Ike Turner Dies at 76

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Rock 'n roll pioneer Ike Turner died yesterday after a bout with emphysema. The artist was known both for his work in music and his abusive, womanizing past. Jet magazine features editor Margena Christian interviewed Turner a few months ago. She tells Farai Chideya how Turner felt about his reputation.


Ike Turner was an architect or rock and roll. Some music historians say the first rock track ever made was his 1951 recording, "Rocket 88."

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Ike Turner died at his home near San Diego yesterday. He was 76 years old and the cause of death is unknown.

Jet Magazine features editor Margena Christian got to know a different side of Ike. She interviewed him a few months back and is here to talk about the late musician. Margena joins me now. Welcome.

Ms. MARGENA CHRISTIAN (Features Editor, Jet Magazine): Hi, how are you?

CHIDEYA: I am great.

Now, tell me about your interview with Ike back in August.

Ms. CHRISTIAN: Yes. I spoke with Mr. Turner because at the time, he was going to perform in St. Louis on September 2nd for the Blues - Big Muddy Blues Festival. And one of the organizers had proposed to have an Ike Turner Day. However, the city rejected it because a women's organization, I understand, opposed having a day named in honor of Mr. Turner.

CHIDEYA: So, what did you think of him before you met him and did it change at all?

Ms. CHRISTIAN: When I - before I had spoken with Mr. Turner, I, like many people, only knew of what I saw from the movie and what I'd heard, and that was all I knew. And after I had spoken with him, I found him to be a very colorful, lively man, who was very candid, open and hones with his life, with his past, and who he was, and who he had become. And he was comfortable with his life and what had happened and what transpired, and where he was in his life at that point.

CHIDEYA: So, you grew up in St. Louis where his career began to take off. What else do we know about his early years?

Ms. CHRISTIAN: One thing that I wasn't aware of - he did mention to me about "Rocket 88" and I, in my ignorance, wasn't - I had no idea that it was credited as the first rock and roll song; that combination of RnB and blues fusion. And he mentioned to me that Pinetop Perkins, who was a Mississippi bluesman, actually taught him the boogie-woogie, and he says that Little Richard's, "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny," actually used that - you can see his influence in a lot of the great things he did from his early career. Music was his life, and he was only 19 when he did "Rocket 88."

CHIDEYA: Now, many folks know Ike Turner as the husband of Annie Mae Bullock, better known as Tina Turner. They married in 1959, and their relationship was dramatized in "What's Love Got to do With It?" very difficult, but let's hear a little bit of one of their greatest musical hits, "Proud Mary."

(Soundbite of song, "Proud Mary")

Ms TINA TURNER (Singer): (Singing) Rollin' yeah.

Mr. IKE TURNER (Musician): (Singing) Rollin'.

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin' on the river.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin' on the river.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) On the river.

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) I said rollin'.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin'.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Rollin'.

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin'.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin'.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Rollin'.

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin' on the river.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Rollin' on the river.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) On the river.

CHIDEYA: This song was written by John Fogerty, recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and it's been covered dozens, if not hundreds of times, but this is a very special recording. Now, Ike and Tina's style passed black music in a light that really combined rock and roll with the underpinning of soul and blues. Did he ever talk about how he saw his music?

Ms. CHRISTIAN: He saw himself as a musician first and foremost, and surprisingly, he didn't see himself as the music great that some people would tell him, and that caused for some insecurities, although he knew that his music influenced many people. And one thing about Mr. Turner, people talk about what happened in the past, but there would be no Tina Turner had there not been an Ike Turner. And his reputation as a musician was legendary and remains legendary. He put St. Louis music on the map, not only in St. Louis, but also East St. Louis as well.

CHIDEYA: Now, when you talk about "What's Love Got to do With It?", the film portrayed him as a violent, womanizing drug addict. Did he ever feel that the movie didn't do him justice or that the past kept following him around?

Ms. CHRISTIAN: Yes. Mr. Turner was very disappointed. First of all, as you mentioned earlier, "What's Love Got to do With It?" was a dramatization and it's a Hollywood movie. And Hollywood is built on sensationalism. While there were elements of truth in the movie, a lot of it was sensationalized. And he was very angry because he said that at the time he signed the contract with Disney, he said he signed for what he called a lousy $45,000. He had no idea he signing away his rights and that a person could betray him anyway they saw fit. And he was very angry because he said that since 1993, I allowed people to, you know, run my name through the mud and I'm not taking it anymore. He said, you know, they should get off of me. Leave me alone. I'm not going to allow people to continue to hold my hands to the fire over something that happened in the past. So, he was very disappointed that people saw the movie and that's the only thing they believe Mr. Turner to be. So

CHIDEYA: So, Margena, let me ask you. Did he ever apologize to or reconcile his life with Tina Turner?

Ms. CHRISTIAN: I am uncertain because I know that he mentioned during our interview, he said that five years ago, he had written her a letter. He never sent it to her, but he said in the letter, he said, I apologize. And in it, I told her I was sorry for all of the stuff I put her and the kids through. He said I was stupid; I was inconsiderate about her feelings. I said I understand today, he said, but I can't undo what I already did. He felt as if he embarrassed her a lot and, as he mentioned, his womanizing ways, as he called it, being whorish. He said he regretted a lot of that, he said, but he couldn't undo it. And he said, my personal life and my life with her was no one else's business, but he was sorry about the things that he did to her and how he treated her, especially with the women, and some other things that happened.

CHIDEYA: Well, Margena, thank you for coming on.

Ms. CHRISTIAN: Thank you so much for having me.

CHIDEYA: Margena Christian is the features editor of Jet Magazine.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Gonna Work Out Fine")

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Darling.

Mr. TURNER: Yes, Tina?

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) It's time to get next to me.

Mr. TURNER: Honey, that was my plan from the very beginning.

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Darling.

Mr. TURNER: Uh-huh.

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) I never thought that this could be.

CHIDEYA: That's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our Podcast, visit our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org. No spaces, just nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or sign up for our fabulous newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Tomorrow, can the military give you a career boost? Making professional moves in today's Armed Forces.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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