Tales of Ike and Tina Turner
Walk into what, from the outside, looks to be another well-paid, well-kept home in suburban Inglewood, California, and you’re hit: a huge, imperial oil painting of Ike and Tina Turner, dressed as if for a simple, private wedding, circa 1960, modest pompadour and formal mink. A thriller? The killer, honey…
Also in the foyer, under the portrait, a small white bust of John F. Kennedy. Next to him, the Bible, opened to Isaiah 42 – A New Song to the Lord. The smell is eucalyptus leaves and wet rocks; the sound is water, bubbling in one of several fish tanks and, over in the family room, splashing, programmed, is a waterfall.
Two trim young housekeepers stir around the kitchen; dinner is cooking at 4p.m. Ike is asleep upstairs, and Tina is out with a son at football practice. But you cannot just plop down somewhere, adjust yourself, and be comfortable. Next to the waterfall there’s a red velvet sofa, designed around a coffee table in the shape of a bass guitar. Or, in the blue room, the blue couch, whose back turns into an arm that turns into a tentacle. Above that, on the ceiling, is a large mirror in the shape of a jig-saw puzzle piece, and against one wall is a Zenith color TV, encased in an imitation ivory, whale-shaped cabinet.
(Tina, later, will say: “Ike did the house. It was Ike’s idea to have the TV in the whale shape. I thought, ‘Oh wow!’ I felt it was gonna look like the typical entertainer’s house, with the stuff not looking professional. But everything turned out great. I’m very proud of it.”)
It is very personal, but there are all these mail order touches. The neo-wood vertical frame with four bubbles to hold color pictures of the Turners’ four sons. The JFK bust. On the wall, over a mantel, a large metallic Zodiac sunburst, with no clock in the middle. Also, a Zodiac ash tray atop the guitar-shaped table. (Ike showed his refurnishing job off to Bob Krasnow of Blue Thumb Records one day last year, and Krasnow remarked: “You mean you actually can spend $70,000 at Woolworth’s?”)
Atop a white upright piano complete with gooseneck mike, there’s the gold record – not “A Fool in Love,” or “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” or “I Idolize You,” but, rather, “Come Together,” the single on Liberty, their seventh or eighth label in ten years. And next to that, some trophies—a couple that the kids have earned, and a couple that Tina has earned. To the sweetest wife and mother, Tina Turnaer. Love’s Yea. Ike Turner and Your Four Sons. Another, larger one, Olympiad, with a small gold-plated angel holding a torch above her, hara-kiri:To Tina Turner. The World’s Greatest Heartbreaker 1966. Love Ike Turner.
Tina’s not back – half an hour late – and now I’m down to the sunlit bookshelf in the corner. A neat junior edition of encyclopedias. A couple of novels – Crichton’s Andromeda Strain; Cheever’s Bullet Park. But the main line appears to be how-to’s, from Kahlil Gibran and astrology to a series of sharkskin suit-pocket hardbounds: How to Make a Killing in Real Estate, How to Legally Avoid Paying Taxes, and How to Scheme Your Way to Fortune. Atop the pile, a one-volume senior encyclopedia: The Sex Book.
Someone once called Tina “The female Mick Jagger.” In fact, to be more accurate, one should call Mick “The male Tina Turner.” After all, in 1960, Ike and Tina and the first of God knows how many Ikettes began doing their revue, and, as Tina tells it, “Ike used to move on stage. He was bow-legged and bow-hipped and when he moved from side to side, he had an effect he used to do with the guitar, and I used to do that, ’cause I idolized him so. Before I fell in love with him I’d loved him. We were very close friends. I thought there was nobody like Ike, so I wanted to be like Ike. I wore tight dresses and high heels, and I still moved, and that’s where the side-step came from.”
Philip Agee, who was 17 when he first saw them in 1960 in St. Louis, became such a fan that he has put out a book on them – for a seminar course in printing at Yale. Tina Pie is a collection of the colorations of Ike and Tina’s romance and career, tawny browns and flashy reds and moanful yellows and hurtful blues. Silkscreening the act through the dark years and into the fast ones, with even remembrances from Tina’s mother, or various of Phil Agee’s friends and fellow-worshippers.
“Tina came out and up on the stage. Nobody screamed or fainted. We were just real glad to see her. She always wore sparkling dresses and very high-heeled shoes with no backs and holes in the toes. Sometimes she was pregnant, singing with her stomach stuck out, stomping her high-heeled shoes with stiff legs. They would sing special songs when you asked them. Everybody liked ‘A Fool in Love.’ ‘Staggerlee’ was my favorite. When Ike started slow, ‘When the night was clear and the moon was yellow, and the leaves came tumbling down…’ by the time ba-da, ba-da, ba-doo ended, everybody was out on the floor. During their breaks the jukebox played again. Tina disappeared and the men sat at card tables near the stage drinking with their blonde girlfriends. When the men started playing again, Tina appeared for the second show. By 11 it was over. Pat’s dad picked us up and drove me home. We went every Tuesday while they were in St. Louis. “Tina Turner’s part Cherokee and so’s my Mom, so so am I.”
