The Daily Beast is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of Spin magazine by publishing two classic interviews.
Editor’s note from Bob Guccione Jr., founder of Spin:
In the very early days, right after we launched the magazine, and as the reality set in we had to do this every month, something that oddly had not occurred to any of us until then, we had a series of panicked editorial meetings.
At one, someone brought up Tina Turner, who at the time was probably the biggest pop star in the world. She was everywhere, with her massive hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It?,” a film of the same name, and her memoir a bestseller.
She had revealed that her estranged husband Ike Turner used to beat her and, frankly, milked that a bit when she was caught up on a tide of universal sympathy. I said, “Everyone’s talking about Tina, let’s find Ike.”
No one knew if Ike was even alive or dead. He had simply vanished from every radar. Ed Kiersh, a brilliant investigative journalist who did several wonderful pieces for SPIN, found him on the uglier streets of Los Angeles, homeless, totally broke, and recently out of prison.
Ed’s profile told a complex story of a tortured and ultimately doomed musical genius, who invented rock ’n’ roll with his song “Rocket 88,” about an Oldsmobile. Turner admitted beating his wife, but this story helped define him as more than that man.
[This story was originally published in the August 1985 issue of SPIN.]
Written by Edward Kiersh
The word on the street was that Ike was dead.
No one knew for sure, but word was that Ike Turner had met a Hollywood-bad-guy death. Shot—by who? police, dope dealers, a pimp, some dude he owed money; who cared?—the devil himself was gone, apparently. Tina could say whatever she wanted.
Then last December, an item in The Los Angeles Times: Ike Turner contacts Teena Marie about a possible collaboration.
“It was to be another Ike and Teena revue,” said Marie’s former manager Allan Mink. “He talked on and on about a national tour, but it didn’t make any sense. He didn’t even leave us a phone number, so afterwards we just laughed. A part of me now feels sorry for the guy.”
So he wasn’t dead. Instead of meeting an unmourned death in some nameless alley or fleabag L.A. hotel, here was lke, recent Villain of the Piece in the wide-open book of recollections (sort of a Hubby Dearest)—and no patron saint to the California tax people either—making a comeback, or at least reemerging, sort of.
The sweet sweetback of rock, who put the S-E-X into Tina’s swagger, who cut what is arguably the first rock record, “Rocket 88,” in 1951; who discovered B.B. King and Little Junior Parker; and who once hired a kid he saw a lot of potential in, Jimi Hendrix by name; Ike, who designed himself into the perfect backup role after he finished designing what was at the time the perfect incarnation of an R&B rock and roll crossover band, had dissolved into, but was not completely obscured by, murky oblivion.
If medium-range industry people hadn’t been laughing at him, though, you wouldn’t have noticed even that spark in the fog. Ike was not dead, just forgotten. And not entirely that, either—more like laying very low and trying to be forgotten.
When I started looking for him, I first checked L.A. county jails, because I heard that’s where he was currently residing.
The jails didn’t have him. Again, just more mythology, but once again, not implausible: Ike had been arrested and charged five times—for guns, assault, drugs, and most recently, shooting a newsboy in the leg (although the “newsboy” was 49 and had a gun, too)—but he spent only 30 days inside, on the drug rap. He beat everything else.
Then I contacted his old record companies—labels like Kent, United Artists, and EMI (formerly Liberty)—to see if Ike was still collecting royalties. Found, instead, only stonewalls. Quick to remind me that Ike had been off their label for years, spokespeople said they knew nothing about royalties.
Their coldness on the telephone spoke volumes: it didn’t matter if Ike was part of the “T’N’T” team that sold millions of records—today he was an outcast, an untouchable. A leper to be kept out of the industry.
Even Paul Krasnow, Elektra’s current chairman of the board, who rose to prominence after producing several Turner albums at Blue Thumb, took a dim view of my search.
“Why do you want to do an Ike story?” he asked, in his stylish, charcoal-toned, 21st-floor Manhattan office. “I haven’t heard from Ike in years, and it wouldn’t bother me it a few more years passed.”
Finally, I got my first solid lead. A friend gave me the name of Ike’s New York lawyer, Phillip Cowan. “Isn’t it time Ike told his side of the story?” I asked Cowan. “You’ve seen the articles and interviews with Tina. There wasn’t one word from Ike.”
But Cowan was uncooperative. “We’ve gotten dozens of offers for interviews—People, 20/20,” he shot back, “but we’ve turned them all down. Ike’s not doing any press right now. Besides, I couldn’t get in touch with him even if I wanted to. I have to wait ’til he calls me. I don’t even have his number.”
I went to L.A., where I called R&B legend Johnny Otis, who happened to be doing a tribute to Ike on his weekly radio show that evening and invited me to the station.
“Ike Turner is a very important man in American music,” he said. “The texture and flavor of R&B owe a lot to him. He defined how to put the Fender bass into that music. He was a great innovator. I like Ike.”
But Otis, and the dozens of listeners who called in, had only heard rumors about Ike’s present life. No one knew anything else.
Calls to former members of Ike’s band, such as Clifford Solomon, Sam Rhodes, and Bobby John, proved futile.
But among the fruitless leads was the story of how Bolic Sound—the “Taj Mahal,” Ike’s studio complex in Inglewood, California—had been torched shortly before he disappeared.
I took my first trip to Inglewood the following day, but before visiting with the police, I stopped at La Brea and Fairview, site of the infamous Taj Mahal, an anonymously given nickname for Turner’s version of the Pleasuredome: his legendary state-of-the-art studio/party headquarters.
Today, there are no plaques bearing their silent, stoical testament. Instead, painters were putting the finishing touches on a new office building, and a sign proudly announced the opening of a beauty parlor.
