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I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me)

Baby, baby, baby, I feel so all alone. Sometime I just CRY, I SIGH. Sometime I even moan. Because Baby, I don’t know what it is, But I FIND MYSELF livin’ at your will.

This is a bit out of line, because this is not an Ike & Tina song. But, but, but. . .when Jim Davis played it on 8-Track Flashback yesterday, my jaw almost hit the floor.  I didn’t recognize the singer’s voice, and I was thinking: Is this a male Tina Turner impersonator?

Take a few minutes and listen to the entire track, which is fantastic:

I Don’t Know What You Got (But It’s Got Me)

The delivery (especially the spoken word interlude in the middle) is pure Ike and Tina style.  The rhythm, the cadence. . I mean, even the way he is enunciating his words is the same.

So who sings it? None other than Little Richard.

This track was released in 1971, on an album of stuff Little Richard recorded for Vee Jay in the mid-60s. Go ahead and refresh your memory of Ike & Tina’s 1965 version of All I Can Do Is Cry.  (My old post on that song here.)

In the Ike Turner autobiography, Takin’ Back My Name, both Ike and Little Richard weigh in on the question of Tina’s singing style and who gave it to her.  (I’ve mentioned this before, but I know TBMN is very hard to find in the U.S., so I realized I should actually type out the related passages for you.)

Little Richard, in the book’s introduction:

When they first came to Los Angeles, I used to go over every day and Ike would be there with Tina and all of them. I remember when Tina couldn’t sing like she can today. Ike came and asked me to teach her. He asked me, ‘How would you sing this song?’ And when I sang, he would tell Tina, ‘Now, that’s what I want you to do.’ But when she talks today, she never mentions my name.

Ike, on his songwriting for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue:

I’d be writing songs with Little Richard in mind, but I didn’t have no Little Richard to sing them, so Tina was my Little Richard. Listen closely to Tina and who do you hear? Little Richard singing in a female’s voice.  Little Richard taught Tina how to sing my compositions, so Tina concentrated on singing like a man while I honed her stage performance.  I gave her attitude; I gave her movements to make on stage.

Furthermore, Tina, in her autobiography I, Tina:

I guess I had achieved success of some kind, but the truth was, it was constant hard work. If we weren’t onstage, we were on the road to the next show; if we weren’t on the road, we were in the studio–in every city, no matter where we were, he’d find a studio to work at. If we weren’t recording, we were rehearsing–running down songs, working out steps. It was nothing to drive seven hundred miles from one show to the next, Ike sitting in the backseat with his guitar, me and maybe an Ikette or two there with him, singing and practicing new tunes all the way. It never stopped. And the music — I know some people say those old records are classics now, but I hated them. And onstage, the music was so loud, so noisy, and the keys were all too high. Ike always had me screaming and screeching.

OK, that’s it for the literature review.

First, obviously Ike and Little Richard are overselling their influence on Tina.  You can teach someone to sing like Little Richard all day long, but you are never going to find a talent like Tina. Her voice is something else, and the whole world knows it.

Little Richard is Ike’s friend from way back, and in this introduction he also chastises Tina for demonizing Ike and for moving to Europe and turning her back on all her old acquaintances. Both Ike and Little Richard take time in TBMN to make the case for why Tina should sign up to do one last reunion tour with Ike.  I mean. . .please. Ike made millions of dollars off of Tina, it’s just ludicrous to make it sound like she owed him anything. And I know Little Richard is sensitive to slights, but he’s being an idiot recounting how she wouldn’t talk to him at some awards dinner, after her solo success. Any sane person can understand that a woman wouldn’t feel like socializing with the friends of her abusive ex-husband.

But second: I think the basic facts that a) Ike wrote with Little Richard’s voice in mind and b) Little Richard gave Tina pointers on her delivery are plausible.  I mentioned this in regards to This Man’s Crazy, which is super-duper-Little Richard-esque.

Ike and Tina released their first single in 1960, when Little Richard was very popular — it makes sense that Ike would try to emulate his schtick. Tina is upfront about what an all-around control freak that Ike was about their revue, and you notice that she drops all that Little Richard style completely in her solo act.

I hope that someday an impartial biographer takes on the story of Ike and Tina Turner and publishes something comprehensive. Reading their autobiographies raises so many questions that I wish someone would investigate for corroborating evidence or further detail. The Little Richard-Tina Turner relationship is just one of them.

Long, Long Time

“Long, Long Time” is a song by Gary White, which Tina covers on 1974’s Tina Turns the Country On! It was originally a single for Linda Ronstadt in 1970. It’s a sad song, my favorite from this album. It’s a hard record to find, but you can listen to it online here.

