Ike Turner died aged seventy-six on 12th December 2007 at his home in San Marcos, California, U.S.A.
The funeral was held on 22nd December 2007, at the City of Refuge Church in Gardena, California, U.S.A. Among those who spoke at the funeral were Little Richard, Solomon Burke and Phil Spector. Ike Turner was cremated after the funeral service.
In January 2008, the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office reported that Ike Turner had died from a cocaine overdose and he cause of death is cocaine toxicity with other significant conditions, such as hypertensive cardiovascular disease and pulmonary emphysema. His daughter Mia was said to be surprised at the coroner's assessment, believing his advanced stage emphysema was a bigger factor.
On 5th August 2010, Ike Turner was posthumously recognized by his Mississippi hometown. Clarksdale officials and music fans gathered to unveil two markers on the Mississippi Blues Trail in downtown Clarksdale honoring Ike and his musical legacy. On 6th June 2015, Ike Turner was inducted into the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Ike Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on 5th November 1931, to Beatrice, and Isaiah Turner, a Baptist minister. The younger of their two children, Ike Turner had an elder sister named Ethel May. Ike Turner believed that he had been named after his father, but discovered his name had been mistakenly registered as Ike Wister Turner when applying for his first passport.
Ike Turner said that when he was very young he witnessed his father beaten and left for dead by a white mob. His father lived for three years as an invalid in a tent in the family's yard before succumbing to his injuries. Writer and blues historian Ted Drozdowski told a different version of the story, stating that Ike Turner's father died in an industrial accident. His mother then married a man called Philip Reeves. Ike Turner said his stepfather was a violent alcoholic and that they often argued and fought. After one fight Ike Turner knocked out his stepfather with a piece of wood. He then ran away to Memphis, where he lived rough for a few days before returning to his mother. He reconciled with his stepfather years later, buying a house for him in the 1950s around the time his mother died.
Ike Turner recounted how he was introduced to sex at the age of six by a middle-aged lady called Miss Boozie. Walking past her house to school, she would invite him to help feed her chickens and then take him to bed. This continued for some years. Ike Turner claimed not to be traumatized by this, commenting that "in those days they didn't call it abuse, they called it fun".
Around his eighth year Ike Turner began frequenting the local Clarksdale radio station, WROX, located in the Alcazar Hotel in downtown Clarksdale. WROX was notable as one of the first radio stations to employ a black DJ, Early Wright, to play blues records. DJ John Frisella put Ike Turner to work. Ike Turner described this as "the beginning of my thing with music." Soon he was left to play records while the DJ went across the street for coffee. This led to Ike Turner being offered a job by the station manager as the DJ on the late-afternoon shift. The job meant he had access to all the new releases. On his show he played a diverse range of music, playing Louis Jordan alongside early rockabilly records.
Ike Turner was inspired to learn the piano on a visit to his friend Ernest Lane's house, where he heard Pinetop Perkins playing Lane's father's piano. Ike Turner persuaded his mother to pay for piano lessons. He taught himself to play guitar by playing along to old blues records. At some point in the 1940s, Ike Turner moved into Clarksdale's Riverside Hotel. The Riverside played host to touring musicians, including Sonny Boy Williamson II and Duke Ellington. Ike Turner associated with many of these guests and played music with them.
In high school, Ike Turner joined a local rhythm ensemble called the Tophatters who played dances around Clarksdale, Mississippi. The Tophatters played big-band arrangements from sheet music. Ike Turner, who was trained by ear and could not sight read, would learn the pieces by listening to a version on record at home, pretending to be reading the music during rehearsals. At one point, the Tophatters had over 30 members and eventually split into two, with one act who wanted to carry on playing dance band jazz calling themselves the Dukes of Swing and the other, led by Ike Turner, becoming the Kings of Rhythm. Said Ike Turner, "We wanted to play blues, boogie-woogie and Roy Brown, Jimmy Liggins, Roy Milton." Ike Turner kept the name throughout his career, although it went through lineup changes over time. Their early stage performances consisted largely of covers of popular jukebox hits. B.B. King helped them to get a steady weekend gig and recommended them to Sam Phillips at Sun Studio. In the 1950s, Ike Turner's group got regular airplay from live sessions on WROX-Am, and KFFA radio in Helena, Arkansas.
Ike Turner would later work at the studio as in-house producer for Sam Phillips.
Around the time he was starting out with the Kings of Rhythm, Ike Turner and Lane became unofficial roadies for blues singer Robert Nighthawk, who often played live on WROX. The pair played drums and piano on radio sessions and supported Nighthawk at blues dates around Clarksdale. Playing with Nighthawk allowed Ike Turner to gig regularly and build up playing experience.
