#1212: River Deep-Mountain High by Ike & Tina Turner
Izear Luster “Ike” Turner, Jr. was born in Clarkesdale, Mississippi in 1931. He was an American musician, bandleader, songwriter, arranger, talent scout, and record producer. When he was eight he started learning how to play guitar and piano. In his teens he established an R&B group named the Kings of Rhythm, as cited in John Collis’ book Ike Turner, King of Rhythm. The Kings of Rhythm became his backing band for the rest of his career. In 1951 his first recording was “Rocket 88.” The lead vocals were sung by the Kings of Rhythm’s saxophonist, Jackie Brenston. Ike Turner played piano on the recording. But Phillips Records sold the recording to Chess in Chicago, who released it under the name Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats. Though the record sold over half a million copies, Turner was paid $20. Relocating to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1954, Ike Turner built the Kings of Rhythm into a successful act on the local club circuit. It was in this setting Ike Turner met Anna Mae Bullock, who was working at a club where he performed. He would later go on to rename her as Tina Turner. Together, they formed the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and became a stars in both the soul music and pop charts.
When Ike Turner was a very young boy he helplessly stood and watched a while mob beat his father beaten and leave his dad to die. For the next three years Ike’s dad lived as an invalid in the family home before dying as a result of his injuries. The experience had a profound impact on young Ike. Turner became a session musician by 1952 and is included on personnel on “3 O’Clock Blues” by B.B. King.
In 1958, Aillene Bullock was a barmaid at the Club Manhattan in East St. Louis, where Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm often played. Aillene’s sister, Anna Mae, was an eighteen-year-old high school graduate and nurse aide who frequented the performances. Aillene was dating one of the Kings of Rhythm. After several months seeing the band in concert, Anna Mae asked to sing with them. When Ike Turner finally gave her a chance to sing he was so taken with her voice, he asked her to join the Kings of Rhythm. Ike Turner first gave Anna Mae Bullock the billing of “Little Ann.”
A year and a half later, in March 1960, Ike Turner recorded Anna Mae’s voice for a song he wrote titled “A Fool in Love.” This was to be a demo for a male singer to record later. However, when the New York-based Sue Record Label execs heard the recording, they pressed Ike Turner to go with Anna Mae Bullock’s vocal. Sue Records offered Ike Turner $25,000 advance for the song. Simultaneously, a former member of the Kings of Rhythm, Raymond Hill (who Anna Mae Bullock had relations with and given birth to their son) wanted Bullock to join his band and leave Turner’s. Fearing Anna Mae Bullock would leave Ike Turner’s band, Ike proposed that Anna Mae Bullock use his last name. Anna Mae chose to change her name to Anna Mae Turner. Soon after Ike suggested her first name be Tina. From the spring of 1960 Anna Mae Bullock had become Tina Turner.
“A Fool In Love” was released that summer under the billing of Ike & Tina Turner. In October 1960 Tina Turner got her first national TV exposure performing the song on American Bandstand. At the time she was nine months pregnant with her first child fathered by Ike. The song became a #2 R&B hit in the USA and peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. Ike Turner added a backing girl group he renamed the Ikettes. This coincided with changing the name of the Kings of Rhythm under the billing the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
The duo produced a string of successful R&B hit singles, including “Poor Fool” (#4 R&B), “I Idolize You” (#5 R&B) and “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” (#2 R&B). The latter tune became their second million-seller and won them their first Grammy nomination.
Impressed with the duo, Phil Spector approached them in 1965 to record a song Spector co-wrote titled “River Deep – Mountain High.” In the agreement Spector paid Ike Turner $25,000 to have no creative input into the recording session. The song was a big hit in the UK climbing to #3. This was the first time Mick Jagger heard of the duo. As a result, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue opened for a Rolling Stones tour in 1966. Back in the USA the song charted poorly, only climbing to #88 in 1966 and #112 in a re-release in 1969. But in Vancouver the song peaked at #12.
