I, Ike

Sep 5, 2001 at 12:00 am

You’re a writer, about the same age as yours truly, putting together this story on Ike Turner. After you pen it, people older than you approach, asking what you think you know about Ike Turner. You’re young, and outside of reading Tina Turner’s autobiography, I, Tina, and seeing What’s Love Got To Do With It, the subsequent movie about her life with Ike, you’ve gotta bite — you really don’t know ass.

You’ve heard “Proud Mary,” and felt it could use an 808 kick. You did like the husband-and-wife combination, until you saw the flick. Then you just hated Ike, ’cause Laurence “What the problem is, Tina?” Fishburne played the hell out of that role. And while Tina ended up an icon, Ike messed with drugs and did time. You’ve even gone so far as to think Ike’s success may never have been, had it not been for Tina.

Then you get this assignment and you have to go study the dude. You come away like, whoa, after reading a quote from Little Richard saying that Chuck Berry, the guitarist considered by many to be the definitive rock ’n’ roll pioneer, once credited Turner with teaching him his style. Then one of your editors, a man with more music in his head than dreads on it, kicks it with you about Turner’s beginnings.

He hips you to Robert Palmer’s book, Deep Blues, which tells an interesting story: Sam C. Phillips — he who built the first permanent recording studio in Memphis — records Ike’s band, the Kings of Rhythm, in the early ’50s. Rock ’n’ roll doesn’t exist yet, and this writer’s parents are still prepubescent. “Rocking and rolling” is just a popular term used to describe having sex.

Anyway, the Kings put down a tune called “Rocket 88.” It bum-rushes the national rhythm-and-blues charts, and eventually hits No. 1. It remains on the charts for 17 weeks and becomes one of the biggest hits of the year. Many people, including Phillips, call “Rocket 88” the first rock ’n’ roll record.

The good thing for Ike is that his record hits just as a massive shift begins taking place among young white Americans. The teenagers who consider themselves sophisticated are getting into this new sound track. They call it “nigger music.” But keep it real. Black music provides a feel that country-and-western, the previous sound of choice, fails to offer. Regardless, distributors are afraid to touch it. “We’re afraid our children might fall in love with black people,” they say. So Phillips sets out to find a white dude with a black feel who can bridge the gap.

He finds Elvis Presley, which means Ike might go down as a legitimate precursor to the phenomenon called rock ’n’ roll. Then Ike meets Tina and allegedly slides down the path to ruining his own legacy by giving the term “hit parade” new meaning.

This is where you, the young writer, start to piece it together. You realize that, essentially, Turner is to the ’50s what Grandmaster Flash is to the ’70s and ’80s, and what Timbaland is to the new millennium. All are driving forces — not front men — responsible for creating sounds that have altered the landscape of music. Turner reconditioned the ear of the American listener. As your editor suggested, he was hittin’ before he began hitting (sorry, man, had to use it).

Turner’s new CD, Here and Now, has been called one of the most — here we go again — striking albums of the year. His own book, Takin’ Back My Name, was released last year to lukewarm reviews. But now, folks are beginning to remember why Ike was around in the first place. And when he plays the Ann Arbor Blues Festival next week, more of us will be reminded of Turner’s seminal contributions to music. Others, like the writer of this story, will get a good education.

Ike Turner. The father of rock ’n’ roll. Ain’t that a slap in the face.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about the big beat(s) for Metro Times. E-mail him at [email protected]