Local History

Published on November 10th, 2014 | by TLV News


“Ike Wister Turner: Clarksdale Bluesman Would Have Been 82 on November 5, 2014” By Rafael Alvarez

IkeWisterTurnerI was in Los Angeles in early December of 2007, on strike with the Writers Guild of America and hanging out at a Santa Monica coffee house. There, I traded writing lessons to the owner in exchange for sandwiches and espresso and passed the time reading short stories by Steve Barthelme.

On the evening of December 12, word had spread that Ike Turner—the un-credited teenage author of 1951’s “Rocket 88,” believed by many to be the first rock and roll record—had died at age 76 about 100 miles south of Tinseltown.

An open mic spoken word gig was about to take place and I asked the woman who’d organized it if there might be a moment of silence to remember Ike Turner.

Snapping with anger, she said, “Why should we have a moment of silence for a drug addict who beat his wife?”

And that is the tragic legacy of Ike Turner, a genius of American music whose Kings of Rhythm once rehearsed at the Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale long before his work influenced the Glimmer Twins of Swinging London.

The man who helped lay the rails from barroom blues to arena rock is doomed to be remembered as the guy who beat the crap out of the pride of Nutbush, Tennessee: Anna Mae Bullock, known to the world as Tina Turner.

The ugliness went public in 1986 with the publication of I, Tina, the autobiography of Ike’s ex, without whom he surely would not have found astounding commercial success with million-sellers like “Proud Mary” and “River Deep/Mountain High.”

The dramatization of the abuse hit the wide-screen in 1993 with the Tina bio-pic What’s Love Got to Do With It? (Laurence Fishburne played Ike) and cemented the bluesman’s villainy.

In her 2012 autobiography, A Woman Like Me, the Detroit blues and soul singer Bettye LaVette wrote:

“I hated how Hollywood pictured Ike as a sadistic ogre … without Ike, there would be no Tina. Offstage he called her Ann. Onstage she was Tina.

“Through her long years with Ike, hundreds of men wanted Tina. Hundreds of men would have whisked her off in a hot minute. Tina could have left Ike at will. She chose to stay because she wanted to learn the lessons he had to teach …”

But the damage was—and is—done.

Ike’s auto-bio response in 1999, Taking Back My Name: the Confessions of Ike Turner, he admitted to shortcomings. “I got a temper” [exacerbated by cocaine addiction] he wrote in the memoir while arguing that the film exaggerated the domestic abuse.

The stigma is likely permanent but the music [and startling photos of a mid-60s Ike with a processed “Beatles haircut”] remains.

IkeTurnerClarksdaleBluesTrailMarkerIke Turner proudly counted Belzoni native Joseph “Pinetop” Perkins [1913–2011] as his childhood piano teacher; there are two Mississippi Blues Trail markers honoring him in downtown Clarksdale and he possessed a gut-level Geiger counter for whom among his peers played black music and who played white.

Old B.B. King: Black.

B.B. from about the 1970s till now: White.Chuck Berry: White.

Bobby “Blue” Bland: Black.

Wouldn’t you love to know what he thought of Prince?

It’s a fascinating perspective from someone who opened shows for The Rolling Stones with Tina at the height of the white, blues-driven rock era while at the same time, very quietly in 1969, releasing all-instrumental funk and groove album called A Black Man’s Soul. The Local Voice Ligature


This article was originally printed in The Local Voice #216 (published November 6, 2014).
To download the PDF of this issue, click here.

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About the Author

The Local Voice is a bimonthly entertainment guide and newspaper based in Oxford, Mississippi, covering and distributed in North Central Mississippi, including Oxford, Ole Miss, Taylor, Abbeville, Water Valley, Lafayette County, Yalobusha County, and parts of Panola County, Marshall County, and Tupelo . The Local Voice is distributed free to over 255 locations in North Mississippi and also available as a full color PDF download worldwide on the internet.

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