By 1966, there was more practiced flash. You learn what works. The Ikettes came storming out of the wings in a train formation, in mini-skirted sequins, haughty foxes thrusting their butts at you and then waving you off with a toss of their long whippy hair. Tina came out, eyes flashing until she became a fire on the stage. And across Broadway, there’s your Motown act, the Marvellettes in their matching long evening gowns or the Tops in pink velvet, doing soul-hula, singing through choreographed smiles. Tina spits sex out to you. And Mick Jagger:
Before that breakthrough tour with the Rolling Stones in 1969, Ike and Tina had worked with them in England in 1966. “Mick was a friend of Phil Spector,” says Tina. “And the time we cut ‘River Deep Mountain High,’ Mick was around. [This is at Gold Star, Phil’s favorite studio in Los Angeles] I remembered him but I never talked to him. He’s not the type to make you feel you could just come up and talk to him. Mick, I guess, thought the record was great, and he caught our act a couple of times. Mick wasn’t dancing at the time…he always said he liked to see girls dance. So he was excited about our show, and he thought it’d be different for the people in England.
“I remember I wasn’t mingling too much – Ike and I were having problems at the time, and we stayed mad at each other – but I’d always see Mick in the wings. I thought, ‘Wow, he must really be a fan.’ I’d come out and watch him occasionally; they’d play music, and Mick’d beat the tambourine. He wasn’t dancing. And lo and behold, when he came to America, he was doing everything! So then I knew what he was doing in the wings. He learned a lot of steps and I tried to teach him like the Popcorn and other steps we were doing, but he can’t do ’em like that.He has to do it his way.”
“River Deep Mountain High.” To hear that song for the first time, in 1967, in the first year of acid-rock and Memphis soul, to hear that wall falling toward you, with Tina teasing it along, was to understand all the power of rock and roll. It had been released in England in 1966 and made Number Two. In America, nothing. “It was just like my farewell,” Phil Spector says. “I was just sayin’ goodbye, and I just wanted to go crazy for a few minutes – four minutes on wax.”
Bob Krasnow, president of Blue Thumb, knew Ike and Tina from their association with Warner Brothers’ R&B label, Loma, in 1964. He was an A&R man there. “Spector had just lost the Righteous Brothers,” he recalls, “and at the same time, Ike was unhappy,” having switched to Kent Records.
“Spector’s attorney Joey Cooper called and said Phil wanted to produce Tina—and that he was willing to pay $20,000 in front to do it! So Mike Maitland [then president at Warners] gave them their release, and they signed with Philles.
“Watching Phil work was one of my greatest experiences,” says Krasnow. It was indeed a special occasion. Only “River Deep” was cut at Gold Star; the other three Spector productions were at United. (There was only one Philles LP ever made with Ike and Tina, which was finally re-released last year by A&M.) And Ike didn’t attend.
“Dennis Hopper did the cover on that LP. He was broke on his ass in Hollywood and trying photography. He said he’d like to do the cover. He took us to this sign company, where there was this 70-foot high sign for a movie, with one of those sex stars – Boccaccio ’70 or something. And he shot them in front of that big teardrop. Then the gas company, had a big sign, and Hooper took them there and shot them in front of a big burner.”
On stage, there may be reason to compare Tina Turner to Mick Jagger; Tina, in fact, is more aggressive, more animalistic. But it is, indeed, a stage:
“I don’t sound pretty, or good. I sound, arreghh! Naggy. I can sound pretty, but nobody likes it. Like I read some article in the paper that Tina Turner had never been captured on records. She purrs like a kitten on record, but she’s wild on stage. And they don’t like a record like ‘Working Together.’ I love that record. I love that River Deep Mountain High album, but nobody likes me like that. They want me sounding all raspy…I have to do what Ike says. “My whole thing,” she once said, “is the fact that I am to Ike – I’m going to use the term ‘doll’ – that you sort of mold… In other words, he put me through a lot of changes. My whole thing is Ike’s ideas. I’ll come up with a few of them, but I’m not half as creative as Ike.”
The world’s greatest heartbreaker drives up in her Mercedes sedan and strides in, all fresh and breezy in a red knit hot pants outfit, third button unbottoned, supple legs still very trim at age 32,charging onto 33. (“Everyone thinks I’m in my forties, but I was only around 20 when I started. Born November 26, 1939,” she says, very certain.)
Tina’s hair is in ponytails, tied in brown ribbons; she is wearing brown nail polish and red ballet-type slippers. Here in the living room, of her $100,000 house, she is trying to paint a portrait of the offstage, in-home Tina Turner. There are four bedrooms, she says, four baths, and, let’s see now…13 telephones.
Additional phone cables are employed in the closed-circuit TV system, a system like the one in Ike’s studios less than a mile away. There, Ike can sit in his office and push-button his way around the various studios, the writers’ room, the entrances, the hallways. Just recently, he was laughing about the time he punched up the camera scanning the bedroom in the private apartment he keeps there, and what did he and the people around him (Tina was at home) see but some heavy fucking going on, one of his musicians and a groupie. And everyone’s lapping it up, and finally, when the sideman is caressing one of his nightstand’s firm-nippled breasts, Ike’s bodyguard springs out of the office, and the next you see him, he is piling into the bed, over most of that same station…
But later. Tina Turner is trying to paint a picture here. “I just got rid of the housekeeper. I get housekeepers and they sort of do just things like vacuuming and dusting, and nothing else is done—like the mirrors—and I’m a perfectionist, and that would never be. People think I’m probably one of those that lounge around, but I’m always on my knees—I do my own floors ’cause no one can please me. When I was in the eighth grade I started working for a lady in Tennessee keeping her house; she more or less taught me what I know about housework.”
