Ike recorded this Elmore James disc in an empty nightclub in Canton, Mississippi.
Me and Ike, 1991 with the Crown LP and a bad hangover (worst photo of me ever).
Ike’s response to Tina in autograph form, notice the spelling error.
Ike Turner, 1974, dressed to audition for The Band?
Howlin’ Wolf, Ike produced some of his best sides.
Elmore James and friend, Ike recorded him in a club in Canton, Mississippi.
Blues singers waiting to audition for Ike Turner, Mississippi, 1951.
In the years 1951-52 Ike Turner was employed by the Bihari brothers– Joe, Jules and Saul who owned the Modern/RPM/Blues & Rhythm/Kent family of labels in Hollywood, California.
The Bihari’s seen their sales in the “race” market skyrocket when they acquired the services of such downhome blues singers as John Lee Hooker (whose Boogie Chillen went to #1 R&B), Lightnin’ Hopkins and Smokey Hogg. These artists had all been with smaller labels and the Bihari’s bought out their contracts. They had set up a deal to buy blues masters recorded in Memphis from Sam C. Phillips who had just opened his own recording studio. Phillips began sending them masters of Joe Hill Louis, Rosco Gordon, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King before they had a falling out over Phillips’ similar arrangement with the Chess brothers in Chicago. When Phillips sent Chess top ten hits by Howlin’ Wolf (Moanin’ At Midnight) and Jackie Breston (Rocket 88), the Bihari’s stopped dealing with him, and started suing the Chess brothers (they would win the services of Rosco Gordon, Chess got Howlin’ Wolf).
Ike had been recording for Sam Phillips and was pissed off at him when Rocket 88 came out credited not to Ike Turner & his Kings of Rhythm but under the name of saxophonist/vocalist Jackie Breston & his Delta Cats. Breston immediately quit Turner’s band and hit the road to capitalize on his hit. He’d be back in a few years, but meanwhile Turner had worked out a deal with the Bihari’s where he’d record his own band as well as producing sessions for other artists.
The complete Ike Turner output for the Bihari’s can be found on the Japanese P-Vine double CD Ike Rocks The Blues (with the same goofy Fazio painting on the cover as the old Crown album seen above). Ike took to producing sessions around Memphis and when he sent the Bihari’s a hit by B.B. King they put him on salary as a talent scout and soon Turner, sometimes with Jules Bihari in tow, was driving around the south accumulating masters. He recorded some fine sides with Howlin’ Wolf (including one of my all time favorites House Rockin’ Boogie) and Elmore James (whom the Bihari’s had lured away from Lillian McMurray’s Trumpet label and gave to their older brother Lester for his Flair/Meteor imprint), whom Ike tracked down and recorded at an empty nightclub in Canton, Mississippi. Among the highlights are Hawaiian Boogie where Ike can be heard playing second guitar and Canton, Mississippi Breakdown with Ike at the piano. One, however doesn’t find a Howlin’ Wolf or an Elmore James everyday, even back then when the pickings were far more fertile, and on these road trips Ike recorded many second string bluesman, and made some excellent sides with them.
At a session held in Greenville, Mississippi in January of ’52 Ike recorded guitarist Boyd Gilmore at the empty Club Casablanca with himself playing the piano.
Gilmore was said to be a cousin of Elmore James’, and recorded Ramblin’ On My Mind b/w Just An Army Boy (Modern) and All In My Dreams b/w Take A Little Walk With Me (Modern)–crude, juke joint blues sides in a solid Elmore James mold. In fact, to spice up All In My Dreams, back in Hollywood, the Bihari’s had an engineer take a piece of tape from an Elmore James session with Elmore playing his signature riff, and spliced it into the Gilmore master!
Charley Booker, who himself had recorded for Sam Phillips (the great, but not issued for four decades I Walked All Night), also recorded that day and his sides– Rabbit Blues b/w No Ridin’ Blues (Blues & Rhythm) and Moonrise Blues b/w Charley’s Boogie Woogie (Modern), are more of the same, the sound of a Mississippi juke joint on any Saturday night. Primitive, distorted, loose, and wild. Nothing sounds like this anymore.
