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Coming Together With Ike and Tina Turner


Sometime back in 1960, the Rolling Stones were in Los Angeles and decided to catch the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. They did and-presumably-were knocked out. They convinced Ike and Tina to go to England with them, thus beginning a friendship which unites several of the most influential forces in today's pop music.

England paid enthusiastic attention to Ike and Tina, as it was paying to so many black American musicians. The Turners met British rock stars, such as Eric Clapton, whose knowledge black bluesmen was thorough-far more thorough than that of most white American musicians. The Beatles and the Stones were taking their inspiration from the songs of Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry-and making no secret of it. In a matter of time, American youth got with it and began reconsidering certain lines of prejudice, such as that between Pop and Rhythm-and-Blues, or between black and white. Obscure, starving bluesmen began selling more records and playing to a lot more white faces. Youth learned that a mellow old man like B.B. King could be fun, too.

But Ike and Tina and B.B. King are not the same thing at all. B.B.'s place in today's music is inviolable but categorically narrow; Ike and Tina's act is a continuously evolving blend of elements old and new, black and white, musical and visual. The Turners' primary concern is not with trail-blazing, either, but with perfecting the art of entertainment. Their roots lie, if anywhere, in the club circuit they used to tour ten months out of every year, playing to crowds that expected an all-out effort. Straightforward, rough, and frantic, Ike and Tina and the Ikettes made their name as rhythm-and-blues stars on the stage-not in the studio. Although they were frequently heard on black radio, their exposure on white (Top Forty) radio was erratic, at least until the advent of FM "heavy" stations. Their following among white youth consisted of those with an appetite for soul or those who had encountered their live show (as I did in a bar in North Beach).

The Revue consists of Mr. and Mrs. Turner, the three lovely Ikettes, the Kings of Rhythm on horns, guitar, bass, and a drummer. The Kings of Rhythm provide a classy touch, although their potential is usually kept very much in the background. Ike's lead guitar, too, is incredibly understated, considering his brilliance. Yet such self-restraint is an outstanding feature of the Turners' consummate professionalism. Ike builds a song carefully; anything held back now will simply provide a bigger punch later. The Ikettes sing, dance, and occasionally play maracas. They are essential to the vitality of the show; their choreography translates the rhythmic structure of each song into visual terms. To an effete spectator, it could easily seem corny: the Ikettes hopping around like possessed go-go girls with the Kings of Rhythm swaying from side to side in unison. But that's precisely where the Ike and Tina Revue is at; that is, music that moves and is made to move to.

Then there's Tina. Tina Turner is in her thirties, a mother of four, and is just about the most beautiful woman in show biz. She's an earthy singer and a phenomenal dancer. The quality of her voice is unexceptional, in comparison to Aretha's, but her intensely emotional delivery is fully equal to Janis Joplin's; both have a raw-edged wail of pain that really cuts through you. Like Janis, she makes the transition from one extreme-show blues-to the other-hard rock-with utmost agility. She is a Sex Goddess and plays the role to the hilt, managing to infuse as much nuance into every line as the audience cares to dig. When she caresses the microphone in a certain, very suggestive way, she exudes more sexuality through her fingertips than Jim Morrison has in his whole body. And her dancing ... well, James Brown might be better, perhaps ... But he might not.

Ike and Tina were, and are, bigger in England than they are here. In 1966, Phil Spector, a living legend ever since his production of such hits as the Ronettes' "He's a Rebel" or the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost that Loving Feeling," decided to produce Ike and Tina. "River Deep-Mountain High," found on the album of the same name, was the resulting master-piece. In that song, Tina's voice is carried to soaring crescendos with the addition of heavy echo effects, strings, and vocal back-up. The entire album hears the stamp of Mr. Spector's influence, for better or worse, and sounds quite unlike any other Ike and Tina album. The synthesis of funky soul and extravagant production achieved on this album was probably ahead of its time. The single, "River Deep-Mountain High," rose to the Top Three in England, but never got off the ground in the U. S. Program directors of Top Forty stations here tended to lump it into the R and B bag. Explains Ike: "The white stations said it was R and B, the black stations said it was too white. The song had no home in America. I think it was five years ahead of most people." Such over-simple categorization threatened to kill the chances of another of Ike's songs, "Peaches and Cream," recorded by the Ikettes. The song had a Marvin Gaye-type sound, but the stations in Los Angeles said it wasn't Pop. It went on to sell 60,000 copies in Los Angeles, thereby proving its pop appeal. Ike feels that the hipped FM stations are an improvement, their programming less rigid and more sensitive.