Tina also tries to do most of the cooking, even if she usually does report to the studios around 4 PM to do vocals. She also likes to do gardening. “Every now and then I get out and turn the dirt…but now I’ve started writing, and Ike, every time I turn around, he says, ‘Write me this song.’ So I went out and bought some plants and when I was in the hospital I got a lot of plants that I really love, and I sort of take care of them like babies.”
“Ike is a very hard worker,” a friend is saying. “He’s such a driver. Last winter Tina was sick with bronchial pneumonia, 104 temperature, in the hospital with her body icepacked to bring the temperature down. And Ike was visiting, and he was going, ‘You get out and sing, or you get out of the house!'”
Tina doesn’t discuss such things, even if her talk is often punctuated by references to Ike as the manager, the brains, the last word; despite his back-to-the-audience stance on stage. But in Tina Pie, Phil Agee’s book, there’s a piece of conversation backstage between Tina and one of Phil’s friends:
Pete: I thought maybe you wouldn’t be here tonight. Tina: No, I never miss a performance. The doctor came to the hotel today, brought a vaporizer and that helped it a lot. I haven’t coughed anything up today – so I was kind of worrying if it was okay. I always go on. Whatever’s bothering me – I don’t care how bad it is – I drop it when I go on stage. I hadn’t coughed up anything today. You know that kind of hypnosis – I don’t know what it’s called – where you induce yourself into a trance?
(Tina’s friend): Self-hypnosis.
Tina: Yeah, that’s it. I hypnotize myself, and I forget the cold and stuff.
“Dope?” Bob Krasnow repeats the question, only in a softer voice. “Let me close the door a minute.” (A few weeks before, I asked an ex-Ikette about Ike Turner and sex. “Sex? Oh, my god, that’s another volume,” she’d said. “I’ll have to get a cigarette on that one!”)
Krasnow: “Tina is so anti-dope I can’t tell you. She’s the greatest woman I’ve ever known, outside of my wife. She has more love inside her body than 100 chicks wrapped up together. And she’s so straight, it’s ridiculous. “As for Ike…Ike was not into dope at all until three, four years ago. One night in Vegas we were sitting around and got started talking about coke. He didn’t care about it, and I said – and Ike, you know, is like 40 or so – and I said, ‘One thing that’s great about coke is you can stay hard – you can fuck for years behind that stuff.’ That’s the first time Ike did coke.”
Krasnow can’t help but continue. “That night he made his first deal – bought $3,000 of cocaine from King Curtis, and he bought it and showed me, and I laughed and said, ‘That’s no coke; that’s fucking Drano!’ Since then, he’s learned.”
What – to lighten up on drugs?
“No – to tell what good coke is and what bad coke is.”
Krasnow worked with James Brown at King for years before he joined Warners and signed Ike and Tina to Loma. His evaluation: “Ike is 10 times a bigger character than James Brown. And they’re both fucking animals. How can I put this? Say, whatever you can do…they can do 10 times as much. And Ike – he’s always putting you to the test.
“What I like best about Ike is also what I hate: He’s always on top of you.”
“I find him one of the most fascinating people I’ve met,” says Jeff Trager, who did promotion work at Blue Thumb. “If he knows you he can be real warm, and do whatever he can for you. There’s just no limit to Ike Turner. He’d carry around $25,000 in cash in a cigar box – with a gun. He’d drive around town, man, sometimes to Watts, sometimes Laurel Canyon, in his new Rolls Royce to pick up coke. And he is real sinister-looking.”
“In Las Vegas,” says Krasnow, “I brought some friends into the dressing room, and Ike pulled out this big .45 – just putting them on. Another time he came into the front room at Blue Thumb and threw $70,000 on the floor, in cash, and dared anyone to touch it. Just to blow everybody’s mind.”
“Krasnow and Ike are both crazy,” says Trager. “Ike would storm into the office with a troop of people, six-foot chicks, a bag of cocaine. Really, really crazy. He always came in. He loved Blue Thumb, and he was always saying he’d come back. Krasnow says he couldn’t afford him now.”
Krasnow produced both their Blue Thumb albums and brought “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” to Turner.
“He hated Otis Redding,” Krasnow says. “He just didn’t think Otis had it.” The Ike and Tina version sold some half million copies. Blue Thumb was also a good showcase of Ike Turner’s fluidity as a blues guitarist, and of the flexibility of the Ike and Tina sound – from “Dust My Broom” and “I Am a Motherless Child” to the stark raving “Bold Soul Sister.”
Ike Turner, who places “River Deep” up next to “Good Vibrations” as his two favorite records, says the Spector production didn’t get airplay because the soul stations said “too pop” and the white stations said “too R&B.”
“See, what’s wrong with America,” he told Pete Senoff, “is that rather than accept something for its value…America mixes race in it. Like, you can take Tina and cut a pop record on her – like ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ You can’t call that record R&B. But because it’s Tina… But I can play you stuff like Dinah Washington on Tina. I can play you jazz on Tina. I can play you pop on Tina. I can play you gutbucket R&B on Tina like we have on our Blue Thumb record…really blues. I can play you that stuff, then I could play you the Motown stuff.”
Ike and Tina had a showcase at Blue Thumb, but no cross-market success. “Bold Soul Sister” went to number one at KGFJ, the black station in L.A., but Jeff Trager remembers, the program director at light, white KRLA refused to play it. “No matter what. I asked him, ‘What if it went to number one?’ and he said ‘I don’t care; I’ll never play it.'” Whether too R&B or what, the program director at KFRC, the Bill Drake station in San Francisco, wouldn’t play “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” which Krasnow, its producer, called a “pop record.” KFRC had to be forced – by its sales – to put the song on the playlist.
