Pat Blythe – The Women of Rock Redux Part 4 – The Queen of Rock……and music

During the Rock era, there were many women who attempted to build a life in the music business. Few actually survived. Those who did…, determination and a boatload of talent got them through. They were not without their struggles, putdowns and letdowns (both personal and professional). With international sold out performances and millions of albums sold worldwide, these ladies who did survive were front and centre….unforgettable, never taking no for an answer, believing in themselves and not putting up with the shit. If they didn’t tell you how they felt to your face, they told you through their music and performances.

Even though these “Women of Rock” columns are part of a former series, further updates and research have expanded them. I’m not much for leaving stones unturned. Next week, Ann and Nancy Wilson get their update and their column. This week, may I present the undisputed Queen of Rock….a force to be reckoned with!

The indubitable, indisputable, irrefutable Queen of Rock

There have been countless articles, bios, blogs, tweets, books, photos, etc. written, posted and published about this indefatigable woman. I’m not sure what else I can add, but no article or commentary on women in the music business (rock in particular) can omit Ms Turner….she of the endless legs, short skirts and instantly recognizable voice. No one, past or present, can shimmy, shake or command the stage like Tina. She is truly electrifying! Plug her in and she’ll light up an entire continent; give her a mic and she’ll light up a thousand stages (not to mention her audiences). Yes, there are oodles of originals out there and many who broke a mold or two but there is only one Tina…..and she is simply the best!

Born Anna Mae Bullock in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, Tina and her older sisters were separated when their parents headed to Knoxville to work during WWII. Tina was left with her very strict, religious paternal grandparents who were deacons at a local Baptist church. Following the war, the family was reunited and returned to Nutbush. When Anna Mae was eleven her mother, fleeing an abusive marriage, left for St. Louis, Missouri. This time the sisters were sent to live with their maternal grandmother in Brownsville, Tennessee. When her grandmother died Anna Mae headed for St. Louis to join her mom. She graduated from high school and worked as a nurse’s aide. However, Anna Mae’s dream was to become a singer, and a chance meeting with a performer was about to change her name and her life.

Frequenting the night club scene in St. Louis with her older sister Alline, 16-year-old Anna Mae was impressed by Ike Turner’s band, The Kings of Rhythm, performing at Manhattan Club, (Writer’s note: the Manhattan Club later became the Four Acres Club. It burned down January 2010) She later recalled she “almost went into a trance” watching him play. Eager to sing with the group, there are at least a couple of variations to the stories of how Anne Mae finally got her chance.

Story one…..despite the fact Turner had never had a woman sing with the band (which is not entirely true), Anna Mae asked him anyway. Turner said he would call but of course never did. One night, in 1957, during intermission young Anna Mae managed to get a hold of a mic from the band’s drummer, Eugene Washington. (Her sister Alline just happened to be dated Washington) Anna Mae proceeded to sing B.B. King’s blues ballad You Know I Love You. Turner was impressed enough to invite her to sing for the rest of the night.

Story two….Anna Mae was called up on stage to sing with the band and Ike was impressed to enough to ask her back as a guest vocalist, apparently keen to develop her talent. Either way, Anna Mae became the band’s featured vocalist and eventually joined full-time.  So began the singing career of the woman we know today as Tina Turner.

Ike and Tina Turner – The Early Years

In her first recording session, “Little Ann” was a back-up vocalist on a song called Box Top in 1958.  In 1960 Ike Turner wrote an R&B song called A Fool in Love, originally written for Art Lassiter. By happenstance, Tina ended up recording the lead vocals because Lassiter did not show up for the recording session. Although Ike originally planned to replace Tina’s vocals with Lassiter’s, he was encouraged to send the tape, with Tina’s voice, to Juggy Murray at Sue Records.

Murray described Tina as sounding “like screaming dirt…it was a funky sound”, paying $25K for the recording and publishing rights and persuading Ike to make Anna the “star of the show”. At that point Turner also decided to change Anna’s name to Tina. “Turner was inspired by Sheena: Queen of the Jungle and Nyoka the Jungle Girl to create Anna’s stage persona. Turner added his last name and trademarked the name as a form of protection, so that if Bullock left him, like his previous singers had, he could replace her with another ‘Tina Turner’”.

A Fool in Love became an immediate hit after its release in July, 1960. Reaching number 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and number 27 on Billboard Hot 100, reviewer Kurt Loder described the track as “the blackest record to ever creep into the white pop charts since Ray Charles’ gospel-styled ‘What’d I Say’ that previous summer.” Ike and Tina remained with Sue Records until 1964. I found it interesting that within a 5-year span, between 1964 and 1969, Ike and Tina signed with no less than 10 different labels.

While still in her senior year of high school, Tina got involved with the band’s sax player Raymond Hill. When she found out she was pregnant, Tina moved in with Hill who also happened to be living with Turner. Hill left before the birth of their son Craig.  Ike and Tina’s relationship remained platonic for some time before they became lovers. The two married in 1962, two years after the birth of their son Ronnie. Oddly enough, in 1960 Tina’s first inkling of Turner’s brutality was after telling him she didn’t want to continue their relationship. He responded by hitting her in the head with a wooden shoe stretcher. Deciding she “really did care about him”, she stayed.

By the early 60’s the Ike and Tina Turner Revue was in full swing. An extremely rigorous touring schedule across the U.S. helped build a solid reputation. Between 1963 and 1966, the band toured constantly, without a hit single, capitalizing on Tina’s fiery and captivating stage performances. A quote from the History of Rock site referred to the act as “as one of the hottest, most durable and potentially most explosive of all R&B ensembles.” Tina appeared solo on American Bandstand and Shindig raising her own profile, and the entire revue appeared on Hollywood A Go-Go, The Andy Williams Show and in the concert film The Big T.N.T. Show.