At police headquarters, department officials talked openly about Ike’s run-ins with the law, provided additional contacts, and most important, told me to call the California Fiscal Tax Board, where I discovered that Ike owed the state $12,802 in back taxes for the period 1975-79.
According to Will Bush, the board’s PR spokesman, a lien had been placed on his property, and while Bush insisted that debt was sizable enough to justify prosecution, he confidently added, “Turner’s not in California. No way. If he was, we would get him.”
I visited Ike and Tina’s old house, perched on a hill near Ray Charles’s place in a wealthy black enclave called Baldwin Hills; made inquiries at the L.A. Probation Department; and met with more of Turner’s old friends.
But no matter who I talked to—Bonnie Bramlett (as a teenager she covered her face with Man-Tan and shimmied onstage as an Ikette in the “ITT” Revue), Joel Bihari, a Memphis band manager Ike worked for, Howard Alperin of Kent Records, even Ike’s old barber, Dwight—the message was always the same.
As Alperin emphasized, “Forget it, there’s no finding this guy. He’s a loner, a real elusive type. He could be anywhere.”
After seven days of getting nowhere, I was disgusted. I had a clearer picture of Ike Turner, his character, the contributions he made to rock, and the fast-lane life that led to his downfall. But that was it.
Two days before my scheduled departure from L.A., a friend located Tina’s sister, Eileen Silico. (At a Saturday Night Live party earlier this year, Tina pointedly refused to talk about Ike—and her management people have taken the same stance.)
I didn’t expect Eileen to speak too flatteringly about Ike, yet she might know some other Ikettes and other women in the Turner constellation.
The seventh time I telephoned Silico, I simply asked, “Don’t you know Vanetta Fields, Robbie Montgomery, and a few other Ikettes? Can you give me their phone numbers?”
“I can’t do that without asking them,” she replied. “That wouldn’t be right.”
Then, without any prompting, Silico added, “Why don’t you call Ike’s lawyer, Nate Tabor? He’s in Burbank somewhere.”
It was Friday afternoon. I quickly called, hoping not to lose him. Once Tabor got on the line, he seemed intrigued by my being from New York and only wanted to talk about Steinbrenner’s dismantling of the Yankees.
When the conversation finally turned to Ike, Tabor dryly said, “Yeah, I have his number. You want to reach him? I’ll get him to call you later today.”
I waited in the hotel room all day. Nothing. It got late. Not wanting to disturb Tabor late at night, I went to bed. There was always tomorrow.
The following morning Tabor wasn’t at home. My phone rang a few times, but each call was only another disappointment. Cursing my luck, I left the room to visit a few boutiques on Melrose Avenue, calling my hotel every hour, but to no avail.
The afternoon faded away. I returned to my room about 11 that night, tired and totally disgusted. Then the phone rang.
“I hear from my friends you’ve been looking for me.”
The voice was unmistakably Southern, yet it smacked of the urban ghetto. His speech was slurred, rapid-fire, and he stuttered.
Even without seeing him, I sensed the man was looking over his shoulder as he asked, “What do you want?”
“My magazine wants to do an article on you. I know you haven’t done any press in five years, but everyone’s been slamming the s—t out of you. Why don’t you clear up a few things?”
“I’m not going to talk about Ike and Tina’s sex life—that’s not me.”
After I convinced him that I wasn’t interested in that, his voice mellowed.
“How’s tomorrow at 5? Give me your address, I’ll meet you there…I promise.”
I spent most of the next day wondering if Ike would indeed appear.
All week, people had praised Turner for honoring commitments. Clifford Solomon told me, “Ike always lived up to his word. With him you didn’t need a contract—a handshake was good enough.
“Why, there were times the band would go out on the road and these club owners didn’t pay us our rightful money. Ike always made up the difference. He was a tough son of a bitch to work for, a real perfectionist. But he always looked out for his band. His word was gold.”
Still, I had my doubts, so I waited on the street for him.
At exactly 5 o’clock, a bluish-gray Cadillac Fleetwood pulled to the curb, and a striking, longhaired black woman peered out the passenger-side window.
“Are you Ed?” she asked, as the driver sized me up.
I nodded, and the driver leaned over. Without shaking my hand, he simply said, “I’m Ike.”
Wearing a white Yohji Yamamoto jumpsuit complete with chest flaps and metal hardware, the goateed, wavy-haired Ike Turner looks like across between a Japanese aviator and Sammy Davis Jr.
We are sitting at a corner table in the Old World Cafe on Sunset. The 54-year-old Turner had been carrying a Louis Vuitton satchel, driving gloves, and Porsche-Carrera sunglasses, but the moment we sat down, he freed his hands for another purpose: to fondle his companion’s thighs under the table.
She softly asks him what he’s going to order. Not bothering to look at the menu, he tells her to decide for him.
“I love surrounding myself with beautiful women, I always have,” says Ike. “Tina’s said I always messed around with other women, and that’s true, I won’t deny it. If you want to set a trap for me, bait it with pussy—you’ll get me every time.”
Laughing uproariously, Ike kisses the woman’s neck. She chuckles, too. A singer who’s hoping to star in another Ike revue, she gently scolds Ike for not introducing her.
Coquettishly closing her cobalt-blue-frosted eyelids and rearranging a tight-fitting blue suede minidress that emphasizes her voluptuous curves, Barbara Cole smiles seductively.
“Ike, baby, I’m gonna get you the shrimp and steak. And how ’bout a salad and some soup?”
Nodding his head submissively, Ike lights a Salem and stops a waiter to order a few drinks. As Barbara rattles off her dinner requests, Ike rambles on about Tina.
