First Musician to "Rock" the Blues
Known to Some As Ikey Renrut
Turner, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is credited by many rock historians with making the first rock ’n’ roll record, “Rocket 88,” in 1951. Produced by the legendary Sam Phillips, it was groundbreaking for its use of distorted electric guitar.
But as would be the case for most of his career, Turner, a prolific session guitarist and piano player, was not the star on the record — it was recorded with Turner’s band but credited to singer Jackie Brenston.
Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images
Ike and Tina Turner perform together in this undated photo. In a 2001 interview, Turner denied his ex-wife’s claims of abuse and expressed frustration that he had been demonized in the media.
Turner met the 18-year-old Bullock, whom he would later marry, in 1959 and quickly made the husky-voiced woman the lead singer of his group, refashioning her into the sexy Tina Turner. Her stage persona was highlighted by short skirts and stiletto heels that made her legs her most visible asset. But despite the glamorous image, she still sang with the grit and fervor of a rock singer with a twist of soul.
The pair would have two sons. They also produced a string of hits. The first, “A Fool In Love,” was a top R&B song in 1959, and others followed, including “I Idolize You” and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”
And that's how this great old rock 'n roll, r and b, blues trooper will go down in history in spite of what all musicians older than the British Invasion know for sure about how important Ike was to the music they first heard as babies and grew up right along with Ike lovin'----in the press they'll call him a "studio musician" but no, Ike was an innovating genius, starting with his disc jockey work in Greenville, Mississippi, where as a part of his show he formed his own band, The Kings of Rhythm--yes, Jackie Brentson was a member of that band, he was the band singer, along with Billy Gayles (the great "I'm Tore Up" with the Kings of Rhythm) and Clayton Love, and I've read why Jackie's name was used as the star on the record but I can't remember why now--Ike used all his band members as stars--and recording so many hit after hit after hit before he pushed Little Anna Mae Bullock out front and both rode to huge stardom on the shaking of her magnificent body all up in fans's faces, the pushing of her unbelieveably hypnotically gyrating hips and those hips in their forward pumping motion gave the appearance to her male-gawking-wailin'-high-on-her male fans that for sure she wasn't wearing panties and if you got up close enough, you could see her snatch! Yow!--and Ike taught Anna Mae Bullock to be Tina Turner, the female opposite of Ike "the MAN" Turner, and he taught her not only how to sing, but how to floor 'em with costumes and movements and gyrations while he conducted her as the bandleader just behind her and the Ikettes, wearing his over-the-rhinestone-limit hotter-than-Elvis's stage clothes and conducting-from-the-guitar what became to me one of the kicking-est bands ever organized and set in motion and that band pushed Tina and those other Saint Louis women, blew 'em out so far out front their concerts rocked the whole earth under you they were so rockin' yet still so Delta blue, so on the banks of the Mississippi River, so from out of the thinking-drinking band-battle clubs of Saint Louis and East Saint Louis, where the Ike and Tina Turner thing all began. But before Ike was famous as Tina's husband, this cat had been in the blues from his time in Greenville till he moved up to Memphis and then on up to Saint Louis--taking the Kings of Rhythm along with him, while he produced tons of blues records for all sorts of old blues indie labels--and Ike is playing piano on so many of those old early blues classics--Ike played piano behind Chester Burnett (the Howlin' Wolf), Elmore James and the Broomdusters, behind Milton Campbell (Little Milton), behind B.B. King on one of his very early records out of Memphis, producing groups of his own acquaintances, like recording the Ikettes as the Mirettes in the 60s--and, I forgot, he plays piano on Bobby Bland's early Memphis recordings, and before there was Ike and Tina Turner there was Ike and Bonnie Turner--Ike also played guitar--he, as the above obit says, invented the fuzzy tone guitar sound. Ike was also a fine composer and arranger and some of the Kings of Rhythm instrumental tunes were strange, dark minor rather "jungly" in the Ellington sense things, with beautiful dark ensemble lines--I mean, here, take a look: here's a link to all the albums Ike made.
Isn't that amazing? And the son of a bitch won a Grammy in 2007! For his return-to-the-blues album, which he made out in California with again some interesting musicians of the quality Ike demanded. And I know about this returning to the blues--I've been "returning" to the blues myself lately--I just wanna go back and feel natural playing the piano and singing--the blues is such a natural music, leading naturally to rock 'n roll and r and b and jazz--but, whoaaa, wait a minute--not punk--though hell my own episodic "masterpiece" One Spring Morning Off Spring Street showed that Lester Bangs, the rock and roll critic, came out of L.A. jazz, Charles Mingus in particular, but especially Gunther Schuller's Abstractions in Jazz with guitarist Jim Hall (the master guitarist on one of the great jazz recordings of all time, Sonny Rollins's The Bridge, from the 1960s, with Ben Riley and Bob Cranshaw--oh Lawdy Law, what a great composition and what a masterful performance on the record and then Sonny did it on Ralph J. Gleason's teevee show back in the late 60s), and Lester claimed Lou Reed and Chris Stein listened to jazz all the time, too--for sure, though, not heavy metal, not the Beatles, and certainly not the Rolling Stones, though they think very sincerely that they are the greatest-ever rock 'n roll band. You know, folks, I was in a band once here in downtown Manhattan that could have blown the Rolling Stones away, and certainly the Ike Turner Orchestra at its mightiest blew the Stones back to the Stone Age! But then ever'body knows I'm an Anglo-despiser; I have trouble tolerating any Brit--except for this drummer/vibest/piano player who once worked with Canonball--and I can't for the life of me remember his name--it's always on the tip of my tongue and thedailygrowlerhousepianist knows it right off the bat when he's around me and I start talking about this dude who's the only Brit musician I can stand--which is a little on the bullshit side since I still like Vaughn-Williams's Antarctica Symphony and William Walton's Facade and some of Delius's boring shit and most of Ken Russell's weird movies, like the one about Delius--a great film--or the one about Dante Rossetti, another great film--and I liked several of Graham Greene's novels, The Power and the Glory and Our Man in Havana, and, hell, Somerset Maugham, what's not to like about his stuff? And Coleridge, I dig him. Otherwise, though, I'm totally anti-Brit anything--and yet, they come to America and become terribly successful where if they'd a stayed in Britain they'd'a faded into the past years ago--like Petula Clark. Ugh. I'm especially de-mpressed with America's sudden love of Brit chefs, even though at one time British cuisine was considered the blandest food in the world. Give a Brit a kidney pie and watch the hairs stand up on the back of his Yorkshire puddin' neck. Brit chefs. Brit actors--still able to easily climb the Hollywood stairways to the stars--and I include Aussies in this, too, though Aussies are really closer to Americans than Brits, basically a criminal heritage; Brit actresses--there always seems to be a role for a Brit actress in Hollywood. Remember, a Brit actress played Miss Scarlet in the truly good ole Amurican film classic Gone With the Wind, all about what all Hollywood Civil War movies emphasized in those racist days of golden Hollywood, how vicious, mean, and animalistic the Union armies were to the poor hapless brave Confederate boys and men, but especially how cruel these evil USA bastards were to those brave poor helpless lily white Confederate wives and their Aunt Jemimas the men left behind to suffer whatever as they stoically tried to defend the ole plantations from the evil N-word-loving Yankees--but frankly, folks, I never gave much of a damn for that movie--and the novel was unspeakably bad. If I have to read a Southern woman writer, give me Carson McCullars--man, what a dark chick.
