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RPM 362; AUGUST 1952



It’s a problem that won’t be resolved until the dawn of the 1960’s when he found the perfect front woman for his blistering group, but already Ike Turner is attempting to improve his fortunes by enlisting a female singer to relieve the burden of relying on his own shortcomings as a vocalist.

This partnership, both on record and in real life, wouldn’t last nearly as long or with the same commercial returns as Turner’s subsequent relationship with Tina Turner, but it shows that he already had a plan in place to try and set him apart from the competition.


I Started Looking For My Baby
Male-female duets are hardly anything new in music, no matter what kind of music we’re talking about. In the early 1950’s the most famous and innovative duo were Les Paul and Mary Ford, and clearly that’s the prototype that would inspire not just Ike Turner but also Mickey Baker when he teamed up with Sylvia Vanderpool who we just heard from as a solo artist.

In Turner’s case, like Les Paul, he was a musician first and foremost. Neither of them wanted to sing, but when Turner split with Jackie Brenston who handled lead vocals on Rocket 88, he lost the guy who was comfortable in front of the microphone and Ike was left to either cut instrumentals or sing himself.

Nineteen-Fifties society was very patriarchal and Turner probably embodied that mindset more than most, as his later abusive behavior will attest. Perhaps knowing that a male vocalist would be something of a rival for him within the band, as well as in the public’s eye should they succeed, he turned to female singers starting with his soon to be wife Bonnie.

They cut Looking For My Baby in May and were married in September, but were already credited as a married duo on this, a month before their nuptials (and in an eerily prescient move he also gave her a new stage name rather than letting her use her given name of Marian Lee). The 17 year old Bonnie was a musician herself, a pianist which may have contributed to Ike making the switch down the road to guitar, and she also sang which of course was a vital addition for their band.

But while she had a decent voice, it wasn’t a very distinctive one. She was a club singer, capable but unmemorable, certainly attractive but not a dynamic knockout on stage and so, for Ike Turner, she became something of a dry run for his ultimate breakthrough eight long years down the road… largely a footnote in a much more expansive story.


Start Running Around
The role Ike Turner was best at was always that of a bandleader. He ran a tight ship, had good musicians, many of whom at this stage had been with him for years and would remain with him for years to come, and while he wasn’t a great songwriter he knew how to put together a track that caught your attention.

But at this stage, whether he had yet to acquire full creative autonomy or if he was still working out the formula, his arrangement for this has a few outdated ideas mixed with the more innovative and aggressive style he’d become known for, making for an uneasy balance.

The horns that kick this off are among those components a little long in the tooth. They sound like something just a few years past their prime, still rocking for sure, but rocking in the context of 1949 rather than 1952. Luckily they’re quickly joined by guitar playing hyper-fast licks answering them, while the piano and drums give this a decent bottom to work from.

When Bonnie Turner jumps into the fray vocally, her tone is a little on the thin side, still pleasant but not commanding enough, something not helped by how the record is mixed, keeping her a little too low to be clearly heard without straining to pick up everything she’s saying.

Undoubtedly this was a conscious decision because RPM wanted to highlight the band, but since the horns have such a prominent role here, even if they’re largely playing the same mediocre riff, that might not have been the best move to make. Ike takes the second stanza vocally to present his side of the break-up story and handles it well enough to pass muster, but his slightly nasal tone and wavering confidence also aren’t going to give you a compelling reason to listen closer.

That’s too bad though because as written Looking For My Baby isn’t half bad. Yeah, it’s generic as hell, but maybe that helped it in a way because it’s not trying – and failing – to do more than it’s capable of delivering. The story is interesting in that Ike presents himself as the one who left Bonnie, making himself the one she’s trying to get back when usually the reverse is true in these kinds of tales.

Even if there are no real surprises along the way beyond that, the song hums along at a pace that allows you to overlook the holes in the plot and focus instead of the band’s energy, including a fair alto solo that gives way to a tenor which doesn’t give us the honking authority it needs, especially considering the occasional vocal whooping and hand-claps behind it which suggests something more raucous had been anticipated by those in the studio.

None of this is very special, and truthfully if not for the name on the label would hardly be a candidate to be listened to outside of some far-flung specialty shows crammed with obscurities in the decades since, but it certainly fits in well-enough with the early 1950’s bar-band rock approach and the guitar, while not highlighted nearly enough, gives it just enough of a subversive kick to make it worth a few spins.


You Know Why I Had To Go
One of the interesting questions we always need to ask is at what point do artists, record companies and even the public themselves know for sure that something isn’t going to work out and that the act in question don’t have it in them to be stars.

Here, on the first effort by Bonnie & Ike Turner, we already know.

Though there’s nothing here to indicate the pairing was doomed to be ignominiously cast aside any time soon, there’s also no real sign that they had it in them collectively to ever stand out.

Bonnie Turner fell short of having the kind of vocal charisma to really pull you in, while Ike Turner seemed unable to come up with original material better than Looking For My Baby that would allow them to be noticed in an ever more competitive field.

But while the two of them wouldn’t amount to much together, records like this were competent enough to give them the opportunity to hone their act on the road over the next few years and while Bonnie wouldn’t be around to bask in the ensuing spotlight, the guy leading the band learned enough lessons during that time to allow him to be ready to capitalize on his biggest break when it – or rather when she – fell into his lap a few years around the bend.


(Visit the Artist page of Ike Turner for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)