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Monday 3 May 1999
AT the kitchen table in his little house near San Diego, rock legend and wife-beater Ike Turner pauses between mouthfuls of lima beans and fried cornbread and points a fork at me. "You know, I ain't going to give you excuses about the way I treated Tina. But she gives people the wrong impression of me.
"I have my good points. Like, the last time I was in the county jail, I got along with everybody real well. The black gangs liked me, the Mexicans liked me. Hey, even the police liked me. When they get to know me, everybody likes Ike."
Oh, there is no question about it. When he flashes his big bright smile, Ike can make you feel right at home. Mellowed by age (he will turn 68 later this year), and newly married to a young blonde singer, he swears that he is staying clean and living right.
But in the early Seventies, when the Ike and Tina Turner Revue was the hottest act in showbusiness, he was a heap of trouble. Guns, girls, gambling and cocaine kept him constantly on the edge of disaster. He has made millions, but has thrown almost all of the money away on quick thrills and now lives quietly in a modest suburb. (He once claimed in a cocaine abuse forum that he had spent $11 million on cocaine alone.)
In her youth, Tina Turner was seduced by Ike's charming ways; but when her voice and his band brought them sudden wealth, he became impossible. Her autobiography (which is the basis for the 1993 film What's Love Got to Do With It, featuring Laurence Fishburne as Ike and Angela Bassett as Tina) provides a frightening portrait of a cocaine-crazed, sleep-deprived, gun-toting Ike who terrorises friends and family.
According to Tina's account, her faithless husband tried to sleep with every woman who came near him, and ruthlessly beat and bullied any woman who made the mistake of falling under his spell. In 1976, she abruptly ended the relationship, fleeing their hotel room with only a handful of change in her purse.
Ike admits that he was abusive, but puts most of the blame on the monstrous drug habit that nearly killed him. In a belated effort to rescue his reputation from the damage caused by Tina's confessions, he is now promoting his own version of events in the new book Takin' Back My Name, which was written with the help of Nigel Cawthorne, a British fan.
He likes to refer to it as "my book" but, in conversation, he often appears doubtful about its contents. After telling a good story about himself, he will suddenly stop and ask earnestly: "Was that in my book?"
He offers some novel explanations for the problems in his marriage to Tina: "Yeah, of course, I was not a good husband all the time but, you know, these things have got to be fifty-fifty. Tina was no saint.
"You look at those long legs and think, maybe, 'Wow, she's hot!' but I don't see her that way. She was kind of mechanical, and I had to teach her some of those sexy moves she has now. I always wondered if she was just cold that way naturally, or if it was because she knew I had been sleeping with other girls."
As much as he professes to love women ("Shoot, my momma was a woman. How could I not love women?"), he seems always to have been more than a little confused about the right way to treat them.
"Tina exaggerates about me beating her. Have you seen how big she is? Man, she could handle guys bigger than me if she wanted to. But ain't it part the woman's fault if she stays around and lets me hit her? She didn't have to put up with that."
So he did hit her? "Oh, sure, but not because I was mean or anything bad like that. She would get these attitudes and give me grief, so we would get into fights and I maybe had to hit her some.
"But I never beat her. That's not my style. If you start something with me, I just ain't going to sit back and take it."
As he talks, he gets increasingly excited and jumps up and down from his chair to act out some incident from the past. Such as the time Tina tried to run away and he had to spank her with a coat hanger. Or the time a girlfriend named Lorraine had an argument with Tina and started threatening her with a pistol and a poker from the fireplace. "Oh, God, Lorraine was screaming and yelling and Tina was saying, 'Ike, Ike, she's got a gun', and then, bam, we heard this explosion. Lorraine had gone in the bathroom and shot herself right in the side, hitting her lungs. There was blood all over the place. And then the police thought I did it."
Why did they go and think a thing like that, Ike? "Well, my prints was all over that gun. But that was the accidental part. I panicked and accidentally picked up the gun after she shot herself. You know, just in a panic, I reached down and took it away before I called for an ambulance. I was so nervous that I could hardly dial the telephone."
To illustrate his difficulty, Ike insists on using my leg as a telephone and punching it with his fingers to show me how hard it was to dial the emergency number. I smile and nod agreeably, not wanting to upset Ike when he's in the middle of telling a story.
"Can you believe it? They wanted to arrest me for shooting her."
Just because his prints were all over the gun? "Well, that, and other things. Like, at the hospital, Lorraine was mumbling, 'Sonny, don't shoot.' But Sonny was another guy, not me.
"When she got all better, she told the police that I didn't have nothing to do with it, and I helped nurse her back to health. She was real grateful, and finally she realised that she wasn't going to share me with Tina. So that was that, but it was scary for a while. I could have gone to the electric chair."
A suspicious person might think that Lorraine was covering up for Ike, in the same way that Tina used to explain her bruises as the result of "accidents". But Ike doesn't like suspicious minds. With great passion, he follows his story about Lorraine with an extended argument in defence of his friend O J Simpson, who, as he explains, could not possibly have killed his wife.
"With all that blood on the scene, do you think he could have cleaned up so fast and been cool and collected afterwards? Do you know how hard it would be to clean all that blood off you?"
Uh, actually, no, I can't imagine it, Ike. "Well, it would be a real mess, let me tell you. Before people go around calling other people murderers, they got to think about the facts."
You don't want to argue with someone who thinks a friendly punch in the nose might help you to understand his point of view. As long as you behave yourself and remember how much you like Ike, he will be content to beat only the air and his chest, as he frequently does in the process of making his arguments.
"I don't know why people are sometimes so afraid of me. Look at me, I'm not a big guy. And I wouldn't kill anyone. I'm no killer."
