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RPM 356; MAY 1952



On one hand you can understand Ike Turner’s resentment at how things turned out as the bandleader for a game changing #1 single that got credited to the singer, Jackie Brenston, rather than Turner.

It wasn’t either of their faults, but it caused a rift between them, especially when the singles released at the same time credited to Turner flopped, and so a few months later as the first song was the biggest in rock ‘n’ roll Turner let him go and headed to RPM Records with visions of glory as the true talent of the band.

It might’ve turned out that way too, except for one small problem, he couldn’t sing… and in rock ‘n’ roll, unless you want to be an instrumentalist, this might wind up being a problem.


So Very Bad, If I Can’t Have You I Will Go Mad
Each time we’ve met Ike Turner we’ve had so many other topics to discuss that the elephant in the room – his lack of vocal ability – was only able to be mentioned in passing.

He wasn’t AS bad as he thought, but for any one who has tried to sing in front of people knows, your confidence in doing so is half the battle. If you don’t have it, you won’t sound good and Ike Turner didn’t have confidence enough to be a frontman.

That meant he had to hire vocalists and in The Kings of Rhythm he had two singers and Jackie Brenston’s main job was a baritone sax player. In other words, that was the ideal situation.

After the breakup, everything went to hell for Turner, despite excelling as a behind-the-scenes do-it-all fixer… arranging, acting as a de facto producer and playing behind some key artists for Modern/RPM.

His own records though, which was his prime means for exposure and potential stardom, ran aground again on You’re Driving Me Insane as without having a capable vocalist to step in it forced Ike to sing it himself.

Then, as if that wasn’t a big enough drawback to the record’s chances, the session didn’t even feature Turner’s band… whoever was left that is… but instead has Ben Burton leading the “orchestra”.

Yeah, the immortal Ben Burton… that’s the one.

What the hell is the point of hiring Ike Turner in the first place if all he’s going to do is try and stretch his vocal chords? It’d be like hiring James Earl Jones to read a story and then forcing him to do so using sign language.

Then again, this was RPM Records, owned and operated by the notorious Bihari brothers, so we can’t exactly say we’re surprised.


Stop And Try And Change
When you hear Ike Turner croon here, you undoubtedly will say… that CAN’T be him! It has to be Burton or someone else singing and Ike only got listed because of the issues he had with Chess over the lead artist credit.

But no, that’s a tentative Ike chirping away and no, he doesn’t sound too bad.

Not great either, but he’s at least headed in the right direction.

Of course that direction comes by way of another song, Tampa Red’s It Hurts Me Too, as Turner the songwriter in the 1950’s had a tendency to simply come up with new lyrics for someone else’s song. By the 1960’s when he finally found the ideal front woman in Tina, he was able to come up with original melodies but his songwriting was never sophisticated. He’d get a good hook and run with it without bothering to flesh out the idea more. But by then with his first rate band and Tina’s scalding voice that was usually more than enough.

But whether You’re Driving Me Insane satisfies the story requirements or not takes a back seat to whether it satisfies Turner’s prospects for stardom as a singer and while he doesn’t sound awful here, it’s hard to imagine him being comfortable singing this on the bandstand every night if it became a hit.

Worse though is the band. Burton was the bass player and since he’s credited by name on the label we have to assume it was his outfit, since Turner was not about to let RPM do him dirty in that regard as Chess had done.

Whoever the rest of the musicians are, they sure don’t add much to this. The horns in particular sound almost sickly. When the drummer, who is playing a simple third grade beat, sounds the most competent of the sidemen you know you’re in trouble. Turner presumably is on piano, but he’s just adding tremolos, which creates a nice sound and is about the only really distinctive thing here, but it’s pretty much buried in the mix and only providing color.

What’s unusual about all of this is that Ike Turner, independent enough to set out on his own in protest of a perceived injustice, is putting himself in a position where failure is not just possible, but likely. He may indeed sound a lot better singing than we expected, but since this is not what the public expected out of the acts they elevated to stardom, and since it’s not playing to his own strengths on top of that, the decision here to pursue this approach remains a mystery.


I Could Not Sleep A Wink Last Night
Somewhere there was an ideal role for Ike Turner that would maximize his talents and ambition while perhaps eradicating his weaknesses… both professionally as well as personally.

We know that Turner became one of rock’s all-time greatest bandleaders, but that came at a heavy cost to those around him as his need for control manifested itself in violence, while the rigors of the road eventually led to serious drug habits.

Some great music came from that course in life so while nobody absolves him of his wrongs, there’s plenty who will accept the trade-off for the records and the intense live shows night after night for fifteen years.

But let’s imagine a different career for him, one where he remained on staff in a studio in sort of a Maxwell Davis role – producing records, arranging the sessions, putting the band together, playing either piano or guitar himself, yet not going on the road with any of them because they were simply session players. He’d still have control where it counted, in the studio, but wouldn’t be in charge of their daily lives and if he was too much of a tyrant they could always leave with no loss of income as long as they’d be able to get sessions elsewhere, thereby forcing him to be more diplomatic.

Besides, working with a constantly changing cast of characters, focusing on each one just a short time before moving to the next act coming through the door, would enable him to be less invested in each one individually, freeing him to focus simply on his own job.

It may not soothe his ego, but did he really think that crooning You’re Driving Me Insane was going to turn him into a matinee idol… despite what the reviewer at Billboard seemed to think?

Obviously we might’ve lost some – or all – of the indelible performances from Ike & Tina as a result, but who knows what we might’ve gained if he got a chance to work behind the scenes, getting steady pay and decent credit for his contributions.

Instead for the next eight years Ike Turner would be grinding out a career with little to show for it, getting more frustrated and angry with each failure and we all know eventually that would have consequences.


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