What finally carried Ike and Tina through was the 1969 Rolling Stones tour, where the revue broke out with “Come Together,” in its own raw style, Tina snake-snapping across the stage, punching out the John Lennon lyric. Raves everywhere, and the mass magazines were stung to attention. Playboy and Look ended up using the same phrase to characterize Tina’s entrance: “like a lioness in heat.” Vogue did a photo spread. And Ike and Tina got booked into Vegas and both Fillmores. Liberty Records began talking big money, so big that even Krasnow encouraged Turner to go to them as an exclusive artist. “We didn’t have a contract, anyway,” says Krasnow. “It was just on a piecemeal basis.” That’s when Ike refurnished his $100,000 home and began building his lavish studios. Tina is sitting in the “game room” of the studios. The move to interpreting white rock and roll, she says, was quite natural. “We went to a record shop in Seattle, Washington, and someone was buying ‘Come Together,’ and I said, ‘Oh, Ike, I gotta do it on stage, I love that record.’ That’s the thing I think of – the stage – because it’s action, you know. And ‘Honky Tonk Woman,’ that’s me. And then people came to us and said, ‘You gotta record that song, it’s so great.’ And we said ‘What’s so great about it; we’re doing it just like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones,’ and they said ‘No, you have your own thing about it.’ So when we cut the album, we were lacking a few tunes, so we said ‘Well, let’s just put in a few things that we’re doing on stage. And that’s how ‘Proud Mary’ came about. I had loved it when it first came out. We auditioned a girl and she had sung ‘Proud Mary.’ This is like eight months later, and Ike said, ‘You know, I forgot all about that tune.’ And I said let’s do it, but let’s change it. So in the car Ike plays the guitar, we just sort of jam. And we just sort of broke into the black version of it. It was never planned to say, ‘Well, let’s go to the record shop, and I’d like to record this tune by Aretha Franklin’…it’s just that we get it for stage, because we give the people a little bit of us and a little bit of what they hear on the radio every day.
“My mother – her radio was usually blues, B.B. King and all. But rock and roll was more me, and when that sort of music came on, I never could sit down. I’ve always wanted to move.” Tina gave a slightly – shall we say – different account to Changes magazine:
Tina: I guess ‘way before the Stones asked us to tour with them, Ike started to get into the hard rock thing, dragging me out of bed to listen to this or that, and at 4 o’clock in the morning.
Ike: She didn’t like rock.
Tina: Finally, he said ‘You going to have to sing it, so you may as well like it.’ So I started to listen to rock.
“They are really making it now,” says Krasnow. “Really. Everytime he plays a place – like last week, Carnegie Hall – it’s sold out a week before. And everybody’s raving about the show.”
But there was a time…”I got pissed at him ’cause we worked our asses off to get him on the Andy Williams Love show. We had dinner afterwards, and I said, ‘This is it! You’ve made it, man!’ He was back playing the bowling alley the next night. I kept saying, ‘Why play for $1,000 a night when you can get $20,000 now?’ I mean, he was just touring himself out.” Ike himself says, “It doesn’t matter to me; we’ve got a living to make.” Recently, he has relaxed the road pace, from six nights a week all year to two or three nights a week. Ike and Tina are now regularly on TV – on variety shows, talk shows, and specials; they were in Milos Forman’s Taking Off and Gimme Shelter, and they helped celebrate Independence Day this year in Ghana. Soul to Soul. And what is now apparent is that in Africa or in Hollywood, in bowling alleys or in the Casino Lounge of the Hotel International, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, with the Ikettes and the Kings of Rhythm (nine pieces plus Ike) is pretty much the same show: The band member doing the introductions and shameless album plugs; the Kings warming up with a couple of Motown-type power tunes, followed by the Ikettes singing “Piece of My Heart” or “Sweet Inspiration,” then Tina running on, churning through “Shake Your Tail Feather,” then saying a hearty hello and promising “soul music with the grease.”
Tina’s recitations and spoken paeans – and Ike’s wise-ass, not-quite-inaudible cracks, are all pre-greased…Mama don’t cook no dinner tonight, ’cause Daddy’s comin’ home with the crabs…
When Tina sings, “I been lovin’ you…too long…and I can’t stop now,” bossman Ike invariably croons, “‘Cause you ain’t ready to die…”
The Otis Redding song is the show-stopper. Back in ’67, Tina was simply breathing heavily over the instrumental passage; by ’69, she was touching the tip of the microphone with both sets of fingers oh, so gently. Now, of course, it’s a programmed gross-out, with Ike slurping and slushing and Tina rigid over the mike doing an unimpressive impression of an orgasm while Ike slams the song to a close, saying “Well, I got mine, I hope you got yours.”
In 1969 it was a solid salute to sex as a base for communication. Now, the subtleties gone, it’s just another request number to keep the crowd happy. “We cut the song,” says Tina, “and Ike kept playing the tune over and over and I had to ad lib, so I just did that – just what comes into your head. So we started doing it on stage. How could I stand on stage, I felt, and say ‘Oh baby, oh baby, uhh’—I’m just going to stand there, like an actress reading the script without any emotion? So I had to act.
“What I did on the Rolling Stones tour was only what had matured from the beginning. I don’t think it can go any further, because it’s, as they say in New York, it’s getting pornographic. I agree, because like now Ike has changed words, which makes it obvious what that meant when we first started doing it. I was thinking it meant sensually but not sexually.
