"What started me recording," Howlin' Wolf says in Peter Guralnick's landmark book Feel Like Going Home, "Ike Turner carried me over to Memphis to Sam Phillips."
Examine that simple sentence and consider the events that followed. Howlin' Wolf ended up on Chess Records and cut some of the most remarkable Chicago-blues sides ever recorded. Sam Phillips and his Sun Records recorded Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. Ike Turner's band, with vocalist Jackie Brenston, recorded what many consider one of the first rock & roll songs, "Rocket 88." Turner was then playing piano; it's been argued that when Phillips discovered Jerry Lee Lewis, he was searching for a white Ike Turner.
If there's really such a thing as the Crossroads in the history of 20th-century American music, Ike Turner was standing there, all of 18 years old, along with Howlin' Wolf and Sam Phillips.
And it's Turner who is being awarded the Slammies' Lifetime Achievement Award this year for his remarkable contributions to American music in general and St. Louis music in particular.
Early rock & rollers constantly proclaim him one of the key figures in the formation of the music. Little Richard has said that he learned piano because of the rippin' piano riffs on "Rocket 88." His involvement in the early careers of Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Elmore James and Little Milton, among others, place Turner as one of the point men of blues and rhythm & blues in the South. And all this happened before Ike hit the age of 25.
In the late '50s Turner moved to St. Louis, where he switched over to the guitar and hired as his vocalist Annie Mae Bullock, who changed her named to Tina. The Ike and Tina Revue quickly became the musical rage of the St. Louis area because of their burnin' revue and the musical juggernaut that was the Kings of Rhythm. On their early records for the Sun label, Turner penned most of the songs, transcended genre by covering Hank Williams tunes and formed a guitar style that influenced everyone from the early California surf bands, the Stax sound of Booker T. and the MGs, and the Chicago blues. Ike and Tina went big-time, of course, in the middle and late '60s, even though their River Deep, Mountain High record, produced by Phil Spector, flopped despite the transcendent title track. Then came their remarkable cover of "Proud Mary" and an opening slot on at least one Stones tour during their late-'60s glory, once again transcending race and genre to create pure American music.
The Slammies are proud to honor Ike Turner the musician by awarding him this year's Lifetime Achievement Award.
-- Randall Roberts