The late Ike Turner, due to ex-wife Tina’s revelations of his various abuses, has been dismissed as a marginally talented manipulator who rode his wife’s coat-tails to success. Ike has only himself and his demons to blame for his public image, but assessments of the two, professionally, have often been mistakenly weighted in Tina’s favor.
Ike was Svengali to Tina’s Trilby, developing a dynamic, polished performer from a naïve, untutored teenager with some raw talent and putting together a performing framework to showcase it though she has never been in a class with singers like Mavis Staples or – certainly – Aretha Franklin. But in the process, his abilities as musician and musical thinker were obscured. In the early ’50s Turner was a talent scout and session player for Modern Records, recording with the likes of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, and others. He also wrote – despite the credits on the original Sun single – a true rock and roll classic – “Rocket 88” – on which he displayed his considerable piano skills. But his money instrument was guitar, and the two discs for the Blue Thumb label which make up this collection – 1979’s The Hunter and 1971’s Outta Season – focus on blues rather than the R&B and rock and roll of their post-“Proud Mary” years and Ike’s playing reveals a genuine affinity. Though he sometimes resorted to gimmickry like glissandi and single-note trills, Ike was a tasteful guitarist with a strong attack who, at his best (Lowell Fulson’s “Three O’Clock In The Morning Blues”) sounded a lot like Hubert Sumlin. Chuck Willis’ “You’re Still My Baby” and perennials like “Rock Me Baby,” “You Got Me Running,” and “The Hunter” are among the highlights of a collection that may not redeem the man but should rightly do so for the musician.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’09 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.