Sometimes he shocks me, but I have to be cool. Sometimes I want to go, ‘Ike, please.’ I start caressing the mike and he goes, ‘Wait ’til I get you home,’ and I feel like going, ‘Oh, I wish you wouldn’t say that.’ Everything else I feel like I can put up with, but not that. But like I can’t question Ike because everything that Ike has ever gotten me to do that I didn’t like, was successful.
“I think in the early Sixties it would have really been out of bounds – like, I probably would have been thrown off the stage. But today, it’s what’s happening. That’s why I can get by with it.”
From Tina Pie, this strange crossfire:
“… It could be nice but it would probably turn out awful – especially with that dirty ol’ Ike hounding me. I sat through the first half of the second show with him and he kept telling me he want to give me a fit and just ’cause he had Tina didn’t mean he couldn’t want me, too. He’s got the greatest skin going but that’s about it.
-Melinda, New York City
-Ike Turner, New York City
Tina is giving me a tour of Ike’s new main studios – the master control room with the $90,000 board featuring the IBM mix-memorizer (a computer card gives an electronic readout on the mix at whichever point the tape is stopped), a second studio marked STUDIO A (Ike Turner’s, can you guess, is STUDIO AA), a writers’ room, business offices for his various managers and aides, a playroom furnished with a pool table, Ike’s own office, and, inevitably, Ike’s private apartment suite.
Again, it is disgusting, flowers chasing each other up the wall, a Cinerama mural of a couple in embrace next to the breakfast table and refrigerator. Again, sofas, of Ike’s own design, with hard-on arms. White early American drapings and chairs, and a draped, canopied bed so garish that Tina turns to Ike and says, “Can I tell ’em what we call this room? We call it ‘the Whorehouse.'”
There’s a double-door air closet at the entrance to Ike’s private quarters, where he spends so many nights, “because of all the work to be done.” This is the Trap. You bust into Bolic Sound, and all the doors are automatically locked, leading you down the hall, into the stairwell in front of the apartment. The only way to open the door there is by dialing a secret telephone number. And the only word that can get to you will come from above you. Ike’s got a TV camera there, too.
Ike Turner has moved around from label to label for 10 years. Ike and Tina began with “A Fool in Love,” which Ike cut with Tina when the original singer for his composition didn’t show up at a date. That record hit in 1960 and was on a midwest R&B label, Sue. It was followed by “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” but the head of Sue delayed its release so long – that he sent the master back three times, said Ike – that he split in 1964, going to Warner Bros.’ fledgling R&B label, Loma, for a pair of live LPs recorded in Ft. Worth and Dallas by “Bumps” Blackwell, now manager of Little Richard.
1963 to 1966 was a dark period for the Revue – they made what they could on the road, and they had no hit records – and Loma records were hard to find. Ike then took his act to Kent, a label he’d worked for in earlier days when he traveled the South scouting and recording, on a cheap Ampex tape recorder, bluesmen like B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf. This time around, he managed a hit for the Ikettes, “Peaches and Cream.” But, he said, “They tried to steal the Ikettes. They sneaked around and tried to buy the girls from under me.”
Then it was Spector, won over by Ike and Tina’s work as a substitute act in the rock and roll film, T’N’T Show. But after “River Deep” bombed, said Ike, “he got discouraged and went down in Mexico making movies.” Phil recommended Bob Crewe as a producer, a single didn’t hit, and they moved to an Atlantic subsidiary, Pompeii Records. “We were lost among all of Atlantic’s own R&B stuff,” Ike said, and that’s when he ran into Krasnow. With no contract ever signed with Blue Thumb, Ike actually made a deal with United Artists/Liberty in mid-1969, before the Stones tour, through their New York-based R&B label, Minit.
“Spector gave Ike an absolute guarantee of hits forever,” says Bud Dain, then general manager at Liberty. What Minit promised was a $50,000 a year guarantee “plus certain clauses – a trade ad on every release, sensitive timing of releases – but Minit was a mistake. They defaulted on the contract, and Ike was free to break the contract.” Then Ike and Tina toured with the Stones, and the next time Ike talked with Liberty, Liberty was talking about $150,000 a year guarantee, for two albums a year. Ike signed in January, 1970. “The first LP was Come Together, in May,” said Dain. “Now Ike wanted to build his own studios. The option came up again in January, 1971. The album sold well, but we couldn’t exercise the option unless he’d sold 300,000. And he only had one album out that year. But he needed $150,000, and Al Bennett [president at Liberty] believed in him. We gave him the money.”
With the second advance, Ike’s studios were well underway, and he got another hit record, the single on “Proud Mary.” “Then he came in – he needed another $150,000. He got that in June. So there’s a total of $450,000 in advances.”
And that’s why United Artists may yet be Ike and Tina’s final home. Ike Turner must produce those two albums a year, and UA has no choice but to promote its ass off.
Ike’s head is on one woman’s lap, his knee-socked feet on another’s. His thin frame is blanketed by a trench coat, a sleeping bridge across the sofa in the dressing room. Tina has her back to them. She’s working her hair into shape for the second show this Friday night, and Ike’s getting the only rest he’s gotten all day. And after the second show, he’ll jump off the revolving stage of the Circle Star Theater in San Carlos, then back to the nearby San Francisco Airport to return to his studios to cut instrumental tracks the rest of the night and into the day, then back up to San Francisco and to the Circle Star mid-Saturday evening. In the hallway, after the second show Friday, he stops long enough to give you a solid shoulder grab – a football coach’s kind of friendly gesture – and a warm hello. He turns to the zaftig lady photographer nearby, glancing right through her tangle of cameras and giving her the onceover. He asks if maybe she wouldn’t fly down with him. “What? You got a boyfriend?”