Love will abide / Take things in stride / Sounds like good advice / But there’s no one by my side / But time washes clean / Love’s wound unseen / That’s what somebody told me / But I don’t know what it means

The reason I ever got into Ike and Tina Turner’s music was the year I spent living in St. Louis, after college.  While I was there I met my best friend, Josh, a native.  He moved around for a while, but landed back in St. Louis about five years ago.  I usually visit STL once a year, to see him and some family I have there.  As noted on this blog, Josh used to take me to the Record Exchange, and that’s where I found this copy of Tina Turns the Country On! in 2010.Like a good St. Louisan, Josh was an Ike & Tina and Tina Turner fan.

Here in Durham we have this weird music video channel called CoolTV.  They often play live concert footage videos, and the Tina Turner Wildest Dreams tour is on their rotation.  One night, W. and I were watching CoolTV and were blown away by the hip-thrusting antics of a big, blond percussionist/saxophonist in one of these videos.  I called Josh to exclaim about it and he replied yes, he knew. In fact, Josh had seen this Fabio lookalike when he attended Wildest Dreams at Riverport.  And by the way, didn’t I know that’s the same guy who plays at the boardwalk in The Lost Boys?

That’s a great example of why Josh was a great friend to have, and why we got along so well.  Who else our age would have this detailed knowledge of a Tina Turner touring band member?

Caught in my fears / and I’m sittin’ here blinking back the tears

Josh died in June.

You know, Ike and Tina don’t really have many sad songs.  They tend to make everything upbeat and energetic, whatever the lyrics may be.  Tina Turns the Country On! is a different animal, since it was produced by Tom Thacker, instead of Ike.  The arrangements are straight country, with no Turner flourishes.

For whatever reason, Tina changes the lyrics a bit.  In Linda’s version (and, I assume, the White composition), the chorus changes slightly through the song, from “I think I’m going to love you for a long, long time,” to “I think it’s going hurt me for a long, long time” to “I think I’m going to miss you for a long, long time.”  Tina just sticks to “love you” throughout.

I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I prefer Tina’s version over Linda Ronstadt’s.  Tina hits a perfect balance on this song, to me.  It’s a fairly restrained delivery (well, compared to what Ike usually called for), but she’s not phoning it in — it’s an emotional interpretation, and beautiful.

Life is full of loss / Sometimes I wonder, who knows the cause?

Record Exchange St. Louis

Just got home from St. Louis and wanted to plug the fabulous used record store, the Record Exchange.  Incomparable for Ike and Tina records!  This place is in a former bank building and is packed to the gills with records, CDs and movies. Next time you are in St. Louis check it out, it’s at 5320 Hampton Ave. — not far from the Chippewa Ted Drewe’s.

Guess what I found there?

Tina Turns the Country On!


Whatta find!  I’m ecstatic! I’ve been wanting this for years. More posts to come once I’ve had time to digest the album. But, as a teaser, here’s the track listing:

Side One

Bayou Song (PJ Morse)

Help Me Make It Through the Night (K Kristofferson)

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (B Dylan)

If You Love Me (Let Me Know) (J Rostill)

He Belongs To Me (Bob Dylan)

Side Two

Don’t Talk Now (J Taylor)

Long Long Time (G White)

I’m Moving On (H Snow)

There’ll Always Be Music (D Parton)

The Love That Lights Our Way (F Karlin/M Karlin)

I Smell Trouble

And now for some blues, for people who likes the blues.

I’m fixin’ to take my yearly trip to St. Louis soon, so I’ve been listening to What You Hear Is What You Get: Live at Carnegie Hall in anticipation. I think this LP has my favorite cover art of all their albums:

Live at Carnegie Hall

The Carnegie Hall gig was released in 1971. The liner notes don’t mention when it was recorded, but since Ike was usually very prompt with his output, I’ll just guess this was recorded in ’71 as well.

I seem to recall that in Ike’s autobiography he mentions that he barely remembers this performance–it went by in a druggy haze. Too bad, because this is a tight record — the live versions of “Proud Mary” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” that you hear on the radio are from this album.

I especially like this live version of “I Smell Trouble,” a blues song they recorded on The Hunter album. Tracks like this make you think about how if Ike would not have been so intensely driven he would have had a straight-up blues guitar career, maybe been the Buddy Guy of St. Louis.

“I Smell Trouble” runs about eight minutes here, it follows their long, hectic version of “Proud Mary.”  It’s a nice change of pace, and Ike’s guitar work is masterful.  I like Tina’s blues singing live better than I did on The Hunter. I think her stage emoting adds the right kind of drama to the song. Her delivery tears at you a bit — she’s just as strong on the rock songs, but the slowed down tempo of a blues song gives you room to better appreciate Tina’s singing.

