On this day in 1931, the great musician Ike Turner was born. He was a rock pioneer. He and his band, Kings of Rhythm, recorded what is arguably the first rock song in 1951, “Rocket 88.” It’s amazing song, complete with distorted guitar. It was written by Turner and Jackie Brenston, who sings the song. Turner’s piano on the introduction has been widely copied. Elvis would not show up in a recording studio for another two and a half years. I’m sure “Rocket 88” blew people’s mind at the time. It still swings relentlessly. And it doesn’t contain even a hint of the excesses that would come to dominate the art form later on. It is just good music that will always appeal.
Turner had a long career of incredible work. Sadly, about the only thing that people know about him is that he beat up Tina Turner. I will not minimize that, but few great artists were models of virtue. And I tend to think that part of the focus on this is racist — the angry black man archetype. But it is also due to the fact that people mostly focus on singers, and so think that Ike was just some hanger-on to Tina’s great talent. There is no doubt that Tiny is a fine singer, but the artistic debt runs exactly the other way.
Apparently, Turner decided very early on that he didn’t like to be on stage, so he stayed in the background. In fact, during the decade and a half with Tina Turner, he usually played with this back to the audience. But later in life — notably after becoming the poster child for spousal abuse — he started fronting his own band. And he was fantastic. But in general, people didn’t much care. Here he is doing “I Need A-Nuddin'” in 2002, five years before his death:
Happy birthday Ike Turner!