By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The house in East St. Louis became a residence for most of the band. It was also a rehearsal space and, with four bedrooms, party headquarters. That led to some rough goings-on, mostly caused by jealous boyfriends or husbands. Sometimes gunplay was involved. "You know how it is when you get popular," Turner says. "I don't know how to say this, exactly, but girls started pulling at you and stuff, and you don't stop and ask whether they married or not, and some of 'em were. Guys used to come by and shoot up against my house. They called that house the 'house of many thrills,' and it was."
But Turner's gigs, popular as they were, also became a testing ground for social change in what was then a mostly segregated city. "St. Louis was kind of prejudiced then, man," he says. "But kids, they didn't care nothing about race. They were just into music. At that time, George Edick's didn't have blacks there, and over in East St. Louis at Club Manhattan, they didn't have whites. So what I started doing, man, was, I stopped playing any black club that wouldn't allow whites and any white club that wouldn't allow blacks. The dollars don't have no color, so the club owners started letting everybody get in there."
Turner discovered Anna Mae Bullock at one of his local gigs -- coincidentally, at a place called Turner's Hall -- and she eventually came to sing with the group as Tina Turner (though Ike staunchly maintains the pair never married). They had a hit together with "A Fool in Love," a song that was originally meant for R&B vocalist Art Lassiter.
"I wrote the song for [Lassiter]," Turner recalls. "Tina was there as I was writing it. And this guy, he was going to beat me out of some money, man. He borrowed, I don't know, $80 or $90 to get some tires for his car, and he had no intention of paying that money back. So we went out to Technisonic Studios. They never did any live bands there; all they did was TV commercials and stuff. We waited on Art, and he never showed up. So Tina said, 'Why don't you put my voice on there, and when you find him, you can put him on instead.' So that's what we did. When Tina got to the part where she makes that scream -- 'Hey, hey, hey, wowww!' -- Ed, the guy who owned the studio, like to hit the ceiling: 'Goddammit, don't holler in my microphone!' In those days, they didn't have no limiters. I guess she rammed the needle. It was real funny.
"But that was the beginning. There was a disc jockey there called Dave Dixon. After I recorded the song, I went out to Club Imperial, and we played it out there for some of the kids on a little recorder in the car. They said, 'Man, why don't you put it out with her voice on it?' So Dave Dixon heard it that same night. He sent it to Sue Records; they put it out, and boom, it was a hit."
Other hits, such as "I Think It's Gonna Work Out Fine" and "Poor Fool," followed. In 1962, Turner left the St. Louis area and moved his base of operations to Los Angeles. The Ike & Tina Turner Revue became an international sensation, opening shows for the Rolling Stones (including the infamous Altamont concert). They peaked creatively in 1966 with "River Deep, Mountain High," which Tina recorded with Phil Spector, and commercially in 1971 with their No. 4 hit "Proud Mary."
But with success came the dark period recounted in excruciating detail in I, Tina and in Ike's own harrowing memoir, Takin' Back My Name. Ike had always had a temper, but when he began using -- and then abusing -- cocaine, what was left of his creative genius began to dissolve. So how did a man who once would have fired band members for drinking or having drugs in their possession wind up hooked himself?
"Well, man, when it started off, there were two people -- they both are dead now. I won't call their names, 'cause I don't want to put a black mark on them. They gave me a little thing of cocaine, and I put it in my coat pocket, and I carried it there for months. I never tried it. They told me, 'You'll like this.' Occasionally I'd take a little drink of whiskey or some wine, but not enough to even bother me. And that's like maybe once every four or five months, not every day. So, finally, one day I was thinking about it. I went and got it and I asked my doctor about it. He told me the pros and cons. So I sat up one night when we was working, and I put some in my nose. This was like 2 o'clock at night. Eleven o'clock the next day, I'm still sitting at that damn piano, feeling like I just woke up. I felt like it was making me really ambitious. I had a lot of energy.