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Highway Divas
by Beth Boswell Jacks

NOTE: Click here for a picture of Ike Turner’s childhood home in Clarksdale, Mississippi
[ CLICK! ]

“You may have heard of jalopies,
You heard the noise they make,
But let me introduce you to
My Rocket 88 . . .”

Driving home the other day from one of those whirlwind, overnight visits south to stock up on hugs and kisses from grandchildren, I was juking and jiving and singing along with the radio. I’d found a station of “Oldies” music from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I sounded so doggone good I could hardly stand it. Coolest thing on the road -- croaks, cracks, and all.

Gladys Knight and I had just finished singing a rousing duet of “Midnight Train to Georgia (wooo! wooo!)” when the disc jockey came on, talking about a song called “Rocket 88.” Ever heard it?

Seems that “Rocket 88,” produced in 1951, has been called the very first rock & roll song. The DJ went on to say that this song was recorded by Ike Turner and his band for Memphian Sam Phillips, who later sold the record to the larger Chess label.

Why did this information blow my skirt?

Because my dear friend and right arm around our Jacks household, Daisy Gibson Brandon, along with her Clarksdale, Mississippi, beau, Johnny, used to double date with Ike Turner and his girlfriends during the early ‘50s.

“He was a nice man back then,” Daisy told me the next day when I quizzed her, urging her to remember 50 year-old events to give me some story material.

“One Sunday night his band was playing in Inverness. Johnny and I went with him, because wherever Ike played there was a good time. I remember that night in particular because he kept teasing me, saying ‘Daisy, you gonna sing with the Kings of Rhythm tonight!’ Now, I could dance and sing, but I was only 16 years old and real shy. I was scared to death he was gonna make me get up there and sing.”

Izear Luster (Ike) Turner, Jr., was born in Clarksdale in 1931. It’s amazing to me that this man is over 70 years old today and still performing, enjoying recognition from the Grammy and W. C. Handy Awards. [Writer's note: This story was written in 2004; Ike Turner died in December, 2007.] He and his one-time partner, Tina Turner, have also been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Hubby G-Man and I happened to be staying at a New Orleans hotel one weekend in the ‘80s when Tina Turner launched her solo comeback. She was performing at the hotel lounge, and, deciding we’d rather see Tina than Bourbon Street, we soon found ourselves seated within arm’s length of the stage.

Friends, if there’s another way to spell E-N-E-R-G-Y, it’s T-I-N-A. She was spectacular. This woman, at least 40 years old at the time, never quit. She twirled, she pranced, she kicked, she shimmied--and all the time she was belting songs ninety to nothing. She sounded fabulous and looked even better.

“So, Daisy,” I said, “did you double date with Tina?”

“No,” she said, “that must have been later.”

I looked it up, and Daisy was right. Ike met Tina in St. Louis in the late ‘50s. She was Annie Mae Bullock then, a quiet teenager from around Brownsville, Tennessee, who just stepped to the stage one night and sang with Ike’s band. Ike changed her name to Tina Turner, and the rest of the story is chronicled by Tina in her book I, Tina and the resulting movie, What’s Love Got To Do With It? (1993). Ike has also written his own book, Takin’ Back My Name (1998), in which he disputes much of Tina’s account of their troubles.

“Just think, Daisy,” I said. “If you’d sung with Ike’s band that night in Inverness, today YOU might be Tina Turner!”

She turned and grinned. I thought she was getting ready to protest, but she didn’t bat an eye as she nodded and said, “Yeah, you probably right.”

I have an idea Daisy found herself a good “Oldies” station as she drove up Highway 61 on the way home that evening. I figure she was most probably singing her heart out with Dionne or Lavern or somebody.

That’s what we Divas do.


NOTE: Click here for a picture of Ike Turner’s childhood home in Clarksdale, Mississippi
[ CLICK! ]

WRITER’S BIO: Editor of USADEEPSOUTH, Beth Boswell Jacks is the author of three books (Grit, Guts, and Baseball and Snippets I and II). She is also a weekly columnist for a number of southern newspapers. Readers and editors may contact her at bethjacks@hotmail.com

For more of Beth’s stories, click here:
SNIPPETS -- the newspaper column

Be sure to check out the info on Beth's latest book:
SNIPPETS II -- the book!

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