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Ike Wister Turner (November 5, 1931 - December 12, 2007) was an American guitarist, pianist, bandleader, talent scout, and record producer. Considered to be one of the fathers of rock and roll, his first recording, "Rocket 88" (incorrectly credited to "Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats") in 1951, is considered by some to be the "first rock and roll song" ever. Turner is probably best known for his work with his ex-wife, Tina Turner as one half of the Ike & Tina Turner revue. In a career that lasted half a century, Ike's repertoire included blues, soul, rock, and funk. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991 (with Tina). Turner won two Grammy Awards.
Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on November 5, 1931, to Beatrice Cushenberry, a seamstress, and Izear Luster Turner, a Baptist minister. Ike got his first taste the music business at the age of eight, helping the DJ at a local Clarksdale radio station, WROX.
Turner was soon carrying amplifiers for blues singer Robert Nighthawk, who often played live on WROX. Growing up, Turner's idol Pinetop Perkins helped teach the young Ike to play boogie-woogie on the piano. Ike soon was enamored of other blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Charley Booker, Elmore James, Muddy Waters and Little Walter.
Ike Turner's actual music career began in earnest in the late-1940s where he formed a group he christened Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm. In 1951, the band recorded what some historians have called "the first rock and roll record" with "Rocket 88", credited to Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (this band did not actually exist). Brenston was both the band's saxophonist and the lead vocalist of the song, and on the original Chess release was listed as the song's writer. "Rocket 88" was produced at Sun Studio in Memphis by Sam Phillips. The record was one of the first examples of guitar distortion, which happened by accident when one of the amplifiers was dropped before the recording.
Ike Turner & The Kings of Rhythm settled into local fame in St. Louis where the band locally recorded for a St. Louis label and even appeared on local television shows. Throughout this early period, Turner became a recording scout and A&R man for independent record companies including Sun Records, helping the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Elmore James and Otis Rush get signed. He also became a sideman playing guitar for these blues acts and more. Musically, Turner was known for his hard-hitting guitar style. He was known to put the whammy bar of his Fender Stratocaster to frequent use.
Turner's music career changed drastically after meeting a teenage singer from Nutbush, Tennessee, named Anna Mae Bullock, who demandingly grabbed a microphone during a singing session at one of St. Louis' nightspots and sang a B.B. King song in her now-trademark throated raspy vocals. Bullock's performance impressed Ike so much he allowed Anna to join his band as a background singer. However within a year, Ike's plans for Bullock changed after Anna recorded what he originally stated was a demo for a song that was to be sung by a male vocalist. After hearing her vocals, he let it be released under an independent label and in the process changed the name of the singer from Anna Mae Bullock to Tina Turner - naming her after Sheena - and the name of the band to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. It is believed that this singular act is what propelled Tina Turner into the spotlight. "A Fool in Love" became a national hit in early 1960, reaching the top three in the R&B charts and becoming a top thirty pop hit in the process. From then until 1976, Ike & Tina Turner became one of the most explosive duos in rock & soul music.
After Tina abruptly left Ike after a violent altercation in 1976, Ike lost ground in the national music market. As a solo artist, he struggled to find success after Tina and after releasing two failed solo albums, had found himself facing drug and weapons charges, of which he was convicted in 1989.
When Ike was released from prison in 1993, he was met at the prison gate by Jeanette Bazzell who later became his wife. Jeanette was instrumental in helping Ike rebuild his career. She replaced Tina as Ike's lead singer and eventually they toured the world playing many blues festivals. After the intense negative publicity generated against him as a wife abuser by Tina's movie, "What's Love Got to Do with It", Ike's acceptance in the USA as a legendary blues artist and composer was limited, though better in other countries. During this time he recorded two solo albums in his own studio, and he wrote his autobiography called Taking Back My Name. He also re-recorded "I'm Blue" in a duet style with Billy Rogers. The remake received strong reviews from Billboard Magazine.
Ike was back on the road and back into recording music, which continued until his death. In 2001, Ike released the Grammy-nominated Here & Now album. In 2005, he appeared on the Gorillaz' album, Demon Days, playing piano on the track, "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead". In 2007, Ike won his first solo Grammy in the Best Traditional Blues Album category for the album, Risin' With the Blues. Shortly before his death, a collaboration between Turner and The Black Keys was planned, but the project would never be completed, .
Turner died on December 12, 2007 at 76 years of age at his home in San Marcos, California, near San Diego. Little Richard was asked by the family to speak at the funeral. The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office reported that Turner died from a cocaine overdose complicated by "[...] other significant conditions, such as hypertensive cardiovascular disease and pulmonary emphysema."
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