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CHESS 1459; MARCH 1951



If the last few reviews, all of which centered on the work overseen by Izear Luster Turner Jr. at a legendary session held in Memphis, seemed to be a little harsh on the man, critiquing the underwhelming arrangements and musical performances on the two slower sides while bestowing more of the credit for the one classic side among them to the originator of the song on which it was based (even while praising the blistering musical interpretation of it) fear not, because with this side we at least get to see that Ike Turner did show signs of the latent talent that would blossom down the road.

It’s still not something that would indicate he might become one of the better bandleaders in rock history, but at least it provides a good coda to this four song cycle of reviews focusing on that work.


I Cried For You Baby
Because of a litany of horrific violence towards women, most famously his then-wife and recording partner, Tina, the name Ike Turner is known as much for his atrocities as for his music and no amount of success or acclaim for his creative talents should ever obscure the fact he failed miserably when it came to interpersonal relationships.

But all people are, at least in part, the product of their formative years and Ike Turner’s was particularly brutal. He watched his father be nearly beaten to death by a white mob, surviving the assault but left an invalid as a result. He later endured an abusive alcoholic stepfather and repeated sexual assaults by older women before he even reached puberty.

Music was his way out of this nightmare existence and he was a quick learner, picking up enough skills on piano by his teens to find steady work and though he was unable to read music he had an uncanny knack for being able to learn songs by ear very quickly and he began picking up gigs with his friends behind local or touring blues acts in Mississippi.

When B.B. King told him about a studio in Memphis where its owner Sam Phillips would record you – even without a record deal – in hopes of selling the songs to a label, Turner wasted no time in taking his group up there hoping for a big break. He got it, but not quite the way he expected, as one of his saxophone players, Jackie Brenston, sang lead on the obvious hit, Rocket 88, merely an aggressive re-working of Jimmy Liggins’ Cadillac Boogie, which in turn became a number one record under Brenston’s name on Chess Records.

Infuriated that his own name was nowhere to be found on the label, Turner saw his best chances to get off the dead-end road his life seemed to be traveling slipping away from him and was understandably upset. He hadn’t written the song, but then again neither did Brenston, who at best should’ve gotten a co-write with Liggins for the new lyrics but nothing else.

At this point it’s hard not to feel somewhat sorry for Turner. He was the one with the band and the one with the initiative, but unfortunately for Ike he was also the one with a voice that wasn’t considered lead material.

But I’m Lonesome Baby might suggest otherwise. While it’s hardly a lost classic, it’s got its charms and makes for a pretty decent debut for Turner in his own right.

Instead, consumed by anger and frustration over his missed opportunity for glory, he’d begin to have serious misgivings about his potential as a frontman and would pursue a different musical career as a talent scout, bandleader and producer in the studio for a number of labels while also overseeing a live act, all of which enabled him to remain in control without being out front – a position that suited his talents – and unfortunately his domineering persona – perfectly.


I Don’t Know What To Do
Unlike the very bluesy side on the flip, this one is better suited for mainstream rock consumption in 1951 with the horns taking a more prominent role on a track where the tempo maintains a comfortable cruising speed from start to finish.

The structure of it also affords the band a much more appropriate showcase for the kind of dingy club rave-up they specialized in as it starts off with a funky strut on drums before Turner’s piano starts flailing away as the horns riff alongside him, keeping up the loose-limbed excitement throughout the record.

While the lyrics and singing definitely take a back seat on I’m Lonesome And Blue they’re hardly incidental. Straightforward as they are, Turner paints a very credible picture of a man who’s upset at losing his girl, throwing in some lines that definitely weren’t snatched from the kind of free-floating lyrics that were so common in these types of songs (the way he crams the word “responsibility” into one line so seamlessly is a neat trick) giving this a little more depth than you might expect, but it’s his ability to marry this sadness with a more buoyant track that allows it to hit you in multiple ways.

His voice certainly isn’t bad here, comparing favorably in tone to a lot of more successful singers in rock at the time even if it’s obvious he’s a little self-conscious about singing and thus isn’t forcefully driving the song home the way he ought to. Still, it’s a reasonably effective performance, especially because its primary job is to set the scene for the instrumental workout that defines the record.

There’s nothing fancy about the arrangement, it’s just a basic rolling boogie where the rhythm is emphasized over everything else, but in spite of its simplicity it works well because all of the parts are so cohesive… albeit in a rather shambolic sounding way. Turner’s piano is infectious, the horns are locked into their groove – and Raymond Hill contributes a long solo set off by claves which gets slightly whimsical towards the end – and while he largely sits out the bulk of the song, or else is well in the background, Willie Kizart chips in with a distorted guitar solo which closes the record out on a high note.

In the Twenty-First Century you can’t experience the kind of juke joint settings that were ubiquitous throughout the South in the middle of the last century, but this record will give you a pretty good idea of what it sounded like if nothing else. The atmospheric touches you’ll have to conjure up on your own of course.


You Have Somebody Else
In another universe the story surrounding the fateful recording session with Sam Phillips would’ve turned out better for all involved… a strange thing to say about a date which produced a Number One hit that has long since passed into legend.

Though not hit material on its own I’m Lonesome And Blue is still a solid effort in every respect and provides some indication of what kind of music they might’ve pursued had the credits simply been worked out beforehand.

In that alternate reality the moniker Ike Turner & His Kings Of Rhythm would be prominently featured on every release, no matter who is singing. It’s a fairer reflection of the band’s day to day existence if nothing else and another reason why record labels need to respect the artists they record and give them a far greater say in how the product is released.

That being said however, Leonard Chess had never met Turner, Brenston or even Sam Phillips at the time, and if it were Phillips who labeled the tapes this way to suggest a deeper roster of artists and thus create a greater inducement to buying the masters then it’s his fault entirely that this happened, but once again Phillips has been given a pass for personal failings like this over the years.

Credit is the one thing that is indispensable in life and it was the one thing Ike Turner felt he was denied. He deserves credit for this one, a good song and performance, not a great one, but one that does show that he had a future in the business after all.


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