“This is the critical point of our career; I can’t lighten up now,” he says, and is off to the airport. At 2:30 in the morning, Tina – who doesn’t return to L.A. with him – shows up at a banquet room in her hotel for a photo session. The photographer’s assistant asks, “What’s your advice for people getting into the business?”
Tina, at 3 a.m., is serious: “Have some kind of business knowledge.”
In the dressing room between shows, she had said, “I’m glad I got Ike, ’cause I would’ve quit years ago. I probably would’ve worked for promoters and not get paid. Our policy is to have our money before we go on stage. Even if it’s for the President.”
Just before the Stones tour, Ike and Tina were booked for the Ed Sullivan Show, in September, 1969. “And he got his money in front,” says Jeff Trager. Most promoters say 50 percent deposit, the rest after the show. “So Sullivan comes up to Ike before the show, and Ike hasn’t got his guitar with him, and it’s showtime. Sullivan asks where his guitar is, and Ike tells Ed he needs ‘the key to the guitar,’ the key being the money.” Sullivan paid. “You have to protect yourself,” Tina is saying to the two women on the sofa with Ike.
Road manager Rhonda Graham, a stern, curt white woman, is seated nearby, in front of a rack full of Tina’s costumes and shoes. “In the early Sixties we went through that. If you don’t know these people, some of them just take the gate and leave.”
“Three, four years ago, they were playing a club,” Trager recalls, “and Rhonda had a cigar box at the door. And one dollar would go into the box, one dollar to the club. At Basin Street West he got cash all the time.” But if you are black and in the music business, you get burned until you either quit or learn. Turner learned, through all the different labels and beginning in the late Forties.
In junior high, he says, he’d decided to devote himself to “giving people music sounds that they could really dig, and pat their feet to. I’m not a very good speaker, so I try to express myself when I play.” Turner told Pete Senoff: “I started professionally when I was 11. The first group I played with was Robert Nighthawk, then Sonny Boy Williams. This was like back in 1948-1949. I went to Memphis in about 1952. That’s where I met Junior Parker, Willy Nix, Howlin’ Wolf. I was just playing with different groups all around – playing piano. From Junior Parker, I left Memphis and went to Mississippi, where I met the people from Kent and Modern Record Company. That’s when I started scouting for talent for them. That’s when I started recording B.B. King, Roscoe Gordon, Johnny Ace, Howlin’ Wolf. We were just going through the South and giving people there $5 to $10 or a fifth of whiskey while we recorded over a piano in their living rooms.
“I wrote 32 hits for that firm, but I didn’t know what a songwriter’s royalties were. I didn’t know nothing, man. They were sending me $150 a week, which was enough to keep me very happy in Mississippi, but not enough for me to get away to find out what was really going on.”
Right after high school, Ike had formed the first Kings of Rhythm; their first job was in Lulu, Mississippi, and each King got 18 cents for the night’s work. One time, they went to Memphis and recorded “Rocket 88” at B.B. King’s label. It was a local hit. “But some dude at the record company beat me,” Ike said, “and I only got $40 for writing, producing, and recording it. And the lead singer took the band from me and went on his own.” Ike went back to Memphis, gigging around. After the record company job, he went back to his hometown, Clarksdale, reformed the Kings of Rhythm, and ended up in St. Louis. From 1954 to ’57 he played all around the city. One night, 17-year-old Annie Mae Bullock went to see Ike’s show. She had moved to St. Louis two years before to join her sister. “She’d been telling me about Ike Turner, who was like a legend in St. Louis – you know, his picture and name spread about the newspapers. I went to this club to see what it was all about. I remember Ike was on top of the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis and the band was walking, and everybody was moving. Well, I’ve always sung and one night I asked Ike if I could sing and he said okay, but he never called me.” Annie Mae went out again, another night in 1957, to the Club Manhattan. On a B.B. King tune, with Ike on organ, the drummer went to the audience and set the mike in front of her sister – “teasing, I guess. She said ‘No,’ so I grabbed the mike and started singing. Ike looked up all surprised, like, ‘Oh wow, she can really sing.'”
She became a regular, singing on weekends, until she cut “A Fool in Love” in 1960, and the demo became a hit. By that time, they’d been married – “in 1958,” says Tina, “one of those house things, little preacher things, sort of quiet, saying, ‘Okay, let’s do it.'” – and Ike changed Annie Mae’s name to Tina. “He’s always looking for something different in a name,” she said.
Bolic Sound, the name of the studios, is taken from her maiden name. Tine was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, and grew up in Knoxville. They way she stretches her limbs on stage, she looks tall, and her high cheekbones give her a proud Indian appearance. But she’s only 5’4″, and as for Indian blood: “It’s in the family, but I don’t know where or from what tribe. My grandmother really looked like an Indian, though. She was maybe one-fourth Cherokee.”
Tina never studied music. Of course, she learned some from church – in Knoxville, she went to Baptist church and sang in the choir and, in high school, she sang some opera. But mostly she remembers a baby-sitter taking her to “sanctified church, a religion, they call it holiness – it’s where they play tambourines and dance, but not just dancing – dancing like godly to the fast music, sort of like today. I remembered the excitement of the music; it inspired you to dance.”
