This one is a totally different person. Pardon the expression, but this one is totally white. She forgot about her race, period. And I don’t like it. I’ll always love Tina, but I don’t like the one she is now. I don’t like nothing she stands for.” The hotel’s revolving restaurant spun around in an air of contradiction.
Turner looked out a window and began to recit the lyrics of a song he had just written. It was his answer to “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” He told me he wouldn’t record it because he didn’t want to exploit her success:
“You say you didn’t know what love had to do with it
“Then when you got it, you didn’t want to quit it?
“Now you want to do like the farmer do the potato
“You want to plant me now and come back and dig me later…….”
The Turner family has asked that in lieu of flowers, fans donate to the music department of their local school in Ike’s name. And for those who would like to share best wishes with the Turner family, please visit http://ike-turner-love.last-memories.com.
For a complete discography and cool Ike factoids, visit http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/iketurner.htm.
And please feel free to post your thoughts on Ike Turner here on Scratch Crib.