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Arts & Books: What's love got to do with it?

Egotist, cokehead, wife-beater... crashing bore. Ike Turner hasn't had the greatest press in the years since Tina went it alone, which is perhaps why he's now decided to tell the world `how it really was'. By Glyn Brown
Ike Turner is a man labouring under a weight like 2,000 anvils. It's not his small health problems, though we'll get to those. It's not the fact that he's badly off since he spent all his money on the Colombian export market, nor the fact that, though he's served several prison terms not unconnected to this cocaine habit, musically he can't seem to get arrested. It's more to do with the fact that he's gone down in history as a wife-beater, and somehow he's been blamed for it. His ex-partner's book, I, Tina, and the movie What's Love Got To Do With It? have left a fairly strong impression in people's minds, and Ike's kind of keen, finally, to put his side of the story. This week his book, Takin' Back My Name, written with journalist Nigel Cawthorne, attempts to put a new spin on the Ike Turner tale. In it, he comes over as an egotist just doing the best he can in difficult circumstances and, though you wonder if it's maybe 100 per cent unreliable, Ike's an old man now, and he deserves a break. Problem is, Ike doesn't really help himself.

We meet at the King's Cross Holiday Inn, where Ike, 67, dressed in black and about a ton of gold jewellery, sits flanked by a female PR and his manager. Ike's sweet with the waitress ("Thank you, darlin'"), but he's always been one for the ladies. He's been married 12 times, and still they roll up: not even his constant wind puts them off. "I was in hospital, they put a camera down my throat and one up my - ", points to his rear end. "I got a hernia. When I belch - y'know, when I burp? - it gets stuck in my throat. This doctor check my colon, my prostate..." In his Deep Southern accent, Ike laboriously ticks off all his bits, and you wonder how Tina could keep her eyes open.

Tina was devoted, though, which is what Ike expects: his mother was, too. Being devoted to a capricious boy like Ike can't have been easy, although he says he did everything he could to help his mom, including ironing her pubic hair. "Lemme explain about that. Me and my baby sister, we always try to make Momma happy. Momma work all day, and before she go to work, she take a hot comb to her hair, then she would curl it. So this particular day, she was lying asleep across the bed, and..."

You thought you'd help her?

"That's it!" He giggles. "So we raised Momma's dress up, we took some grease, we put the comb on the stove - man, that comb was hot! - and when it hit the grease, the grease sizzle and roll down on Momma's..." OK, let's stop right there. Ike is weeping with laughter. The female PR sighs, gets up and leaves.

Ike's way out of his viciously racist home town of Clarksdale, Mississippi was to begin learning piano. He was undeniably good at it. Nevertheless, Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm were playing St Louis honky-tonks until he let a kid called Anna Mae Bullock take a turn at the microphone, then began to work with her. At that time, Anna Mae - Tina - was dating one of Ike's sax players. By some mistake, because Ike insists he never found her attractive, they ended up in bed, and a relationship of sorts began. It seems to have consisted, over 18 years, of hard graft and grudging sex - Ike admits they never did anything romantic. Looking back, mightn't it have been better if they'd remained business partners?

"I don't think so. See, men always get to be jealous or envious of me." He sighs, almost mystified. "Tina was going with Raymond, though he was hitting her. Now, I think my going with Tina was a mistake but, had that not happened, after we had a hit Raymond would've taken her out of the band because he wanted control." I grimace sympathetically, but Ike shrugs as if it's obvious. "No man like to think that another man controls his woman."

And so Ike began his remoulding experiment, giving Tina a name on which he thought he'd kept copyright, coaching her exhaustively into giving a charged performance. Tina always looked and sounded like a woman in extremis: according to Ike, though, he was making her "tomboyish". He based Tina on a character he'd seen at the flicks. "Nyoka lived in the jungle, she used to swing through trees. She had no fear. She would fight lions. She had long hair, and a little tiger thing on like Tarzan. And she had those powerful moves I gave to Tina."

Tina must have been very strong, I observe, physically and mentally. There's a passage in Ike's book where Tina's just had a lymph node operation on her neck. But the Ike and Tina Turner Revue had bookings, Ike would lose money if they didn't play. So Tina performed, with gauze packed round her throat because the stitches opened up and she bled when she sang. Ike folds his arms dismissively: "Oh yeah. She wanted to be as strong a woman as I am a man. All those lyrics that made women look up to her - I wrote `em, remember. When she talked to women in the audience about a man doin' her wrong..." - Ike grins smugly - "those was my words, not hers." She was, however, patient? Your book says that, come the big time, you liked to have a bit of an orgy (Ike's word) and you liked Tina to bring your dinner mid-session. Ike's answer to this is quite miraculous.

"Look, when Tina was with Raymond, they lived next to my apartment - there was just a bathroom in between, the one where my first wife shot herself. In those days, I'd get Tina to get me girls. If the girl I took home got up next day and didn't tidy the room and make the bed, I'd tell Tina, hey, I don't wanna see that broad no more, she's lazy. Everything I didn't like in a woman, say if the girl was too jealous, I'd tell Tina. So when Tina and I got together, she tried to be the kind of woman she thought I wanted. Our time together was a lie, because she acted like what I did didn't bother her. You understand me?" Ike's shadowed eyes are hangdog, or possibly just experienced. "I have to say I did a lotta wrong things right, real right." He slaps his thigh and chuckles. "And I'm sorry about what I put her through, but I can't undo it. You see?"

My nod can't be too convincing, and Ike sits up from his near-supine position. "If two people care about each other, and one finds reasons not to be honest about what the other one is doing - in other words, because I love you, I'm gon' look past you walking over me - if I let you do that, well, man, I'm as wrong as you are. You should make people aware of your feelings."

You'd think three suicide attempts might have indicated something, though Ike puts those down to his teasing Tina about being too tired, sometimes, to go onstage with her. As for the hitting... come on, now, Ike likes women. His mother was one, he reminds me, and he never slapped Tina any more than he'd mind someone hitting his own momma in the same circumstances (though I never learn what exactly those are). Of course, things were different in the Fifties. "Back then, it was accepted. This is why her book and the movie shocked me. Tina said she hated the film and the book." Her own book? "We all make mistakes, but mine got publicised. Now everyone's making me look like the president of abuse."

Ike's bringing his new Revue to the UK later this year. And he'd like to work with Tina again, though they haven't spoken since "Oh...1986, Caesar's Palace, when I came up with an idea for a show - Ike And Tina And Sonny And Cher, Broken Pieces Put Together With Crazyglue."

You can't do that one now, though. Ike stares at me as if I'm simple, then spells it out. "No. Because Sonny's dead."

Uh, exactly.

`Takin' Back My Name, The Confessions of Ike Turner' is published by Virgin, pounds 16.99