“Before Ike,” says Tina, gingerly feeling hotpants, “I didn’t – I never owned a record player. I listened to songs on the radio, but I never knew the artists went out and performed. I never connected the two. It’s like you’re dumb, you don’t know how they make movies. I never knew…I just thought I’d be singing in a church the rest of my life and marry.”
The dumb kind travels the world and meets royalty. And her innate sensibility shows through. In Ghana: “I went to see where they kept the slaves before they brought them to America – and it was very interesting and touching. They kept the women on one side in a room this big [about 20 by 30 feet]. The only light was three holes at the top, and only the sea light came in. A lot of them got diseases from the dampness of the sea; it formed a sort of crust on the wall. They had to live in all that filth; there was no bathrooms, no nothing. Like just women over here and men over there – the men in a much larger room – and they’d open the door so they could ‘multiply,’ as they called it—in all that filth. It was really something to see where you came from – where it all began.
“I knew nothing about NY-kruma…is that how you say…Nkruma – none of that. I never did much reading. Everything I could have learned in America in two years, I learned in a week’s time. But I went out and toured, going like 100 miles out of the main town. I got a chance to see how the real people live. Huts, no electric lights, no windows. They lived down in the fields.
“But I never go out a lot. Never saw the Statue of Liberty, which I’d really want to – especially since I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower. But I never feel like it; you get in the habit of sleeping all day. But there isn’t a whole lot to see in America. We tore all our historical things down. Like there’s no Indians, no real Indians for you to go out and see.
“Every now and then I read. Like for instance I took time to read what I wanted to about astrology, and I took time to read up on the health food thing.”
Tina is trying to move away from meat, and her kids “are doing vitamin pills, wheat germs, and sunflower seed flour. But I like a good steak now and then…
“I read the Jacqueline Kennedy, the Ethel Kennedy book. From the very beginning I never paid any attention to the political end of America. So then when President Kennedy became president, I became interested, because for some reason I liked him. Every time they said the President’s going to speak, I watched. Something about that family – they’re real people. I don’t know what it is – lively, life-like.”
Ike and Tina played Hyannisport once – “a very small, really cute town for a married couple that’s not interested in the city life and wants to live an old-fashioned sort of clean-cut life” – and got an invitation from Ethel to visit the Kennedy estate. “You could feel there was a real family. Like my family, it’s too late now. Sure, it’s my family, and they know, but I’d like to have been able to teach them things before they reached the age of 13 where…you know how kids question things, why say it this way or…that’s what they do, automatically know that this is the right way and why, not just because I say it is…But you start from the root. Because my oldest son, he’s really prejudiced, and I don’t know why, because we’ve always mixed, being entertainers. And Greg’s got this thing, ‘Ahh, wow, mother, she’s white…’ None of the other kids are like that, but he’s really…”
Ike is playing his new sides in his office, and everybody’s moving, just so, head nodding, lower lip out a little, legs maybe churning a bit, and this photographer is sitting there, tapping both feet lightly on the floor, and Ike strikes an accusatory pose: “See? See? You white people – You have to move from inside! Man, white people put black people off beat clapping so long…” Which is not the way the Turners usually talk about their audiences. “Okay,” says Tina. “In the beginning we worked the chitlin’ circuit, and now we go back, and it’s really terrible. They really don’t listen now, because they feel like, ‘Well, we knew you first.’ Black people seem to be like ‘We know what Ike and Tina can do’…like at one of our gigs, a guy right down front kept passing a cigarette the whole time, anything to distract from what’s going on stage. Instead, with a white audience, they sit and listen, and you have their attention. Or they leave. But they never start walking around or start a fight.
“Like I’m not shameful of my people or anything, and I’ve had a lot of people come and say, ‘Mama, when you gonna grow out the hair?’ ‘Where’s the natural?’ I told them, ‘I’m black, you can see it.’ I don’t have to wear a big wooly head of hair. I like straight hair, I wear it, I feel myself, you don’t see me walking around trying to be white…
“Ike could do this better than myself, but have you ever noticed that when black people go to a dance, they dress the complete thing, the high-heeled shoes, the purse. But the whites, they just wear something they’ll be comfortable in. All right, so I think that the black person a lot of times doesn’t go to see what is there, he goes to be seen. And like you find in the middle of a number where you’re really trying to climax your show, someone gets up and walks straight across right in front of you – a woman most likely, or a man dressed with a hat that’s tilted and all the colors, and the flaps on his shoes, and you know, they don’t think a lot about being entertained. They want to do the entertaining.”
“I knew there had to be a time for us. I’d go and catch shows that people said were great that did nothing for me. And I felt our show was much better. And I knew we had to get some records out, but I didn’t feel that it was going to be the records. I felt it was going to be timing. I didn’t know that the timing would be a change in the world, but I thought it would be a certain time, like maybe the 70’s. But all of a sudden, remember when they used to call longhairs beatniks? Okay. Now they call them hippies. The hippies came and more of them came and more and more. They took over San Francisco, they took over the highways, they just took over. That was the beginning of the change.
“They changed minds; they said, ‘Well, why?’ and everybody else said, ‘Yeah, why?’ And that’s who accepted us. They felt like ‘why dress up, for the acts.’ ‘Why is it that a woman can’t wear short dresses or whatever?’ You understand what I’m saying? And here I was that they could say, ‘Here is Tina Turner, here is the Supremes. Why is it that Tina Turner isn’t as good as the Supremes? Because you’re of this – would it be – ‘culture’? No – you would say that the Supremes could play for a more sophisticated audience, but Tina Turner couldn’t. And the hippies would say ‘Why?’ So everybody got into the ‘why’ bag and I sit right down in the middle. And sayin’ that this girl and their act is just as good as these other people; it’s class. Really, they just got polished down, and for the other set of people.
