Ike’s Story: SPIN’s 1985 Feature on Ike Turner
"I styled Tina into a sex symbol — I made it happen"
Standing on a curb with one of his girlfriends, Ann Thomas, Lee Maxie, and the two potential buyers of the studio, Ike stared ahead dejectedly as fire consumed his last major possession. As the studio was reduced to ashes, Maxie reproached Ike for “living a life of sin” that “inevitably result[ed] in your den of iniquity burning to the ground.” Ike dropped his head. “What’s going to happen to me next?”
On April 13, 1981, Ike got his answer when a burst of gunfire rang out from his Inglewood home. A 49-year-old newspaper carrier lay bleeding on the lawn. Ike was arrested for shooting the man after he reportedly kicked Turner’s dog. A jury trial the following year cleared Ike of the assault charge, which could have him to prison for seven years. But these repeated arrests had thoroughly soiled his reputation. So, in 1982, Mr. Flamboyance, the rock founding father who had traveled with the Stones and made Tina T. a household name, quietly crept into the shadows of some mysterious underground world.
In the Old World Cafe, Ike’s hand slithers across Barbara’s bare back. She giggles as his ring-clad fingers move lower and lower. With certain pleasures in mind, he’s lost all interest in his food. But Ike is trying to set the record straight about dope.
“Would I do that again? Not dope, but let me tell you this, man, I don’t have a drug problem. I do as much dope as the average police do. Not one time have I been found with any dope, not one. The police came into my studio and said I was putting dope down the toilet. They’re big liars. The Inglewood police couldn’t get into my studio. It took them 18 minutes to get in there, I was upstairs watching them [on the security monitors]. I wound up getting three years probation, 30 days in jail, for what? For nothing man. They found some dope in the recording studio. How you going to go to a department store and put the boss in jail for something you find in the store? Man, that’s not right.”
Disgustedly, Ike shoves aside his plate of food. Staring blankly ahead, he remains silent.
Two women come into the room and wave at him. “Hey, Ike, how’s it going?” one exclaims. “I haven’t seen you in a while… I played the Lingerie last night. Here’s some tickets, come on by.”
Smiling again, Ike blows each of the women a kiss. “Holly-wood,” he raves, “I love it.” Then turning more somber, he says, “I came back here 2 1/2 years ago from East St. Louis. I’ve had some problems. A few guys with guns stole $13,000 from me, one of my four houses was robbed. Things are working out now. But when first came out here it was like being lost, man, just like searching for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for.
“I don’t know why these things happen to me. Maybe it’s envy, hate. I don’t know why these stories about me appear. I don’t bother anybody, I stay at home all the time. The last 10 years haven’t been that good. I had to deal with my own self, face up to my insecurities, and find a counter so I could stand them off and get back into music.”
His voice trails off. And his pained expression mirrors a keen sense of disbelief.
“Everything I read has been exaggerated, exaggerated to the point that it makes it hard me to talk to record companies,” he snaps. “It makes it hard for me to even get a start. I know people think I’m a gangster, a devil. The only thing they ever saw was this stone-faced guy in the background playing his guitar, and now they read s—t like ‘Ike Turner shoots paperboy who’s 8 years old.’”
Ike becomes so agitated he stutters over every word. Increasingly difficult to understand, he ignores my entreaties to calm down and instead screeches.
“No one who read those headlines knew the paperboy was 49 years old, and that the girl I married, Ann Thomas, had been hit by him and told to ‘Shut up, bitch.’ That guy was beating on my dog when I wasn’t around. A few months later when he came back, our daughter [Mia, 16, who lke fathered with Thomas while still living with Tina] came upstairs and told me, ‘Daddy, the man’s downstairs that was beating mama.’
“When I asked him to explain what happened, he said, ‘Why the fuck don’t you ask your woman?’ To talk that way, he had to have a piece with him, so I went upstairs and got mine. When I got back out front, he said, ‘Are you going to shoot me?’ I fired a shot into the air. He ran, jumped over a fence, and thats when I think he cut his ankle. That was it. But the whole world, everybody, thinks lke Turner shot a poor little newsboy.
Once his rage ebbs, I ask him if incidents like that are responsible for his disappearing into some netherworld.
“Look, man, what I’ve done is nothing, what I’m going to do is what’s important,” he replies, again the cool hipster. “I wasn’t going to go out on some stage and make an ass of myself. When I walk out there I’m going to be glad, I’m going to get my nut. I know when I get off. If I don’t get my nut — you know, orgasm — I don’t mess with it.”
Undisturbed by the sexual reference, Barbara suddenly interrupts, “Working with Ike you don’t just sing, it’s something you have to build from your soul. Ike has multi-talents. He’s total electricity.” Nodding immodestly, Ike continues, “It’s like Martin Luther King. I didn’t know him, but when he said, ‘I have a dream,’ it lifted me and Tina right out of the bed. He put bumps all over me — and that’s what I have to get when I do something — my nut. Nobody’s ever heard the real me.
“What’s bringing me back now is started to miss the stage. My studio burning down was a great thing to happen to me. I’d gotten stagnated in that damn studio. I’d sit there, man, and just start creating songs like this [snaps his fingers]. I’d get my nut, then go upstairs and start playing with girls. I did that for five or six years. But that’s being selfish, man. Ain’t it, with all I have to give? Here I am getting nuts by myself. Why can’t I give it to everybody? I’ve been underground, but I’m going to come on top with this new revue, like a damn volcano.”
To fulfill this dream, Ike says he now spends most of his time meeting with musicians, writing songs, and conferring with lawyers or promoters. Conferences with friends are held in one of Turner’s houses, located in Baldwin Hills, Huntington Harbor, Bel-Air, and North Hollywood. Delaney Bramlett relates, “The North Hollywood house looks like a crash pad. There wasn’t much furniture around. It was a far cry from his studio, yet you could tell Ike was really getting back to music. Instruments lay around everywhere.”
Besides dealing with “a few lawsuits,” which he refused to discuss further, Ike’s also been trying to recoup thousands of dollars in lost royalties and to sell a batch of previously unreleased Ike and Tina songs. “I let things slide,” Ike explains. “Now I’m straightening my life out.” I ask him, “Do you have any tax problems?” Ike looks at me quizzically. “Tax problems?” he repeats. “Everything got screwed up after Tina and me broke up…
I’ve paid people to straighten my affairs out, and they haven’t. My taxes haven’t been brought to date. They’re three years behind. I owe California money, but I don’t care about that. I’m sure there’s other people out there that I owe money.”