The thing about Ike Turner is that he comes with some heavy baggage. Ex-wife Tina's book and a popular movie made it pretty clear that he was both a drug and woman abuser, and he eventually wound up doing several years time behind his problems with coke. But all along he has also been a rootsy guitar and piano player--and his talents as a bandleader/arranger were right there in the earliest days of R&R.
Born in 1931 in Clarksdale, Turner began playing piano at age 7, learning from Pinetop Perkins. He worked with Robert Nighthawk by age 11 and later sat in with B B King. The Bihari Brothers from Modern/RPM Records on the West Coast hired him for B B's "Three o'Clock Blues" session. Turner went to work for Sam Phillips as a scout, hooking him up with Howling Wolf. Turner played piano on Wolfs very first recordings, and produced others as well (selling a couple of Wolf's sides to both Sun and RPM). He put together his own band The Kings Of Rhythm, which became THE hot band in St Louis. In March 1951, they cut "Rocket 88" at Phillips Sun studios--generally considered one of, if not THE first R&R sides. In St. Louis Turner began recording for Federal and attracted the interest of a young singer named Annie Mae Bullock--he groomed her, changed her name to Tina and in 1960 a decades long combination began, hits and tours with the Stones followed.
Besides success with Tina, Ike had also recorded his own projects along the way--the first album, DANCE WITH IKE & TINA TURNER was actually an all instrumental guitar set. The 1972 album BLUES ROOTS featured Turner doing Chuck Willis, Lloyd Price and Willie Dixon numbers mixed with his own instrumentals. Since the 1974 split with Tina, Ike hasn't released much domestically, though there have been a few overseas compilation albums--some included newly recorded tracks, one of which also turns up on the present release.
This CD was cut over a four year period with Ike producing the basic tracks at his studios in San Marcos, and doing some overdubbing with the Memphis Horns at Willie Mitchells studio. The overall sound is funky R&B, featuring either Turners hard-rocking piano work, or his whammy-bar driven guitar picking. Little Milton guests on guitar on a couple of tracks, and Joe Kelly plays lead on one--otherwise its pretty much Turner's show. Turner has said that it isn't till he's got the backup mixed to his satisfaction that he cuts serious vocals--and then they're spontaneous improvisations rather than constructed lyrics. Turners singing style is laconic but effective, and his lyrics tend to be a bit philosophical and wryly humorous; "you got to lose, you cant winnum all," "I need another one, to take the place of that other one, I'm going back down south where I know they turn em out" and "I gave you what you wanted, it ain't my fault you didn't like what you got."
There are some old standards here; "Swanee River Boogie," (one of four instrumentals) features rollicking piano on an upbeat tempo, his "Rocket 88" gets a solid treatment. In an even more down-home vein Turner turns in a smoky "Catfish Blues" the delta standard that was the bassi for one of Muddy Waters first big hits. The closing cut is an almost 7 minute slow blues piece, led in by harp, cushioned by horns, with Turners distinctive guitar fills throughout--remember, its him on lead on a couple of Otis Rush's toughest Cobra sides.
In other words, there's a mix here of alley raunch, corner bar choogling and uptown slickness, all with a friendly leer attached. Which I guess figures--consider the source. Turner will be touring behind the album, hearing this live would be a treat.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.
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