“That woman will say whatever she thinks you want to hear. I don’t care what she says about me, I’ll always be her friend. If the devil was real, it was real…When I saw Tina do ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It?’ I picked up the phone and called her. ‘Hey, Bo [short for Bullock, her maiden name], that’s a cute song. I really like it.’ Well, that was it. I ain’t saw nothing else she did that I like.”
“One time I got pissed off about something I read. I wrote her a letter. ‘Why don’t you talk about you and stop talking about me and the kids.’ I told her she was hurting the kids and embarrassing them. The boys had nothing to do with us.
“But it’s years ago that I had a temper. I don’t regret nothing I’ve ever done, absolutely nothing, man, because it took all of that to make me what I am today—and I love me today, I really do.
“Yeah, I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife. The truth is, our life was no different from the guy next door’s. It’s been exaggerated. People buy bad news, dirty news. If she says I abused her, maybe I did.”
Responding to reports that he fired bullets into Tina’s house after she split, Ike explodes, “That’s a f—king lie. I’ll tell you one thing. If I was the n–––r people think I am, I’d go up to her house and blow it up. If I shot at her house, I’d have come into the house and shot!”
The anger in his voice subsides. No longer punching at the air with his cigarette, he takes a few spoonfuls of soup. His other hand roams somewhere in Barbara’s lap.
Ike laughs again and insists, “I could have a lot of dislike in me for Tina, but I don’t. Sure, I was with other women, but she never knew I was in the studio with them. I wasn’t going to embarrass her. I saw her in the bed with a guy. I’ve seen her get up out of the bed and let the guy she was in love with go to bed with another woman. She’d go downstairs while he balled her.
“I wasn’t out to hurt her; we was tight. I was happy to organize things, man, to get us out on the road, play my guitar in the background. She could be the star.
“I never thought that anything would come between us—it was trust. Man, I have nothing in my heart against her at all. I never thought she would betray my confidence.
“I had no contract between Ike and Tina. I could’ve put money aside for Ike, but I never took anything. I only wanted to do for her and the kids. My bills were running me $35,000 to $75,000 a month—I was up 24 hours a day, not because I really wanted to.
“But you know, man, I’d do it all over again. I don’t care if Tina was the star. My whole thing isn’t stardom, I just care about getting people off. [His voice rising again] Damn the dollar! S—t, you have to have money. I’ve been hungry. But my thing was seeing people come into clubs and saying, ‘Make me happy, do what you want with me. I’m yours.’
“And Tina being the sex symbol, that’s what happened. People think that came from the visual part of an Ike and Tina show, but man, that’s not it. I styled her that way—l made it happen. I gave the drummer the signal, and it sounded like a gunshot.
“The lights came down on her, there was no spotlight on me. She’d stroke that mike and s—t like that—I was the one who told her to do that. Anything you ever saw her or the Ikettes do on stage came from me. But do I get the credit? S—t! I’m always the bad guy.”
Before the sex, drugs, and showdowns with the law, there were chickens, scrap iron, and romps to Sin City. For even as a youngster in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Izear Luster Turner saw himself as a bad-assed hustler.
The son of a preacher and a seamstress, he helped his parents get through the Depression by working on neighbors’ chicken farms. At age 8, he tired of collecting eggs and began his lifelong search for bigger and better payoffs.
“First I sold scrap iron, did odd jobs, any hustle I could think of to have a few extra quarters in my pocket,” purrs Turner, this bit of nostalgia bringing a mischievous smile to his face. “Then I ran away from home, to Memphis, where I worked as a hallboy at the Hotel Peabody. I wound up sleeping on Coca-Cola crates, so I think I stayed away for about four days.”
Pointing at a bread basket on the table, he muses, “In those days, even a crust of bread tasted like steak.”
Still gripped by wanderlust even after thrashings from his mother, Beatrice, he was soon skipping school to hang out at the local pool room.
On one of these visits, he first heard Pine Top Joe Willie, a piano player who mesmerized him. “That cat could play. Man, did he fascinate me. It was a fantasy, I could never play like him…I finally helped him with his equipment, and he showed me a few notes. Shoot, my mother gave me money to take music lessons. I’d take it, and when came home I’d show her what Pine Top taught me.”
After spinning platters at a nearby radio station, the 13-year-old Turner quit school to play piano behind Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk.
His lack of formal education would eventually haunt him. As Ike sheepishly admits, “That’s why I liked being in the background. I was really scared to talk to the press.”
Obsessed with the blues in the early ’50s, he cut “Rocket 88″ with saxophonist Jackie Brenston in Memphis and was then hired by the Bihari brothers, local show-biz agents, as a talent scout.
“We first saw Ike when he was 16, playing with B.B. King, and my brother Jules was so impressed, he bought him a Buick Roadmaster and some clothes,” recalls Joel Bihari.
“Ike did a great job for us, but he was a country boy. We brought him to L.A., and he just couldn’t take city life. He only stayed a month, then left for East St. Louis to form his own band. He told me he was going back there to become a star.”
Choreographing each move of his newly formed Ikettes, a pride of shapely, scantily clad singers, Ike became the toast of St. Louis in the late 1950s.
At clubs like the Imperial, Manhattan, and D’Lisa, he displayed a talent that would later lead him to Bill Graham’s Winterland, the Fillmore, and a tour with the Stones, because the R&B revue had crossover appeal: it attracted whites as well as blacks.
As Bonnie Bramlett coos, “Ike’s shows put others to shame. I saw them in Granite City [her hometown in Illinois] when I was 15 , and they were so hot, I could only dream of becoming an Ikette. My mother didn’t exactly like that idea, my being white, but Ike came to the house and charmed her.
“He promised her that everything would be okay. He was a real gentleman. Ike did right by me. In my heart I’m still an Ikette.”