He provided backup for Sonny Boy Williamson II, playing gigs alongside other local blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Charley Booker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Little Walter. Performances typically lasted for about twelve hours, from early evening to dawn the next day.
Around this time Ike Turner and his band recorded the song "Rocket 88". Jackie Brenston, a saxophonist in the Kings of Rhythm, sang lead vocals. Ike Turner played piano on the recording, and his intro was later used nearly note-for-note by Little Richard in "Good Golly Miss Molly". Phillips sold the recording to Chess in Chicago, who released it under the name "Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats". The record sold approximately half a million copies. In Ike Turner's account book, he recorded that he was paid twenty dollars.
The success of Rocket 88 caused tensions and ego clashes in the band, causing Brenston to leave to pursue a solo career, taking some of the original members with him. Ike Turner, without a band and disappointed his hit record had not created more opportunities for him, disbanded the Kings of Rhythm for a few years.
After recording Rocket 88, Ike Turner became a session musician and production assistant for Philips and the Bihari Brothers, commuting to Memphis from Clarksdale. He began by contributing piano to a B.B. King track, "You Know I Love You", which brought him to the attention of Modern Records' Joe Bihari, who requested Ike Turner's services on another King track, 3 O'Clock Blues. It became King's first hit.
Wishing to exploit Ike Turner's Delta music connections, Bihari contracted him as a talent scout, paying him to find southern musicians who might be worth recording. Ike Turner also wrote new material, which, unknown to him, the Bihari Brothers copyrighted under their own name. Ike Turner estimated he "wrote 78 hit records for the Biharis." Artists Ike Turner discovered for Modern included Bobby Bland, Howlin' Wolf, and Rosco Gordon. He played piano on sessions with them and lesser-known artists such as the Prisonaires, Ben Burton Orchestra, Little Milton, Matt Cockrell and Dennis Binder.
In 1952, Ike Turner discovered Little Junior Parker and played piano on his first release, “You’re My Angel”/“Bad Women, Bad Whiskey”, credited to Little Junior Parker and the Blue Flames.
Ike Turner was contracted to the Bihari Brothers, but he continued to work for Phillips, where he was effectively the in-house producer. This sometimes created conflicts of interest. Ike Turner cut two Howlin' Wolf tracks, "How Many More Years" and "Moanin' at Midnight", which Phillips sent to Chess. Ike Turner then took Wolf across the state border, rerecorded the tracks without Phillips's or Chess's knowledge, and sent the results to Modern/RPM. Ike Turner also attempted to poach Elmore James from Trumpet Records and record him for Modern. Trumpet found out and Modern had to cancel the record. However, James did eventually sign for Modern, with Ike Turner playing piano on a James recording at Club Desire in Canton.
In 1956, Ike Turner took a reformed version of the Kings of Rhythm north to St. Louis, including his third wife, Annie Mae Turner, on piano and vocals. Ike Turner moved over to playing guitar to accommodate Annie Mae, taking lessons from Willie Kizart to improve.
Ike Turner maintained strict discipline, insisting they live in a large house with him so he could conduct early-morning rehearsals. He remained a teetotaler until the age of 30, and had never taken drugs. He insisted all band members also adopt this policy, and fired anyone he even suspected of breaking the rules. He also fined or physically assaulted band members if they played a wrong note and controlled everything from the arrangements down to the suits the band wore onstage. Starting off playing at a club called Kingsbury's in Madison, Illinois, within a year Ike Turner had built up a full gig schedule, establishing his group as one of the most highly rated on the St. Louis club circuit, vying for popularity with their main competition, Sir John's Trio featuring Chuck Berry. The bands would play all-nighters in St. Louis, then cross the river to the clubs of East St. Louis, Illinois, and continue playing until dawn. In St. Louis for the first time, Ike Turner was exposed to a developing white teenage audience who were excited by Rythm&Blues. Ike Turner played in St. Louis clubs including Club Imperial, which was popular with white teenagers, the Dynaflow, the Moonlight Lounge, Club Riviera and West End Walter's.
In between live dates, Ike Turner took the band to Cincinnati, to record for Federal in 1956 and Chicago for Cobra/Artistic in 1958, as well as fulfilling his contract as a session musician back at Sun.
He befriended St. Louis Rythm&Blues fan Bill Stevens, who in 1959 set up the short-lived record label Stevens financed by his father Fred. Ike Turner released two singles on the Stevens label under the anagram, "Icky Renrut", as he was still under contract with Sun for several more months and did not want to cause friction with Phillips. He also contributed vocals and/or guitar on 5 additional Stevens singles. Additionally, Ike Turner contributed vocals and/or guitar on numerous "lost" sessions that remained unreleased for decades. None of the Stevens singles had wide distribution when released and have since become collectible among vinyl record enthusiasts and deejays.
