He died today at age 76, and, of course, right now he’s basically known for doing physical damage to Tina Turner. However, can we please remember him for being a major architect of rock ‘n’ roll and soul as we know it? Obviously, he was one of the best talent scouts in all music history, having promoted not only Tina and the Ikettes, but also discovering (while he was a promo man for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records) Howlin’ Wolf, Little Milton, Junior Parker and a wealth of other talent. He was a remarkable band leader, turning out searing R&B recordings in the ’50’s that still are astounding today. No wonder Tina was a fan. And as a musician, he was not only one of the best blues guitarists ever (with a distinctive style to boot), he was also a terrific pianist, which is how he first started. In fact, he began concentrating on the guitar because he had trouble getting reliable axers for his bands.
Turner, of course, was constantly getting into trouble with the law, much of it drug related. Fortunately, though he was finally getting back to performing again and having the attention concentrate more on his enormous talent and helping alleviate the force of tabloid headlines. Strange how it came full circle–he started as the headliner of his band in the 50’s, went to the background in the Revue days, and then in the final years back in front again.
I, for one, am forever grateful for the work and talent of this man. My friend Dave was able to see him last summer in New York State at a blues festival, and I must say, I’m still jealous. (UPDATE: Turner had to cancel out of that particular festival and was replaced at the last minute, so I guess we are both at a loss for seeing him in person) There’s a clip on Daily Motion of a recent appearance on Conan O’Brien, but I did not include that here since the pic quality was not that great. Do check that out. What I included here is one of the rare times you get to see Ike really go at it on stage playing guitar with Tina and the Ikettes backing him on vocals. It’s the blues song “I Smell Trouble” from the concert film Soul to Soul. Watch and listen as the great Ike Turner almost steals the stage away from Tina–a monumental task, for sure.