Even at age 6, Ike had a way with women. Decidedly proud of this talent, he triumphantly boasts, “I started balling when I was 6 years old. There was this woman, Miss Boozie, I’d feed her chickens every morning on my way to school. She’d give me a nickel a week if she could put me on top of her and show me how to move.”
“Look, man, I’ve been married 10 times. I started getting married when I was 14. First there was Edna Dean Stewart. A few months later it was Velma Dishman, then Dolores Ward. I don’t remember her last name, but then it was Alice…People can believe this or not, I don’t care. You gave a preacher $2, the papers cost $3, that was it. In those days blacks didn’t bother with divorces.
“When I was in St. Louis and Tina started hanging out at the clubs I was playing, she knew what I was doing with women. She knew how I am. There were no surprises ever. She was with me four years before we started going together. Every time I bought a dress for the mother of my two kids, I got her one.
“If I really wanted to talk s—t about Tina, I could. She and her saxophone-player boyfriend [Raymond Hill, one of the Kings of Rhythm, an early Ike Turner Band] were living in my house in East St. Louis. He got Tina pregnant. I’d get mad at him, cause he’d make Tina go downstairs while he went upstairs to ball another woman. Where does she come off sounding so innocent these days?
“Tina even got girls for me. I didn’t do anything with her that I wasn’t doing when we first met. She’d get Ikettes for me. I was with them, she knew that. There were times I’d be on the stage and I’d see a pretty girl out there, and I’d say to her, ‘See that girl? Tell her to meet me over at the house. See that one? Go put her in the car.’”
Tina did this for four years. “I was never phony. She knew what was going on. When we were living together later on, she did the same thing. I didn’t threaten or force her to do this. There were times in the studio she’d bring me and the girl I was with food. Why is she so angry now? She never was then.”
Ike winces as he lights another cigarette and half-heartedly stabs at his steak, his gaunt, light-brown cheeks tense with anger. “Let me tell you this,” he says, shaking his head violently. “As God is my judge of all my wives, Tina’s the only one I was never legally married to.”
Ike continues, “We went to Tijuana, sat in this round booth with [singer] Esther Jones, Bobby John, Rhonda Graham, Tina, and my bus driver. This guy who was shooting pictures in the place came up to us and asked, ‘Do you want to get married?’ We said ‘Yeah.’ He married all six of us at the same time. He wasn’t no preacher. We just paid him for the pictures.” (But band member Bobby John recalls it differently. “I really felt everything was prearranged. We walked into this office and this guy, I don’t know if he was a preacher or not, performed a short ceremony.”)
However their nuptial bonds were sealed in 1962, Ike’s friends remember him being enthralled by Tina. She wasn’t as big-breasted or as glamorous as his other women, but this didn’t matter to Turner.
Even before Tina became the Revue’s lead singer and brought “A Fool in Love” to the top of the R&B charts in 1960, Ike believed she was “the most talented woman on the planet,” according to St. Louis songwriter/musician Oliver Sain. “I wasn’t all that impressed, but to Ike she was Wonder Woman.”
Echoing this assessment, Elektra’s Robert Krasnow says, “Ike saw her as the ultimate woman, as a Venus, the perfect girl. It was a fantasy of his and she played to this image for him, or was a partner to it because she wanted the same things he did. Tina’s a very smart woman. She saw what Ike was conjuring up for her. I don’t see how she could’ve put as much time into it if she didn’t want success as much as Ike did.”
In 1965, Krasnow arranged for Ike and Tina to sing “River Deep, Mountain High” on Phil Spector’s Philles label. The song fared badly in the U.S. but was a sensation in England.
Upon hearing it, the Stones were so impressed, they invited Ike and Tina to tour with them in Europe. This soon gave the “ITT” Revue notoriety in white rock circles.
By the time Ike and Tina rejoined the Stones for a U.S. swing in 1969, their raunchy stage act was big box office. Tina’s dancing and simulated orgasms on stage earned her the title “the World’s Greatest Heartbreaker”—a moniker that brought record companies to their knees. Liberty, United Artists, and Capitol all vied for the Turners’ services.
And Ike, ever the manipulator, jumped from one “exclusive” deal to another.
With millions of dollars pouring in, Ike went on a good-time spree. Besides hosting dozens of coke parties, acquiring apartment buildings, and giving away cars to his favorite ladies, he built his decadently palatial recording studio complex in Inglewood, California, not far from the Forum.
How the two-story, brick Bolic Sound—a tag originally intended as a tribute to Tina, née Bullock—got its nickname, the Taj Mahal, remains part of the Turner folklore.
Bolic was built to resemble a castle, and narcotics detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department and Inglewood, California, may have used the tag as a code name.
They constantly watched the place during the late ’70s and frequently busted in.
Or the tribute might’ve been coined one hell-raising night by one of the sultans of sound—such as Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Duane Allman, and Little Richard—who recorded and partied there.
In any event, the munificent description was apt. Visitors were allowed past the studio’s 3-inch thick front doors and through a passageway lined with security cameras entering a labyrinth of interconnecting sound rooms, each paneled with a African mahogany and carpeted in pastel-colored wool or antique Persians.
Along with a bed or a bean bag chair, the rooms contained a variety of musical instruments, toiletries, and a wide range of booze.
Farther down a narrow hallway was another reinforced steel door. Visitors had to punch a secret number into a wall to gain admittance to the master control room—the sanctum sanctorum.
There, banks of video screens monitored activities throughout the building, including the cubicles, business office, game room, and upstairs bedrooms, and whatever was happening on the street.
Engineers kept watch over the two $100,000 sound boards, with state-of-the-art IBM mix-memorizers, an Even-tide digital delay system, and other flickering gadgetry. It was so Strangelove.
“The place was straight out of Star Trek,” remembers an Inglewood police sergeant, after estimating that Bolic contained more than $2 million worth of recording equipment.
