What’s Ike Got To Do With It … In praise of Ike Turner

Rock n’ roll is often a thankless task.  Accolades commonly bring mental illness and self-destruction (from Elvis Presley to Tom Petty).  One can form indisputably the greatest rock band ever, (Brian Jones), or write and record the first rock n roll record ever, only get paid $20, have no technical credit on the disc and later choose a fantastic lead singer to front your band and model her image after your fantasy of the film character Nyoka in the jungle thus creating the Queen of Rock n roll, (Ike Turner), and be left as a shadow in the Pantheons. 

Like many people the world over, I was enthralled with the Johnny Depp trial last year.  I was proud and shocked at myself that I was participating in such a mainstream cultural phenomenon.  As someone who belongs more in the 19th century, or the future (I hope – y’know ‘common sense,’ an intrinsic distrust of authority, etc..), what most people find appealing nowadays, or do, I don’t.  You won’t even catch me looking down at a phone.  Anyway, caveat, I was on what was called, “Team Amber.”  And not because I am a woman. 

I pretty much watched the whole debacle, and very carefully, reading things into everything:  who’s telling the truth and who is full of shit (pun not intended).  And at the very ending, during the Ruling, when it was decreed that both, with or without validity, were guilty of trashing each other’s public persona, I started thinking about Ike Turner.

I am an Ike and Tina Turner fanatic.  I loved the ‘hit’ when I was a kid, and if it wasn’t for my racist father always making me turn off Soul Train when it was on American TV, I’d have been in way deep.  It wasn’t until I married, my young(er) husband (oddly enough), musician Mat Treiber, that I became immersed in the musical merit of Ike and Tina.  I love both Ike and Tina together, the magic they made, the records – my fave being the early 1970s stuff, a few years before it all nuked itself out of existence.  I must say, I am not at all a fan of Tina post-Ike, and I am not alone in that.  I could put it down to the 1980s, a decade of such disappointment culturally and especially music and records.  I did my own first gig at CBGB in June 1981.  I grew up dying to be music, and when I did, the era was a shit pie to the face.  No wonder I’m more popular these days where everyone’s psych is cleaned, emptied and circumspect, instead of trendy (usually anyway).   

Yes I saw Tina at the Ritz (in NYC), which was the pivotal show for her ‘comeback’.   Yes it was very good, but it wasn’t anything compared to the 1960s and 70s.  Luckily we have so much on youtube which can be enjoyed.  I download these clips, and a personal goal is to learn every Ikette move via my TV screen.  Did you know all that fantastic dancing for the girls was choreographed by Tina Turner herself?  Incredible!  Hat’s off!  The ‘Playboy After Dark’ concert blows my mind.  The interview is fab too, with the lovely Ike who, I’m sorry, does not appear to be anything like the way he has been painted.  A man painted, smeared and destroyed by his ex-wife. 

In Tina’s recent documentary, ‘Tina,’ released in Spring 2021, there was a scene that stunned me, an admission that floored me.  This is what came back to me as I pondered the Depp legal Judgement, watching the end of the trial.  The film tells the story of Tina trying in vain to get interest in her post the Ike and Tina days; trying to get a record deal, and any interest.  Her agents concluded that it was hopeless and that she HAD to tell ‘the story’.  She had to have a gimmick, (nothing wrong with that), and the gimmick was being a victim of domestic abuse.  The film goes on to state that at that point, the gates opened for her, and she was on and in; back in the music business and bigger than ever.  How absolutely vile to be ok with that as a gimmick.  I guess that is conveniently ‘allowed’ in Buddhism?  It wouldn’t be allowed in Christianity as both Ike and Tina were raised, where the act of forgiveness promises rewards, and closure.  Tina knew everything about Ike and his history more than anyone, until he wrote a book, in defence. 

