A Rock & Soul Legend or a Villain? – Ike Turner

When you think of early rock and roll who do you think of?

Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly or even Bill Haley and his Comets might be a few names you come up. The shame is that the name of Ike Turner does not pop up for most people. But Ike Turner is credited by many music historians for making the first rock ‘n’ roll record with his 1951 recording of “Rocket 88.”

Ike Turner has taken his Final Taxi at age 76.

Most people will remember Turner when he rose to iconic status with his wife/ singing partner, Tina Turner. The pair produced a string of hits, including A Fool In Love, It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, and River Deep Mountain High. Between 1961 and 1976 they produced more than 30 albums. The musical duo ended with Tina Turner claiming he abused her.

Ike Turner’s actual music career began in earnest in the late-1940s where he formed a group whom he christened The Kings of Rhythm.

In 1951, the band recorded the legendary “Rocket 88.” The song was one of the first examples of guitar distortion, which happened by accident when one of the amplifiers dropped before the recording.

Turner became a recording scout and A&R man for independent record companies including Sun Records – where “Rocket 88” was recorded, helping the likes of BB King, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James and Otis Rush get signed. He also became a sideman playing guitar for these blues acts and more. Musically, Turner was known for his hard-hitting guitar style. He also put the whammy bar of his Fender Stratocaster to frequent use.

Turner’s music career changed drastically after meeting a teenage singer named Anna Mae Bullock, who demandingly grabbed a microphone during a singing session at regular nightspot and sang a BB King song in her now-trademark throated raspy vocals. The performance impressed Ike so much he recorded a song with her and changed her name to Tina Turner and the name of the band to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. That song, “A Fool in Love”, became a national hit in early 1960, reaching the top three in the R&B charts and becoming a top thirty pop hit in the process. From then until 1976, Ike and Tina Turner became one of the most explosive duos in rock & soul music.

Turner, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was a prolific songwriter, session guitarist and piano player but he will unfortunately be forever remembered for his turbulent relationship with Tina Turner. In her 1987 autobiography, “I, Tina,” she narrated a harrowing tale of abuse, including suffering a broken nose and having cigarettes put out on her. She also claimed he was a cocaine addict and adulterer.

But while he would readily admit to drug abuse, Turner always denied abusing his ex-wife.

After years out of the spotlight his career finally began to revive in 2001 when he released the album “Here and Now.” The recording won rave reviews and a Grammy nomination and finally helped shift some of the public’s attention away from his troubled past and onto his musical legacy. The once-broke Turner managed to garner a comfortable income as his songs were sampled by a variety of rap acts.

To music critics and fans, Ike Turner will be known as a great founder, unfortunately to the general public he will always be known as a brutal man. His songs can be heard on the soundtracks of such movies as Kill Bill Vol. 1, Blue Collar, the original Hairspray, The Sopranos and Bull Durham.