“Once we into the place, we understood why pimpmobiles were always lining up outside, waiting for people who never came out. Bolic was our neighborhood Disneyland.”
Delaney Bramlett, who regularly visited the studio after splitting with his wife Bonnie, was equally awed by Bolic’s trappings.
One of the privileged few with unrestricted access to the upstairs bedrooms and play-dens, he was often asked to rouse the Taj’s Master after an all-nighter.
And as he tiptoed past 10-foot-tall Romanesque statues, gold-plated tables, chairs with penis-shaped arms, and murals out of the Kama Sutra, this former country boy had one thought.
“The studio was something else; you thought you were in the Arabian Nights, or at least the Waldorf Astoria.”
Presently hoping to make a record with Ike, Delaney for one won’t comment on the bacchanalian scenes that went down in that garish retreat.
But Tina Turner, a resident of her ex-husband’s digs, suggests that Ike’s penchant for overhead and braided curtains went beyond mere interior decorating.
Tina simply calls Bolic’s top floor “the whorehouse.”
She has pithily described how he moved one of his girlfriends into the studio and stayed at Bolic for weeks at a time after he staged one of his now notorious rampages at home.
As these scenes increased from 1974 to 1975, Ike rarely left the Whorehouse to go back to his equally outrageous Baldwin Hills ranch house, with its guitar-shaped table standing beside a waterfall that fell into a living pond filled with exotic Japanese fish.
If Ike tired of his lady friend at the time, he’d dismiss her to an adjoining apartment building he owned and find other amusements. The studio was one long walk on the wild side.
“I stopped going there because it seemed like a dope house,” recalls Clifford Solomon, once the bandleader of Ike’s Kings of Rhythm. “Besides the cocaine and other drugs, there were a whole lot of chicks running around. There were so many disreputable people there. Ike had this .357 Magnum on a console in the control room. He was always showing these kinds of things off. The police started to watch the place, and since I had started to work for Ray Charles, the last thing needed was to get busted there.”
“The drugs ate away at Ike,” says Lee Maxie, Ike’s “spiritual counselor” for a number of years. “The cocaine enhanced his being an enemy to himself. He has a special love for people, but this love is for selfish reasons. He took advantage of people, especially women. Ike’s a devil.
“He used drugs for sex purposes. He had a studio filled with women, I’d tell him this was wrong, but he wanted me to meet them. He was friends with this one really famous black singer, and he tried to get me to come over to her house.
“One Sunday morning he called me over to the studio, and he had the curtains drawn ’round his big bedroom. It was so embarrassing to hear what was going on.
“I stepped outside and turned on a sermon I had on this tape recorder I’d brought over. Later, she just sat there, hitting that damn pipe and s—t. A base pipe, cocaine. Freebase. They were hitting it, every son of a bitch there did it.”
Meanwhile, the police maintained their vigil. Ike had already been arrested once at Bolic in early 1974 (along with his business manager Rhonda Graham) and charged with possessing “blue boxes”—multifrequency devices permitting long-distance calls to be made without the knowledge of the phone company. But he had been cleared of the charges.
Afterward, the police set up their watch as the limousines came and went from the studio, but could only harass the chauffeurs or ticket Ike’s Mercedes, Lamborghini and custom-made Rolls-Royces.
Annie Mae Bullock, the sharecropper’s daughter who became Tina Turner, grew up on the poor side of the tracks in Nutbush, Tennessee.
Before there was “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “Private Dancer,” and all the monumental—and sentimental—success that accompanied Tina’s triumphal return, there was the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, there were dues to be paid, hard years yielding to better ones, effort yielding success.
There was great music and a great act. And there was life with Ike.
Behind the flash, Clifford Solomon recounts, “The band members didn’t like the way Ike treated Tina. He’d hit her, terribly. Her eyes were often blackened. Once, he bought her a dress with bird feathers that he wanted her to wear on TV. She wore it before the show, so Ike was enraged. The next day she was wearing sunglasses.”
Exhausted by these assaults, Ike’s promiscuity, and his mounting use of cocaine, Tina tried to commit suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
As she lay dying in a hospital bed, Ike reportedly called her a “motherf—er” for abandoning the Revue.
“That whole story is one damn lie,” blisters Ike emphatically, grabbing my arm. Other restaurant patrons turn to stare at us. But Ike continues shouting. “I didn’t want go to work that night, and Tina hated doing the show without me. I later changed my mind, and when I walked in, there was Tina with her eyes back in her head. After I found a hospital to admit her, it seemed as if this doctor had stopped working on her, so I said, ‘Hey, Bo, you coward, you chickens—t, if you want to kick the bucket, why didn’t you jump off an overpass.’
“I was kidding, I was kidding. I told her, ‘You don’t see me taking the short way out, yet you want me to believe you’re more woman than I am a man.’ I was trying to get her tongue moving. That’s why I don’t like talking to the damn press.”
In 1976, Tina split. And Ike says he “panicked.” “When we broke up I was scared, very scared, because there was no way I could pay those bills. Ike and Tina’s name was always bigger than Ike and Tina. Even with those bills, she could stay home and comb wigs and s—t. Yeah, I was afraid. We had clubs signed up, record deals.”
Gritting his teeth, Ike turns towards Barbara for solace. She vacantly stares back.
“I was scared because at first I thought her leaving wouldn’t be a big thing—she’d come back. I still don’t know why she left me. She even wrote me a letter saying she wanted everything the same, that we’d work together. She didn’t want to mess with the money, anything. I told her no. [After a lengthy pause] I guess she just didn’t want to be named Turner any more.”
