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Ike Turner, 76; Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Lived Life of Blues

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ike Turner, 76, a blues and rock innovator who achieved musical renown in the 1960s and 1970s with his then-wife, Tina Turner, and saw his reputation overshadowed by her allegations of spousal abuse, died Dec. 12 at his home in San Marcos, Calif., near San Diego. The cause of death was not reported.

Mr. Turner was a bandleader, songwriter and talent scout, and as an aggressive stylist on piano and guitar, he was credited with influencing Little Richard and Jimi Hendrix. Earlier this year, he was awarded a Grammy for a solo album.

A protege of blues pianist Pinetop Perkins, Mr. Turner played on a groundbreaking rock 'n roll recording in 1951 ("Rocket 88") and went on to experiment with distorted licks on his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

As a talent scout -- some likened him to a Svengali -- his most dynamic find was Turner. He discovered her in the mid-1950s, when she was named Anna Mae Bullock, and helped shape her wildcat image onstage, complete with stiletto heels and micro-miniskirt.

The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, a "chitlin circuit" touring group, was famous for blending the gut-busting emotion of blues and gospel with incendiary dance movements. The exhilarating act opened for the Rolling Stones, which brought the pair an international reputation beyond the R&B charts.

The Turners' versions of "Proud Mary," "Honky Tonk Woman" and the Phil Spector-produced "River Deep, Mountain High" were among their major hits. They won a 1971 Grammy Award for "Proud Mary," which became their signature number.

But the relationship deteriorated in the early 1970s, according to published accounts. Mr. Turner's cocaine addiction worsened and made his behavior more erratic. He flaunted his womanizing and allegedly assaulted Tina Turner, who grew to chafe under his control.

As she went on to a successful solo career, with hit albums such as "Private Dancer" (1984), Ike Turner descended into his drug addiction and ultimately received a four-year jail sentence for cocaine possession.

He served half the jail sentence before being released in 1991, the year he and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was still incarcerated at the time of the ceremony and soon after began a long struggle to repair his career. In 2001, he released the album "Here and Now" to glowing reviews.

He won a 2007 Grammy Award for "Risin' With the Blues," a traditional blues album. Despite the honor, Mr. Turner acknowledged that he would long be tainted by Tina Turner's allegations against him. The public perception was largely shaped by Tina Turner's 1986 memoir, "I, Tina," as well as the 1993 Hollywood film about the duo, "What's Love Got to Do With It?" starring Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.

Mr. Turner once said the film "assassinated my career," and he blamed his drug addiction for having signed a contract allowing an actor to play him. He continued to deny some of the events as shown in the book and movie. In 1999, his ghostwritten autobiography, "Takin' Back My Name," played down the seriousness of his ex-wife's charges.

"Sure, I've slapped Tina," he said in the book. "We had fights and there have been times when I punched her without thinking. But I never beat her. Man, my mother was a woman. I loved my mother. I did no more to Tina than I would mind somebody doing to my mother in the same circumstances."

Izear Luster Turner Jr. was born Nov. 5, 1931, in Clarksdale, Miss., a birthplace shared by blues guitarists Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. He was raised by his mother, a seamstress, who bought him a piano at 7, when he was awe-struck after hearing boogie-woogie.

Mr. Turner showed early skill as an organizer of musicians. By high school, he had formed a jump blues band modeled after Louis Jordan's group that would become the first incarnation of the Kings of Rhythm. They soon won an audition for Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Studios in Memphis.

"Ike had the best-prepared band that ever came in and asked me to work with them," Phillips once said. "And Ike! What a piano player he was! People don't know that Ike Turner was the first stand-up piano player. Man, he could tear a piano apart and put it together on the same song."

His 1951 cut of "Rocket 88" was regarded by many music historians as one of the first rock 'n roll records and reached the top of the R&B charts. The title extolled the virtues of an Oldsmobile and "cruisin' and boozin' along."

Saxophonist Jackie Brenston, who doubled as the singer, was credited as the bandleader, a common practice among record companies. Mr. Turner, who played piano on the recording, was reportedly too shy to protest.

Mr. Turner found work as a background musician in Memphis with such blues stars as Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy and Elmore James before focusing on his new wife, Tina Turner. He featured her on one of his compositions, "Fool in Love," which sold almost 1 million copies in 1960.

They ground through a series of R&B hits, but Mr. Turner had already developed a reputation as a difficult partner. While working on the 1966 song "River Deep, Mountain High," producer Spector made a deal that Mr. Turner would get musical credit as long as he stayed away from the studio.

It was unclear how many times Mr. Turner married, but his most recent marriage was apparently to singer Jeanette Bazzell. He had at least four children, including two with Tina Turner.

Staff writer Terence McArdle contributed to this report.

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