SIMPLY THE BEST?

"If Ike Turner had fallen under a bus sometime in 1959," wrote the critic Charles Shaar Murray, "he would have gone down in cultural history as one of the most important figures in the development of 1950s rhythm and blues." Even before he enjoyed his first hit with 1960's "A Fool In Love", he had made his mark as a guitarist, pianist, band leader, arranger/producer and talent scout.

That first hit, with his wife Tina (below), formed the foundation for a string of others and a hard-touring act to rival James Brown's. But then it fell apart, with the former Annie Mae Bullock walking out on him in 1976 and emerging from his shadow to star in films and be reborn as a "stadium-rock" artist. The break-up was accompanied by tales of wife beating and drug abuse from which Ike's career has never recovered.

But he has never entirely given up on the music and next week (Thur 3 April) appears at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire with current blues stalwart Joe Louis Walker, on whose latest star-studded release he appears.

Turner earned his place on that record, "Great Guitars", alongside the likes of Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Steve Cropper and Taj Mahal, through his tireless efforts in the 1950s.

Born in 1931 in that fertile source of blues and R'n'B, the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale, he was accompanying blues legends Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk while still in his teens and soon pitched up in Memphis to play a hand in the development of Howlin' Wolf, Bobby Bland and BB King.

Hooking up with Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records and discoverer of Elvis Presley, he can also lay claim to a role in the making of what is often said to be the first rock'n'roll record. Though credited to Jackie Brenston, "Rocket 88", was really made by Turner's band, the Kings of Rhythm.

He then moved on to record in Cincinnati, Chicago and St Louis with such stars as Rush, Guy and another blues entrepreneur, Willie Dixon, before - in one way or another - putting Tina on the road to fame and fortune. As Little Milton, the long-serving soul-blues performer who was another to benefit from Turner's guidance, put it: "Ike was always a smooth operator."

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London W12 (0181-740 7474)

Roger Trapp

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