Ike Turner, the legendary blues and soul artist whose career – and infamy – were defined by his stormy relationship with his wife, Tina Turner, died in his sleep early yesterday at his home in the suburbs of San Diego. He was 76.
Turner was present at the creation of rock'*'roll – he performed on the first rock record, "Rocket 88", in 1951 – and kept working to the very end of his life, winning a Grammy award earlier this year for his album Risin' With The Blues.
But it was his partnership with Anna Mae Bullock, the raspy-voiced teenager from Nutbush, Tennessee who married him and changed her name to Tina, that moulded both the best and the worst of his public reputation. Between 1959, when they recorded their first hit, "A Fool In Love", until 1976, when Tina walked out on him following a vicious fight on the backseat of a car en route to a concert venue, they electrified American popular music.
First they produced mere hits – "I Idolize You" and " It's Gonna Work Out Fine" – then began to revolutionise music itself, most notably in a collaboration with Phil Spector, then an up-and-coming producer, on "River Deep, Mountain High" in 1965. A sizzling cover of "Proud Mary", the Creedence Clearwater Revival hit, became their signature song and a perennial crowd favourite on the concert circuit. Ike always had a reputation as a womaniser – legend has credited him with as many as 14 wives, although the public record accords him just four – and a man with a tendency to substance abuse.
But Tina turned that image several shades darker with the publication of her autobiography I, Tina in 1976, depicting her ex as a vicious, unstable wife-beater. She was so afraid of him that she walked out of the marriage with nothing but her name, relinquishing her share of everything they had earned together over the previous 17 years.
Turner made several attempts to defend himself over the years, none of them especially convincing. "Sure, I've slapped Tina," he wrote in his own autobiography, Takin' Back My Name (2001). "There have been times when I punched her to the ground without thinking. But I never beat her."
While Tina enjoyed a renaissance as a solo artist in the 1980s, Turner slipped ever deeper into drug and alcohol addiction and ended up going to prison for four years in 1989 on drug-related charges. He was still behind bars when he was inducted into the Rock'*'Roll Hall of Fame. Tina, intriguingly, represented him at the ceremony.
Turner was born in to poverty in Clarksdale, Mississippi, earning his first entrée into the music business as an eight-year-old elevator boy at the offices of his local radio station. Over time he developed into a fine session musician, mastering both the guitar and keyboards.
The pair had met in 1958 when Tina, as a pushy teenager, grabbed a microphone at a St Louis nightclub and performed a B B King song for him. He invited her on the spot to become an Ikette – one of his back-up singers. A year later she pushed again, laying down a vocal track on "A Fool In Love" even though Ike had imagined a man singing it. The result proved to be hit-parade gold.
The couple married in 1962 and had two children together. Ike was flagrant in his infidelities, though, including an affair with former Ikette Ann Thomas, with whom he fathered a child and later married.
In her book, Tina portrayed him as a sadist and a monster who hit her and, on one occasion, broke her nose. That image became cemented in the public imagination when Tina's book was made into the movie What's Love Got To Do With It, with Angela Bassett playing Tina and Lawrence Fishburne playing Ike.
Turner's story is, in the end, a classic American tale of transgression and redemption – with his work providing the redemption. "I know what I am in my heart," he once told the Associated Press. "And I know regardless of what I've done, good and bad, it took it all to make me what I am today."