In the spring of ’52 Ike Turner and Jules Bihari hit Little Rock, Arkansas with their portable recording machine and set up shop in a music store, recording a bunch of musicians that revolved around Sonny Boy Williamson influenced drummer/harmonica player Drifting Slim (Elmore Mickle) and killer guitarist Baby Face Turner, who would be murdered in the mid 60’s. Among the highlights of those sides cut that day are Drifting Slim’s Down South Blues b/w My Little Machine (Modern), as well as Baby Face Turner’s fantastic Blue Serenade b/w Gonna Let You Go (Modern). They also cut harmonica player Sunny Blair’s rocker Step Back Baby (issued on brother Lester’s Meteor label) and 5 Foot Three Blues b/w Glad To Be Back Home (RPM).
Not an Ike Turner recording, but worth posting for sure is this live recording that sat in the Modern/RPM vaults for fifty years before it was issued, probably recorded by one of the Bihari’s live in a club in Detroit in 1955, Washboard Willie and Calvin Frazier’s Rock House
captures the late night feel of a juke joint so well you practically smell the pig snouts.
Ike Turner left Memphis for St. Louis in 1954 (although not after cutting one last un-issued session for Sam Phillips) where he’d be based out of until the mid-sixties. He also left the Bihari brothers, although he did sell them a live Ike & Tina Turner LP issued on Kent in ’69. The Bihari’s re-issued most of these sides (and their outtakes) on a series of very cheesy budget LP’s on their Kent label in the seventies, so cheap they didn’t even have inner sleeves, these LP’s- Blues From Mississippi, Blues From The Deep South, Blues From Arkansas, etc. introduced me and an entire generation to some great music for a mere .89 cents a pop. Today these sides can be heard in incredible sound quality on Ace’sDownhome Blues Sessions series
and also The Travelling Record Man CD. I think of these as sort of Nuggets albums for the blues. If Sunny Blair and Charley Booker are not “where the soul of a man never dies” as Sam Phillips once said of Howlin’ Wolf, they are surely where the soul of a man gets shit faced drunk, plugs in an electric guitar and has a great time on a Saturday night. He might’ve even gotten some pussy or made five bucks in the deal. And that’s good enough for me.
As a teen I used to love Rock Scene magazine. It was mostly just pictures of Richard and/or Lisa Robinson at Max’s or CBGB’s or parties with their version of celebrities: the Stooges, Patti Smith, the Ramones, Bowie, Roxy, etc. but it seemed so glamorous and exciting. Well, I’m away this week and too lazy to write a full blog entry before I leave so I thought I’d do my version of Rock Scene and just run some pix of myself and some famous faces I’ve stumbled into over the years.
Me and Rosco Gordon, WFMU Record Fair, 1992.
With Ernie K-Doe, Mother In Law Lounge, New Orleans, 1999. Left to right: Michelle Kozuchowski, Me, Ernie (R.I.P.), Kelly Keller (R.I.P.)
With Rudy Ray Moore (Dolemite), WFMU Record Fair, 1992. With Cordell Jackson, Lakeside Lounge, 1997.
Me with Phil May, Lakeside Lounge, 1999? What’s the difference between a straight Englishman and a gay Englishman? Three pints.
With Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, 2000 at Nick Tosches book party (photo by Wayne Kramer).
With Robert Quine, I really miss him, Jeremy Tepper in the back, Hangover Hop, 1993.
With Ike Turner, 1997 (Photo by Bob Gruen)
No Se No, 1984, Ray Kelly (w/Cowboy Hat), Me and the World Famous Blue Jays (Jay Sherman Godfrey and Jeremy Tepper).
Hasil Adkins and Me, 1985 (from 3-d original)
With Hank Ballard, 1987. Esquerita in the center, the rest of the gang, left to right Me, Billy Miller, Julie Whitney, Todd Abramson, Miriam Linna. 1982?
Ike Turner was most of the most profoundly influential musicians and band leaders in the history of rock’n’roll, and one of the greatest rock’n’roll guitar players of all time.
His story goes like this (ah one, ana two…). He was born Ike Wister Turner in Clarksdale, Mississippi on Nov. 5th, 1931. His dad got lynched in front of his house, giving him a somewhat jaundiced view of life. He grew up hustling around the streets and soon took to playing piano.