All this having to do with Ikey Renrut's dying. And Ike Turner was a part of my learning the music I still love and defend and preserve and perform to this day--I can do "Rocket 88" for you; I know "I'm Tore Up"--why, geez, lookie here, Ike Turner played piano on several of Billy Emerson's, a Turnerite, recordings--"Every woman I know is crazy 'bout an automobile" (no, Ry Cooder didn't write that).
OK, ok, ok, I can't defend Ike for his treatment of Tina and god knows how many other women; I defend his music not his personal problems. Ike was a cokehead. Cocaine ruined Ike's life but then it's ruined millions of black dudes's lives. Cocaine has ruined many a white man's life, too. Musicians, especially those who become filthy rich and famous, like Ike Turner became, know the first person to congratulate them after a gig is the drug dealer. They know that in the sixties and seventies one of the tips a musician got from the drug dealer was a twenty-dollar-bill shaped like a little tiny coffin around a bag of rock cocaine. I almost killed myself one night after a gig when this drug dealer fan of mine handed me a hundred wrapped around a boulder of cocaine and then took me upstairs in the balcony of this joint and made me snort that whole 100--it was so pure I almost died that night, I kid you not--I mean when I went back downstairs to pack up, I got so violently sick I started heaving my guts out as my head was spinning like an out-of-control top--I mean I was twisted so tight I started seeing that Pearly Gate, man--AND, I never have done coke again since that night--never liked it anyway. Especially crack. That's one I didn't get at all. All crack did for me was make my dick shrink to scary-scary NADA proportions--it was like all I had left down there after the shrinkage was a button, like an elevator button, except my dick was the "Down" button. But chicks seemed to really get off on it, however, and I found that chicks in general loved cocaine better than say pot. And I had this date one night with this absolutely thrilling-wise-and-gorgeous graphic artist, and we did some crack as she was getting dressed to go out to a banquet, and she came out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel and she called me into her bedroom to bring the pipe in--and she sucked down a ball of cracked coke and suddenly was beckoning me to hit the pipe and then hit on her--and I hit the pipe but when I started hitting on her it was as if my outsides were turned insides--my dick shrank to an invisible force--an asexual attraction. After trying real hard but failing she finally gave up on me, dressed, and left me, telling me to lock her door when I left--and, by the bye, to be out of her apartment by the time she got back--with a real man, I assumed. And that was it for crack with me.
So I can empathize with Ike on that cocaine shit. It burned out so many great musicians--like Sly Stone--he and Ike went to jail for cocaine, man. So many, many of my jazz heroes as a kid ended up drug addicts, not on cocaine but heroin but the same thing really, like Billie Holiday, Gene Krupa, Red Rodney, Gerry Mulligan, Jackie Mac, Art Pepper, Chet Baker--some of 'em not making it, like Charles Parker, Jr., Tony Fruscella, Fats Navarro--
And look what happened to Rick James--look what cocaine addiction did to that poor fool. Fame and addictions go together. Hollywood is full of cocaine, heroin, and, yes, marijuana, too, but marijuana is nothing like cocaine--marijuana never lost you your house, your job, your wife; in fact, the musicians who smoked pot lived much longer lives than their serious-drug addict companions--like Dizzy and Louis Armstrong, dedicated potheads, and Lionel Hampton, too.
So I understand how Ike got hooked on cocaine. I read one time where when you walked in Ike and Tina's mansion in L.A., there were mixing bowls filled to the top with coke, each with several straws in them, all up and down the entrance hall, on his livingroom tables, on all the tables in his bedroom, and on all the consoles in his recording studio. That's when Ike was at the top of his game. Success ruined him. Besides, and Tina knows this, Ike was one of those black dudes who becomes so introverted, so meanly holding-in his deep anger, so holding-in his hatred of having to kiss the white man deep in his asscrack in order to get up to the highest level of stardom that of course he took that anger out of his most treasured possessions, which included Tina and all the beautiful black and white women Ike attracted and had easy access to.
So, we're saying goodbye to an American music icon. Ike Turner, the man who did "rock the blues."
for The Daily Growler