I’ve written a few obituaries and tribute pieces in my day. They’re tough to write. People – family, friends, admirers – have certain expectations. Their expectations are born of nostalgia, and nostalgia is a nasty little thing. In Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good; and thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burdens of the past.” And that’s the problem when approaching these things; these homages to life, acknowledgments of death. In remembrance, obituaries exalt someone’s contributions and exclude their warts, resulting in fragmented truths and glossed over accounts. In doing so, they fail to do exactly what they are intended to: paint a picture of someone’s life. Or, more coldly—and probably accurately—they fail to truly summarize a person’s existence in a few brief paragraphs.
Ike Turner, on the other hand, made it nearly impossible to do that. A music entrepreneur and visionary he was first. But he was also a vicious, violent shell of a human being – equal parts narcissist and tyrant. His hands created as many bruises as they did hit singles, and his legacy is that of a wife beater as much as it is music icon. Still, his influence in the world of music is lasting. He’s credited with creating what is arguably, the first rock-and-roll single, “Rocket 88,” released four years before anyone knew who Chuck Berry was. Before he battered Tina Turner, he discovered Anna Mae Bullock. And while Phil Spector—another interesting obit when it happens—was the genius behind one of Tina Turner’s biggest hits, it was Ike who made it happen, even while his role was marginalized to an onlooker at that point. Significant enough was his presence in the history of music, that Martin Scorsese filmed his live collaboration with Pinetop Perkins in 2002 for Scorsese’s deep-digging, comprehensive documentary The Blues.
But in recognizing his achievements in shaping the musical landscape, let’s not ever forget nor condone his monstrous flaws as a human. In fact, it was those that made him human.
Note: To see why Rocket 88 is included in the rock and roll creation debate, listen for the guitar riff at 1:19 in the (ed. *re-recorded version*) song. It expands immediately from traditional blues chords, then returns to the more conventional bluesy element of the song in order to segue to the next verse.
MP3: The Kings of Rhythm :: Rocket 88 (’01 Kings of Rhythm release)
MP3: Ike & Tina Turner Revue :: A Fool In Love
MP3: Ike & Tina Turner Revue :: River Deep, Mountain High (Spector-written and produced)
Amazon: Ike & Tina Turner – The Ike & Tina Turner Story (Box Set)
+ Visit The Hype Machine for additional Ike Turner MP3s