The divorce edged Ike to the brink of bankruptcy and gave him his first sour taste of the American legal system. “Tina cries splitting with nothing, but man, her attorneys worked it out so I got all the pink elephants. They had asked me what I needed, and I said, ‘What about half of Anaheim?’ [a 50 percent share of their apartment building].
“Instead, they gave me a big mirage, the things that didn’t mean much, like the mortgaged studio, and all of the Ike and Tina royalties from United Artists, which were $1 million in the red. They gave me nothing.”
Embittered, Ike retreated to his studio. Many of his friends deserted him. He surrounded himself with a new set of characters. However, the all-night parties that invariably revolved around sex and coke didn’t ease his torment. Not knowing “where my next dollar was coming from,” Ike was going crazy.
“I couldn’t believe it. People who were supposed to be my buddies took off,” complains Ike. “For example, this guy Mike Stewart, who was the head United Artists [now the president of CBS Songs], was always grabbing and hugging when Tina was around. I never heard from that man once when we broke up.
“Some have been there for me, giving me money when I needed it. But these others, like Bob Krasnow—I made so much money for that man. A few months ago, I called him up and asked to borrow $1,500. It’s the only time I ever asked him for something. I’m still waiting to hear from the dude.”
Reminded that his reputation isn’t too savory, Ike looks me straight in the eye and announces, “I liked coke, who don’t? I’ve always been quiet, but this stuff makes me talk. Before the divorce I was giving the stuff away. I was getting $56,000 a month from one investment alone.
“Why did I have to sell drugs? When I came to New York I’d set up my hotel room with these big bowls filled with coke in every room, just giving it to people. I didn’t know no better. Man, I was giving away $52,000 worth of s—t every f—king six weeks, ask God.”
In March 1980, the police moved on the Taj Mahal. L.A. narcs, together with a SWAT team, smashed through the front doors.
They discovered a live hand grenade and reportedly found Ike hovering over a toilet, surrounded by several empty plastic bags and holding 7 grams of cocaine.
Two weapons charges were quickly dismissed, but a Torrance Superior Court judge ruled that Ike would have to stand trial for possessing cocaine.
Initially, it didn’t seem as if the judge was impressed by Ike’s still blemish-free legal record or his legendary musical accomplishments.
But at the conclusion of the two-month trial, the judge found Ike guilty, yet only sentenced him to 30 days in the L.A. county jail and three years’ probation.
After that nothing much was heard from Ike. The divorce proceedings had exposed him as a wife beater, and now he was labeled a drug dealer.
The heavies in the business stopped coming to Bolic. As activity dropped off there, Ike was forced to sell some of the equipment.
The divorce from Tina had left him reeling, financially. Besides losing a three-record deal with United Artists and his share of a $1.5 million in advance booking in 1975, he was forced to sell several apartment buildings to meet the terms of the divorce settlement.
Strapped, Ike canceled a $30,000-a-year insurance policy on Bolic in 1980 and put the property up for sale to fend off foreclosure on a $250,000 loan from a Beverly Hills bank.
“His investments were in such disarray, he didn’t know what he owned,” says Joel Bihari. “He called me after he and Tina split up and asked me to help him with his problems. So my wife and me spent a lot of time at Bolic going through the books to help straighten things out.
“She discovered that he was a partner in this 380-unit apartment building in Anaheim. We took him out to see it—he had never seen it before. And of course he was amazed. It was like he was back in Mississippi. His eyes opened wide, and he said, ‘What’s a spook like me doing owning a place like this?’”
Bolic, though, was Ike’s obsession. “Ike had his cars, maybe a half-million dollars’ worth, and three or diamond rings, all of which looked like four ice cubes,” says Clifford Solomon. “But the studio was his first love. That’s where he had put all of his energies.”
Around noon on January 20, 1981, as he prepared for a meeting with a group of prospective buyers of the studio, Ike was in his small apartment behind the studio when sirens disrupted the afternoon calm.
After rushing into the street to see what the commotion was about, he called his friend Maxie and told him, “You’d better come on down here, the studio’s on fire.”
Smoke billowed from the building for the next 18 hours. According to a fire department investigator, the blaze was clearly a case of arson.
It was discovered that someone had poured a flammable fluid along a narrow hallway outside Ike’s bedroom. The fire spread downward, knifing through the sheets of mahogany paneling.
Because the studio was such a maze of small rooms and secret passageways, firemen couldn’t reach parts of the building and were forced to watch the building burn until it was nothing more than a gutted shell.
Standing on a curb with one of his girlfriends, Ann Thomas, Lee Maxie, and the two potential buyers of the studio, Ike stared ahead dejectedly as fire consumed his last major possession.
As the studio was reduced to ashes, Maxie reproached Ike for “living a life of sin” that “inevitably result[ed] in your den of iniquity burning to the ground.” Ike dropped his head. “What’s going to happen to me next?”
On April 13, 1981, Ike got his answer when a burst of gunfire rang out from his Inglewood home. A 49-year-old newspaper carrier lay bleeding on the lawn.
Ike was arrested for shooting the man after he reportedly kicked Turner’s dog. A jury trial the following year cleared Ike of the assault charge, which could have sent him to prison for seven years.
But these repeated arrests had thoroughly soiled his reputation. So, in 1982, Mr. Flamboyance, the rock founding father who had traveled with the Stones and made Tina T. a household name, quietly crept into the shadows of some mysterious underground world.
In the Old World Cafe, Ike’s hand slithers across Barbara’s bare back. She giggles as his ring-clad fingers move lower and lower. With certain pleasures in mind, he’s lost all interest in his food. But Ike is trying to set the record straight about dope.
“Would I do that again? Not dope, but let me tell you this, man, I don’t have a drug problem. I do as much dope as the average police do. Not one time have I been found with any dope, not one. The police came into my studio and said I was putting dope down the toilet. They’re big liars.
