Taking back his name
Yours truly møtte Ike Turner under Notodden Blues Festival 10-årsjubileum. Ike Turner Revue var ett av de tre stora affischnamnen før festivalen. Han var mærkbart spænd och nervøs infør møtet med pressen på presskonferensen, troligen av tidigare negativa orsaker. Men nær han gav en personlig, smått exklusiv intervju, øppnade han upp och glimrade av humoristisk sympati. Før att ge våra engelskspråkliga læsare (inte minst Mr. Turner himself) en chans, ær Redaktør Barretta enig med mitt førslag, att publisera intervjuen på orginalspråket.
Mr Ike Turner, the last record many of us heard with you was Joe Louis Walker’s ”Great Guitars” album. Did you enjoy that session?
-Oh yeah, definitely so, man. He has a lot of talent. I didn’t have the chance to spend that much time with him, just a couple of days. We just came up with this song that I did with him – ”Murder in the first degree”. I think he changed it. I’m not sure he did, to – ”Love at the first degree”. It’s better, ha, ha,ha.
Joe Louis is a great artist. He kind of helped me somewhat getting back to the blues. I hadn’t played ”Rocket 88” on the piano since I recorded it. And we’re talking about 1951. That was before he was burned…born, ha, ha, ha. When I played with him, we played in London and a few places. So, then I got in to it, the earliest stuff that I did. Well before, man, that was like… to hear that stuff… I hated it. Now, I really had a chance to listen to it, and I really liked it.
We had a ball putting it together. I put together one song, Bonnie Raitt put together a song. Ah, what’s his name, the other guitar player? Gatemouth Brown! Yeah, he did a side on Joe Louis Walker. Oh, they called it ”Great Guitars” and for fact, all the great guitars that did the album with him was at New York, at Central Park.
Did you meet all the others?
-Yeah, yeah, yeah, and it was fun.
What circumstances brought you to the project?
-I met his manager, Rick Bates. And he came to me and said that Joe Louis Walker wanted to do an album. But he wanted one side produced by each guitar player. And so, he told me about all the guitar players he had. I think he wanted Clapton to do a tune. Whoever, all of the acts that he had…And so, I did it.
You didn’t only play the guitar, you played other instruments too.
-Yeah, yeah, on that particular one. I think I played the piano, the guitar and the drums. [Piano, guitar, percussion and bass].
Are you used to it? I mean, do you teach the guys that you hire for the band?
-Pretty much so. I’m very fast on teaching guys. Like, when I came over here, I only had two rehearsals with the band. I wondered when I first got here… but it sure came up great. We made most of the papers there. So tonight, I got to train another drummer, because I used B.B.King’s drummer last night. I don’t know his name, but he was in the band that played before B.B. went on yesterday. [Totto Hansen].
You see, I didn’t bring my own band, I just brought the girls and myself. What happened is, when I played in London earlier this year, with Joe Louis Walker, this is where I met Otis Grand. I’ve had problems trying to get my whole show overseas, because it’s fourteen of us. This is a lot of airfares for the promoters to pay, to fly over here. Otis Grand told me that I should use his band. At that time, I thought he had a band of his own, that he played with constantly. It would be a great idea to come over here and have one band that I would use. I could rehearse with them and teach them my style. And when I’m in America, I can use another band. So, I only had to bring the girls.
I didn’t know at that time that Otis didn’t have his own band. That he picked some guys from here some, and some from there. We do on stage maybe 20 or 25 songs, for 50 minutes. We’re right out of one song into another one. And to put 20-25 songs into somebody’s head…The guy have to be very good and have a good memory. I have a little trouble here, trying to put it in. I’m kind of in a little bind here. But most of them are very good, now you remember that, the group. But there are some I have a problem with. Like, we get past one song, about the time I teach him the next song, he forgot the other song.
I always considered myself being an organizer. I’m very good at teaching singers, I’m very good at staging a show, to entertain people. But I never included myself. I never applied this to me as an artist.
But you were elected to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame, in ’91 was it?