Politely, I interrupt to ask why, if he didn't want to kill anyone, he used to keep so many guns.
"Man, you got to understand. I come from a tough background. In the early days, me and my band played clubs where they would try to cut your throat for no reason. And, then, when I started taking a whole lot of drugs, I needed lots of guns because I had so much cash and drugs in my cars, in my house, at my studio, everywhere. Big bowls full of the stuff.
"One time, the police stopped me and arrested me for having a tiny bit of cocaine. But it's a good thing they didn't keep searching, or they would have thrown the book at me. There was a lot more drugs in the car and three shotguns - two hidden in the door panels and one under the engine.
"Man, that was a narrow escape, but damned if I still didn't end up getting a four-year prison sentence just on that one little charge."
There is some debate about the exact number of times Ike has been arrested, but it seems to be somewhere between 10 and 12. "I don't know the figure, but now I always carry some glossy photographs in the car so I can show the police that it's me, Ike, they've stopped, and I give them an autograph. That usually makes them happy and they let me go.
"When me and Jeanette [his current wife] went to Mississippi a few years ago, a black state policeman pulled me over and said: 'Ike, you got to be more careful. You can't be driving 130 miles an hour down here with a pretty white woman in the car'. He was so nice that he escorted me to the state line so I wouldn't get into any trouble."
During his last stay in the Los Angeles County Jail, Ike was so popular among the sheriff's deputies that he was allowed to wander outside his cell at all hours and to run a small business selling sweets and cigarettes to the other inmates.
"Some days, I made as much as $500," he says proudly.
After all his exploits, it's a wonder Ike is still alive to tell his tale. He looks incredibly fit for his age, and tries his best to keep a youthful appearance. Before I arrived at the house, Jeanette was helping him to get rid of some spots of grey in his hair.
Attractive and friendly, she dotes on Ike and dismisses any notion that he is a dangerous fellow to love. "Would I stick around if I thought Ike was mistreating me? Of course not. But I love him and he loves me, and that's all there is."
She keeps him supplied with his favourite southern dishes, such as fried chicken and cornbread, and she is a loyal advocate of Ike's musical talents. She and a few other "Ikettes" still give occasional performances with his band, belting out Ike's old tunes as though the glory days of his fame had never faded.
Age has not dimmed Ike's desire to carry on with the one thing that has meant most to him in life: his music. He has built a small studio at the back of his house and spends most of his time recording and re-recording his previous hits and some more recent songs.
After lunch, he leads me into the studio and entertains me with a couple of hours of music, including a rousing one-man performance of his first hit, Rocket 88, an early-Fifties song that many experts regard as the first rock tune.
Backed up by an impressive collection of high-tech equipment, he can sing and play the guitar or keyboards to the accompaniment of an electronic orchestra. The effect is stunning and serves as a reminder that his scandals have obscured his great talent for music. He can still play rhythm 'n' blues numbers well enough to impress B B King, who remains one of his biggest fans.
He can also still expect the occasional windfall from the royalties on his past hits. When I notice that his little garage holds a brand new Mercedes, I ask how he was able to afford it.
He walks behind a couch in his studio and holds up an award certificate for the sales of a soul tune called Shoop, which was a recent hit for the young group Salt 'n' Pepa. "That was partly my song. They based it on an old thing I wrote called I'm Blue. I made about three-quarters of a million dollars from that. So, you see, I'm still making money in this business."
And still spending it freely. The drugs and guns may be gone, but Ike will never give up lavishing whatever money he has on cars, music and women. Only last year, when he was a bit short on funds, he was forced to sue an Ikette for the return of $5,000 that he had loaned her.
We sit on a sofa in the living room and watch a videotape of the court case. Ike won, and got his money back.
So what happened to the pretty Ikette? "Oh, she's still around. She was over here last week, helping me do my taxes."
Tina Tuner: Saint or Sinner?
Amazing: Tina Turner is 57 this month and still rocking like no other. Inspirational, oozing sex and vigour, she brings a whole new meaning to the word "grandmother". With more than 100 million of her records sold, little Annie Mae Bullock has an adoring audience queueing up for her current British tour. Quite right, too: Tina's is a tale of triumph over adversity.
For starters, she came a long way from Nowheresville to first-hit stardom alongside her husband Ike. During 18 years of marriage to him, though, she says she endured battery, rape, infidelity and was abused to the point of attempting suicide. So in 1976, Tina left Ike with 30 cents in her pocket and looking for freedom. She found it - and self-repect. And the stardom she deserves.
Best of all, age hasn't withered her. She dances like a demon, sings like a siren, and is, let's face it, the person for whom In Praise of Older Women should've been written: Tina - Simply the Best.
It's unbelievable; granny's off again. Is this her last tour? Of course it is; every other one was. Remember her "Final Tour" of 1986? Or 1988's "Farewell Tour"? What about 1990's "Last Ever"? Her poor fans are too old for all this excitement.
And then there's Ike, the man who made her a star. Boy, the ingratitude. A book and a film devoted entirely to bad-mouthing him. If her marriage was really that bad, why stick around for 18 years?
And then there's the music. Post-Ike, Tina rejected the greater glory of black soul and went for easy-listening, middle-of-the-road white rock. The fact that Prince Charles and Helmut Kohl are devoted fans tells us all we need to know.
And what does she look like? Flashing her knickers in a rubber dress and ludicrous stilettos, she is a nightmarish vision of mutton dressed as lamb. The salacious bumps and grinds, those oh-so-embarassing fishnet tights - puhleese, Tina, act your age. You've got 30 years of crocheting to catch up on.