He was inspired by local talent like Robert Nighthawk, whom he played piano behind on a local radio show (here’s the great Nighthawk recorded live on Maxwell St. in Chicago in the early sixties doing Dr. Clayton’s “Cheatin’ & Lyin’ Blues” aka “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby”, you can watch the footage above, thanks JD). Soon Ike was leading his own band with Willie Sims (drums), Jesse Knight (bass),Willie Kizert (guitar), Raymond Hill (baritone sax) and Jackie Breston (tenor sax). He dubbed his combo The Kings of Rhythm. The Kings Of Rhythm did not play the blues style known in Mississippi but the latest up to date jump band R&B sounds. Ike took his band to Memphis were he wound up at the fledgling Sun studio whose boss Sam Phillips was recording local talent and leasing the sides to Chess in Chicago and RPM out in L.A. Their first session produced a huge hit for Chess — “Rocket 88” (a hyper reworking of Jimmy Liggins’ “Cadillac Boogie”) which went to #1 R&B and is often called the first rock’n’roll record, as if there could be such a thing. Somewhere between Phillips studio and the Chess pressing plant however the credits were changed and the band was no longer Ike Turner’s Kings Of Rhythm but had been renamed Jackie Breston & his Delta Cats.
Breston, with a #1 hit under his own name briefly went solo (he’s return a few years later and a few dollars poorer) while Ike left Phillips and stuck up a partnership with the Bihari Brothers who ran the RPM/Modern/Meteor family of labels. Ike would record and play on sides by Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Joe Hill Louis, and tons of others, driving around the south with Joe Bihari, recording musicians in juke joints and make shift studios. The U.K. Ace label has issued an incredible CD of some of the more interesting and obscure sides (and out takes) called The Travelin’ Record Man which is well worth buying. Ike also cut his own band for RPM and even had an LP issued (Ike Rocks The Blues on Crown) which culls together the best of his guitar instrumentals from this period (Ike, having switched to guitar after “Rocket 88”, figuring it would be harder to over look him if he was standing up). Here’s one of my favorites from that period: “Bayou Rock” (as it was known on the LP aka “Cubano Getaway” which is what it was called on the 78). The Bihari’s were cheap fucks who didn’t pay much so Ike returned to Sun on several occasions to record sides that Sam Phillips never bothered to release. Some of these are incredible but the world wouldn’t hear them until England’s Charley label started digging through the Sun vaults in the late 70’s. Here’s “I’m Gonna Forget About You” a tune Ike would recut several years later in Chicago for the Cobra label. One can hear his already perfected “piss shiver” (as Roscoe dubbed it) guitar style which involved pulling the whammy bar on his Stratocaster hard enough to nearly yank the bridge off the body. While we’re at it, here’s an oddball tune that was left sitting in Sun’s storage room, it’s Ike and first wife Bonnie Turner duetting on a number called “Down In The Congo“. Memphis soon proved too small for a man of Ike’s ambition and his next stop was St. Louis. In St. Louis Ike cut sides for labels small and smaller, appeared on local TV (where the above clip came from), and
built a sizable audience, especially with white women while appearing in local nightclubs. According to Jimmy Thomas (in a classic interview in Blues Unlimited mag from 1983), the cops would regularly round up Ike and the band and send the white gals back to their parents and husbands. Among the great tunes he recorded while in St. Louis are these two singles for the Stevens label issued under the name of Icey Renrut (Ike Turner spelled sideways), both rockers feature vocalist Jimmy Thomas- “Jack Rabbit” and “Hey Hey“.
By 1956 Ralph Bass signed Ike and his crew to the Federal label, a subsidiary of Cincinnati’s King Records one of the largest and best of the indies, and home to such hit makers as Wynonie Harris, the Delmore Brothers, Moon Mullican, the Midnighters, the Dominoes, Bill Doggett, and later James Brown. Here Ike cut his finest sides, some under the name of vocalist Billy Gayles, others as by Jackie Breston (who’d come home, all was forgiven) and some under Ike’s own moniker. Check out this one: “No Coming Back“, a fairly standard blues ballad until Ike’s solo which sounds like somebody is hitting the guitar with a frying pan. On “Just One More Time” Ike’s guitar intro combines the piss shiver with tremolo for a sound that we have no words to describe (shiverelo?). On Breston’s “Gonna Wait For My Chance” he displays equally brutal guitar technique. Here is “She Makes My Blood Run Cold” where the Kings of Rhythm move into Screamin’ Jay Hawkins territory to great effect. Alas, the Federal years also left Ike hitless and soon he was in Chicago where he cut one side each for the Cobra and it’s sister label Artistic,
the best being “Box Top” on Cobra, a re-make of an earlier Sun recording. The best thing Ike did
while at Cobra was his contribution to Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble“, that’s Ike playing the solo which is usually attributed to Rush. Together they create one musical foul mood (that’s a compliment).
