RIP Ike Turner

It seems that just about everybody, at one time or another, hated Ike Turner (hell, even the Black Panthers once beat his ass onstage at the Oakland Civic Auditorium). Now dead at age 76, it seems pretty unlikely that the pop revisionists are gonna pull their heads out of their asses and set the record straight on who Ike Turner really was: an unparalleled, creative giant who elevated early 50s R&B primitivism to a sophisticated, soulful altitude few others could reach. Sure, he was a hot head, a hard head, a coke head, but Turner was also one of the key historic figures in American music, one whose achievements, both on the bandstand and in the recording studio, were quite unfairly diminished by a certain shrieking sister's pointed--and shrewdly self-serving -- character assassination.

From his start as a talent scout for Memphis tastemaker Sam Phillips' soon-to-be-Sun Phillips Recording Service, Turner was responsible for a string of killer-diller blues disks by the likes of Howlin' Wolf and Junior Parker and when he planted himself on the piano bench at those sessions, the results assumed a luminous, driving quality that always characterized the Turner musicality. There's also the little matter of the Ike-A&R'd Jackie Brenston "Rocket 88" and it's nominal designation as the first ever rock & roll record -- Turner had established himself as One for the Ages before anyone really knew who the hell he was.

A record man with an unbeatable ear, he was also a phenomenal musician; Ike and his Kings of Rhythm always traded in hot, progressive music, fraught with tension and atmosphere and put over with a swift, streamlined flair, and despite all the lurid trappings of his freaky superstar flight with Tina. his wily, hit-hungry sense of commercialism, the hard time served and more than several cases of extremely bad blood, Ike was always at his best on the bandstand. For all you dopes who wrote him off as a contemptible wifebeater, start kicking yourself now, because his performances (despite the de rigeur presence of his caterwauling bimbo chorale the Ikettes) were invariably electrifying. He coaxed some serious, gut-bucket funk out of that ax, and when he wound it up and started stomping his foot, lids flipped, synapses short-circuited and the audience was transported into another world, that fifth dimension where the blues and rock and roll commingle, not as father and child but as a flowing, natural, primal essence. Being allowed to spend anytime therein was a blessing and that music was -- like its creator -- both beautiful and dangerous.

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