Risin' With The Blues
Zoho Roots, 2006
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/31/2009
Unfortunately, Ike Turner will forever be remembered as a wife-beating, drug-taking paranoid tyrant who spent years abusing anything and anyone who dared to get in his way. Thanks to a Disney biopic and ex-wife Tina’s tell-all book, his reputation within the business was made public, as was the full extent of his temperamental outbursts. The one and only thing that Ike Turner ever truly loved was music -- more specifically, the blues -- and it is for his at times brilliant music that I choose to remember him for.
Ike had a horrific childhood, of which the lowest ebb came from watching his father die a slow and horribly painful death in a Red Cross tent in the Turner’s front yard in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Fortunately, the young Ike was an incredibly talented musician with a keen ear for music and a great feel for a groove, and it wasn’t long before Turner began writing his own songs and producing the work of others as well. He soon formed his first band, The Kings Of Rhythm, with whom he eventually ended up in St. Louis, tearing up the nightclubs and earning the reputation as the hottest ticket in town.
He is credited by many as having recorded the very first rock ‘n’ roll record song ever with 1951’s “Rocket 88,” which was produced by Sam Phillips at Sun Records. But it was his partnership with Tina that would prove to be the most enduring and successful period of his life. From the moment the young Anna Mae Bullock stepped up onstage to sing between sets at George Edick’s club in East St. Louis, Ike knew he had hit pay dirt. He would eventually change her name, and once the shy and reserved Anna Mae from Nutbush became a fully-fledged wild rocker Tina Turner, their fate was sealed and a decade and a half of almost constant touring followed until Tina’s departure in May ‘76.
Risin’ With The Blues was Ike’s third solo album and the only the fourth to not feature Tina. It is pleasingly also his best effort as a solo artist and fittingly won him a Grammy in 2007. Opening with a wickedly funny stab at -- guess who -- “Gimme Back My Wig” sets the tone for what is a set of funk-driven blues and gospel songs, some old, some new and all of them blending effortlessly into an explosion of old school and contemporary blues.
Next up is a piano-driven, horn-soaked version of Louis Jordan’s “Caldonia,” and it’s here that Ike’s voice really loosens up and takes us back to a time where everything just sounded so much better. His natural singing voice is raspy and deep and lends itself beautifully to the rockabilly arrangement. The slow-rocking, self-penned “Tease Me” is a cliché-ridden (“You’re like Kentucky Fried Chicken / You’re finger lickin’ good”) ode to some vixen whom enjoys a little too much of the opposite sex.
One of the records highlights is the faithful cover of Fats Domino’s brilliant “Goin’ Home Tomorrow,” which along with Ike’s tortured vocals takes on a whole new depth of despair. “Jazzy Fuzzy” is a slick funky instrumental piece that grooves easily and leaves you wanting more of the same. The only low point on this album is the generic funk of “I Don’t Want Nobody.” It’s lyrically as mundane as its outdated arrangement.
“Jesus Loves Me” is at times as honest as Turner has ever been, growling, “I did a lot of wrong but I admit it all to myself / I am a bad boy, but Jesus loves me anyway.” In the next verse, however, he is defiant to a fault and takes another opportunity to take a shot at the biopic: “They made a movie ‘bout me and all of that stuff ain’t true / People turn their nose up at me / I wonder what they think I’m gonna do.”
Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” is here under the guise of “Eighteen Long Years” to represent the Turner’s eighteen year union, no doubt. The pleasing thing is that it’s easily a high point and Ike’s blues and intense, growling vocals have rarely sounded any better. A beautiful rendition of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s soul ballad “A Love Like Yours” gives the album some earnest heart, which is a welcome treat.
The second funky instrumental piece here is “Senor Blues,” and just as the first one left you wanting more, this one satisfies that need easily. “Rockin’ Blues,” “After Hours” and “Big Fat Mama” are all carved from the same stone and help to close the record out with some retro honky tonk piano and rockabilly grooves. The closer “Bi Polar” is, however, a modern take on the blues of old and it works superbly.
When all is said and done, Ike Turner was an originator and innovator of the blues and rock even long before there was rock. Rightfully inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame along with Tina in 1991, Ike, since that time until his passing in December 2007, used his music to speak for itself and did somewhat salvage what was left of his career. Risin’ With The Blues is an original work that makes its own rules and stands alone as a great account for what Turner was at heart -- a bluesman, no more, no less.