‘Takin’ Back My Name,’ is an amazing tome put out by Virgin Books in 1999, with a forward written by a King of Rock n Roll, Little Richard, praising the founder of rock n roll, Ike Turner.  A book that reveals a man raped four times by different women before he was aged 12.  A man who saw the kind of racism up front and as close as seeing blood run, yet still never had a racist bone in his body towards whites.  Despite his personal trauma, he swam through it and developed his talents on piano, guitar, music arranging and producing, and became a star.  A man who designed the clothes for Tina and the Ikettes.  Ike rose above every horror that life threw at him enough to focus on music and becoming a star for himself and his wife. He was a man obsessed with his artAnd sex and love.  Yet unlike Tina who is dubbed a ‘survivor’ of Ike, Ike didn’t survive the trauma of Tina’s cast stigma.  Is annihilating revenge really admirable? 

The image Ike Turner was left with, as a wife beater and madman, an easy shingle to hang on a black man, is abhorrent in light of his musical accomplishments, and moral ones.  He was married to about six women before Tina, and had many lovers and married afterward, as well, yet during the time before and after his reputation was smeared, I cannot find any arrests or anything such as that would be expected of a man whom society paints in such a drastic horrific manner.  Ike’s autobiography also reveals that even Elvis was in awe of Ike. Elvis would sneak into some show in the deep south, as a kid, and watch Ike from behind and under the piano, watching his legs, and everything.  Elvis revealed this story years later to Ike and Tina themselves in Las Vegas. 

I had my own positive experience regarding Ike Turner directly.  My husband covered one of his songs, and we were living in LA.  Shortly before Ike’s death of which those close to him call a suicide, we went to see him play in Malibu one evening.  The grand man sat down, did his whole set sitting down, but it rocked.  We wanted to meet him and there was the inevitable crowd and security around the backstage door.  I went up to the security guard and told him, “You see that guy over there?  He is a musician and he just covered one of Ike’s songs.  He’d love so much to meet Ike.”  When it was time to let some folks backstage, the security guard came out the backstage door and headed straight for Mat Treiber, and escorted him in, (not me unfortunately).  Clearly what mattered most to Ike was music.  It was always his blood, his medicine.  Ike didn’t remember the song at the first second when Mat told him which one it was.  Then he did, and started saying the lyrics. He gave Mat his business card which Mat still keeps in the very pocket of the jacket he wore.  Magic.  Love!  

It was the day after the Depp trial ended, and with all this drifting back into my head, that I wrote to Ike Turner’s daughter.  I told her what I thought, and how I felt.  I told her that in considering the Depp precedent, in regards to the destruction of persona and career, with or without evidence that Tina was telling the truth about everything, that she could take Tina to the cleaners in the name of her father.  The evidence being the most recent documentary where they are admitting to this scheme, for profit!  For self-promotion – hell this makes what the two present-day Hollywood kookoos did to each other, nothing – even with evidence it is absolutely clear that Tina Turner destroyed Ike Turner’s reputation, and career.

A legal proceeding as such would be the grandest moral circus of all, and the redemption of a man who went to his grave with a ruined name.  Ike’s daughter Twanna wrote back to me. 

            “It is amazing that you thought that. The thought crossed my mind, but there is a lot to consider. My father NEVER spoke ill of Tina although all of that negativity was placed out there to build Tina. My father saw what was going on and chose to take the higher ground. As you had to experience when you and Mat met him. My father was a magnificent human being. He loved people and he loved Tina. Being he did not pursue that avenue and he could have, I am going to follow his lead.” 

 What a classy response.  What a wonderful confirmation that was to me, beyond my own intuitions on the man and evidential influence he would undoubtedly have on his family.  I thought, this response is a story in itself, this is an essay.  Which is why I decided to write about it.  Tina till her death was still in the public eye today, riding on what began as a singer for a the man who created rock n roll (with his single Rocket 88), and still wagged her time with him as a way to legitimately stay ‘interesting,’ and find her a title as “survivor”.   I don’t really believe she had to do any of that.  We’re all tested in life.  Was the music business that closed to her?  Perhaps she just needed some patience and the assistance of an astrologer to pass that moral test.  I’m not a psychologist, but choosing that route assured no closure.  A fan base of women identified with Tina as a battered woman, women battered by brutes.  Ike’s genius surely set him apart from the archtype wife-beater, yet it was the archtype victim that identified with Tina, painting her ex-husband as their own.  A monumental, world-wide  psychic attack parallel to black magic, for profit and success. 

