Ike & Tina Turner
Ike & Tina On the Road 1971-72 (MVD Visual)
By Brian Arsenault
The story of what was bad with Ike and Tina Turner has been much told and neither this DVD nor I have anything to add to it here. What this DVD is about is what was good, even astonishing, about Ike and Tina that took place on stage.
Like Chuck Berry, Ike Turner could graft his rhythm and blues roots onto the tree of rock. He would arrange and onstage virtually conduct his hot band while Tina and the Ikettes created a singing, dancing storm of performance that was part ‘60s girl group, part girly show, part James Brown level energy. The show would ultimately create the superstar Tina became.
Tina started life as Anna Mae Bullock. Ike added her to his Kings of Rhythm and called her Tina to rhyme with Sheena (of the Jungle) with the idea that if she ever left the band he could replace her with another “Tina.”
You need to know here that much of this film is crappy quality black and white, shot by now famous rock photographer Bob Gruen and his wife, Nadya. It was a different era of video technology, but the result is no less precious for that. Just harder to watch in an era when the phone in your pocket shoots serviceable video.
You can’t follow many of the conversations and the audio quality of most performances is poor. What’s remarkable is that even with the video and audio quality problems, the show sequences are often mesmerizing.
On “I Smell Trouble” Tina and Ike play off each other with her great raspy vocal and his electric guitar work that is truly electric. You almost believe they are truly in love (more irony) and lust (more believable). Over the course of the video, and I believe edited correctly for this effect, Tina emerges from a persona as featured Ikette to full blown star.
As Tina sings the early part of their cover of “Proud Mary,” you just can’t look away. She’s building the tension that explodes into the raging finish. (Now you really can’t look away.)
The sensuality and sexuality of the performances here are way beyond the contrived “shocks” of Madonna and even her younger “little monster” Gaga cousin. I try to pick words carefully: unbridled, primitive, passionate, even savage, but one has to be culturally and racially sensitive. Still, let’s face it, the question becomes are you horny yet. I think they were proud of that.
This video also shows how ordinary life is, even for those we see on stage. Tina cooks for her kids in the opening sequence. The band goofs on airplanes and in airports. The dressing rooms are often dreary locker rooms or cramped windowless affairs where wigs are combed out and songs and dance moves are rehearsed.
You realize why a crown prince of rock like Ronnie Wood can say that all the rest is just filler between the couple hours on stage. You understand why drink and drugs often become part of the filler. In Ike’s case, it was cocaine that ultimately blew a hole in his septum and his career.
Ike saw what Tina was and pushed her increasingly to the front. Was that perhaps a source of the ultimate tension between them? It may have been officially the Ike and Tina Turner Review but more and more it was Tina Turner with her back up singers and band.
Tina soared beyond those days to the pantheon of rock goddess status that continues into her seventies. One of the great moments of the video is when she says to an interviewer that when she gets into her 50s, she still won’t be an old woman. Is she yet? Nah.
Ike and Tina were one of those rare black acts that appeared both before adoring black audiences — listen to the crowd on the Otis Redding written “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (more irony?) — and white university students. The University of North Dakota. Really. (There’s some great footage of the band interacting with a North Dakota hotel staff.)
And there’s a lot of appreciation here of Ike as a composer/arranger/musician. He was truly an innovator in rock music’s age of innovation. Not every great artist was a great human being in all respects. Nor is every great football player, corporate head or high government official. But accomplishment at a high level is a rarer thing than nice guys.
To read more reviews, posts and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.