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Early Times

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Album Review

It's reasonably well known by serious fans of 1950s rock & roll that Ike Turner played guitar and piano on many records during the decade, as well as acting as a talent scout for independent labels. These tracks, however, really haven't been heard by that many people, in part because none of them (except Jackie Brenston's seminal 1951 single "Rocket 88") were hits, in part because it really hasn't been that easy to determine just how many discs benefited from Turner's participation. This compilation certainly doesn't include all of them, but it does assemble 29 tracks on which Turner played in the five years or so following "Rocket 88" for labels such as Sun, Modern, and Chess. On a few of these, Turner was the featured artist; more often, he was backing, on guitar and piano, obscure R&B singers such as Clayton Love, Eugene Fox, Bonnie Turner, or Johnny O'Neal. As the liner notes candidly admit, much of this stuff remains obscure because it really wasn't that original, either following a somewhat generic 1950s R&B template or, on some unfortunate occasions, blatantly trying to imitate a more popular record (as Billy Gayles' "Night Howler" does of Lloyd Price's "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," or as Johnny O'Neal's "Peg Leg Baby" does of "Rocket 88" itself). You can, however, hear most of these tracks as examples of R&B turning into rock & roll, albeit of the fairly derivative kind. More satisfyingly, you can sometimes hear some sterling raw Turner early blues-rock guitar work, elevating some unmemorable songs (like Johnny Wright's "The World Is Yours," which has some exceptionally biting soloing, and Fox's drunkenly vocalized/rapped "Sinner's Dream," an early venture into his distinctive use of a reverb-drenched tone) into something more worthwhile. There are also occasional cuts that stand out from the pack on their own terms, like Billy "The Kid" Emerson's grinding Sun single "If Lovin' Is Believing," and several of the tracks by Fox, who has a nearly over the top razor-gargling vocal style. Overall, however, it's mostly limited in appeal to serious fans of Turner, and scholars looking for insight as to how R&B turned into rock & roll at the grassroots level.


Born: 05 November 1931 in Clarksdale, MS

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Ike Turner is certainly one of the most dehumanized figures in rock history. Mention his name and the first association that comes to most anyone's mind is "abusive husband," not "soul star" or "rock & roll pioneer." According to legend, Turner was a tyrannical ogre who used physical violence and psychological intimidation to control his infinitely more talented wife Tina, while indulging his own appetites for cocaine and women at every turn. That's not entirely accurate, although by most accounts...
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Early Times, Ike Turner
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