In the seeds of writing this article I began by wondering if there was any real technical evidence in all the abuse claimed.  Tina walked into a police department one day, with a bruised eye, and split?  People knew they were volatile; Keith Richards joked in the press that Tina beat Ike up too.  Then on the heels of my plans to write this essay, there was a new book out by former Ikette, and friend of mine, PP Arnold.  In this book Pat (PP Arnold), states that Ike raped her.  That was the most outrageous accusation of Ike Turner I’d ever learned of!  It blew my whole Ike-is-a-saint image.  What a shame!  I told Pat I was writing this article and I wanted to talk to her about Ike.  “I don’t wanna talk about Ike,” she told me in her dressing room recently in London.  I said, well the article I’m writing is in praise of Ike.  I thought maybe that could get a rise out of her.  She repeated what I said, as a question.  And then followed with her offering, “Ike was a tremendous musical talent”.  End of.  Forgiveness I guess, isn’t it beautiful? 

RIP Tina Turner, the music lives on.

This article was (finally) written on Monday 22 May and completed Thursday 25 May, the day after Tina Turner’s death, who passed a year exactly to the era of the Johnny Depp trial when the seeds of this essay took place.


Roxanne Fontana

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4 Responses to What’s Ike Got To Do With It … In praise of Ike Turner

    1. I read this essay, and cannot agree.
      You have disregarded allegations of Rape and domestic abuse, due to the perpetrator being a great musician.
      I wonder if your next essay could cover domestic abuse in all
      It’s forms. And the effects of Rape on an individual.
      Then perhaps you would understand the effects of which you try to write about.

      Comment by S McCall on 28 May, 2023 at 6:42 am
    2. Thank you, but the article isn’t about that. There are many articles out there already about that. This is an article about what can bring closure for example: vengeance vs forgiveness. And yes I did mention that Ike was raped several times by different women by age 12. I didn’t connect obvious traumas and behaviors to that because I was illustrating how he rose above it with music, and I suppose with forgiveness but there was no doubt a mark left on him, I would think.

      Comment by Roxanne on 28 May, 2023 at 3:25 pm
    3. Totally disgusting !

      Comment by Kevin Patrick McCann on 3 June, 2023 at 11:58 am
    4. I found this to be insightful, and very well-written. I had to read it a couple times as, each time, it went deeper. I’m somewhat familiar with the writers’ writings and have have always found her observations to be researched and thought-provoking. Personally, I seriously appreciate her perspective, and always have. There are always two sides to a story – not just the popular one that gets ‘copied and pasted’. I worked a LOT of music videos in L.A. in the 80’s. We were wrapping one set when Tina’s crew came in to film the “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” video. I remember the huge production, and how Tina just burst into action on cue. One of the grips commented that he’d never seen a ‘middle-aged woman work it like that’. She was a survivor, and an absolute dynamo of explosive talent. I felt that we were all witnessing some spirit-eyed synopsis, as I always searched for the story-behind-the-story on film crews. She put all she had into her work, and trying to understand the vulnerabilities and complicities of her and Ike’s lives, without judgement, makes me appreciate her all the more. I’m not excusing abuse or any kind of manipulation or propaganda on anyone’s part b/c I wasn’t there – I’m just trying to read in between the ‘copy and pasting’. Thank you, Roxanne, for offering us this very human perspective. It’s tough down here on planet earth, and bless your soul, Tina-in-heaven, for your drive, your talent, and your grit in showing us how to challenge the despairs of life.

      Comment by C Durham on 21 July, 2023 at 8:44 am

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