It was in St. Louis that Anna Mae Bullock, who entered the picture as Raymond Hill’s girlfriend became the lead singer of the Kings Of Rhythm, with three Ikettes added to the band Ray-lette style, their first record on Juggy Murray’s Sue label — “A Fool In Love” shot to the top of the R&B charts and Ike re-named Anna Mae Tina Turner and took the sound to the bank.
The story of Ike and Tina Turner has been told many times, in many books. I’m sure Tina didn’t lie about the amount of abuse heaped on her, but our subject today is Ike’s music, and all through Ike and Tina’s recording career Ike kept recording great R&B, some under Jackie Breston’s name like this one on Sue- ” Much Later” from the early sixties, it has all the fire of his fifties recordings. Ike also kept recording killer guitar instrumentals, Sue even issued an LP of ’em called Ike & Tina Turner Present The Kings Of Rhythm— Dance! Here’s some of his wilder guitar workouts from the sixties starting with his theme song “Prancin’“, here’s a great two parter issued only on a Sue 45–” New Breed pt. 1” b/w “New Breed pt. 2“. And let me throw in some highlights from the aforementioned Dance LP– “The Gully“, “Twisteroo“, “Trackdown Twist“, a mind bending take on “Steel Guitar Rag“, the ultra wild “Double Mint“, and as a bonus an un-issued out-take “Twisting The Strings“. Another killer guitar solo from Ike found its way onto my favorite Ikettes’ single– “Camel Walk“, and dig that rhythm section!
Ike last truly incredible moments on wax can be found on the 1974 LP Blue Roots (UA). Recorded at Bolic Sound, the studio/fortress he built in L.A. (Andre Williams put in time at Bolic, even he thinks things had gone beyond excess at that point). Ike re-creates his 50’s style on “Broken Hearted” (a rare vocal from Ike) and leaves us with this mind boggling spoken word piece (also issued on a 45), an homage to Ike’s favorite drug and one of the most amazing sides ever waxed by anyone– “Right On” (when I turned Quine onto this one his jaw literally dropped).
I met Ike a few times. In the early 90’s somebody gave him my home phone number and he had his manager call and ask if I could make him a tape of his old tunes. He had some blues festival gigs booked in Europe that summer and they sent a list of tunes they wanted him to play and he couldn’t remember any of them. I made a nintey minute cassette of the old stuff and we met at his hotel room. Ike was nice enough, he was just out of jail and clean. He was very polite and funny, he spoke with a stutter. When we sat and listened to the tape, the first tune was “Prancin'” which had been his theme song for a good twenty years but he looked at me like he had never heard it before. “That’s pretty good” he said with a grin. I got him to sign some records (his autograph on my copy of Ike Rocks The Blues reads– “What’s love got to do with it not a dam thing” spelled just like that). Later I went to a party thrown in his honor and he made me feel really important by introducing me to everyone as his close friend.
In his last years Ike tried to return to his old blues rockin’ style and although the records weren’t very good, live he could still bend them strings. At least once a night he’d let loose on the guitar and give it the old piss shiver, and when he did I’d get a chill up my spine.
Ike died last December at age 76 from a cocaine overdose. Hell, at age 76 what’s the point of living clean? To save yourself for those really great years from age 90-100? If we had to judge our musical heroes by their personal life we’d have no musical heroes, and beating up your old lady is certainly bad form, I blame it on the coke. It really brings out the inner asshole in people. As a musician however, Ike Turner really was a helluva guy.
The above photo of Ike and me was taken by Bob Gruen, backstage at Tramps, NYC, 1997.