“The Inglewood police couldn’t get into my studio. It took them 18 minutes to get in there, I was upstairs watching them [on the security monitors]. I wound up getting three years’ probation, 30 days in jail, for what? For nothing, man.
“They found some dope in the recording studio. How you going to go to a department store and put the boss in jail for something you find in the store? Man, that’s not right.”
Disgustedly, Ike shoves aside his plate of food. Staring blankly ahead, he remains silent.
Two women come into the room and wave at him. “Hey, Ike, how’s it going?” one exclaims. “I haven’t seen you in a while…I played the Lingerie last night. Here’s some tickets, come on by.”
Smiling again, Ike blows each of the women a kiss. “Holly-wood,” he raves, “I love it.”
Then turning more somber, he says, “I came back here 2 1/2 years ago from East St. Louis. I’ve had some problems. A few guys with guns stole $13,000 from me, one of my four houses was robbed. Things are working out now. But when I first came out here it was like being lost, man, just like searching for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
“I don’t know why these things happen to me. Maybe it’s envy, hate. I don’t know why these stories about me appear. I don’t bother anybody, I stay at home all the time. The last 10 years haven’t been that good. I had to deal with my own self, face up to my insecurities, and find a counter so I could stand them off and get back into music.”
His voice trails off. And his pained expression mirrors a keen sense of disbelief.
“Everything I read has been exaggerated, exaggerated to the point that it makes it hard me to talk to record companies,” he snaps. “It makes it hard for me to even get a start. I know people think I’m a gangster, a devil. The only thing they ever saw was this stone-faced guy in the background playing his guitar, and now they read s—t like ‘Ike Turner shoots paperboy who’s 8 years old.’”
Ike becomes so agitated he stutters over every word. Increasingly difficult to understand, he ignores my entreaties to calm down and instead screeches.
“No one who read those headlines knew the paperboy was 49 years old, and that the girl I married, Ann Thomas, had been hit by him and told to ‘Shut up, bitch.’ That guy was beating on my dog when I wasn’t around. A few months later when he came back, our daughter [Mia, 16, who lke fathered with Thomas while still living with Tina] came upstairs and told me, ‘Daddy, the man’s downstairs that was beating mama.’
“When I asked him to explain what happened, he said, ‘Why the f—k don’t you ask your woman?’ To talk that way, he had to have a piece with him, so I went upstairs and got mine. When I got back out front, he said, ‘Are you going to shoot me?’ I fired a shot into the air. He ran, jumped over a fence, and that's when I think he cut his ankle. That was it. But the whole world, everybody, thinks lke Turner shot a poor little newsboy."
Once his rage ebbs, I ask him if incidents like that are responsible for his disappearing into some netherworld.
“Look, man, what I’ve done is nothing, what I’m going to do is what’s important,” he replies, again the cool hipster. “I wasn’t going to go out on some stage and make an ass of myself. When I walk out there I’m going to be glad, I’m going to get my nut. I know when I get off. If I don’t get my nut—you know, orgasm—I don’t mess with it.”
Undisturbed by the sexual reference, Barbara suddenly interrupts, “Working with Ike you don’t just sing, it’s something you have to build from your soul. Ike has multi-talents. He’s total electricity.”
Nodding immodestly, Ike continues, “It’s like Martin Luther King. I didn’t know him, but when he said, ‘I have a dream,’ it lifted me and Tina right out of the bed. He put bumps all over me—and that’s what I have to get when I do something—my nut. Nobody’s ever heard the real me.
“What’s bringing me back now is started to miss the stage. My studio burning down was a great thing to happen to me. I’d gotten stagnated in that damn studio. I’d sit there, man, and just start creating songs like this [snaps his fingers].
“I’d get my nut, then go upstairs and start playing with girls. I did that for five or six years. But that’s being selfish, man. Ain’t it, with all I have to give? Here I am getting nuts by myself. Why can’t I give it to everybody? I’ve been underground, but I’m going to come on top with this new revue, like a damn volcano.”
To fulfill this dream, Ike says he now spends most of his time meeting with musicians, writing songs, and conferring with lawyers or promoters.
Conferences with friends are held in one of Turner’s houses, located in Baldwin Hills, Huntington Harbor, Bel-Air, and North Hollywood. Delaney Bramlett relates, “The North Hollywood house looks like a crash pad. There wasn’t much furniture around. It was a far cry from his studio, yet you could tell Ike was really getting back to music. Instruments lay around everywhere.”
Besides dealing with “a few lawsuits,” which he refused to discuss further, Ike’s also been trying to recoup thousands of dollars in lost royalties and to sell a batch of previously unreleased Ike and Tina songs.
“I let things slide,” Ike explains. “Now I’m straightening my life out.” I ask him, “Do you have any tax problems?” Ike looks at me quizzically. “Tax problems?” he repeats. “Everything got screwed up after Tina and me broke up…
“I’ve paid people to straighten my affairs out, and they haven’t. My taxes haven’t been brought to date. They’re three years behind. I owe California money, but I don’t care about that. I’m sure there’s other people out there that I owe money.”
After dismissing this issue with a shrug, Ike caresses Barbara’s leg again and returns to more familiar and pleasant territory: his lifelong pursuit of women.
“I love sexy girls, but let me tell you, man, speaking of mistakes, I’ll never marry no more as long as I’m chocolate. If there is anything called reincarnation, or whatever they talk about, I want God to make me a longer neck. That way I’d do my own self…I won’t need any woman. In other words, I’d be able to give my own self head.
“I've been whorish all my life. Even as a kid I had to have a pretty girl. But man, this has caused me lots of trouble, lots.