In 1957, 16-year-old Anna Mae Bullock accompanied her sister Aillene to watch Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm at the Club Manhattan. Aillene was a barmaid at the club and was dating Ike Turner's drummer. After seeing the band, Anna Mae asked to sing with the Kings of Rhythm, finally being given the chance to do so during an intermission. Impressed by her voice, Ike Turner invited her to join the band, giving her the stage name "Little Ann". In 1958, she sang background on Ike Turner's song, "Box Top", for Tune Town Records, and also gave birth to band member Raymond Hill's son.
In March 1960, Ike Turner used Anna Mae's voice on a recording of his self-penned song "A Fool in Love" to lay down a guide track for a male singer who did not attend the recording. He sent the recording to Sun Records in New York, where label owner Juggy Murray insisted on putting out the track with Bullock's vocal. Murray offered twenty-five thousand dollars for the song, convinced it was a hit. Around the time of the recording, Anna Mae had been pursued by Raymond Hill to join his band and leave Ike Turner's. When Ike Turner asked her to use his last name as an attempt to discourage Hill, Anna Mae took the offer. He then named her "Tina" because it rhymed with Sheena. He was inspired by Sheena, Queen of the Jungle to create the image "Tina Turner." Ike Turner had the name trademarked so that in case she left, another singer could perform under the same name. In July 1960, "A Fool in Love" was released under the billing 'Ike & Tina Turner' and later became a national hit, selling a million copies and making the duo national stars. Ike Turner added a backing girl group he renamed the Ikettes, and this also led to the first name change of the Kings of Rhythm as they began performing as the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. There was never any doubt that Tina Turner was the star... the electrifying performer audiences came to see. Ike kept his own stage presence deliberately low-key, avoiding flamboyant moves and directing the band with underplayed, economical gestures. His songwriting, production and musical direction were geared toward showcasing Tina.
The duo produced five more substantial hit singles, including "Poor Fool", "I Idolize You" and a cover of the Joe Seneca track "It's Gonna Work Out Fine", which gave them their second million-seller and their first Grammy nomination. After the duo's deal with Sue ended in 1964, Ike Turner moved the band around to different labels, looking for the best deal and between that year and 1969 they recorded on Sonja, Warner Bros./Loma, Modern/Kent, Cenco, Philles, Tangerine, Innis, Pompeii, Blue Thumb, Minit and A&M. Phil Spector sought out the duo to work with on 1965's "River Deep – Mountain High". The song was not a success in the States, causing Spector's retreat from the music industry, but was a big hit in Europe, reaching number 3 in the UK singles chart. This brought the duo to the attention of Mick Jagger, who in 1966 and in 1969, invited them to tour with and open for the Rolling Stones, bringing them to a wider audience outside of soul.
Other notable records the duo released were covers of Sly & the Family Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary", and the Tina Turner-penned "Nutbush City Limits".
The success of the Ike and Tina Ike Turner Revue gave Ike Turner the finances to create his own recording studio, the Los Angeles-based Bolic Sounds next door to his mansion in Inglewood. The studio name was a reference to Tina's maiden name, Bullock. Ike Turner had two sixteen track studios built, a large one to rent out and a smaller one for his personal recordings. He fitted them out with state-of-the-art equipment, two 24-input 16-output mixing desks custom built by John Stephens and Daniel Flickinger, IBM mix memorizers, an early Eventide digital delay. The studios were opened for public hire in March 1972. Artists who recorded there included Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Little Richard and Gayle McCormick. Frank Zappa recorded the Ruben and the Jets album For Real! as well as most of his own Overnite Sensation and Apostrophe LPs in 1973 and 1974. Ike and Tina's last hit, the Tina written Nutbush City Limits, was also recorded there.
In 1974, Ike Turner was arrested for using illegal blue boxes at Bolic to make long-distance phone calls. At the time of the arrest, police officers spent several hours breaking through the studio's heavy security measures, as Ike worked feverishly inside trying to finish various recordings before being taken to jail. He was eventually cleared of the charges. After this the police began surveillance on the studio, believing that other illegal activities were taking place inside.
His partnership ended abruptly in 1976 with Tina leaving after the last in a series of violent altercations with Ike Turner. On 1st July Ike and Tina were en route from Los Angeles to Dallas where the Revue had a gig at the Dallas Statler Hilton. They got into a fight during their ride to the hotel. Shortly after arriving at the hotel, Tina fled and later hid at a friend's house. On July 27th, Tina sued for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Ike claims that Tina initiated the fight by purposely irritating him so that she'd have a reason to break up with him before they were scheduled to sign a new 5-year contract upon their return from Dallas.
