'I Like Ike'

(AP Photo/Keystone, Fabrice Coffrini)

One of the most striking things about being in Clarksdale, Miss., 10 years ago, when Ike Turner played his first hometown concert in three decades, was how he was received.

Ike was reviled around the world for the way he'd treated Tina Turner - particularly after their turbulent, troubled relationship got the Hollywood treatment - but you wouldn't have known it based on the response down on the Delta. Several thousand people crammed into Blues Alley to witness Turner's homecoming at the Sunflower Blues Festival - including one man with "I Like Ike" splashed across the front of his shirt. It was a sentiment shared by many of the folks there that day, as the audience went wild as soon as Clarksdale's infamous son ambled onto the stage. His reprehensible behavior didn't matter to them, apparently, because it was all about the music.

Late yesterday afternoon, my editor told me that Ike Turner had died - and he wondered if I was interested in writing an appreciation. I was. And I wasn't. Did he deserve to be appreciated? And how, exactly, does one go about appreciating the music of a monster?

Though Turner was one of the architects of rock and R&B - a musical pioneer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and celebrated by the Recording Academy with a Heroes Award - his artistic legacy was eclipsed by his behavior as he became best known as one of the world's most infamous wife abusers. You all know the details: Tina accused him of savagely and repeatedly beating her in her autobiography, "I, Tina," on which the movie "What's Love Got to Do With It" was based. (Tina also accused Ike of pouring hot coffee on her face, burning her with a cigarette and forcing her to perform while ill and pregnant. Nice.)

It's kind of hard to celebrate "Rocket 88" and the rest of Turner's artistic achievements without considering the dark side of his life story.

Plenty of legendary musicians, of course, have behaved badly and yet emerged with their reputations more or less intact. Ray Charles, for one. And, more recently, James Brown.

But Ike was different, his deportment even more demonic.

And so I wrote about his tarnished legacy - and about my encounter with Turner in Clarksdale 10 years ago.

There was apparently some question as to whether the piece should have been labeled an appreciation. (The final vote: Yes. You can read the story after the jump.)

And, of course, there are still questions coming in today about whether Turner deserved to be appreciated.

What do you think?

The Stinging Guitar: Ike Turner Helped Shape Rock but His Private Life Drowned Out the Music

On the day I met Ike Turner, in 1997, the bad guy was wearing white. Of course he was.

Turner had a horrific problem. He was a pioneering musician who helped put the "R" in R&B -- a gifted bandleader and explosive performer on the piano and guitar whose fuzzed-out "Rocket 88" was (and forever will be) a proto-rock classic -- and who flat-out torched the soul circuit in the late 1960s and early '70s with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.

But his reputation had been bloodied and bruised, first by Tina's autobiography, "I, Tina," then by 1993's "What's Love Got to Do With It," the Hollywood biopic that depicted Ike as a domineering, wife-beating, womanizing, coke-snorting monster.

The image of Evil Ike will forever eclipse Turner's considerable contributions to the popular-music canon, tumult trumping talent. (Yesterday's news bulletin: "Ike Turner, whose role as one of rock's critical architects was overshadowed by his ogrelike image as the man who brutally abused former wife and icon Tina Turner, died Wednesday at his home in suburban San Diego.")

In 1997, Ike Turner was trying to scrape his way back -- to resuscitate his career and, just maybe, rehabilitate his image. He'd released a new album for the first time in two decades. He'd sobered up, he said. He'd gotten married again (to another singer, in fact). And now, he was putting himself -- his music -- back in front of the public: He'd come home to Clarksdale, Miss., down in the Delta, to perform at a blues festival, where he was wildly received.

Onstage, wearing all white and enveloped by approbation, Turner beamed, flashing a toothy grin as wide as the nearby Sunflower River. He triumphantly pumped his fist in the Deep South summer air, as if to celebrate a rare public victory.

But backstage and then at his hotel, Turner hardly seemed celebratory, staring blankly at a wall and swaying with nervous, angry energy. Though he told me he didn't want to discuss Tina or the movie (which, he said, he hadn't actually seen), he hardly talked about anything else.

" 'Ike Turner, known as the meanest man alive, the ugly woman-beater' or whatever; people always got to say some [expletive] like that," he said. "See, they put that movie out right during the time of that women's movement, and Tina fit right into that. That women's-lib thing, she was a good vehicle for them to get behind. It really hurt me a lot, but I'm getting over it, man."