How do you consider yourself? Being a rock’n’roll, a soul, a blues or a R&B artist?
-I don’t really know. Let me say this; I don’t think that there’s a characterizing. Rock’n’roll is nothing but Boogie Woogie with stuff on top of it. And if you’re black, they name it rhythm’n’blues and if you’re white, they name it rock’n’roll. So, I don’t give a…You know. I don’t really cut records according to what’s pop, what’s R&B and what’s country, or what. I just record what I feel, wherever I am, when you’re like that. Sometimes it’s said; this guy is rock’n’roll, this guy is blues, this guy is that. So, I don’t have a home, as far as with my music.
Like the first song on my new album – it sound like it could be a spiritual, it sound like it could be a country. You don’t really know what it is.
The Whammy bar
What guitar do you like to play?
-Well, right now I’m playing a Fender Stratocaster. I want to try a Gibson, but anyway, we didn’t get one. So, my main instrument is Stratocaster, because of the Whammy bar. When I first bought this Fender guitar, the Whammy bar that I used on stage…Everybody today seem to think that’s really unique. Wow! This is a great way to play. It was really an accident, because I didn’t know what the whammy bar was for. It was made for tremolo, WHAM, WHAM, WHAM, WHAM. I just played it, was shaking it and everybody think it’s great. So, I will be shaking it for a while.
Any amplifier in particular that you like?
-Fender Twin Reverb. I can get it on our rider. But I carry the guitar with me.
Do you practice all the time?
-No, ha, ha, ha! I’m just beginning to develop callouses on my fingers, because I haven’t played a lot.
The new CD
Any other recent recordings that you are involved in?
-Oh, I keep forgetting to mention you that. I have a small…A new CD called ”Without Love, I have nothing at all”. It’s not available in the stores. You can only get through Juke Blues magazine. I’m really shopping for a record deal and I haven’t had a chance to go around to the record companies yet. So far I just pressed up a few of them. There’s some interest in London and there is some interest in America. But you know, it hasn’t officially been released yet. I just put on my label, to get it started
Who is playing on the record?
-Oh! Me! Yeah, mostly me.
Let’s talk a bit about history here. ”Rocket 88” is considered to be one of the very first rock’n’roll songs. But wasn’t it just another song, simular to other songs you had?
-To me it was just another song I was doing. When people names stuff rock-’n’roll…Rock’n’roll is nothing but boogie woogie, with paint on it. When I was doing ”Rocket 88”, I was just doing what Pinetop Perkins taught me to play on the piano. I added what he taught me to what I felt I had in myself. And so, they called it rock’n’roll.
So, you had other similar songs, that maybe wasn’t even recorded?
-Yeah. Jackie Brenston did the vocal on it. But for some reason, Sam Phillips felt that he was gonna record me as a single artist. They had two records out at one time. He put that one under Jackie’s name, and another one under my name.
We wrote that one on our way up to Memphis. B.B. King set up the whole situation. B.B. recommended that we would go to Sam Phillips and cut the record. In reality, the story on it…We drove up there and on the way up there somebody else said; – ”What are we gonna record”? So, somewhere on down the line, a Rocket 88 Oldsomobile car…they were brand new then, I think in ’49, I think this was in ’50. We started writing the song about the car. So between the whole band we all wrote the song. We got twenty dollars apiece. In those days, man in the ’50s, black people in the South…We didn’t recognize contracts that much. And we didn’t recognize marriges that much either.
The talent scout
So, how did it all get started?
-I started with The Tophatters, it was thirty-two of us. Then we broke up into two groups, one The Dukes of Swing and we named my group Kings of Rythm. Then I started to play with Sonny Boy Williams. [Note: Williams!] I worked with Sonny Boy a pretty long time, I don’t know, maybe a year or two. I think in Helena, Arkansas, where he used to broadcast over there, King Biscuits, you know. This is where I met Robert Nighthawk and started to play with him.
