Premature R&B

November 7, 2017

Most folks who know about Ike and Tina Turner have a particular picture: Tina out in front, super-energetic on the videos, prancing with Jagger, chasing Max from Bartertown. When they even think about Ike Turner, it's the bad male abuser. That's real. Not to be forgotten. But what folks mostly miss in the gender-political mix is how important and influential Ike Turner was in the development of American electric roots music. It's a fathoms deep black thing. Ike was a race man. Most people didn't hear Ike Turner's music until the late 60s breakthroughs, and by then it seemed that it was Tina that was making the difference. I think Tina was a genius, but I'm so old school that I prefer the early, Ike-manacled Tina to the Hollywood superstar. The crossover stardom of the Proud Mary performances was prepared by rootsier material. Listen to this 1966 Tangerine single of Dust My Broom. (Tangerine was Ray Charles's own label.) It was enormously popular in the UK as a model for Northern Soul .



But before all that, Ike Turner and the Rhythm Kings were establishing a hard driving Mississippi to Memphis beat with a snarling lead guitar that provided the template for both urban blues and rock and roll at its nastiest. You can't listen to Albert Collins or Otis Rush without hearing Ike Turner. The rolling, urbane r&b of New Orleans in the late 1940s is pulled back down into the loam, but with an amazing nasty, urbane attitude. Ike was a major player at Sun Records, and the records he made with The Rhythm Kings at Sun are wonderful. It's interesting, though, how tame the Sun commercial recordings were, compared to the records they made in Chicago for Cobra, when they were the main backing band of Chicago blues artists like Buddy Guy and Otis Rush. Here's the Sun recording of "Matchbox," which was entitled "I'm Gonna Forget About You," made in 1953 and intended for commercial release, though wasn't actually released until a few years ago.


I love this recording, but compare it to a Cobra version five years later, now labeled "Matchbox." You can hear B.B. King rotated through James Brown. In any case, Ike's guitar is unforgettable -- contained, cutting, truly cobra-like. Not a voice inclined to compromise.











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