Or not. Every time it appeared that the conversation was heading elsewhere, Turner somehow steered it back to his ex-wife and musical partner.

"You can't undo what's been done," he said. "And I have no regrets. . . . I did nothing that I'm ashamed of. I did nothing that I won't do again."

Ike Turner might be little more than a violent footnote in pop history if not for the fact that he was a ferocious talent who was among the fathers of rock-and-roll.

Born Nov. 5, 1931, in Clarksdale, he first played professionally at the age of 11, backing Robert Nighthawk on piano in the boogie-woogie style of his idol, Pinetop Perkins. Turner's first group, the Top Hatters, came together in high school and eventually evolved into the Kings of Rhythm. In 1951, they went to Sun Studio in Memphis to record "Rocket 88," with Turner playing piano and Jackie Brenston singing lead. The propulsive song (credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats) is widely cited as the first rock-and-roll record for its distorted guitar, the result of a broken amplifier.

Turner was also a noted session player, talent scout and producer who was instrumental in recording the likes of B.B. King and Elmore James. In 1956, he moved to St. Louis, where he met Anna Mae Bullock, whom Ike recast as Tina Turner.

They developed a raw, sexual soul revue with Tina serving as the vocal centerpiece and Ike working as the bandleader and playing stinging, distorted guitar. The group was a major hit, both live and in the studio, and Ike and Tina married in 1962. The abusive relationship lasted until July 4, 1976, when Tina sneaked away from their Dallas hotel room with just 36 cents and a Mobil card in her pocket.

Tina would go on to great heights in the 1980s, whereas Ike went into seclusion and, eventually, prison. (While he was locked up on drug charges, he missed their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

Tina Turner became a symbol of survival.

Ike became one of the most infamous spouse abusers in the world.

But, he said in 1997: "I'm working to try to get a hit record, because that's what I need. That'll wash up everything."

And eventually, Turner did have another artistic success: His album "Risin' With the Blues" won a Grammy in February for best traditional blues.

Somebody asked him what the award meant. As recorded in the New York Daily News, he replied: "What does it mean? It means that I'm still living. I made the first rock 'n' roll record and now I made this record."

By J. Freedom du Lac |  December 13, 2007; 10:00 AM ET Appreciations
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Ike seems like a guy who just never quite got that what he did was wrong. He could have made it all alot easier for himself by just saying "I'm sorry", but I guess he wanted to do it his way. I hope he eventually found some peace in life.

Posted by: EricS | December 13, 2007 10:16 AM

I was also in Clarksdale that year and was very excited to meet Ike and see him play in his hometown. It was absolutely amazing to see Ike play with Little Milton's band. That they're both gone is very upsetting. Ike's work under his own name and with B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Otis Rush, and so many others makes him one of the best and most important musicians of the 20th century.

Posted by: Mike | December 13, 2007 10:48 AM

I will never have sympathy for someone who treated his wife so savagely and refused to accept any blame. I don't care how many gold records he had, it's still beyond despicable.

But he's meeting with his maker right now so it's not up to us to decide where he goes (although i have a decent idea of where that might be...).

Posted by: around | December 13, 2007 10:51 AM

O.J. Simpson was an awfully good football player. Is that how we're going to remember him after he's dead?

Posted by: Tom T. | December 13, 2007 12:51 PM

Off-topic: Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame nominees for 2008 include Madonna, John Mellencamp, The Ventures, The Dave Clark Five, and Leonard Cohen. How 'bout a blog posting with Post Rock opinions?

My opinion: Madonna deserves it, and will get in easily. Cohen deserves it, and won't get in, at least not right away. Mellencamp may or may not deserve it (not sure myself), but he'll get in because he's popular enough. Not sure about the other two.

Posted by: Hello Cleveland! | December 13, 2007 1:59 PM

Um, Cleveland, those *are* this year's inductees into the Hall.

Posted by: pj | December 13, 2007 3:07 PM

I think Ike Turner, should be remembered as a music pioneer, who was also at a point in his life a very troubled man. It is easy to vilify Turner for what we believe he did to Tina Turner during their marriage. I say what we believe because a large part of the public distain toward Turner comes for the Hollywood portrayal of him, by Lawrence Fishburne. It was a movie not a documentary, even though it was based on Tina' autobiography. I am not saying that Ike was a saint, but you have to believe that because he abused mega superstar Tina Tuner. Ike Tuner never got a chance to become more than just a monster in the eyes of a lot of people.