Ike has had difficulties not only with radio, but with television and record companies, as well. Before doing the album with Spector, Ike had signed and recorded with around five or six other labels. There was great inconsistency in quality, much overlap in material, and generally poor promotion. Television, meanwhile, feared that the public couldn't digest the sexual overtones of Ike and Tina's music. (Their image was a bit raunchier than it now, particularly after Tina discovered see-through apparel in Paris.) When Shindig considered them for a show, the head of ABC said No, Tina was too wild-although, as Ike protests, neither Tina nor the Ikettes "ever bumps or grinds. Their hips only move from side to side." After various Hollywood agencies pressured the network to air Ike and Tina, they finally appeared on Hollywood A-Go-Go, (One story has it that a network exec swore that Shinding would be cancelled if Ike and Tina appeared. When they did, the program was killed the next week.) Not long ago, they played on the EdSullivan show; Tina had to change the line "the more I grease you, the slicker you get" and the camera was kept trained well above Tina's waist. But then, the same thing was done to Elvis when he appeared on Sullivan's show, so what's new? (Incidentally, Elvis and Ike were both discovered by the same man, Sam Phillips, a Memphis exec credited with discovering B.B. King, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lowis, Carl Perkins, Charlic Rich, Rufus Thomas, and Roy Orbison.)

A tremendous boost to Ike and Tina's career came last year when the Rolling Stones asked them to join the bill for their tour of the U.S. Although Ike and Tina had played an increasing number of pop festivals in recent years, they could always use more exposure to young people. And in the minds of many of those young people, there is great status attached to touring with the Stones. (Unfortunately, they didn't accompany the Stones as far as Boston.) Additionally, the tour further influenced them in favor of white rock; they began trying to find hits by white rock artists that would fit into their kind of show-"Honky Tonk Women," for example.

If you missed Ike and Tina's Sumerthing concert in Harvard Stadium, you had another chance two weeks ago. The Revue returned to Boston for a show at the Arena. The crowd wasn't too big and the acoustics were so bad that they had to play at absolute minimum volume, so it must be counted as an off-night. Still an off-night with Ike and Tina is more exciting than most concerts I've seen lately. After a too-loud, too-heavy set by a group called Osmosis, the Revue took over. Usually, the Kings of Rhythm do a lengthy, swinging warm-up; this night, however, the Kings and the Ikettes came on together and went straight to business with "Piece Of My Heart," as crisply as ever it's been done. The Ikettes sang three other songs before Ike and Turner came on, including "The Tinaroo," designed to explain where their unique moves come from, and "Bend Over, Let Me See You Shake a Tailfeather."

Ike and Tina took the stage and-oh no-oh yes-Tina sings "I Want To Take You Higher." Followed by "Son Of a Preacher Man" and then "River Deep-Mountain High." "River Deep" was a mild disappointment to me because no effort was made to reproduce the arrangement or fullness of sound of the recorded version; on the other hand, if a live rendition could never approach Spector's "wall of sound," why not speed it up and inject it with soul? But without doubt, everyone got off on "Honky Tonk Women," complete with razzle-dazzle choreography. Then "Come Together," sung in Tina's fiercest, grittiest voice. Next came their version of Credence Clearwater's "Proud Mary." For two verses, it was kept very soft and lifting, but when exploded into hard-driving rock with the rhythm just tightened-up enough to sound black. It was a perfect showcase piece for their art of withholding, easingly, and then laying on, heavily, the most powerful licks in a song.

Changing the pace, Tina sang one of the classic songs you would expect to hear if you were seeing them in Las Vegas-"I've Been Loving You Too Long." After that, a song called "All I Can Do Is Cry," which led into one of Tina's standard raps with the audience-on the subject of women's rights. Her message, in brief, being that women want a piece of the action, too; how can the men, chasing it down on the streets, expect the women to sit home alone? Next came two songs made famous by Aretha, "Baby I Love You" and "Respect." Following those, we heard "Soul Clap" and were treated to the rare sound of an Ike Turner guitar solo. For the briefest moment, Ike took over and showed us just how mean he can be; we winced, shuddered, and were immediately left wishing for more. The next song "I Smell Trouble," also had something nice to offer. Near the end of the song, Tina would sing a line alone and Ike's guitar would duplicate the line, note for note, with identical phrasing. Again, it was all too short, but so sweet. The show closed with "Land Of a Thousand Dances" in a burst of strobe-light flashes, but unfortunately without the finishing touch. The climax of most shows (as at the Summerthing gig) features Ike shooting a cloud of fog from a fire extinguisher across the strobe-lit stage, swirling through the blur of Tina and the Ikettes.

