This Week's Featured Marker:
Clarksdale, Mississippi, saluted hometown rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm & blues pioneer Ike Turner with a Mississippi Blues Trail marker unveiling at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 6, 2010 followed by a panel discussion and another dedication, of an Ike Turner plaque on Clarksdale’s Walk of Fame, later in the day to kick off the annual Sunflower River Blues Festival. Turner, who began his career playing blues and boogie woogie piano in Clarksdale, was born at 304 Washington Avenue in the Delta city’s Riverton neighborhood, on November 5, 1931. The blues trail marker was placed at the Central Building, originally home of the Hotel Alcazar at 127 Third Street, where Turner got a job in his pre-teen years operating the elevator and doing janitorial work. The building later housed WROX radio, after Turner became a deejay on the station.
Turner rose to fame as leader of the Kings of Rhythm band and the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. With Clarksdale vocalist Jackie Brenston, Turner’s band, billed as the Delta Cats, recorded the song many consider to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record, “Rocket ’88,’ at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis in 1951 – three years before rock ‘n’ roll idol Elvis Presley began his recording career at the same studio. In the 1960s and ‘70s the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, based first in East St. Louis and later in Los Angeles, became one of the hottest acts on the rhythm & blues circuit, crossing over into the pop market with hits such as “Proud Mary.” After the Turners’ turbulent relationship ended, Tina went on to even greater popular success while Ike spent years contending with drug abuse and constant criticism for the spousal abuse which was heavily publicized in Tina’s autobiography and the Hollywood film “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” In later years a comeback effort was embraced by the international blues community in recognition of Turner’s talents and achievements not just as a performer and bandleader but as an important historical figure in his early roles as talent scout and producer when he helped record such legendary bluesmen as Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Little Milton in the 1950s. Turner won a Grammy award for his final CD, “Risin’ With the Blues,” in 2007. He died in San Marcos, California, on Dec. 12, 2007.
Several members of the Turner family turned up for the Aug. 6 ceremonies, and the lively panel discussion included cousins C.V. Veal, a former Kings of Rhythm drummer; guitarist Andrew “Shine” Turner; and gospel singer Myra Turner; along with Ike’s daughter, Linda Turner Bullock, who attended with her husband James Bullock and her mother, Ike’s second wife, Velma Davis. Another cousin, Jamiesa Turner, performed on stage during the blues festival as the drummer with her father James “Super Chikan” Johnson’s band. Other panelists included Mississippi Blues Trail research director Jim O’Neal and Sunflower River Blues Festival chairman Melville Tillis, who once played trumpet in the local Top Hatters band alongside Ike.
Turner’s father, Izear Luster Turner, a carpenter, railroad employee and preacher, died when Ike was seven. Ike 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.
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