“I never did like James Brown. I always did like Ray Charles. He was my only influence, because I always liked to sing more or less like men sing, and sound like they sound. Like he and Sam Cooke were my influences.” What Tina likes, and what she aims for when she choreographs the Ikettes – is action. “I let an Ikette wear an Afro once,” she says – “Esther, the little short one, because it fit her personality and she wanted to. But I’ve found that long hair adds to the action of our show. Esther was on television with a natural, and she said, ‘Why is this, I don’t look like I’m doing anything.’ The difference was the difference in the action. We went on stage once, and I wore a fur dress and the Ikettes wore leopard furry dresses – but you gotta work harder, because there’s no swing. Every time I wear a chiffon dress, everyone says ‘What’s wrong with you tonight, Tina? You weren’t moving.’ The chiffon hides the action.”
Before any given date, Tina will run the Ikettes through rehearsal, “all day and all night and they eat at the house. If I’m training a new girl, we rehearse every day from 2 to 6 for two weeks, like a constant grind, because there’s a lot for her to learn and she’s still going to forget when she gets on stage, because once the music hits you and the audience and the stage and the lights, a different thing comes over you. But now with an old set of girls, I don’t have to call a rehearsal, I’ll say in the dressing room, ‘Hey, let’s put this step in or change this routine.’ It’s a matter of like driving somewhere, someone gives you directions – you go so many blocks and turn left – that’s how I get it over to them.”
Friday night at the Circle Star, the Ikettes were by themselves, each packaged in silver micro-minis, combing out their hair and laughing insults at each other, like dormitory girls. The Kings of Rhythm were into the first of their usual two-number set, and the Ikettes, right on time, were adjusting their sequin chokers and ready to put on their medium-heels. As one, they laughed about the bad old days.
Various ex-Ikettes had said how difficult Ike and Tina were, how selfish they were, how stingy (one ex said Ikettes got $30 a night if they were within 50 miles of L.A.; an extra $5 outside – this in ’68 and ’69 – “and we paid our own rent; they just paid transportation”).
Another girl spoke about a fine system – $10 for a run in an Ikettes’ stockings; $25 for “laughing too loud” – even if it happened off-stage, in a hotel room. She also spoke of Ike putting down their singing and hiring local session singers for his albums. When they were called in for a session, she said, they weren’t paid – except for “Bold Soul Sister.” The Ikettes, she said, wrote the song, but didn’t get credit – “only $15 each for that session.”
And the turnover. “They give excuses like, ‘Lots of girls have to get married.’ But most of them just can’t take their baloney. Of course when you leave you have a bad attitude. I was so naïve – Ike’d holler on stage, and it was hard to concentrate on what you were doing.” But, she admitted, it was good training – not unlike boot camp. And there’ve been plenty who’ve served – including Bonnie Bramlett, in 1965 – and another soulful white singer, Kathy MacDonald. Ike found her at the Fillmore West and wanted to sign her as a solo artist, and she sang on “Come Together,” but she stayed with her job in the chorus behind Joe Cocker. “It was very common to get approached by Ike,” said one former Ikette. “He’ll just approach anything in a skirt. He’d be shrewd about it, buy you things and make you think twice about it. Tina may know all this, but she tries to act like she doesn’t. They’re not as happy as they put out front.”
The current Ikettes, a minute before curtain call, put on happy faces. “The last time there was a fine was almost two years ago,” says Edna, and she proceeds to knock on wood. Esther “Bills” Jones and Jean Brown Burks (“Brown is my maiden name,” she emphasizes) join her, slamming their knuckles on their vanity table in unison and laughing. “Tell the girls you talked to that things have changed,” said Esther, who’s been an Ikette for three years. Edna dropped out for a year – she had TB – and rejoined, a year ago. Jean dropped out for two years after working two years. She’s been back six months.
Driving from her house to the studios, Tina talks about interviews. Her least favorite question is about the different Ikettes. “Lord knows how many there’ve been,” she says, evading another question by adding, “They leave for one reason or another.” Bonnie Bramlett, she says, “would have lasted, but we went to the South, and we had trouble down in Louisiana, guess she looked too white. We put a scarf on her and we felt she’d pass as ‘a yellow nigger,’ but they just sort of knew, and they blocked us and everything…But whenever I run into anyone like with a good voice that could be an asset to the group – if they can dance – I hire. I don’t worry about color.
“Yeah, I work with the Ikettes on their records because a lot of times they can’t always do Ike’s ideas – control the voice and all. Sometimes we have to use other outside voices for certain sounds…”
As for Ike and Tina and whether they’re a woosome twosome – it’s difficult to tell. Ike makes himself unavailable – by his pace – and lets Tina do the talking. When they do an interview together, invariably they disagree and chide each other. Posing for a photo, Ike is asked to embrace Tina; he does, and warns: “Better catch this quick; I don’t do this often.”
In the dressing room, while Tina talked, Ike slept. In the hallway, while Ike chatted, Tina was in seclusion.
Ike Turner spends most nights in his private apartment – “the Whorehouse,” – a mile away at his new studio, Bolic Sound, but Tina says she stays there whenever she can. And yet she’s upset now because Ike was talking to the telephone man the other day about buying cable lines, so he can hook up another remote camera from his office and watch what’s going on at home.