Ike explained in a recent press conference that he and Tina had begun only in the last couple of years to pay as much attention to records as they paid to their show. They have been listening to white rock groups such as Ten Years After, Credence Clearwater, and the Beatles, with a more careful car. Ike said he's become able to intuit the exact mood of an artist at the moment he made a given recording. "I've started looking for the subconscious mind on records. Take Paul McCartney; he knows just what goes into a record. Motown knows. But, like, the Stones-they'll try a lotta things and see what happens, you know? With the Stones, there's lots of luck." The Turners have no lack of admiration for the Stones, but luck simply isn't part of their style of craftsmanship. "Why, the Stones," Ike states, "sound better jamming in the dressing room before a show than they ever do in a show or on record... Keith Richards is one of the best. But he can be hitting the wrong notes, completely messing up, and the fans'll be screaming their heads off anyway. [The fans] can't tell the difference-or don't care."

Clearly, Ike and Tina have never enjoyed the luxury (mixed blessing?) of uncritical fans. Few groups have. But I was struck, in hearing them speak on WBCN and at a press conference, by their genuine innocence, which bordered on naivete. One would expect musicians who have been in the business as long as the Turners to come on with blase, weary, super-cool. But not in this case; Ike and Tina seem terribly young at heart and possessed of artistic ideals. They are excited by the turns their career has taken, yet firmly enough grounded in a tradition so as not to lose their heads. And considering how successfully they've adapted hits by groups like the Beatles, Stones, and Credence, it is amazing to see how little acquainted they are with rock as yet. They've only scratched the surface. When Ike mentioned Clapton at the conference, he struggled to recall

Clapton's group, and finally came up with "Yardbirds" in a you-may-have-heard-of-them tone of voice. When asked if they planned to do other Stones numbers, Tina said Yes, there was one... Another struggle to recall. Tina began humming it and then sang, "I was born in a cross-fire hurricane..." Immediately, all of us sharp young things shouted Jumping Jack Flash! Right, right, that's it.

The possibilities that exist! Of course, "rock" music is only one small part of the musical picture, but it is probably a genre more compatible with the other elements in Ike and Tina's sound than most. Certainly, it is where the young folks are going. Let's face it, the musical tastes of American youth are going to continue pressing closer and closer to a complete black-white synthesis (among other things). The vast majority of indigenous American music reflects some combination of two basic forces: black rhythm and creative energy, and white melodies and instruments. In the most recent Ike and Tina, we are witnessing a cross-fertilization between their cumulative style and the style of groups like the Beatles and the Stones, whose style is in itself a cross-fertilization between the late-Fifties crooners and black artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and so on. Yet another revolution in the spiral. Obviously, as the case of the Beatles or Stones illustrates, white pop music would not be where it is today without liberal borrowing from black music. But a more complicated thing is occurring when black artists begin doing Beatle tunes, as we find happening increasingly.

One result of Ike and Tina's growing concern with recordings is that Ike is producing their albums now. Their last release, Come Together, on the Liberty label, has a very basic, uncluttered sound. It contains mostly songs written by Ike, as well as "Honky Tonk Women," "Come Together," and "I Want To Take You Higher." Their upcoming album should be equally good. It will include a superb "Get Back" and "Proud Mary."

It is pointless to speculate too much where Ike and Tina are going, beyond their next album. It's safe to say that they won't fade away, however. With their eclecticism and firm grasp of so many styles, they will never be without an audience. They are too versatile to lose either the R and B connoisseurs or the Las Vegas crowd merely because youth digs them as well. And their recipe for live entertainment, corny or not, will always generate a lot of excitement. I mean, exuberance and Sex are not matters of trendy fashion, are they?

Ike does speak of one trend in music in which they are certainly participating. We're moving away from rock, he feels, and back to the sounds of the 1956-59 period. "When you buy a Rolls Royce today," he asks, "you know what you're getting? A 1948 Buick." But it isn't simply a return to the past; rather, as he says, "we're trying to get that old feeling back and then add some of the new tricks we've been learning." Ike and Tina, with Phil Spector's help, have already fully recaptured the feeling of the late Fifties in parts of the "River Deep Mountain High" album-and added something as well. And if people ever start really dancing again at concerts, it will surely be at an Ike and Tina show. Wake up and come together, people.

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