Tina Turner, the Woman Who Taught Mick Jagger to Dance, Is on the Prowl Again
updated 12/07/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/07/1981 AT 01:00 AM EST
These days no one laughs when Mick steps up to dance—least of all the overpoweringly explosive she-woman who taught him how. "I learned a lot of things from Tina," says Mick. At 42, Tina Turner remains rock's original Jagger, a primitive force who, glittering in sequins and a gold-chain miniskirt, typically assaults a stage in mid-scream with both legs pumping, hips grinding, long mane whirling, and her mouth wrapped around some of the sexiest sounds ever set to music. So it seemed only appropriate this fall when Jagger decided to repay his old dance instructor by inviting Tina to open for the Stones at several dates along the way on their zillion-dollar U.S. tour.
If this fall marks a comeback of sorts for the Stones, it is even more of one for Tina. She is opening a Dec. 18 L.A. concert for Rod Stewart that will be broadcast around the world, and is finally returning to high rock visibility after years of touring on the hotel/casino circuit. More than five years have passed since Tina's bitter break with Ike Turner, her longtime husband, sideman and musical collaborator on such classics as Proud Mary and Come Together. At the time, their severing seemed to be her way of telling Ike that she no longer wanted to play the submissive mate. Only now is Tina able to discuss what she claims were the harrowing events leading up to their split.
According to Tina, she'd been contemplating leaving Ike for several years before the crucial moment came on July 1, 1976. The two of them had just left the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in a limo. "Ike was feeling a little irritable that day and hit me with the back of his hand," she claims. "I wagged my finger at him, saying, 'All right, you.' Then he beat me the entire way from the airport to the hotel. When he fought," claims Tina, "he used things and not just his hands. By the time we got to the hotel, the left side of my face was swollen like a monster's. I never cried, though. I laughed. I laughed because I knew I was leaving. No more of this." Upstairs in their suite, Tina says, "I massaged him and cooed, 'Can I order you any food, dear?' Then he made the mistake of going to sleep." With only 36 cents in her pocket and a Mobil credit card in her wallet, Tina split. A friend bought her a plane ticket home to L.A. and out of Ike's life. "I felt proud," Tina says. "I felt strong. I felt like Martin Luther King."
She went into hiding with some friends in Hollywood, but after about two weeks, she says, Ike found her. "I looked out the window and there was a Rolls-Royce and Ike in his boots with what seemed like 500 people with him. I screwed up my courage and said, 'No way am I going back there.' "
After she got a lawyer and filed for divorce, she says, "Gunshots were fired into my home, one of my girlfriends' car was burned and there were threats. I'm not saying that Ike did it. I don't think he would have hurt me, but he wanted to get close and scare me." Tina says that the ultimate divorce settlement in 1978 gave him everything. "My peace of mind was more important," she explains. "Whatever was involved in our lives—property, masters, royalty rights—he got."
Ike, whom Tina says she hasn't seen in nearly six years, declines to be interviewed. He has dropped out of the music business and was arrested earlier this year for allegedly shooting a Los Angeles newspaper deliveryman in the ankle.
Growing up in Brownsville, Tenn., little Anna Mae Bullock (as Tina was christened) longed to go into showbiz. Daughter of a sharecropper, she saw her happy rural life end at age 11 when her parents divorced. Her mother, Zellma, left for St. Louis, and the next year her father left for Illinois. Annie and her sister, Ailene, moved in with their grandmother, but when she died they went to live with their mother in St. Louis. Near Annie Mae's high school was the Club Manhattan, where a young Mississippian, Ike Turner, and his Kings of Rhythm band were playing. Entranced, she started hanging around and eventually was allowed to sing. "When Ike heard me," she remembers, "he said, 'My God!' He couldn't believe that voice coming out of this frail little body." Before long she was performing in juke joints on the weekend. "First I made a little spending money, then Ike gave me a wardrobe, rings all over my fingers and bare-backed shoes," she adds. "There were Cadillacs, Buicks—it was very exciting for a young girl like me."
A while later Annie was pregnant—not by Ike, but by another member of his band. After the baby boy, Craig, was born in 1958, the father left for Mississippi and didn't return. Annie landed a day job at a hospital while singing at night. Then Ike turned the charm on both Annie and Zellma. "He came to her very respectfully," Tina says, "and said he'd take care of me, and she gave her consent." In 1960 they went on the road together, and their relationship was soon far more than just professional. "I trusted him," Tina says. Even her stage name came from Ike, but in private he always called her "Ann."
That same year Ike and Tina signed with Sue Records and soon had a couple of soul-chart hits. By the time they moved to Los Angeles and married in 1964, they had a son, Ronnie. Ike had previously fathered two sons by another woman; those boys, too, were raised by Tina, who, to simplify matters, told interviewers they were hers.
By the mid-'60s the Ike and Tina Turner Revue had become a crossover pop sensation. Phil Spector produced their extraordinary River Deep Mountain High, a lavishly overdubbed "wall of sound" spectacular that hit the top of the charts in England but, disappointingly, peaked at only 88 in the U.S. Meanwhile, personal problems were developing between Ike and Tina. She had diamonds, furs and fancy cars (including a 12-cylinder hardtop convertible Jaguar), but, she confesses, "I was just a shadow. Ike took care of everything—the sound, the band, hiring people, management and money." Tina found herself cooking for the band on the road at 4 in the morning after playing three sets. "Damn it! Sometimes I didn't feel like making breakfast at that hour!" Ike's control even extended to designing furniture for their home, including a guitar-shaped coffee table and a couch with huge cushions and arms that looked like dinosaur tails.
"He was very loving," Tina concedes. "He helped a lot of people in trouble. But you owed him your life. He didn't give freely." (One ex-employee, however, remembers being destitute and going home from a visit with Ike to find $1,000 in his coat pocket.)
After seven years the passion in their marriage existed mainly onstage. Ike had also become involved with one of his backup singers. Both Ike and Tina had dabbled with astrology and psychic phenomena. But it was Buddhism that changed Tina's life. She began meditating, studying and chanting. "When Ike saw me chanting," she says, "the veins in his face popped out. He didn't want to hear about anything that would give me power."
But Tina had been exercising her own independence since 1966. At that point the ITT Revue hired a musician who, Tina says, "gave me back my self-respect. He never touched me—but he would just give me a look or say a few words to me. He's the only man I ever saw stand up to Ike. I loved him and still love him." Every night this mystery man—Tina won't identify him—would warm up with the band and play a "dutta-dutta-dutta" riff. She began to call her private, vulnerable offstage personality "dutta," and her closest friends used the nickname as a kind of code.
In contrast, Tina's pulse-stopping stage persona led the Who's Pete Townshend and director Ken Russell to cast her as the Acid Queen in the film of Tommy, for which she received critical acclaim and which began the liberating process that led to her Texas escape. She recalls: "When I left, I was living a life of death. I didn't exist. I didn't fear him killing me when I left, because I was already dead. When I walked out, I didn't look back."
Today Tina lives alone in a spacious Oriental-flavored four-bedroom house in Los Angeles. She occasionally sees her now-grown sons and has a few close friends (including Ann-Margret). She regularly has sessions with a psychic, Carol Dryer, who Tina says guided her spiritually through her liberation.
It all makes Tina recall the first psychic reading she had done back in the '60s. The reader, she says, told her: "You will be among the biggest of stars. A partner of yours will fall, like a leaf from a tree in autumn. You will survive and go on."