Risin' with the Blues
Zoho Roots 200611
Street Date: September 14, 2006
There is no denying Ike Turner's place in musical history. While the general public may know about his heyday with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue during the '60s (a meteroic rise to fame that peaked with their early '70 hits Proud Mary" and Nutbush City Limits"), only hardcore Ike fans and jump blues enthusiasts are aware of him spearheading the formative years of rock 'n' roll with the 1951 hit Rocket 88"(cut in Memphis by his Kings of Rhythm but issued on Chicago's Chess Records label under the name Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats). Few know of Turner's role as a kind of super talent scout of the South during the 1950s for both the Chess brothers of Chicago's Chess Records or the Bihari brothers of Los Angeles' Modern/RPM Records. Fewer still know of Ike's participation on several early '50s RPM recordings by B.B. King (including his piano accompaniment on King's 1951 hit Three O'Clock Blues" and his 1952 followup You Know I Love You"), his playing second guitar on classic 1958 Cobra sessions for Buddy Guy and Otis Rush (including Rush's signature pieces Double Trouble" and All Your Love (I Miss Loving)"), or hammering the 88s behind the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Little Walter, and Willie Dixon during the 1950s.
While playing as a house pianist in West Memphis blacks only" blues clubs, Ike often snuck in a young white truck driver to sit next to the piano to study Ike's boogie style and dance moves: that kid was Elvis Presley.
In the 1960's, Ike's influence on several of the most recognized names in Rock continued: Janis Joplin sought Turner for vocal coaching, and a young Jimi Hendrix played in Ike's Kings of Rhythm for a time. As a teenager, Bonnie Bramlett was briefly a member of the Ikettes, prior to starting her own rise to stardom a few years later.
In retrospect, Ike's early innovations seem to have been overshadowed by his notoriety in later years. Following the breakup of Ike & Tina in 1976, Turner entered a dark period of self-imposed exile marked by his heavy cocaine addiction. I just went into a 15- year party," is how he put it. The '90s were further marred by his incarceration for cocaine possession at the outset of the decade and the public besmirching of his name by the 1993 movie What's Love Got To Do With It?, which portrays Tina's take on their tumultuous 18- year relationship. But like the mythical phoenix, Ike would eventually rise from the ashes of his fallen career and begin life anew.
With 2001's triumphant Here and Now, one thing was eminently clear: the swagger was back in Ike Turner's stride. That comeback album took critics by surprise, proving that, at age 70, he still had plenty of fire left to give. The album received a GRAMMY nomination for Best Traditional Blues album" in 2001, and a 2002 W.C. Handy Blues Award in 2002.
On Risin' with the Blues, the R&B icon and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer takes the intensity level up a notch or two with typically slashing- stinging guitar work, rollicking boogie woogie piano flourishes and some of the nastiest, rawest, most potent vocals he's ever summoned up in a fabled career that dates back more than 50 years.
All my life I was afraid to come out front and sing," says the longtime bandleader who throughout his career stood behind a dynamic front person, whether it was Jackie Brenston, Billy Gayles or Clayton Love in the early years or Tina Turner during the '60s and '70s. I don't know whether I was too bashful to sing it myself on stage, I just liked it better in the background."
Ike is in the background no more. Throughout Risin'with the Blues, he wails with ferocious authority as the vocal front man while wielding a wicked ax and pumping the piano keys with the energy of a man half his age. On an ultra-funky update of Hound Dog Taylor's Gimme Back My Wig," he snarls his way through the humorous lyrics while on a powerful horn-fueled reading of Eddie Boyd's Five Long Years" (retitled here as Eighteen Long Years" to commemorate the span of Ike's marriage to Tina), he screams with cathartic abandon. On the infectious shuffle blues Tease Me," Ike gets downright menacing, then turns around and delivers the country flavored ballad A Love Like Yours" with rare poignancy and emotional depth.
Turner cuts a wide stylistic swath on this powerhouse outing. There are bits of jazz extrapolation here in his instrumental Mix It Up/ Jazzy Fuzzy" and also on a faithful reading of Horace Silver's Senor Blues." The urgent I Don't Want Nobody" is a dance floor number coming directly out of the Zapp-Bootsy Collins playbook while the (country blues) gospel flavored Jesus Loves Me" has Turner testifying with evangelistic zeal. As he says of that confessional offering, Behind all the crap that they said I been through, it's like, 'You can call me a bad boy, but when you get to calling me a bad boy, Jesus loves me anyway.' And that's the truth."
On a rousing rendition of Louis Jordan's 1946 hit Caldonia" (cut when Ike was an impressionable 15-year-old growing up in Clarksdale, Mississippi), he pays tribute to a jump blues hero of his youth. That's my favorite guy, Louis Jordan," he says. I grew up with his music -- all those tunes I heard on the jukebox like 'Caldonia,' Let The Good Times Roll' and Choo Choo Cha Boogie.' That was a golden era, man! I was born in 1931 so I came up with all those great tunes by cats like Joe Liggins (1945's The Honeydripper") and Jimmy Liggins (1947's Cadillac Boogie"), Roy Brown (1947's Good Rockin' Tonight"), T-Bone Walker (1947's Stormy Monday Blues") and Amos Milburn (1948's Chicken Shack Boogie"). That was my music, man! And when I finally formed the Kings of Rhythm, we were doing our own versions of all that stuff, just trying to put our own twist on it." Elsewhere on Risin' with the Blues, Turner's guitar stings with a vengeance on Rockin' Blues," he belts out vocals in robust style on Goin' Home Tomorrow" (a New Orleans flavored stroll reminiscent of Earl King's Those Lonely, Lonely Nights") and digs into some downhome fingerstyle blues guitar work on the humorous Big Fat Mama." The funky instrumental Bi Polar" showcases both Ike's guitar and piano prowess while the organ-fueled closer, After Hours," is an Erskine Hawkins slow blues that highlights Ike's soulful restraint on the ivories.
Everything you hear on this record comes directly from the heart, man," maintains the man who has been firmly rooted in the real-deal for over 50 years. This whole album is about feeling." Amen to that. -- Bill Milkowski
Bill Milkowski is a regular contributor to Jazz Times and Jazziz magazines. He is also the author of JACO: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius" (Backbeat Books) and Swing It! An Annotated History of Jive" (Billboard Books)
Posted by: Jazz Promo Services