Ike and Tina Turner

  • Biography:

    Ike Turner and his wife Tina were first known for their late-1960s and early-1970s recordings and their soul revue. Prior to that, however, Ike was well established as a seminal figure in the early years of rock & roll as both a performer and talent scout. During her tenure with Ike, Tina was one of the most flamboyant, overtly sexual performers in rock. Their recordings rarely captured the intensity of their live performances; in fact, their only gold album and one of their two highest charting is a live album (Live at Carnegie Hall, #25, 1970). Beginning in 1976, when Tina snuck out of a hotel and left Ike with just 36 cents in her pocket, she embarked on one of the longest but ultimately most successful comebacks in rock history.

    Ike Turner grew up in racist Clarksdale, Mississippi. When he was a child, his father was abducted and beaten by a white man, then died from his injuries after being refused admission to a whites-only hospital. As a child he learned to play piano (from Pinetop Perkins, he claims), and by his teens was leading his own band, which included singer Jackie Brenston. With over 30 members, the group eventually split into two bands —the Top Hatters and Turner's Kings of Rhythm. Turner, who plays a number of instruments, performed uncredited on numerous early R&B and rock & roll tracks. In 1951 he recorded "Rocket 88" at Sam Phillips' Sun studio in Memphis with lead vocal by saxophonist Jackie Brenston. Unfortunately, Brenston and the Delta Cats, not Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, got the label credit. It became a #1 R&B hit, and over the years it has been frequently cited as the first rock & roll record. Turner went on to become a top session guitarist, talent scout, and producer through the 1950s, recording with Junior Parker and Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Otis Rush, Rosco Gordon, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and Johnny Ace.

    Turner and his Kings of Rhythm were playing St. Louis nightclubs when he met Anna Mae Bullock. Bullock repeatedly asked Turner if she could sing with his band; he said that she could but never called her to the stage. One night Bullock, who had never sung professionally but had been appearing in talent shows since childhood, simply grabbed the microphone and sang. Soon after, he changed her name to Tina. They eventually married, in Tijuana in 1962, though Ike was still married to another woman at the time. At various times both Ike and Tina have described their marriage as less than ideal.

    Even though they were not yet married, they first recorded as Ike and Tina Turner in 1960 after a singer failed to appear for a session. Tina stood in for the missing singer, and the song, "A Fool in Love," became a hit in 1960 (#27 pop, #2 R&B). Ike then developed an entire revue around Tina. Ike later claimed that he patterned her aggressive image after a female Tarzan character he saw in a movie as a child. With nine musicians and three scantily clad female background singers called the Ikettes, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue became a major soul act. In 1961 they charted with "It's Gonna Work Out Fine" (#14 pop, #2 R&B) and "I Idolize You" (#5 R&B). The following year, "Poor Fool" (#38 pop, #4 R&B) and "Tra La La La La" (#9 R&B) were hits. From the mid-1960s on, they were major stars in England, where artists such as the Rolling Stones were unabashed fans. In 1966 Phil Spector recorded them for his last wall of Sound masterpiece, "River Deep —Mountain High." It went to #3 in England, but did poorly in the U.S. Spector, who believed it to be the finest recording of his career, was so crushed by its disappointing showing that he announced his retirement and went into seclusion. (The Revue also appears in Spector's feature-length concert film, The Big T.N.T. Show.)

    The Turners continued to make pop hits into the late 1960s and opened for the Rolling Stones on their 1969 tour. They were especially successful into the early 1970s with steamy covers such as "Come Together" (#57 pop, #21 R&B), "I Want to Take You Higher" (#34 pop, #25 R&B), and "Proud Mary" (#4 pop, #5 R&B), which earned their only Grammy, for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group. Throughout this time, they were also frequent guests on television variety shows. Interestingly, their widespread appeal did not translate into big album sales. The aforementioned Live at Carnegie Hall tied Workin' Together (1970) for their highest-charting pop album, at #25. Only those and 1969's Outta Season made the Top 100 albums chart. The Ikettes (which had numerous personnel changes through the years) had a couple of pop hits on their own: "I'm Blue (The Gong-Gong Song)" (#19, 1962) and "Peaches 'n' Cream" (#36, 1965).

    Beginning in 1974, with Tina Turns the Country On, Tina began a parallel, initially commercially unsuccessful solo career. After a tumultuous relationship, which she has since desribed as being marked by physical and emotional abuse, Tina left Ike in 1976.

    Around the time Tina left him, Ike Turner retired to his studio in Inglewood, California, and released two solo LPs. The studio was destroyed by fire in 1982. After 11 arrests on various charges, in 1990 Ike was convicted on several charges, including possessing and transporting cocaine, and sentenced to 18 months in jail. He was in prison when he and Tina were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1991. In September of that year, he was released from jail.

    Ike published his autobiography, Takin' Back My Name (with an introduction by Little Richard, who claims to have taught Tina how to sing), in 1999. In the book and in numerous interviews he granted through the 1990s, he has disputed Tina's account of their marriage and has taken particular issue with how he was depicted in the Disney film based on Tina's autobiography (I, Tina), What's Love Got to Do With It. In the late 1990s he began writing a column for Juke Blues magazine; he performs occasionally and continues to record. In 2001 the release of Here & Now, his first album of new material in decades, was marked by numerous live appearances.

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).