Friday, December 21, 2007

Ike Turner RIP: Growing Up In Clarksdale

Ike Wister Turner, born Clarksdale, Mississippi, 5th November 1931, died December 12th 2007.

Let us go back to Clarksdale, Mississippi, back to around the year 1935. Ike lives in a small house ... Ike looks up. Somewhere outside in the street there is a disturbance. People are yelling for his father, baptist minister Izear Luster Turner. His father goes to the door and out onto the porch. He tries to reason with the assembled mob of white men, but they don't want to listen. They drag Reverend Turner and pull him onto the front lawn, where they begin to beat him mercilessly. Young Ike can see everything from his vantage point at the window, until his mother, Beatrice, drags him away. Finally, the men leave, satisfied that the minister will never again 'mess around' with white women. The Turner family emerge to tend to his grievous injuries, while a neighbour runs to find a telephone to call for an ambulance. None is willing to take him to the hospital nearby, because he is black. The family are forced to tend to him themselves, in their back yard, erecting a small tent over him as some kind of protection because he is too weak to move. Reverend Turner lasts three years like this, before finally submitting to his wounds...

It is 1940. Ike is on his way home out of school with is friend Ernest Lane. They get to Ernest's house, and there is a heck of a noise! Young Ike and Ernest stare through the window and see Mr Lane laughing and cheering, for Pinetop Perkins is banging the heck out of a piano! Soon Lane and Ike are inside the house at the end of the piano looking at him... Ike runs home to tell his mama, 'Mama, I want a piano!' Beatrice tells him: "Pass the third grade and bring me a good report card - I'll get you one." Ike works hard and one day there is a piano. Pinetop himself teaches both Ike and Ernest to play. Ike never forgets his kindness, for the rest of his life...

Pinetop Perkins & Ruth Brown - Chains Of Love

It is 1940, and home is full of surprises, but they are not always the kind y
ou want. There is the woman who lives next door, the one who says she is his mother's friend. She says she will look after Ike when his stepfather comes home. Ike doesn't know which is worse anymore. Ike and his mother Beatrice live with one of a series of stepfathers. This one, like the rest, doesn't seem to want Ike around, and one night lashes out at him with a length of barbed wire for the yard fence. This time, Ike isn't going to take it. When the man drops his guard, Ike is ready with the nearest object to hand, and the nine-year old boy starts to pummel the grown man to the floor. If it is a father figure that Ike seeks from now on, it can be found in Pinetop, and the young blues players he starts to spend his time with around Clarksdale...

Young Ike has found a job manning the elevator at the Alcazar Hotel, working in the evenings after school. He thinks he was 8 years old, which makes it 1939, but others think he was at high school at Clarksdale High, which makes it at least around about 1947. It has to be because of what is about to happen. He takes a ride up to the second floor, where he sees a glass door leading into offices. The lettering on the glass door reads WROX Radio. There is a man, an African-American, behind the window.

His name is Early Wright. He is also known as 'The Soul Man' to his many night-time listeners, and is the first black radio announcer in Mississippi. "Hey, come in kid!", says Early to Ike, and the youth enters cautiously, yet fascinated by the surroundings. "Would you like to see how you 'hold a record'?", asked Early, and Ike just nods, staring at the turntables. "Sit there and hold this switch until the 45 that's playing stops, then turn the knob." Ike waits and turns, and the next record starts to broadcast across Clarksdale. "Good, kid, you got it." Early reaches over and presses the mike button to talk over. "That was a beautiful record I dropped on you for your listening pleasure." Ike is concerned. "Shouldn't you tell em the name of the record?", he queries nervously. "Nah," replies Early," They ought to know it already, and if they don't they'll phone in to find out, they'll beg us to tell them. You'll see. Try it again. I'm going over to get me some coffee..."

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