Tina: Remembering The Acid Queen

Over Christmas last year, Tina Turner’s last ever concert was on TV. I sat there watching, mesmerised. Recorded in 2009, there was Tina Turner running up and down the stage, in high heels. There was a finale where she stood on this moving arm platform that hovered over the crowd, which Tina ran up and down, in high heels. Aside from running around the stage like a 30 year old in her prime, in high heels, there was that voice.


Raw, energetic and powerful, it was Tina Turner as great as she ever was. She was on stage and performed music from her entire career. Going back to those early Ike & Tina days to her more recent Queen of Rock ‘n Roll years. When it comes to live performances, Tina’s final gig in 2009 was one of the greatest I’d ever seen. The fact that Tina was 69 and just shy of her 70th birthday, made that concert even more amazing. She was bounding about the stage and belting out her songs with the voice and energy that someone a third of her age would struggle to maintain.

This morning, I woke up to the sad news that Tina Turner had passed away, aged 83.


I can’t be 100% of the first time I ever heard Tina sing. I think it could’ve been River Deep – Mountain High. A truly fantastic song with that wonderful orchestra. String, wind and percussion instruments all building and delivering a powerful tune, only to be blown away by Tina’s stunning vocals. I was raised by my Mother with classic soul and proper R ‘n B music as a cornerstone of my childhood. Nan and Grandad would often come over for Sunday dinner and on Sunday mornings, that was when Mom would get me and my brothers cleaning the house. While we vacuumed and dusted, Mom would play her old records. The sounds of Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner would engulf our ears.


Tina was a major part of the soundtrack of my childhood and it wasn’t until I grew older when I learned how much she had struggled in her life. Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939, young Anna loved to sing. In 1957, she met Ike Turner and eventually became the lead singer in his band, Kings of Rhythm and they had some early, but mild, success. By the early 1960s Anna Mae Bullock became known as Tina after Ike decided to give her a new name and the Kings of Rhythm became the backing group for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. In 1962, Ike and Tina married. Through the 60s and 70s, they became quite a draw as they performed live gigs and appeared on numerous TV shows. Tina’s raspy and raw singing voice was unlike anything else at the time and she soon became the star and main draw of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.


In July of 1976, Ike & Tina were lined up to perform a gig at the Dallas Statler Hilton Hotel. While in a chauffeur-driven car and en route to the hotel, Ike severely beat Tina (one of a great many beatings that she had suffered over the years) during an argument between the couple. After checking into the hotel and after Ike had fallen asleep, Tina walked out. She made her way across a busy multi-lane freeway and checked into the Ramada Inn hotel, with nothing more than 36 cents to her name. Still bloodied and bruised from the beating that Ike had just given her, the manager of the hotel agreed to help and hide Tina away, in case Ike came looking.

By the end of July 1976, just a few weeks after Tina walked, she filed for divorce, which was finalised in 1978. During the court case of that divorce, Tina retained the songwriting royalties for songs that she had written and she got to keep a few assets such as cars and jewellery. The main thing that she wanted and fought so hard to keep during the divorce, over money, royalties and assets, was her stage name. She may have been born Anna Mae Bullock (though her real, real name was actually Martha Nell Bullock), but she was known as Tina Turner. Ike gave her that name, it was his idea to call her Tina in those early days, because it rhymed with Sheena and Ike was a fan of the Sheena, Queen of the Jungle comics. When they married, Tina took on his surname too. Tina Turner (the name) was all Ike’s doing, but the talent was all hers. In fact, Ike even trademarked the Tina Turner name, just in case she ever left the band and so he could just replace her with another singer and call her Tina Turner, if needed. Still, Tina got what she fought so hard for, her name.


What followed was a bit of a struggle. Now without Ike and as a solo artist, Tina began to forge her solo career… but it wasn’t easy. She may have had the name, but she no longer had Ike. And despite all of his (pretty huge) faults, Ike was still a respected and very well-known musician. In the late 70s, Tina Turner soon found herself in debt due to lawsuits regarding cancelled Ike & Tina concerts. Both Ike and Tina began to struggle as the money dried up. Ike, who had a bit of a drug use problem at the time, just kept falling deeper and deeper into debt. Tina? She hit the road and toured, released new music and just kept working to pay her way out of debt. She was working, but her solo album sales were not exactly stellar and her tours were small gigs and cabaret shows.


Tina Turner was not only trying to pay off her debts, she was also supporting her and Ike’s children, because Ike wasn’t. At the time, her music was seen as passé, outdated. Her third solo album, Rough, from 1978 was a mix of blues and disco, with just a touch of rock. It also featured a cover of Elton John’s The Bitch Is Back, Tina began to experiment with rock ‘n roll music, but still with just a bit of disco to seem relevant.

Rock music was something that Tina wanted to explore and in 1981, she was the support act for Rolling Stones’ American Tour. Still, her music wasn’t exactly setting the charts alight and she was becoming known as a ‘nostalgia act’, a celebration of a bygone era of music that was dying fast as she went from a headlining act in the 70s to a support act and cabaret singer in the early 80s. Nobody had any interest in producing Tina’s music, she was middle-aged by 1980, 44 years old in 1983 and very much seen as a has-been within the industry.


After a lot of arguing with music producers, disappointments and a cover version of  Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together, Tina Turner released the album Private Dancer in 1983. The Queen of Rock ‘n Roll was born. An album with a very distinct change in style. A few 80s power ballads and the song that would help make her one of the best-selling and most popular musical artists of the decade, What’s Love Got to Do with It, her first no.1 song. Interestingly, this was a cover version as the original had been recorded by Bucks Fizz and Tina Turner hated it. She didn’t even want to record it herself.

The Private Dancer album proved her critics wrong, there was still life in this middle-aged, black woman who came from a musical background that was dead at the time. Tina recreated herself and became a global superstar. A far cry from the Ike & Tina days. Her live concerts were extraordinary, her music is timeless and the world is now a bit darker, a bit less sassy and a lot less Tina Turner.

Tina Turner was almost 70 years old here in 2009 and she was still paying tribute to her roots, still making an audience of several thousand eat out of her hand and still putting musical artists a third of her age to shame.


Long live the Acid Queen.


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