In 1965 Tina recorded River Deep, Mountain High with Phil Spector. He considered the record to be his best work, but the single never charted higher than #88 in the U.S., although it went to #3 on the singles chart in the United Kingdom. Spector was devastated and never signed another act to his label. Based on the record’s popularity in England, The Revue was offered the opening spot in the Rolling Stone’s U.K. tour which extended to Australia and the rest of Europe.

The album Come Together, released in 1970, marked the point in Ike and Tina’s careers when they switched from their usual R&B to incorporate more rock tunes. Their 1971 cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary became their biggest hit. It sold over one million copies, reached #1 on the Hot 100 and won them a Grammy.

Performing Proud Mary

Tina’s personal history is the core of her autobiography I, Tina, and the biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With It. After the collapse of her marriage in 1978 and, along with it, her career, Tina’s comeback was a slow but persistent and sometimes painful climb. Working and struggling to pay off the mountain of debt owed the tour promoters after walking away from Ike and the tour; it was occasionally a humiliating trek playing substandard gigs singing Top 40 hits. Tina later admitted she had in fact enjoyed it all putting together her own shows and performances. She had, for the first time in her life, complete control.

After performing with Olivia Newton-John in 1980, Tina persuaded Newton-John’s management team to take her on as well….a wise business move. After the successful European release of Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together in 1983, Capital Records demanded a full album and Private Dancer was born, recorded in two weeks….flat. The hit single, What’s Love Got To Do With Itbecame Tina’s first #1 hit with the album spawning two additional singles and going on to sell over 20 million copies.

The Queen…..

She has performed with countless major rock personalities including David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Bryan Adams, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger; acting credits include the movies Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and The Who’s rock opera Tommy among others. Her many awards are too numerous to mention here but it includes seven Grammies and three American Music Awards. She is a Kennedy Centre Honors recipient and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her ex-husband Ike Turner in 1991.

One of her more famous guest appearances was with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones

However, although she hasn’t performed on a stage for almost 12 years, Tina is never far from our thoughts. She has sold nearly 200 million records and more tickets than any other solo performing artist in history. She has published three autobiographies/memoires….I, Tina (1986), My Love Story (2018) and her most recent, Happiness Becomes You (December 2020). The latter is a “personal piece of writing inspired by her personal experiences and Buddhist faith.” The Broadway musical Tina: The Tina Turner Musical opened November 7, 2019 and HBO has just released a new documentary, TINA, in March of this year.

Tina moved to Switzerland in 1995 and in 2013, gave up her U.S. citizenship to become a Swiss citizen, marrying music executive Erwin Bach the same year. Born a Baptist and introduced to Buddhism in 1971, she adopted the Nichiren Buddhism faith and credits the religion for getting her through the rough times. She still meditates and chants Nam Myōhō Renge Kyō and is both a practicing Buddhist and Baptist. 

After formerly retiring in 2009, Tina asked, “how do you bow out slowly…..just go away?” Now, at 81, she has chosen to live a quiet life with her husband and is rarely seen at public events. In an interview with Oprah, Tina offered up this interesting little tidbit. When Bach proposed to her on her 50th birthday, she refused to answer. According to Tina she didn’t think it was real, “I didn’t believe him,” and she wouldn’t answer for another couple of years. “I didn’t want the relationship to end.” According to Bach he was okay with that, “he could read between the lines.”

Three weeks after her wedding to Bach she suffered a debilitating stroke and had to learn to walk all over again. In 2016 Tina was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. After years of treating her high blood pressure with homeopathic remedies, the result was severe kidney damage and eventual kidney failure. Since her chances of receiving a kidney were low she considered assisted suicide and signed up for membership in Exit. Bach offered to donate one of his kidneys and the transplant surgery took place in April, 2017. She lost her eldest son Craig to suicide in 2018.

Tina & Ewrin

Tina and Erwin from her Instagram page

Tina has lived a life none of us could begin to imagine. The more I read and learn about her and the reality of her life, how she survived and thrived through it all astounds me. A powerful, driving force, a survivalist, she has truly lived life to the fullest, developing the respect, adoration and admiration of so many. Married to the love of her life, she is a woman who has finally found peace and contentment in her world and within herself.

Tina Turner IS the undisputed Queen of Rock.

Next week, Ann and Nancy Wilson!


This week’s podcast is Patricia Silver. Multi-instrumentalist, publicist, author, volunteer, creator of SING! Toronto Vocal Arts Festival….and clown!

Box Top – Ike Turner 1958 (with Little Ann)

Goodbye, So Long – Tina Turner (Shindig 1965)


I Don’t Wanna Fight – Tina Turner

A Fool in Love – Ike and Tina Turner

Money – Marvin Gaye featuring Tina Turner

Private Dancer – Tina Turner

Proud Mary – Ike & Tina Turner

Better Be Good to Me – Tina Turner

We Don’t Need Another Hero – Tina Turner (farewell concert 2009)

Simply the Best –Tina Turner

Tina Turner & Mick Jagger perform at Live Aid 1085


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

One Response to “Pat Blythe – The Women of Rock Redux Part 4 – The Queen of Rock……and music”

  1. John Tait Says:

    Great piece! The Undisputed QUEEN of Rock. And Roll. I remember an article in Time, late ’60’s, on The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, focusing on Tina. The line that stayed with me was, “Tina and the Ikettes were wearing skirts cut just below their womanhood”. I thought it an odd way to say vagina then. It has stayed with me, and grown more absurd and strange ever since.
    She is, and always has been, a powerful, dynamic, and gifted human.

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