Right, and you worked with Howlin’ Wolf, B B King and others…
-Yeah, and Little Junior Parker, Elmore James…I did some stuff with Muddy Waters, Little Walter. I used to play with the ole’ men like Robert Nighthawk. Yeah, I did a lot when I was a kid.
Was it mostly in Sun Studios in Memphis, or in various places?
-Various places. Like the Bihari brothers with Modern, RPM, Flair and Crown record labels…They would come down in Mississippi, they hired me as a talent scout. And I would go all over Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and find out different artists for them. I would get their name…I go to the poolroom and ask them if there was any singers around. And then, I would go to the church and ask them, was it any singers around. Then I would just get their name and address. And when the Bihari brothers would come down from the record company, we would go all over South and record these people.
– And I would be writing the songs on my way to get them. Because I knew that they didn’t have any reasonable material. For fact, I wrote seventy-eight hit records for the company and they would pay me for writing songs. Anyway, I didn’t have any songwriters, so I would do so. So I was sure to get the money. All the songs that I wrote…I just put it in different names, for the record company. My mother’s name, Beatrice, Phillip, Reace and Tina’s sister, Alliene Bullock.
And I just turned my name backwards. Ike is Icky, Renrut is Turner, spelled backwards. And I didn’t get no money, ha, ha, ha! I didn’t know anything about publishing companies. I didn’t know anything about writers royalties and they kept me green, you know. I used to write songs so fast like this, like snapping my fingers. Some of them didn’t even have a title, for I just did the song. You know, I have no regrets, but I learned; it’s better to learn later than never. Like today, everything that they could find that I did, has been recopyrighted. My wife knows more about what song is mine than I do.
But you walked away with a whole lotta memories though?
-Yeah, yeah, yeah. Ha, ha! I dig, you’re right, which don’t pay bills, right.
Did you sign them guys for the company?
-Well, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah!
So, how was working with Sam Phillips?
-Oh great, man! As great it could be in the South. It was fun. He was a good engineer, man. We cut Howlin’ Wolf in the studio, ”Moanin’ at Midnight”, ”How many more years”. All that stuff was cut in the studio. The Bihari brothers would come through and we would record… like exemple ”Moanin’ at Midnight”. And they would give us like 15-20 dollars. They would leave town and then Leonard Chess would come down. And we would cut the same song for him. That’s why you can see the same song on both labels. I don’t really remember what was happening between Sam Phillips and I. He just faded away.
It was another guitar player down there named Pat Hare. Did you work with him?
-Pat who? I don’t remember. The guitar player that I remember from those days was M.T. Murphy. Today, you guys call him Matt Murphy. Well, we where always playing together with Little Junior Parker, all them in one band. And another guy called Willie Nix.
Did you ever run into Elvis Presley down there?
-Yeah, Elvis… I didn’t know who Elvis was. This is a little short story. I was playing in West Memphis on 11th Street, Matt Murphy and all of us. There was a white guy that was driving a gravel truck. And he used to come around to the back of the club. They wouldn’t mix in those days, in the South. Blacks and whites wouldn’t go to the same club. He used to back up his truck to the back of the club. I would pull out the piano from the wall and he would stand behind the piano, to watch me play. But I didn’t know him. He had never recorded at that time.
Anyway, long story short – Years later, when we opened up the International Hotel in Las Vegas, which is now the Hilton. Elvis Presley was in the main room. And Red Foxx, Ike & Tina and some other acts was in the lounge. When you get ready to go to the stage of the hotel, you have to go down back. You didn’t go out in the audience, they had a back row out. One night, I had 470,000 dollars at the dice table. Ha, ha, ha! And I was coming to the back, I didn’t put the money in a cage. I just put it on the roller thing. And my guy who ran my spotlights. We were pushing this cart down the hall. And this guy come down, which was Elvis. He walked up to me and said: -”You don’t remember me, do you”? And I said. -”No”? He said: -”I’m the guy you used to put behind the piano”. Well, WOW! So anyway, that’s about the length of it.
You worked some with Phil Spector too. Who was really the producer, was it you or him?
