Saturday, November 10, 2012

Music Reviews-Ike Turner, Desmond Dekker

Ike Turner
When people see the words "Ike Turner" many immediately think of scenes like this. That was part of who Ike Turner was, though I would be wary of taking any fictionalized version of events as 100% historical documentation, but unfortunately it was also part of who a lot of celebrities were, including the secular saint himself  John Lennon. I try not to excuse or explain evil. However if you're living in the US you're living on land that is soaked in the blood of Indians. You're currently enjoying rights of free speech and assembly promulgated by men who owned slaves. Many of those men would be shocked and dismayed that in modern society blacks were Senators or Presidents or that women were voting. What I mean to say is that like it or not sometimes evil and good are all mixed up together. Sometimes good people make crap art and evil people make masterful art. If you happen not to like Turner's work on purely musical grounds then I understand. If you reject his work for his abuse of women, that is also your right and I won't try to convince you otherwise. I would just say you should then be willing to reject music by Muddy Waters, James Brown, George Jones, Lynyrd Sknyrd, Dr. Dre, Glen Campbell, Jackson Browne, Black Sabbath, Stan Getz, Motley Crue, Phil Spector, The Allman Brothers, Yanni, Sly Stone, Tracy Lawrence, and many others on the very same grounds.


Before Ike Turner met Annie Mae Bullock he was already a famous guitarist, songwriter, arranger, bandleader, producer, A&R man, promoter, etc who worked with such legendary names as Robert Nighthawk, BB King, Elmore James, and Little Milton. As an 11 year old Ike Turner had piano lessons from famed blues musician Pinetop Perkins. As much as people like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, etc Turner created rock-n-roll. He told stories of Elvis coming to see him play. Little Richard and BB King cited Turner as influences. Turner was originally a pianist and brought a very individualistic style to the guitar. He worked as a session pianist for early Howling Wolf and BB King releases. Turner also showed up as a session guitarist for some Otis Rush work. Left to his own devices Turner didn't really sound like very many other guitarists, though he was not averse to occasionally shamelessly copying other more popular guitarists. Anything for a buck.
Ike was a bandleader, not primarily a singer. Most of his best early work has other people doing the singing. You can always tell when Ike sang though because of a quite distinctive bass-baritone voice. You know how some men have a deeper voice in the early morning? Ike basically sounded like that all day, every day. Listen to his background vocals on Up in Heah.

Ike Turner switched to guitar permanently when having fired a guitarist and found a really good pianist (Bonnie Turner), he figured it would be easier and cheaper to play the guitar himself than to hire and train another musician. One of Ike's distinctive traits on the guitar was savage use of the whammy (vibrato) bar to bend notes a quarter step or more beyond the initial note. Occasionally this caused issues with tuning but it is one way you always know that it's him. He often said that he had no idea how to use the bar and figured that rough use was how to do it. I guess randomness and accidents are some times good things in art. His solos are full of cascades of bent notes and whammy bar harmonics.
Ike Turner was there at the beginning of electric rock-n-roll. As mentioned he could honestly claim to have started it. He maintained a fierce sense of swing that was present in whatever music he played, blues, country, soul, R&B, funk, hard rock, etc. From his start to his end most of the music that he wrote always was danceable. He wrote, played piano on and produced what was arguably the first rock-n-roll record, Rocket 88, and was one of the earliest proponents of amp distortion. He told different stories about this over the years. In some of the stories this tone was a pure accident caused by a car accident and damaged amp tubes, in others the tone was deliberate. In any event when Turner played guitar, he had a beautiful glassy tone, especially when he would play a slow blues. Check out his sound on I smell trouble or his demented country picking on Steel Guitar Rag. And the solo on No Coming Back anticipated heavy metal dissonance by two decades. I like his early work with vocalists like Billy Gayles and Billy Emerson. The songs below are a very small portion of his recorded output that spanned over 50 years. Post 1970 or so he really lost his way and started copying more of the current funk and rock trends. He did some nice covers, especially of Sly Stone's music but the adventurousness was gone. Fun fact, the song A Fool in Love was something Ike had originally written for a male vocalist but when he discovered that Tina could temporarily sing in the lower range, kept the recording and the rest is history...

Just One More Time(w/Billy Gayles) If Loving is Believing and No teasing around(w/Billy The Kid Emerson)  Up in Heah(w/Tina Turner)  You're Driving Me Insane
My heart belongs to you (duet w/Bonnie Turner)  Cubano Jump  Steel Guitar Rag

I smell trouble (w/Tina Turner) Rocket 88 (w/ Jackie Brenston)  Black Coffee(w/Tina Turner)   Baby Get it On (w/Tina Turner)  Baby Makes Me Feel Good(w/Tina Turner)
Philadelphia Freedom(w/Tina Turner)  Proud Mary (live w/Tina Turner)
No Coming Back(w/Billy Gayles)  Don't Believe Nothing(w/Tina Turner)  A Fool In Love (w/Tina Turner)

Desmond Dekker
Demond Dekker was a Jamaican singer and songwriter whose career included the similar musics of ska, rocksteady, reggae and even some things that hinted at American blues and soul. Similar to some Black American protest singers much of his best music was concerned with oppression, violence, poverty and an indomitable will to survive. He can probably be credited for launching the rude boy look in Europe, especially England. Unfortunately for Dekker his career was derailed by the death of his top producer and Svengali, Leslie Kong. As a result Dekker was somewhat eclipsed by the other reggae superstar of the seventies, Bob Marley. I had heard the song 007 (Shanty Town) growing up but sad to say I did not really become a devoted fan until by happenstance I heard the song Israelites at the end of the film Drugstore Cowboy, and was hooked (pun intended).

Even if he had never written anything else, Israelites is such an intense insistent song that it demands that Dekker's talent be recognized. The lyrics are sometimes a little hard to understand if you're not familiar with Jamaican accents but heck you can say the same thing about British rock. I can't sing the high pitched lyrics but I can kill it on the low pitched chorus. Oh, oh,,,the Israelites...

I really enjoy listening to music like reggae, ska, etc that messes around with the beat and moves the pulse someplace different than where an American would normally expect to hear it. The ironic thing of course is that reggae and ska are very much related to American blues and R&B and vice versa. New Orleans was a place that was in many ways a meeting point and melting pot for several different music genres across the diaspora. I defy anyone to listen to King of Ska and not start to dance. If you don't there must be something wrong with your tailfeather. Get it checked out ASAP!!! You wouldn't have a tailfeather if you weren't meant to shake it.

Israelites 007 (Shanty Town) You Can Get It if You Really Want  King of Ska
Big Headed(dub mix) Honour Your Father and Mother  Hippopotamus
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