Posted by: Jason | December 13, 2007 7:20 PM

I was introduced to Ike's musical catalogue thanks to Tina's 1984 solo break thru. Ikes music is rich and vibrant - recommended, not to mention Tina's amazing singing!! I read Tina's book and sure she was taken as a young teenager and treated as a subserviant and abusd thru most of their relationship. I've also seen Tina perform several times... she recorded Private Dancer and performed sell out stadiums around the world and retired at the top... at Wembly. Tina has moved on.

Posted by: Andrew, NZ | December 14, 2007 1:29 PM

there were two different Ike Turner's. The Musician and the man I admire the musician but despise the man wife beating is uncool


Posted by: Alan | December 14, 2007 2:14 PM

Well, I really don't know Ike Turner's music, but I did see the movie What's love got to do with it." I wanted to go in the movie and beat him myself. Tina was so brave and finally stood up for herself. Wouldn't you think after all these years he would say sorry?

Posted by: Christina | December 14, 2007 3:06 PM

That Ike Turner being more famously known as a wife beating monster than a pioneer of rock-n-roll is his own doing. We've got admitted former prostitutes, pimps, & drug dealers getting plenty of airplay and chart success. We've even got alleged pedophile chart-toppers (complete with footage, in one case). Publicly, Ike did nothing to portray any sort of goodwill; instead, he vehemently denied what he'd done. The Hollywood portrayal was mild compared to Tina's written account. I recall during a visit to one of my sisters in L.A., her boyfriend restaurateur told us how he watched Ike "beat the sh*t" out of Tina on the sidewalk outside his restaurant. Hollywood had nothing to do with that.

Posted by: Ralph | December 14, 2007 3:18 PM

Ike Turner is a music pioneer, band leader, songwriter, great band leader, great showman, and a person who became very famous and successful in the music business...with baggage. He never had the chance to repair the damage of growing up in a racist society, watching his father murdered, and heaven only knows what else. There was no Dr Phil or Oprah or Scott Peck in the deep south where and when the demons in charge were creating the society from which this obviously damaged but talented man came. Forgiveness is devine.

Posted by: Tom | December 14, 2007 8:27 PM

Because of my lifelong commitment to Ike and his music and the fact that I had spent the last 23 years in Recovery, last year I tried to help Ike. The issue for Ike was he never gained ANY measure of humility and or
remorse for his past conduct. Ike firmly believed that he had been wronged and was not going to consider ANY other position. It was his belief that all of his accomplishments somehow permitted his conduct. He was wrong.

I finally bowed out understanding that I could not help him.


Dick C

Posted by: Dick C | December 15, 2007 8:45 AM

The man was a loser and his music is only lasting in a limited pop culture sense. He is not a "master" of anything. He deserves to be discredited and vilified. You can't separate the art from the artist because the life of the artist is the largest artistic expression a man can make. Don't forget Hitler was an aspiring painter. He got what he gave and then some and doesn't deserve anyone's sympathy or accolades.

Posted by: Mike | December 15, 2007 4:06 PM


Posted by: johnnyrotten | December 16, 2007 5:09 PM

As far as I can tell, there is very little evidence to support Ike as a serial woman abuser, to the extent that it was depicted in the movie (which sucked, by the way). Tina has admitted that the rape scene never happened. The emotional core of the movie was a dramatic device made up by the writers. They also suckered Ike into signing his name to a waiver that allowed them to depict him in ANY manner they saw fit without fear of lawsuit.

I have little doubt that Tina was abused in the relationship. It doesn't excuse it and I feel Ike should have admitted to what he did. The fact that he didn't was a huge mistake that cost him in the public eye and hurt his overall rep and career.

But the movie was a gross distortion and also played down the fact that Ike took a raw talent in Tina and created her from scratch. I love her R&B stuff but find her later hits in the pop field insipid and without the raw emotionalism of tracks like "Natbush City Limits" They were the hottest act you can imagine on stage. I saw them 4 or 5 times and they wowed me everytime.

The comparisons to Hitler (!!) and the closed mindedness of some on this forum are hilarious. No one should be getting their facts from an autobiography or a movie. I think anyone would not like their entire reputation resting on the word of their ex-spouse. I know that many of the ex musicians (whose numbers are legion) saw anything happen like what was depicted in the movie. That's a side of the story you will never hear in the rumour mongering press that seems to create accepted opinion in the States.

Posted by: Rob Dewar | January 16, 2008 8:06 PM

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