Ike Turner, Sun Recordings

John Morthland

By John Morthland

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Just as he is an unsung father of rock & roll, Ike Turner was the secret weapon of Sam Phillips 'Sun Records blues roster. As an A&R man/producer, he was behind great records by the likes of Howlin 'Wolf and Little Milton, among others, and he played guitar or piano (the latter was initially his main instrument) on the sessions of numerous others. Plus, his crack R&B band the Kings of Rhythm made many records, usually released under the name of his lead singer at the time, that were as hard-edged and funky as anything being released by anyone. This marauding band could be awfully derivative, basing several songs on a then-current hit like Guitar Slim's "The Things That I Used to Do," but they played with such gutbucket power and conviction that they always commanded the material just the same.

These sides prove Ike Turner one of the great guitarists of early rock & roll

Bonnie Turner, Ike's girlfriend and then his wife, is featured on several tracks, the most curious being her duet on the tempo-shifting "Way Down in the Congo" with Ike's tenor sax fiend Raymond Hill (Ike himself is usually mistakenly identified as the vocalist here). Hill absolutely burns on his instrumental "The Snuggle," alternating between late-night swooning and relentless pounding. Ike's darting, stinging guitar drives home two diametrically opposed Johnny O'Neal tracks. Before he struck out on his own with "Red Hot" and other Sun singles under his own name, Billy Emerson took a brief turn in the piano chair of Ike's band. His "No Teasing Around" is one of those tracks on which Ike demonstrates his pioneering mastery of the tremolo bar — his vicious whammy-bar work on "How Long Will It Last" hurts so good, and Turner's compact, rhythm-rocking intro to "I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby" evolved into one of his signature licks.

Some of this stuff falls flat (especially the Bonnie tracks), but most leave no doubt that Ike Turner was one of the great guitarists and bandleaders of the era.