The world of popular music has rightly been shaken by the death of Tina Turner, at the age of 83.
Even though she had not performed in public for many years, Tina remained one of the most iconic artists of the 20th Century and will be remembered long after the majority of her peers (and indeed, today’s female singers) have passed into history. Everybody likes some of Tina’s records, even if they don’t like all of them. Ace has been responsible for keeping some of the very best in print for decades, either through licensing or via its long term ownership of the Kent-Modern catalogue, on which some of Tina and ex-husband Ike’s very best singles of the mid-60s appeared. It’s only right and proper that we pay our respects via this small tribute.
Tina’s life and career is far too diverse to do full justice to in the course of an obituary – she wrote two autobiographies, to which you are directed for her side of the whole story – but she was born Anna Mae Bullock in Brownsville, Tennessee on November 30 1939, not far from the town of Nutbush, where she grew up after World War II and where she sang in church along with her parents and two sisters. Ma and Pa Bullock separated in the early 50s, at which point Anna Mae went to live with her grandmother. After she died, Anna Mae rejoined her mother, who had by this time moved to S. Louis – and it is in St. Louis that the Tina Turner story really begins.
Tina was in her mid-teens when she and her slightly older sister Aileen began to frequent the juke joints and clubs around St. Louis. It was at one such club that she requested to sing with a band led by a handsome, dapper guitarist who would soon become the profoundly dominant influence in her life. At first Ike Turner refused to entertain her pleas to be allowed to sing with his Kings Of Rhythm – until she grabbed a microphone during a band break, and belted out B B King’s ‘You Know I Love You’. Ike asked her if that was the extent of her repertoire. On finding out that it wasn’t, he let her sing a few more. By the end of the night she was the band’s newest ‘chick singer’.
Tina made her first record ‘Box Top’ in 1958. She had been singing with the Kings Of Rhythm for a few months when Ike let her loose on her vinyl debut (on which she was billed as Little Ann). It did nothing and went nowhere, but barely a year later ‘Ike And Tina Turner’ were in the US R&B and Pop charts for the first time with the beaty blues of ‘A Fool In Love’. It just missed out on the #1 slot on the former and eased into the Top 30 on the latter – a fine achievement for such an unapologetically ‘black record – and made the duo a household name in R&B and soul circles in short order.
There was more where it came from, too. Over the next 15 years the Turners would put away another 24 R&B chartmakers, all but one of which also crossed over to Pop. This number is actually a small percentage of the total number of records they released in this period; throughout the 60s Ike would change their non-exclusive label affiliations as frequently as he changed his underwear, and a good number of their very best records missed out on chart action entirely, simply because the Turners had moved on to another label before they had been released. Sue, Kent, Tangerine, Modern, Innis, Loma, Warner Brothers, Cenco, Pompeii, Ike’s own Sonja and of course, Phil Spector’s Philles were just some of the imprints on which Tina’s voice could be heard between 1960 and 1967 alone. Of course, their biggest worldwide hit of the period came with ‘River Deep – Mountain High’. A UK Top 3 smash and a Top 30 hit throughout Europe, it barely made the US Hot 100 and its failure there caused Spector to more or less give up on his domestic market.
Ike and Tina’s well documented personal relationship – which can at best be described as ‘tempestuous’ – somehow survived into the 70s before Tina called time on years of spousal abuse in 1975, and walked out of her marriage. She fell out of favour musically for the next few years, scoring no hits of any consequence and playing small bars and lounges to keep herself afloat financially.
Tina’s recording career had been running on empty for some time when Sheffield-based electro-pop duo Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware (a.k.a. the British Electric Foundation) featured her on a version of the Temptations’ ‘Ball Of Confusion’ on their first ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction’ album in 1982. It was also released as a 45 without charting, but it did ultimately lead to a resurgence of interest in her as an artist, and a new record deal with the UK arm of Capitol Records. Again with the B.E.F. at the controls, Tina’s first Capitol 45 revived Al Green’s 1971 breakthrough hit ‘Let’s Stay Together’. A little over 10 years after ‘Nutbush City Limits’ had peaked at # 4 on the U.K. Top 20, Tina finally scored another Top 10 hit here (peak # 6). It would be the first of 40 hits that she would rack up between 1983 and 2020, among them film themes for James Bond and ‘Mad Max’, duets with the likes of Sir Rod Stewart, Barry White, Eric Clapton, David Bowie and Bryan Adams, and the two songs more readily identifiable with her than almost anything she ever recorded with Ike, ‘The Best’ and ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It - which also became the title of her autobiography, and was made into a top line Hollywood movie with Angela Bassett in the role of Tina.
Fans of her 60s recordings have a tendency to give the recordings that made the former Anna Mae Bullock a global superstar short shrift, but it is an irrefutable truth that it is Tina’s post-1980 work that the majority of people will primarily remember her for, and it is this work that kept her touring the world for the next 26 years until she retired in 2009, upon the completion of her ‘50th Anniversary Tour’. In that 26 year period Tina won 12 Grammy awards including one for Lifetime Achievement, and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame twice (once as a solo, and once for her work with Ike). Her tours set new records for attendances; almost 200,00 people bought tickets for her 1988 tour in support of her ‘Break Every Rule’ album alone.
She had certainly come a long way from singing to a handful of people in the juke joints of St. Louis…
Tina’s ‘retirement’ was, initially at least, straight out of the Frank Sinatra playbook. Although she no longer toured regularly, she made the occasional record and was a major force in the creation of the long-running jukebox musical “Tina”, which has been playing to packed houses since 2015. But her health was gradually deteriorating, and after rallying from assortment of horrible ailments including a stroke, kidney failure and intestinal cancer time finally ran out for Tina, in her adopted home country of Switzerland on May 24 2023.
All at Ace are deeply saddened by the news…