After the breakup, Ike Turner struggled to find success as a solo artist. Holly Maxwell replaced Tina Turner in Ike Turner's band from 1977 to 1985 and again for eight months in 1992. Maxwell reported a positive working relationship with Ike Turner.
Ike Turner admitted that his behavior had become increasingly erratic. During the 1980s he was arrested ten times for drug and firearm offenses and was convicted on two occasions.
In 1980, a SWAT team raided Bolic Sound, finding a live hand grenade and seven grams of cocaine. Ike Turner was convicted for cocaine possession and sentenced to thirty days in the L.A. county jail with three years probation. This was Ike Turner's first conviction. In April 1981, he was arrested for shooting a 49-year-old newspaper delivery man whom he accused of being physically and verbally abusive to his then wife, Ann Thomas, and of kicking his dog. Ike Turner said he only fired a shot to scare him off and that the man had injured himself when he climbed over the fence to get away. A jury in 1982 found him not guilty of assault. By 1985, Ike Turner's finances were in disarray and he owed the state of California twelve thousand dollars . He later settled his account. He had tried to sell Bolic Sound in 1980 to raise funds to avoid foreclosure, but the studio burned down in a fire in January 1981 on the day Ike Turner was due to show it to a potential buyer. Ike Turner was arrested again in June 1985, and charged with conspiracy to sell cocaine, possession and maintaining a residence for selling or using a controlled substance. A further arrest came in 1986 for cocaine possession, concealed carry of a handgun and traffic violations. Ike Turner was released on bail. In January 1987, he was arrested for trying to sell 10 ounces of cocaine to an undercover police officer. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell the drug and not guilty to other counts. On February 16th, 1990, he was sentenced to four years in a California prison for cocaine possession. He was incarcerated at the minimum security California Men's Colony, San Luis Obispo. Ike Turner completed 18 months of his sentence before being released on parole in September 1991. Larry Kamien, associate warden of the California Men's Colony, said Ike Turner was a model inmate. In prison he became a trustee working in the library and saved up money by selling cigarettes, candy bars and coffee to other inmates. He played music with other inmates and wrote 15 new songs that he was planning to record when he was released.
In 1991, while he remained in prison, Ike and Tina Turner were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which Spector accepted on their behalf. Released from prison, Ike Turner said he was nervous about returning to performing, but had plans to return to the studio. He sold 20 unreleased Ike & Tina Turner recordings to independent label Esquire Records. In 1993 Salt-n-Pepa sampled his Ikettes hit "I'm Blue" for their 1993 single Shoop. The track went to number 4 in the Billboard Hot 100, earning him around half a million dollars in royalties. He rerecorded the song in a duet style with singer Billy Rogers. Produced by Rogers, the remake received favourable reviews. He also appeared on the song "Love Gravy" with Rick James on the album Chef Aid: The South Park Album, the soundtrack to the TV series South Park.
Ike Turner credited Joe Louis Walker with encouraging him to return to his roots in blues music. Ike Turner played guitar and assisted in production on Walker's 1997 album Great Guitars and toured internationally with him. The positive response to the tour encouraged Ike Turner to reform the Kings of Rhythm, taking them on a US tour in 2001. The group headlined a showcase at South by Southwest and were hailed as one of the highlights of the conference. His new wife Jeanette was Ike's lead singer. Ike Turner's work on the tour led to his recording and releasing the 2001 Grammy-nominated Here & Now album. In September 2003, the PBS documentary series Martin Scorsese's 'The Blues' included interviews and performances by Ike Turner. He was featured in the episodes "The Road to Memphis" and "Godfathers and Sons".
In 2005, Ike Turner revealed he had been diagnosed with emphysema and in his last years was extremely weak, having to use an oxygen tank. His daughter Mia Turner said, "He was too weak from the emphysema to do anything. He'd go in the studio for a couple of minutes and play a couple of bars and say he had to go lay down." Despite his ill health, he appeared on the Gorillaz' album, Demon Days, playing piano on the track "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead". Ike Turner also performed the track at the live show at the Manchester Opera House from November 1–5, 2005; his performance was released on the DVD "Demon Days: Live at the Manchester Opera House." Before his death, a collaboration between Ike Turner and the rock band the Black Keys, was planned by Gorillaz's producer Danger Mouse in 2007. The Black Keys recorded tracks for Ike Turner to work with.
In the year before his death Ike was hospitalized several times after accidentally falling. After his death in December 2007 from a cocaine overdose, Ike Turner's autopsy and toxicology report showed he was taking Seroquel at the time of his death. The medicine is most commonly used as treatment for bipolar disorder, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia. Ex-wife Audrey Madison claims Ike Turner was bipolar and that she was helping him with his illness, a claim supported by Ike Turner's personal assistant and caretaker, Falina Rasool.
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