“Now I got to do for myself, for lke. I bought Tina rings, mink coats—I never put aside a penny for Ike. If I had charged her for being the booking agency, the arranger, the director, the writer, if I had been paid a third of that, I wouldn’t be needy.
“I gave my whole life to her, and after I did, she used me to a point, and then she didn’t need me anymore. She says she was brainwashed. Man, I never did that! Sure, I have my ways, my temper, the women, but I was like that when I met her.”
“I know people think I’m some pimp, that I just put her out there,” Ike says, his temper flaring. “She can have her ‘Private Dancer,’ ‘Whats Love Got to Do With It?’ I’ve started to do this other song instead.”
Softening his voice and carefully enunciating each word, he melodically recites, “You’re asking everybody what love’s got to do with it/ Why, when you tried it, you didn’t want to quit it/ But now you wanna dome like the farmer do the potato/ You want to plant me now, come back and dig me later/ But you know you’re a fool, you know you’re in love/ You’ve got to face it to live in this world/ you’ve to take the good along with the bad/ Sometimes you’re happy, and sometimes you’re sad/ You know you love him, but you don’t understand why he treat you like he do/ He has you smiling when you should be ashamed/ Got you laughing when your heart’s in pain/ Oh now, you know you’re a nut, you let that man get your mind messed up/ How come? You’re just a fool. You know you love him.”
Playing nervously with a book of matches, Ike plaintively says, “I really do care for that woman. I hate that we don’t communicate, that she forgot where she came from. I don’t know, man, she always said she never wanted to be black. And she’s really showing that.
“I wonder if she’s doing all these write-ups to convince some people that she’s not coming back to me, so that she can reach her goals. After she does that, maybe she intends to come back and say, ‘See, I did it, I did it by using whitey to get there. Now you do it.’ I think she’s doing this stuff just to prove something to me. Why else would she still be talking about me after all this time?”
Ike takes a wad of hundred-dollar bills from his pocket and throws one on the table.
“Come on, let’s go,” he shouts at Barbara. “I can’t talk no more. I’m too stirred up.”
Not bothering to wait for change, he walks quickly through the restaurant to the rear parking lot. While waiting for the attendant to take his ticket, he grimaces and again attacks Tina’s new image.
“Believe me, man, I don’t want anything bad to happen to her. I made mistakes. I dealt with Tina physically instead of mentally. It’s very hard to deal with black women mentally. It’s like you have to put some fear in them to communicate.
“But what she’s doing with our kids now just isn’t right. She’s convincing white people that she only cares about one of her kids, the one [Craig] she had before me. The others, especially our son [Ronnie], she’s saying she never wanted him, that she didn’t want to mother him. That hurt me, man.
"When we were together we never treated any of them differently. Not Ronnie, Craig, or the two sons I had before Tina [Ike Jr. and Michael]. Since we broke up, she’s saying that Craig is the only one she wanted to mother. This is the only time I’ve really been mad at her. Can you imagine those kids walking around and people saying, ‘Ah-ha, Tina ain’t your mama.’ I don’t care what she says about me, but my kids, that ain’t right.
“Michael once tried to physically take me out of the studio to take him to see Tina. He desperately wanted to see her, so he went to her house, to bring her back to me, and she put him in a nut house [in Calabasas, California, a tiny highlands town north of Los Angeles].
“The kids can’t even go to see her. They don’t have her phone number. They have to talk to her sister, Eileen. Tina won’t even talk to them. Tina’s changed so much, she’s changed so much…I don’t know why she’s doing this.”
Later Ike Jr., also a musician, explained to me: “Michael wanted my mother and father to get back together, and the next thing knew he was in the hospital. He was hurt by their being apart. I didn’t think he was crazy. They kept him in this place a long time. I thought he was normal. I don’t know why she did that.
“I’ve tried to call my mother at her management’s offices. They take a message. I’ve called a good 10-15 times, but I’ve never heard from her. I know she’s busy, but I don’t know why she hasn’t called. I love her, she brought me up, she’s my mother.
“It kind of feels like she’s neglecting us, at least us three, me, Michael, and Ronnie. I talk to Ronnie all the time, and he doesn’t hear from her. It’s to the point now where we’re always wondering, ‘Where is she?’
“I got a book from her last Christmas. I feel that now that she has her stuff together she doesn’t really think about none of us. Not like my father did. He never treated any of us any differently, but she does.”
Depleted, Ike leans against a column outside the restaurant waiting for the valet to bring his car.
As the car arrives, Barbara kisses me goodbye. Muttering to himself, Ike slides into the front seat and bangs the door shut. He sits there silently for a few moments before announcing, “We’ll finish this soon. I’ll see you in New York in a few weeks.”
A week later, Ike calls me at 2 a.m. from L.A.
His voice is heavy, strained with emotion.
“Man, that woman keeps talking about me. Did you see her on that f—king Good Morning America?” he complains, sounding as if the walls of his house are closing in on him.
More epithets follow. He talks about Tina’s disinterest in the kids, the trouble he’s having getting started again, and Tina’s continued badmouthing. He’s having a bad night. We talk for two hours. Then he abruptly hangs up.
Three days later, photographer Earl Miller arranges a meeting with Ike, but as he prepares for the shoot, someone calls for Ike and cancels.
Two more days pass without any word from Ike. Then, after several unanswered phone calls, Miller is suddenly told to appear at an L.A. address.
He’s led through a maze of rooms before being brought to Ike. Ike explains he had to cancel the previous meeting because two men had appeared at his house with guns and taken two of his cars.
Hearing of Ike’s troubles, I try to call him, to see how he is. But all his phone numbers have been changed.
Reprinted with the kind permission of Spin.
- Lloyd Grove’s interview with Spin founder Bob Guccione Jr.
- Scott Cohen’s 1985 Spin Madonna profile