Ike Turner: On sex, drugs and rock'n'roll
In his 73 years, Ike Turner has made a fortune, gambled it away, been addicted to drugs, spent a spell behind bars, and still found time to fit in 14 marriages. And, as he tells Guy Adams, he's not finished yet
Thursday 27 October 2005
Most famously of all, Ike's also "done" a turbulent 20-year relationship with his former wife and singing partner, Tina Turner. Their abusive marriage was immortalised in the 1993 film What's Love Got to Do With It? and still hovers over his character like a dark cloud. To this day, Ike's name remains a virtual byword for domestic violence.
Fortunately, the legendary bandleader's musical CV makes happier reading. In fact, it's positively historic: a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ike recorded what many consider the first ever rock single, "Rocket 88", in 1951, and has barely left the piano since. These days, he tours with The Kings of Rhythm, a seven-piece blues and boogie-woogie outfit who take on "Nutbush City Limits", "River Deep Mountain High", and all the old stuff that he belted out as one half of "Ike and Tina". And, despite his reputation, Ike has none of the brooding menace of the man in "What's Love?". In fact, he couldn't be more charming when we meet, beside a hotel swimming pool in south-east Thailand. It's the day after he played the Koh Samui music festival, and he's cheerful to the point of occasional silliness. At the age of 73, he's busy improving his rotten place in popular history.
Ike is about to release a new album, his first for four years. He's also co-operating with a new film about his life. It will portray the humble Deep South childhood that still echoes in the twang of his voice - he was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1931 - and attempt to undo some of the damage wrought by Hollywood more than a decade ago. "The guy that's gonna make it, he worked on What's Love Got to Do With It?," he says. "He knows about both our lives: he knows the real truth about me, and he knows the bullshit that went into that film. When that movie first came out, it did me a lot of damage. It hurt my career. But I bear him no ill-will."
Tina's book, I, Tina, and the subsequent film, alleged there was drug and alcohol abuse on an extraordinary scale, not to mention violent outbursts, at least one rape and an attempted suicide. Ike has an ambivalent attitude to the accusations: sometimes he denies them, and sometimes he won't discuss them.
Today, it's a bit of both. He says he "never watched the whole film, but the bits I've seen are all bullshit", but admits occasional physical abuse. In truth, while the film-makers took staggering liberties with Tina's memoir, showing a rape scene and several beatings, he was certainly no angel.
"My new book and the film, they're gonna be the whole nine yards," he says, moving on. "Sure, Tina played a part in my life, and I don't regret that. But sometimes it's all people like you want to know about. This film, it's also gonna be about my life, and how I got started, and my contribution to music. Stuff like that. I want kids today to learn about my music."
Ike's next album, out before Christmas, will be called Ike Turner's Final. There's a reason for this: he bluntly reckons that - given the fact that he's 74 next month, and has recently been diagnosed with emphysema - this will probably be the last bit of vinyl he presses. "Someone told me it's got a negative name. I don't know."
The new record will be resolutely modern. "It's got all different types of music mixed up in there. Within one song I'll have a blues part, then another part hip-hop, and never change tempos. I just have a combination in there. I don't know what to call it." Fusion? "Yeah that would be the name."
And so I'm treated to an a cappella rendition of one of Ike's new numbers. It's called "Safe Sex", and "has a message", as he rather unnecessarily puts it. "It goes: 'Sex / I want it every day / There ain't no-body going to take my sex away / Condoms is my best friends / Without condoms I ain't gonna go in.' Then they start the rapping."
Ike is happiest when he's singing. It's always given a point of reference to his turbulent career. On stage the previous night, wearing a gold Spandex jumpsuit - made by Harvey Prince, a tailor he shared with Elvis - he looked invincible. Now, in the evening sunlight, I can detect a quiet decline: he's still got the Hawaiian shirts and handlebar moustache but the danger is gone.
As we discuss the issue raised by his song, Ike chuckles his way through his sexual history. He spent several decades of his career "orgying" on a diet of cocaine and women. The party didn't stop until he was chucked into prison in 1989, after being nicked with "a whole lot of coke".
"I got four years, and did two. I've been clean since then, so I think that was a blessing in disguise, because a lot of people think once you get hooked on cocaine that's the end of your life. You go to sleep looking for it, and when you wake up you're looking for it."
For Ike, the cocaine was as much a career accessory as a recreational pursuit. "It starts out fun. What happened, man, was that two very famous people I'd been working with in Las Vegas at the same hotel gave me some, about half a gramme in some paper, and I just put it in my coat pocket. I saw them do it, but I didn't do it with them," he says.
"It was in about 1960. Then maybe a week or two later I found it in my pocket, and I just took some and put it in my nose. And I didn't feel nuffin. This was about two o'clock at night. But the next day, at about 11 o'clock, I was still sitting there putting it in my nose. And it didn't feel like I wanted to sleep. I just wanted to play and make music.
"So I started telling all the band, boys you've got to try this, man, you feel like you just woke up. And the next thing I know I was buying by the suitcase. I had people bringing it to me from Peru. All kind of shit. It never stopped."
In many ways, Ike's downward spiral was the natural result of an impoverished child from the Deep South finding himself with unimaginable riches. These days, he doesn't touch the stuff - "I could have one line and it'd be fun, but I wouldn't be able to stop" - and spends his time with Audrey, his girlfriend and musical partner.
They've been together almost a decade, and are genuinely affectionate. Audrey is a fortysomething Tina Turner lookalike, right down to the blonde wig she wears when they perform on stage together. It's part homage, part V-sign to the unhappy relationship that defined Ike's career. "I have one problem now. I have emphysema," he says, when I mention Audrey's performance the previous night. "I stopped smoking in '89. I don't know when I'm going to get hoarse. It comes all at once, I'm never gonna have to cancel a gig, but that's one reason I have Audrey there. Just in case. She can carry right on, and sometimes she's done more of the climax of the show than me."
With Audrey's assistance, Ike is becoming musical hot property again. His 2001 album Here and Now, his first solo effort for 17 years, won a Grammy. This year, he performed on the latest album by Gorillaz, Damon Albarn's "virtual" rock collective; now he's looking forward to going out on a high.
When I ask how would he like to go down in history, Ike kicks back in his sun lounger. "I would say that I'm the guy that went all the way to the top, and then I've come all the way back down to the bottom again. And then bounced. And, like, today I can say that whatever I do from now, my life is great today."
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