TAKIN' BACK MY NAME
The Confession of Ike Turner
By Ike Turner with Nigel Cawthorne
Virgin. 256 pp. $26.95
Whenever the category of great rock-and-roll pioneers pops up in a casual conversation, many names are called: Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley and Little Richard, among others, and rightfully so. Their contributions to the development of rock-and-roll are undeniable.
The same can be said for Mississippi native Ike Turner, whose early R&B records were extremely influential for many rock stars. For instance, Turner's "Rocket 88" on the Chess label is one of the major records to have influenced Little Richard, who later copied the song's introduction verbatim for his mega-hit "Good Golly Miss Molly."
Yet despite the fact that icons like Little Richard have publicly praised the man for his enormous contribution to the music, Turner is seldom mentioned as one of rock's pioneers. It's as if, before his discovery of and his subsequent abuse of his wife, Tina, Ike Turner didn't exist.
In fact, he still barely exists outside the confines of Tina Turner's autobiography, "I, Tina," and "What's Love Got to Do With It?," the movie based on that book. While both the movie and the book do a more than adequate job of documenting Ike's dark side, neither provides any real insight into the socioeconomic conditions that shaped him.
"Takin' Back My Name" is Turner's attempt to redeem himself and reclaim his place in music history. First and foremost, it is important to understand that although the book is being billed as a response to Tina's book, it is much more than that. Turner tells the story of his life from boyhood to the present. He writes vividly of being sexually molested by a woman as a preteen and recalls in great detail the horrors of seeing his father and later another black man lynched right before his eyes. He also recounts his exploits as a traveling musician working the chitlin circuit with blues legends such as Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williams and Charles Brown, as well as his times traveling the South as a talent scout for Modern Records--his first break in the music biz.
As for Tina's accusations that he was addicted to cocaine and abused his wives, especially her, Ike doesn't dodge the issue but does attempt to downplay the incidents, a typical maneuver for an abuser. In his words, "Tina and me, we had our fights, but we ain't had no more fights than anybody else." He also insists that he is not the ogre portrayed in "What's Love Got to Do With It?": "I got a temper, and I'm dominating and all that [expletive] about what I want as far as music is concerned, but I ain't what they had me be."
Turner raises strong objections to the rape scene in the movie, categorically denying that any such incident happened in real life. It is also important to note that the allegation does not appear anywhere in Tina's book, nor has she publicly accused Ike of such an act. Because Ike signed away his right to sue the studio, he had no legal recourse against the scene's inclusion. "I think that the rape in that movie was the worst thing they could have ever done," he writes. According to him, although the movie gave him a very high profile, more than anything else it led to him becoming a kind of persona non grata in the music business.
"Takin' Back My Name" is a strong book, and not merely because it gives the reader Ike's side of the Ike and Tina Turner story. It also helps the reader to understand the historical circumstances that helped make him the man he is today. That alone is worth the price of the book.
Charlie R. Braxton, a poet, playwright and journalist who writes frequently about music and pop culture.
CAPTION: "Takin' Back My Name" is Ike Turner's shot at redemption.