Ike Turner

Ike Turner - Clarksdale

Rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues pioneer Ike Turner began his career playing blues and boogie woogie piano in Clarksdale. Turner was born less than a mile south-west of this site, at 304 Washington Avenue in the Riverton neighborhood, on November 5, 1931. In his pre-teen years he got a job here at the Hotel Alcazar, where he operated the elevator and did janitorial work. Turner later rose to fame as a deejay, producer, and leader of the Kings of Rhythm band and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.

Ike Turner, a perfectionist driven to create, take charge, and succeed, filled many roles during an illustrious but controversial career. Although best known for his turbulent years with Tina Turner in the 1960s and ‘70s, he had already emerged as an important musical figure while still a teenager in Clarksdale, years before the Ike & Tina phenomenon began.

His father, Izear Luster Turner, a carpenter, railroad employee and preacher, died when Ike was seven, and he went to work to help his mother, seamstress Beatrice Turner. When she bought him a piano, Turner ditched formal lessons to listen to blues pianist Pinetop Perkins and later earned a spot playing in Robert Nighthawk’s band in local juke joints and on WROX radio. After watching WROX announcers John Friskillo and Early Wright, Turner launched his own career as a deejay. He also joined the Top Hatters, a band of youngsters trained by Clarksdale dentist Dr. Eugene Mason, before founding the Kings of Rhythm. The Kings of Rhythm at times included Clarksdale area musicians Raymond Hill, Jackie Brenston, Johnny O’Neal, Willie “Bad Boy” Sims, Edward Nash, Eugene Fox, Clayton Love, Ernest Lane, and Willie Kizart, as well as Ike’s cousin, C. V. Veal, nephew Jesse Knight, Jr., and wives or girlfriends Bonnie Turner and Annie Mae Wilson.

In March of 1951 Turner took the group to Memphis , where they recorded several songs including the No. 1 R&B hit often regarded as the first rock ‘n’ roll record, “Rocket ‘88’,” featuring Jackie Brenston on vocals with the band credited as the Delta Cats. Turner busily arranged for other artists, including Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Little Milton, to record for Chess, Sun, Modern, and other labels during the next few years at various sites around the South, often traveling with the Bihari brothers of Modern Records. He also produced sessions in Clarksdale at WROX, at the Greyhound bus maintenance shop, and in his own studio.

In between stays in West Memphis, Memphis, and Sarasota, Florida, Turner continued to use Clarksdale as a home base before relocating to East St. Louis in 1954 and then moving to California. He continued to front new configurations of the Kings of Rhythm and became better known as an explosive guitarist and creator of the popular Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Later publicity surrounding his abusive relationship with Tina, drug addiction, and a prison term permanently scarred Turner’s image, but he managed a comeback with the support of the international blues community. He was elected to both the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame and won a Grammy for his final CD, Risin’ With the Blues, in 2007. Turner died in San Marcos, California, on December 12, 2007.

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