Without a doubt, the most exciting husband and wife duo in music history is Ike and Tina Turner. Their live shows were full of kenetic energy, primarily so because of Tina’s excellent showmanship and the backup dancers, The Ikettes. Ike and his band, which featured a terrific ensemble of musicians, were on point as well.
Ike and Tina Turner were among the first major superstar artists to appear on Soul Train. When they performed on the June 1972 taping of the show, they and their entourage turned the Soul Train out!
Unlike the majority of the artists that lip-synched on the show, the Ike and Tina Turner Revue performed all of their numbers live during their two appearances on the show. Indeed, the full impact of their performances couldn’t be appreciated by lip-synching and playing along to a pre-recorded track.
Don Cornelius said of the duo during his introduction of them, “We’re about to witness what big is all about. The names of the people I’m about to introduce are so big they’ve become what you might call household words since their beginning in St. Louis twelve years ago.”
After the introduction, Ike and Tina Turner proceeded to do their rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.” This fiery performance featured some sexy and eye catching choreography by Tina and the Ikettes, and funky musical accompaniment by Ike and his band the Family Vibes, which would have even done the song’s originator, Sly Stone, proud.
Ike and Tina’s Turner version of Sly’s “Higher” did very well, peaking at number 25 on the soul charts and 34 on the pop charts in the summer of 1970.
Later in the show, Tina Turner introduced the Ikettes (Jean, Edna and Esther) and then it was time for a question and answer session with the Soul Train Gang. A dancer asked who makes up the dance steps for Tina and the Ikettes. Tina answered that she and the Ikettes put together the choreography themselves. Joe Chism asked Ike to verify a rumor that he has a new recording studio. Ike responded yes and that “it is based in Inglewood.” Yolanda Toussaint asked Tina what her hobbies were. Tina answered, “I like to skate, go in the country for a while, and I like being a woman.” That last statement drew a lot of applause from the female members of the Soul Train Gang.
Another dancer asked how Ike and Tina met. Tina recalled that Ike was well known in St. Louis and one night he was playing in this club that she was too young to get in, so she put on a lot of makeup to look older and when she got in and got close enough to Ike, she asked if she could be a part of his band. He said he would call her but he never did. So another night at this club, a microphone came down in front of her and she started singing and “Pow! That’s how it all happened,” Tina said. Dancer Irma Hunter asked how many gold records the group has. Tina stated that they received a gold record for the “Proud Mary” single and the Ike & Tina Turner Live in Carnegie Hall album. Tina made mention that Ike’s Right On album should be receiving a gold record (it never did).
Tina then performed her new single “Feel Good” from the album of the same name. Her soulful vocals blended greatly with the mid-tempo funky groove of the song. The single didn’t chart; the album made it to number 28 on the soul charts in the early fall of 1972 but did not get above 160 on the pop charts.
The group closed with their signature song “Proud Mary,” a huge hit from 1971 peaking at number five and four on the soul and pop charts. This classic performance had the Soul Train Gang literally getting down and funky, from the dramatic slow introduction to the highly exuberant second half of this show-stopping number. Tina and the Ikettes did some dynamite, energetic dance moves that even had the Soul Train Gang in awe.
Ike and Tina Turner returned to Soul Train for the December 1974 taping of the show. They opened with a current track entitled “Oh My My,” an uptempo, swift number. Later in the show, Don Cornelius, who was interviewing the duo, didn’t get much conversation from Ike and joked, “You do most of your talking after the show, right Ike?” Tina then introduced the Ikettes: Esther, whom she referred to as an “old Ikette” due to her being with the group for six years, a new addition, Marcy, and Yolanda.
Don inquired about the group’s touring schedule and Tina answered that they just got back from a very successful European tour. When Tina got some of the information wrong, Ike abruptly corrected her and Tina half-heartedly joked, “I don’t know the whole itinerary!” Ike just glared at her. As it has been well documented in Tina’s powerful I, Tina autobiography and in the movie What’s Love Got To Do With It, Tina had a tumultous relationship with Ike. Viewers caught a quick glimpse of this tension during the moment he corrected her in front of the audience. Nevertheless, the duo continued with the interview. Tina mentioned her new album, The Country Album, which she said listeners will actually hear her sing but that there was some of the wild side about her on the album as well.
She mentioned that they would have done a song called “Baby Get It On” (a song on Tina’s second solo album Acid Queen) on which Ike does most of the lead singing, but that his voice was hoarse. Don said that they would do that song the next time they come to Soul Train, to which Ike just laughed. This would be their last appearance on Soul Train.
They then jumped right into their next number, their latest single “Sexy Ida.” This funky number went to number 29 on the soul charts in the fall of 1974 and number 65 on the pop charts.
The group returned later with their huge hit from the previous year, “Nutbush City Limits,” which went number 11 soul and number 22 pop. They closed with one of their earlier hits, “River Deep, Mountain High.” As with their previous Soul Train appearance and their live shows, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue put on a highly energetic, raw and excellent performance.
Two years later, Tina could no longer tolerate Ike’s abusive treatment of her and got away from him, with only some small change in her pocket. As time went on, Tina would triumphantly emerge as one of the most celebrated, top performers in music history, winning coveted honors for her 1984 Private Dancer album and “What’s Love Got to Do With It” single. She wrote a best-selling autobiography (I, Tina), had an acclaimed biopic about her life, did commercials and had a featured movie role in the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Tina has performed in sellout concerts around the world, becoming a legendary icon.
Despite the pain Tina endured during her days with Ike, one cannot dismiss the excellent showmanship of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. The successful groundwork for Tina’s triumphant solo years in the 1980s and onward was laid during her performing days with the revue, from her singing style to her dancing style. She took all of what she learned along the way to help her later create her own unique style. And even though much has been written and said about Ike, in all fairness, he was nevertheless an excellent musician who gave the former Anna Mae Bullock her start in show business.
These two fantastic Soul Train appearances not only showed what a terrific group the Ike and Tina Turner Revue was, but also gave an inkling of what was yet to come for Tina.
– Stephen McMillian
Stephen McMillian is a journalist, writer, actor, filmmaker, dancer, soul music historian and Soul Train historian.