-He was the producer of ”River Deep”, you know. Spector is a good guy, but he’s a nut. Ha, ha, ha! You know, I love him, but he’s unpredictable. He’s okay as long as he don’t drink.
-Yeah, ha, ha, ha! They used to say it was bad for Indians to drink, but it’s bad for anybody. When they drink they lose their cool, a lot of us. Like when we played with Sonny Boy, I would never get paid, you know. He would drink up all the money. One day I would say: -”Why do you drink up all the money”? He said: -”Well, you should drink”! Anyway, it was fun. Last time I saw Sonny Boy was in Milwaukee, we played there with him. This was in the Ike & Tina days, just before he died.
Yeah, I never did drink, but I went over on the other end, with cocaine. But anyway, God helped me through it, so today, I’m healthy and fine. November 5th, I’ll be 66. So, I’m hanging in there. I’m trying to catch up with B.B.
Would you please introduce The Ikettes. Who are they now and who were they then?
-Okay, we have…they call her Youly and her name is Yolanda Thomas. Incidentally, she was just in the center fold of Jet magazine, the beauty of the week. And then, what’s her name? Randy Love, a singer-dancer. And Nina Mills is also on the act. Hills, I’m sorry, Nina Hills. I know a lot of Ninas. My new wife, what’s her name now? Jeanette Turner. She’s my wife for two years now. She’s my lady for, let me see…we’ve been together for nine years. So it will be ten years.
Number one, The Ikettes have to be able to sing. Number two, they have to able to dance and number three, they can’t be fat. They have to be able to perform. Yeah, they could be sexy, it wouldn’t hurt, right? But it’s more like…when you get my age and like James Brown…You know, you do a little bit and let them do it. ’cause they have the wind, the air to keep it going. Our show will definitely start off real slow, slow, slow… And then, later on, the men would put their hands in their pocket. Ha, ha, ha! That’s about it. You don’t wanna know about me, just them, ha, ha, ha.
I’ll get back to you Mr. Turner. But who were they back then?
-Oh well man, I don’t really remember, we had so many Ikettes. When we started out, we had some guys who was Ikettes. Ha, ha! And then, it finally faded over to girls.
What are your future plans right now?
-Well, my future plans is; I wanna record these girls individually. And then, I wanna cut a blues album on me. But all of it, original stuff, you know. When I listen to the blues today, it’s like they all sounds similar. I wanna do something different, to try to add to the blues flavor. You know, I’m a great admirer of Clapton. I really love his playing. I don’t wanna sound wrong with this here, but some of his stuff that he cuts… I don’t understand how it makes it to the top. As there’s other people around, who makes it twice as well, but they never get to the foot. You know, it’s politics. Take nothing away from Bonnie Raitt. She’s a great singer and I admire her success. But there’s a girl at down where I live…Ruby & The Red Hots. Man! I think she sings rings around. This girl put bumps all over me when she sings. But she’s still down there! Over here in Europe, in this area…the people they accept a record for what the record has to offer. It has nothing to do with race or politics. If the record has it…In America you never hear about it if it ain’t a lot of stuff under the table.
B.B. King made his ”Blues Summit” and Joe Louis Walker his ”Great Guitars” album. If you’ll get the same oppurtunity, who would you consider to invite for the project?
-Oooh! I don’t know. Wow! This is a big one! I really can’t answer that, because I really don’t know. Most times, people have some acts that they really like. I mean, I don’t have any in particular that I admire. I admire them all, you know.
Ike & Tina
-Oh, incidentally, my book, ”Taking my name back”, should be out in September. It should have been out two years ago, but we tied up in legal…It should be over by the 21st of August, and then the book should be coming out. And, incidentally, Little Richard did the intro to my book.
You know, it would be some parts in there about Ike & Tina, but it won’t be anything negative. Some parts of the book would make you cry, some would make you laugh. Naturally, it have to be some parts about Ike & Tina, I couldn’t avoid it. But I’m not gonna try to defend, or undo what’s been done. All I could say about whatever’s been done, it’s been done and it’s water under the bridge. I have no regrets of my life.
