Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ike Turner RIP: Kings Of Rhythm

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

It is a wet Wednesday, March 3rd 1951, and Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm are travelling up from Clarksdale into Memphis in the back of a Chrysler. An acquaintance of theirs, Riley King, has just got signed to play blues at Modern Records, and they have been jamming with him at a club in Chambers, Mississippi. Riley, or B.B. as he is now calling himself, tells them to go visit Sun Studios, a record label run by Sam Phillips. They have a song that Ike has written the first verse for and the rest of the band are trying to come up with an ending before they get there, as they have nothing else to record. It is about Jackie Brenston's favourite car, the Oldsmobile Rocket '88. While they are throwing around ideas, there is a loud bang, and Johnny Dougan swerves the Chrysler to the side of the road. They hear a thud, and Willie Kizzert sees his amplifier lying in the road. The tire has burst and everything has come loose. After packing again, they continue, only to hear the siren of a patrol car a few miles further down Highway 61...

...The band begin to set up at 706 Union Avenue. Willie checks his amplifier and finds it damp and cracked, and rain has leaked into it! It starts to buzz and crackle as Willie plugs in his guitar, but there's nothing to be done, and when Willie plays a few licks, everyone kind of likes the 'fuzzy' sound. Ike sets himself up at the piano, while band saxophonist Jackie Brenston steps up to sing the vocal. Ray Hill, a young addition to the group, picks up the saxophone this time. Blow your horn, Raymond! They need some bass, but the double bass is too quiet, so Willie starts to pick out a bass line on his electric guitar strings, and the sound makes the room vibrate. Ike starts to play a stand-out piano intro, and the band kicks in...

Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats (Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm) - Rocket '88

They cut a couple of more tunes, and they flip for whose name will appear on which side. Jackie gets his on Rocket '88. No problem, says Ike, you have that one, mine will be bigger. Sam releases it with another track with Ike's name on, but he knows already which side is going to hit... It's an r&b smash - and that rankles Ike for years, as he gave Jackie all of the song-writing credits too!

Now, nobody picks it up on the white radio, but Sam has heard something - a mix of jump blues and boogie-woogie - that he likes, and others, like Bill Haley and his Tennessee Boys, are listening hard too, taking it for a new sound.

They call it rock and roll, but Ike says its just what we always played, r&b, they just call it something different because when we play we're black and when they play it they're white. The Kings Of Rhythm are the hottest thing in Clarksdale, then Memphis, Granite City, then St Louis. They play with Ike pushing them on, in places where you mostly play non-stop, just one set, no breaks. It's a tough life, and the Kings of Rhythm change personnel from gig to gig. When somebody has to leave, somebody else has to jump in, play that part. Raymond subs for Jackie on sax, Bonnie Turner covers Ike on the piano, and Ike tries his hand at the guitar when Willie leaves. Ike's never really played guitar before now. In less than a year, Ike can play just like B.B. King, like John Lee Hooker, like Elmore James, like everyone he has played piano behind, and he still sees it as just something he has to do because he can't find someone else. He and Bonnie, his girlfriend, record tracks with different Kings Of Rhythm in a studio in Clarksdale that the Bihari Brothers have set up for Ike...

Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm - All The Blues, All The Time (Modern Records) 1954 (released on Crown Records LP Ike Turner Rocks The Blues 1963)

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