They do a little bit at the end of the song where Tina sings a line and Ike copies it on guitar and she tries to stump him.  Finally she reaches deep down for a low note, and laughs to herself.  It’s a charming moment, a bit of playfulness. (Though probably something they did night after night,  like all their stage patter.)

Prisoner in Love (No Bail in This Jail)

Well, I’m back, thanks to two key purchases:  1) I found a copy of What You Hear Is What You Get: Live at Carnegie Hall at Nice Price — so exciting! and 2) finally got that Ike Turner: The Bad Man CD, which includes some Ikettes cuts worth talking about.

So, to begin: my first Ikettes post. I chose a 1962 single called “Prisoner in Love (No Bail in This Jail).” You can hear it here.

Robbie Montgomery sings lead on this one, a fairly standard man-done-me-wrong single, but Robbie and the Ikettes elevate the material with a bit of attitude when they can.  Robbie lucks out and gets one of the most fun lines I’ve heard on an Ike single: “I get the fibble-gibble-skibble-dibble-libbles,” which she takes up and down the scale playfully.  I also really love the Ikette’s delivery of the first chorus when they sound so put out on “I believe he’s lost his key, ’cause he never really cared about me.”

Robbie and the Ikettes trade lines back and forth during a borderline-alarming revenge fantasy section of the song:

“I wish I had the strength of  a man / I would grab him in his collar and let a left hook follow, mmm hmm! / and that ain’t ALL I’d do! / I would knock him to his knees and make him beg me to please / he would never wanna hurt me again / then I’d be satisfied ’cause I’d know I’d hurt his pride, mmm hmm!”

Readers of this blog know that I don’t fantasize about beating up men, but instead dream of ’60s Tina Turner covering Screamin’ Jay Hawkins songs.  So imagine my delight: Tina does not sing on this single but she does contribute big crazy-lady cackles throughout! Very Screamin’ Jay style. These demented laughs make “Prisoner in Love” a memorable single but don’t make all that much sense within the song–it’s not like the lyrics lead you to believe the woman has gone completely around the bend. Tina sounds like she’s in a straight jacket, which makes the listener wonder what exactly the fibble-gibble-skibble-dibble-libbles are.

Dreaming about unheard Ikettes singles over candied yams

During my recent trip back to St. Louis I finally had the pleasure of eating at Sweetie Pie’s, the soul food restaurant that Robbie Montgomery runs.  Robbie is one of the original Ikettes, a talented lady who had the sense to leave the group fairly early on and got steady work with lots of other good acts.  She was at Sweetie Pie’s when we were there–wearing a hair cap and chatting and smiling.

Which leads to the obvious question: why don’t I own any Ikettes records?  I’ve ogled the Fine, Fine, Fine compilation a few times in the record store.  But it doesn’t have the singles I’m really dying to hear–songs with amazing titles like “Zizzy Zee Zum Zum,” “Pee Wee,” “Come On and Truck,” and “Prisoner In Love (No Bail In This Jail).”  I guess I should start trolling the Internet for some used records.

Anyway, next time you are in St. Louis, Sweetie Pie’s is definitely worth a trip.  The yams were the best side I tried there, but everything looked good.  There are two locations, one in the city at 4270 Manchester Avenue and another out north at 9841 W. Florissant Road.  Bring some honey packets in your purse if you want it for your cornbread.

Better Be Good to Me

Tina’s Theme!

Forget about “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” this is the most iconic song on the album.

It was written by Holly Knight, who is the rock talent behind “Love Is a Battlefield” and Tina’s later hit “The Best.” (She also wrote Rod Stewart’s “Love Touch,” that ’80s hit with the video set in a courtroom. And if you think that’s a bad song, keep in mind the stuff he unleashed upon the world in the ’90s. If only he’d stayed with material as harmless as “Love Touch”!)

In “Better Be Good to Me” Tina blows my mind right off the bat. She starts out with an overheated description of a dramatic love affair:

A prisoner of your love / Entangled in your web. / Hot whispers in the night / I’m captured by your spell . . .(whispered) Captured!

It’s that last “captured!” that charms me. It’s like a wink at the ridiculousness of the preceding descriptions. Then Tina adds just a touch of sarcasm to her tone:

Oh yes I’m touched by your show of emotion. / Should I be fractured by your lack of devotion?

After that the song gets real and begins describing what a more sensible relationship would look like, the give and take of a modern romance between equals.