Then, we can see the problem from your angle.
-Yeah, yeah, okay. And they’ll probably start working on my movie sometime in November. They are doing a complete movie of my life story. It will not be based on any negativity. It will be more about my life, from a kid, how I came up and why I came through. We’re having time to give the younger generation today inspiration. Regardless of the obstacles that you have to overcome, how you can make it. So, the movie is gonna show how I made it. If I made it…You can, you know.
-I was back to Clarksdale, Mississippi, my home town, last week and that’s it. And man, I looked at the kids around there. I couldn’t believe that I came about that place to where I am today. I really felt good about it now. When I leave here my wife and I are going back to Clarksdale. I’m gonna buy some property there and try to set up a little thing. We’ll try to give the younger generation some inspiration.
What’s this about Clarksdale, why does everybody seem to come from there?
-I don’t know. Maybe it’s something in the water we drink. I really never thought about it, we just came from Clarksdale, you know.
A lot of artists came from Stax Records, once they started in Memphis…I think there’s a lot of talent in the South, mainly because of the conditions down there. But you couldn’t do nothing in Clarksdale back when I started. They didn’t even have a music store there. When we would break a guitar string, we had to tie it together, until we would have a chance to buy a new one. Yeah, we just came from Clarksdale, you know.
Tina – The Movie
-But, you know, I would like to stress this too, since we’re on a write-up. It’s like a lot of people believe that the movie is the true story, that Tina did. I don’t wanna debate on Ike & Tina, but I have to say this one thing…That movie was the biggest lie and even Tina said that it’s a lie. And she don’t like the movie. But she started put gas on the fire by supporting it.
What happened was…Back in 1988, I was approached by my attorney that they probably would do a movie on Tina. But Tina wouldn’t do it with me. So I said – I don’t care. She do it with who she wanna do it with. And they offered me 50,000 dollars to sign that I wasn’t gonna sue them if somebody has played me in the movie. And so I said – Give me the 50, 000 bucks, and they give me 45,000 dollars. And I signed the thing. I didn’t even read it, but what I did, I signed away my rights to sue them.
And this is how Walt Disney got away with portraying me in the light that they were portraying me in. I have always been a fighter, so… But I have no regrets, man. It’s just like God brought me through the drugs, I know he’ll bring me through this. And I’m really thankful to God, man. Like now, I’m really making a real comeback with my group. With or without a record, with or without a movie. And behind all the negative press behind this movie.
The way I see it, it’s like somebody tried to rape you there.
-Yeah, they really did! Thank you, man, that’s really the God’s truth. And I really appreciate, over here, the exposure. ’Cause in reality, it’s one thing I would never do. I would never sell a kid narcotics and I would never rape a woman. And when they portrayed me as being a rapist, or some stuff like that. That’s terrible, ’cause that’s unforgivable! If a man, not just a man, anybody, rape somebody. That’s unforgiveble! And if anybody sell a kid narcotics, a young kid, that’s unforgivable to me. And man, I would never do it. It really hurt me that they did it…And it hurt me even more that some people even feel that I would do something like that.
I can’t do nothing about it, the dirt is already done. But, you know, God will bring me through it.
But you can hit them back now?
-Yeah, but I’m not gonna try to hit them back. I’m just gonna be me. You know, I feel that when you try to prove something to someone…You start trying to say, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it! I think that make people believe you did. I just want to leave that behind. I don’t think I should drill on it in my movie. I think people are more interested in what I came through, what I am today, and where I seem to go from here.
Anything additional you want to talk about, to take it home with?
-No, no, I just want to say that I really enjoy myself in Norway. Because I had started losing confidence in my ability of what I do. And I know, I know that I know what I do. But sometimes, man, you just get tired of fighting and trying to prove yourself. That’s the worst thing in the world to do…Just do what you do, the best of your ability. And you either accept people for what they are, or you don’t. So, in other words, man.If people don’t know me, I think they do themself an injustice. Because, as a whole, I think I’m a good person.
Palle Paulsson / Jefferson #116
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