IKE & TINA TURNER / “Ike & Tina Mixtape”
It must have been either ‘58 or ’59, I was sitting toward the back of the bus—the school bus, we were about to pull off heading to a football game. About four seats ahead of me a young girl was singing her heart out, full-throated, fist balled-up tight, head back and, as the old folks used to say, loud as sin!
I didn’t know the sister’s name but I knew the song. The song was “Letter From Tina.” This young teenager—she couldn’t have been more than fifteen, more likely was younger than that, but she had experience in her voice and, shortly after hitting a high note real hard, she was jumping up and down in her seat. Some of us giggled, most of us laughed out loud, and clapped. She was good. Just like the record.
At that time I was far from any personal relationship of a carnal nature but even so I, and everyone else on that bus, got the message; we all felt the song as though we were in the middle of some orgasmic throe, you know, that near indescribable mix of pleasure and pain that hopefully everyone experiences at one time or another. That girl was sharing her bliss with the whole bus. Ike and Tina’s record was the vehicle for my classmate’s expression.
Ike and Tina Turner, man, they made some nasty records—good and nasty!
The cost, as all of us were to find out later, was very high for Tina and would be high also for those of us who found ourselves desperately seeking the hedonistic high that the song suggested. Inevitably there is at least a little taste of masochism in most carnal relationships. There is a reason people say, it hurts so good. Most of us measure how good the love is by how miserable we are when we don’t have it or how anxious we are when consummation is delayed.
Ike was pimping Tina and propositioning us. His objective was to make us desire no-holds-barred sex. Indeed, one of Ike’s most fiendish devices was the invention of shaking it “like a white girl.”
Tina was hardly the first black woman to publicly dance with sexual abandon but I think she was the first with the voice (deep, guttural), the body (legs for days), and the hair (whether wig, weave, extensions or whatever, she could fling that shit like beads on Mardi Gras day). The hair, whipped around and around, like she was a cross between a Cherokee squaw with flowing locks and the latest platinum blond playboy bunny hopped up on drugs.
And check this, no matter how frantic Tina and the Ikettes danced, Ike was always the model of cool. This cat was demonic in his ability to be unmoved by the tumult surrounding him. I believe he was so cool precisely because from his perspective there was nothing to get excited about. It was a show, a calculated and meticulously/maliciously conceived charade.
Young folks today use the term “pimp” to mean control, without necessarily implying prostitution, in that regard Ike Turner was the prototype of pimpdom. During the live performances listen to the sinister asides Ike intones while Tina is singing. The detachment, the unsubtle threats, the cold-bloodied, non-emotional bass voice.
Again, as we all were to find out later, Ike was not acting he was auteuring, Tina was the one pretending. She deserved at least three or four Oscars.
But, to be clear, part of what made the show so strong was Ike’s musical abilities: he could play, he could sing, he could arrange, he could compose, he could promote, he could market, shit, maybe we should just say straight up, Ike could—whatever needed to be did, Ike could and would!
Ike’s greatest weakness was that he was so intent on getting rich by any means necessary that he imitated anything he thought would lead to success. Anything—from Beatles haircuts, to stealing other people’s songs, changing a word or two in the title and claiming the song as his own. Even though he had enough talent to make an original contribution, he was probably hobbled by low self esteem, an affliction that was masked in the bravado of his pimp persona.
Ike Wister Turner was the son of a Baptist preacher. Born November 5, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Ike was reared in one of the deepest circles of Jim Crow hell. Dark skinned and unsophisticated, there were not many options available. But what Ike had was will and skill, a little talent, a whole lot of heart and absolutely no scruples. What a toxic mix he was and at the same time, make no mistake, he was also a master ringmaster of entertainment.
It didn’t take long for Ike to recognize a ticket to ride when he met 18-year-old Anna Mae Bullock, a determined teen-ager (born November 26, 1939) from a small town called Nutbush, Tennessee—yeah, really, Nutbush is not a made up name. Together Ike and Tina Turner became the first couple of hardcore, southern R&B. They lasted until 1976 when Tina could no longer take the behind-the-scenes mayhem and left Ike.
F. Scott Fitzgerald got it wrong when he famously wrote, “there are no second acts in American lives.” He never met Tina Turner, who left Ike, kept the contested last name (Ike claimed they were never really married), and made it big as a pop icon, famously recording “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” one of the greatest “get-back” songs of all time. Talk about flipping the script!
All of the internal drama and all of the external manipulation notwithstanding, the music of Ike and Tina Turner represents some of the rawest and most visceral R&B ever recorded. Others made love-making music, this was fucking music, hard-core with out even a tinge of sentimentality. In many ways, Tina was the last of the great, female classic blues singers. Draw the line from Bessie to Billie to Dinah to Tina, a string of hard-living women whom life tried to bitch slap into submission but ultimately failed to permanently subdue.
Many people misunderstand the blues. This music is not the music of losers. These sounds are songs survivors sing. Ultimately every blues song is a statement that, yes, I may have been knocked down but I’m standing up singing about it now.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
P.S. Ironic trivia note #487: when Ike and Tina were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, Ike was dong a bid in the California State penitentiary.
Ike & Tina Mixtape Playlist
There are beaucoup Ike & Tina albums out there, some even have the same name. I've got over a hundred downloads plus albums from back in the days and without hearing the specific album it's hard to be certain what the track actually is. The couple often recorded two or even three versions of the same song, plus there are a bunch of bootlegs out there. What I know for sure is that the What You Hear Is What You Get live album is definitely a safe bet to start if you don't have anything... after that you're on your own.
01 “Nutbush City Limits” - The Collection
02 “It's Gonna Work Out Fine” - Don't Play Me Cheap & It's Gonna Work Out Fine
03 “A Fool In Love” - The Soul Of Ike And Tina & Dynamite Ike & Tina Turner
04 “Letter From Tina” - The Soul Of Ike And Tina & Dynamite Ike & Tina Turner
05 “I Idolize You” - The Soul Of Ike And Tina & Dynamite Ike & Tina Turner
06 “Stand By Me” - In The Beginning Ike & Tina Turner
07 “I Am A Motherless Child” - Outa Season
These seven tracks are from What You Hear Is What You Get
08 “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”
09 “Honky Tonk Women”
10 “A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking)”
11 “Proud Mary”
12 “Proud Mary (encore)”
13 “I Want To Take You Higher”
14 “Loving You Too Long”
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