Though more widely known for his exploits in the worlds of rhythm & blues and rock ‘n’ roll, Ike Turner played an important role in blues history. His first recording session at Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis produced what is often called the first rock ‘n’ roll record’ Rocket ’88,’ sung by Ike’s saxophonist Jackie Brenston, but the song was actually a rocking Delta version of Jimmy Liggins’ jump blues recording Cadillac Boogie. Izear Luster Turner Jr. learned piano from Pinetop Perkins in his hometown of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he was born on November 5, 1931. As a talent scout, producer, pianist, or guitarist, Ike participated in some of the earliest recordings of Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Little Milton, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, B.B. King, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy. After Turner and his Kings of Rhythm band moved to East St. Louis, he formed one of the tightest R&B revues in the business, first with male vocalists such as Brenston, Billy Gayles, and Clayton Love, and later with a young singer named Annie Mae Bullock. Ike renamed her Tina, and the rest is rock ‘n’ roll and Hollywood history. Drug abuse and spousal abuse sullied his reputation, but a cleaned-up Ike Turner managed to reemerge as a headliner in the blues world during his final years by re-embracing his blues roots in his performances and recordings. Turner’s 2001 album, Here and Now, which was nominated for a Grammy as Best Traditional Blues Album, took Handy Award honors for Comeback Album of the Year. His final CD, , Risin’ With the Blues, won a blues Grammy in 2006. He died at his home in San Marcos, California, on December 12, 2007.
— Jim O’Neal