Ike Turner

Ike Turner is certainly one of the most dehumanized figures in rock history. Mention his name and the first association that comes to most anyone's mind is "abusive husband," not "soul star" or "rock & roll pioneer." According to legend, Turner was a tyrannical ogre who used physical violence and psychological intimidation to control his infinitely more talented wife Tina, while indulging his own appetites for cocaine and women at every turn. That's not entirely accurate, although by most accounts Turner did quite a bit to earn that reputation; he spent time in prison due to his drug problems, and his own refutations of Tina's allegations of abuse have been inconsistent at best over the years. Still, this view of Turner as villain does a disservice to his very real musical legacy as an instrumentalist and bandleader. As a pianist in the early '50s, Turner helped lay the groundwork for rock & roll; he was also a distinctive guitarist with a biting, nasty tone, and was one of the first to make the whammy bar an integral part of his sound. It's true that he was nowhere near the singer Tina was, and it's probably also true that she was his ticket to stardom; moreover, his songwriting, while sometimes inspired, often possessed a generic quality that made consistent chart appearances difficult. But as a bandleader, his disciplinarian approach -- when it wasn't manifesting itself in darker fashion, that is -- resulted in undeniably tight, well-drilled ensembles and some of the most exhilarating live shows the R&B world ever saw -- centered around Tina, yes, but spectacles nonetheless. If Turner isn't exactly the most defensible character around, in the end his musical strengths and weaknesses deserve the same objective appraisal as anyone.