In “River Deep – Mountain High” the song compares a woman’s love and loyalty, respectively, to that which a child feels for a doll, and a puppy has for a boy that has it for its pet. The love she feels is as natural as the way a flower feels when spring arrives, like a Robin loves to sing, as deep as a river and as high as a mountain. Nature itself agrees with the way she has grown to express her love. This is a love that is rooted in its essence, springing from a place that comes naturally. Later Rolling Stone Magazine placed “River Deep-Mountain High” at #33 on its December 2004 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
“River Deep-Mountain High” is co-written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich. Barry’s writing credits include “Tell Laura I Love Her,” “Tell Me What He Said,” “Sugar Sugar,” “Montego Bay,” “Lay A Little Loving On Me” and “I Honestly Love You.” He co-wrote with Ellie Greenwich “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Maybe I Know,” “Hanky Panky,” “Leader of the Pack” and “I Can Hear Music.” Barry and Greenwich teamed up with Phil Spector to co-write “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Then He Kissed Me,” “Be My Baby” and “Chapel of Love.”
Other notable records the duo released were covers of Sly & the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary.” The latter went to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. Tina Turner also penned “Nutbush City Limits,” about the town she was born in.
Ike Tuner’s partnership ended abruptly in 1976 with Tina leaving after the last in a series of violent altercations with him. His violent episodes were prompted in part by his cocaine addiction. In the 1980s, Tina Turner launched a major comeback with another string of hits, starting in late 1983 and in 1984 released of her fifth solo album Private Dancer which became a worldwide success. The album contained the song “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” which became Turner’s biggest hit and won three Grammy Awards including Record of the Year. She became a Nichiren Shoshu Buddhist in 1974, and during her tours in the eighties would chant three hours a day. Her solo success continued throughout the 1980s and 90s with multi-platinum albums including Break Every Rule and Foreign Affair. Among her most successful single releases were “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome),” “Typical Male,” “The Best” and “I Don’t Wanna Fight,” her last Top 40 hit in Canada and the USA in 1993. In addition, between 1970 and 1993 Tina Turner appeared in nine films, including as the Acid Queen in The Who’s rock opera film, Tommy.
Allegations by Tina Turner of domestic violence by Ike, were published in her autobiography I, Tina and included in its film adaptation What’s Love Got to Do with It. Coupled with his cocaine addiction, the revelations damaged Ike Turner’s career in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Addicted to cocaine and crack for at least 15 years, Ike Turner was convicted of drug offenses. He served seventeen months in prison between July 1989 and 1991. In late 2007 Ike Turner died from a cocaine overdose.
In 2002, Tennessee State Route 19 between Brownsville and Nutbush was named the Tina Turner Highway. After some years out of the spotlight, Tina Turner again made a return to the spotlight in February 2008 at the Grammy Awards where she sang with Beyoncé. That year she also picked up a Grammy as a featured artist on River: The Joni Letters. Later in October, she launched her first tour since the late 90’s with the Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour. In 1994 Tina Turner established her residence in a small town near Zurich, Switzerland. In early 2013, she Turner applied for Swiss citizenship. Soon afterward, Tina Turner gave up her U.S. citizenship. As of 2016, Turner was still listed in the Guinness Book of Records for selling more concert tickets than any solo performer in history. In December 2017, it was announced that a second autobiography will be released about Tina Turner’s life in late 2018.
July 25, 2017
Dee Lockett, Someone Alert Angela Bassett: We’re Getting a New Tina Turner Memoir, Vulture.com, New York, December 11, 2017.
Turner, Tina with Loder, Kurt. I, Tina: My Life Story. icon!t, New York, 1986.
Tina Turner Highway, Wikipedia.org
Andrew Perry, Tina Turner: 20 Things You Never Knew, Telegraph, November 27, 2016
Bryan Appleyard, Tina Turner interview: the Singer on Ike, Buddhism and Leaving America for Switzerland, The Sunday Times, March 18, 2018
Nancy Collins, Tina Turner: Queen of Rock & Roll: ‘I didn’t act my life. I lived it’, Rolling Stone, October 23, 1986
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