I can’t resist pointing out a discrepancy between the lyric sheet and Tina’s performance. Those little differences always make me imagine the singer changing the meaning to better match their own feelings. Here it is:

As written:

And I think it’s only right / That we don’t meet at night. / We stand face to face / And you present your case.

As sung:

I think it’s oh-so right / That we don’t need to fight. / We stand face to face / And you present your case.

Soon she turns up that bold voice with:

But did you think I’d just accept you in blind faith? / Oh sure, baby! Anything to please you! / But you better be good to me!

She kills me on this song! Women’s liberation! Feminism forever! That’s how it’s got to be now!

I love the little guitar hook that replays throughout this song. Unlike a lot of the instrumentation on this album, it doesn’t sound dated to me at all. It’s a nice counterpoint to the melody of Tina’s singing. Thanks, Jamie West-Oram! The whole thing rocks. When I hear it I’m tempted to get one of those lion wigs.

I Can’t Stand the Rain

When I was a kid listening to my mom’s Private Dancer cassette in the living room, I remember loving this song best. I was also a fool for the Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic” so I guess chilly electronic keyboards + strong female vocalists was just my thing back then.

Listening to it now, it strikes me that the lyrics of “I Can’t Stand the Rain” are 100% traditional pop song. They would fit perfectly with the material on the It’s Gonna Work Out Fine album.

I can’t stand the rain / Against my window / Bringing back sweet memories. / I can’t stand the rain / Against my window / Because he’s not here with me.

What is this, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease? [Sidenote: Tina’s manager when she went solo was Roger Davies. His other big act at the time was Olivia Newton-John. This connection got Tina a spot on Olivia’s 1980 variety hour “Hollywood Nights,” which aired before the Oscars. They sang “Heartache Tonight” together!]

No, actually, it was originally a song for another R&B singer from St. Louis–Ann Peebles. It charted for her in 1973.

But of course Tina’s “I Can’t Stand the Rain” sounds so, so 1984. It’s more Grace Jones than Ann Peebles. Instead of guitar plucks for raindrop sound effects it’s all keyboards. Dude, this song is all keyboards. And the sound reminds you that Rupert Hine was mostly known then for producing the Fixx.

Tina’s version is ultra cool, a perfect balance between her soulful voice and the cold synths.

I Might Have Been Queen

I know the secret combination!

It’s Tina’s birthday today, so in her honor I thought I’d write up a few songs from her fabulous solo album, Private Dancer. If you haven’t listened to it in a while, I recommend a revisit. It’s still powerful–whatta comeback!

Anyway, the song I want to highlight first is “I Might Have Been Queen,” which wasn’t a single, but it’s the song she chose to begin side one of the album with. It’s a rock song about reincarnation and Tina gives a controlled, yet dramatic, performance.

As you may (or may not) know, Tina is a believer in past lives. According to her autobiography, one of her comforts during the pain of her marriage was to sneak off and meet with seers and psychics. One told her, and she came to feel within herself, that in one past life she had been an Egyptian queen, specifically Hatshepsut.

Reading about all this in her autobiography it seemed a little comical–what could be more ’80s than a celebrity who believes in reincarnation? However, in Tina’s case it’s more complex than that. This idea that she had been a powerful person in a past incarnation was part of the fire that helped her leave Ike and start over from scratch. It was part of a new story she was telling herself about her worth, her ability to change and be happy.

Years later she was talking to her new record’s producer, Rupert Hine, and his girlfriend, Jennette Obstoj, about her beliefs and then they wrote “I Might Have Been Queen” for her. She mentions in her autobiography how meaningful the song was for her.

Anyway, back to the listener’s perspective: the track starts the album off on a mysterious note and slowly shows you the strong and self-assured Tina in store for you on this LP. (Keep in mind that the album that preceded this was her disco flop, Love Explosion.)

For every sun that sets / there is a new one dawning. / For every empire crushed / there is a brand new nation / Let the waters rise / I have ridden each tide . . . And I might have been queen / I remember the girl in the fields with no name. / She had a love. / Ohhh but the river won’t stop for me.

I really love the river in this song. What a perfect way to refer to her past (“Proud Mary”) in a wholly new context. She isn’t out hustling in this song, the river is a mystic metaphor for time. Time keeps passing and she has the chance to recreate herself.  I feel like I can feel hope coursing through Tina in her delivery.  It’s awesome.

In the end she proclaims that she is a “soul survivor,” and a chorus starts a refrain:

A Soul Survivor / On the river / But it won’t stop

What a combo. . .

Last night I was doing a crossword by Merl Reagle, my favorite. The theme was Combo Cuisines.

Clue: Former rock duo’s favorite Mexican-Japanese eatery?


Answer: Ay Cantina Tuna