Tina Turner has been ‘beaten bloody.’ It is July 1976. The assailant of the African-American singer is her husband, Ike Turner. Their act, The Ike And Tina Turner Revue, has come to Dallas, Texas, to begin a tour. The couple travel in the back of a hired car to their motel. “In the car he was real edgy,” Tina begins. “And I was holding some chocolates and I made him angry and I was wearing a white suit…So…we started to fight in the car…” Ike Turner has been physically abusing his wife for the last sixteen years. This time something is different. Tina fights back. “We fought all the way back to the motel. It was like something came over me.” Once Ike Turner falls asleep in the motel room, Tina makes her escape. Wearing sunglasses to conceal her bruised face, she exits with thirty-six cents and a Mobil gasoline credit card in her pocket. “I had to go out the back way. I was running,” Tina recounts. She is given refuge in a nearby Ramada Inn. From there, she makes her way to Los Angeles, California. “I’m gone and I’m not going back was the attitude,” says Tina Turner defiantly.
Tina Turner is born Anna Mae Bullock on 26 November 1939 in Haywood Memorial Hospital, Tennessee, U.S.A. She is raised in the nearby town of Nutbush. “In Tennessee where I grew up, there were animals, farms, wagons, mules.” Anna Mae is the child of Floyd Richard Bullock and his wife, Zelma Priscilla Bullock (nee Currie). “My parents were church people; My father was a deacon in the church.” The child is raised in the Baptist faith. Floyd Bullock works as an overseer of sharecroppers. Anna Mae has an older sister, Ruby Ailene. Less often mentioned is that Anna Mae has two half-sisters: (i) Mary Ann Buck-White who is taken away when Anna Mae is born; and (ii) a mysterious, unnamed half-sister who dies in a car accident in Ripley, Tennessee, when Anna Mae is 14. This girl is the ‘oldest sister.’ While her parents are Baptists, young Anna Mae is also exposed to a different brand of spirituality. “I heard stories from my mother’s mother who was an American Indian…She used to tell me stories of the rivers.” Anna Mae grows up believing she has ‘significant Native American ancestry’, but a D.N.A. test in 2008 reveals she is only one percent Native American and thirty-three percent European. Of course, her main genetic background is African-American.
During World War Two, the parents of Anna Mae Bullock (Tina Turner) go to work at the defense plant in Knoxville, Tennessee. Anna Mae is separated from her older sister, Ruby Ailene, and sent to live with her paternal grandparents. Her father’s mother is “strict…I was always getting spanked.” Anna Mae starts to sing in the church choir at Nutbush’s Spring Hill Baptist Church. While still a pre-teen, she is employed as a domestic worker for the Henderson family.
After the war, the Bullock family is reunited, but Floyd and Zelma have an ‘abusive relationship.’ “My mother and father didn’t love each other so they were always fighting,” Tina Turner remembers. Zelma runs off when Tina / Anna Mae is 13. “When a mother leaves, it leaves some kind of loneliness for a girl,” Tina says wistfully. Floyd Bullock remarries before his daughter turns 14.
The teenage years bring new awareness to Anna Mae Bullock. “As I grew up, I learned what worked for me. That’s where the short dresses came from. And you can’t dance [like I do] in a long dress.” Despite being only five feet, four inches, the girl notes, “I always had long legs. When I was young, I used to think, ‘Why do I look like a pony?’”
Anna Mae Bullock graduates from Sumner High School in 1958. “I’m self-made,” she later says. “I always wanted to make myself a better person because I was not [highly] educated. But that was my dream. To have class.” Anna Mae Bullock works as a nurse’s aide at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She gains her first boyfriend, a fellow named Harry, while living in Brownsville, Tennessee.
With her sister Ruby Ailene, Anna Mae Bullock moves to St Louis, Missouri, in the hope of finding a career as a professional singer. “After I moved to St Louis, my older sister and I went to see Ike Turner, who was the hottest then. His music charged me. I was never attracted to him, but I wanted to sing with his band.”
Ike Turner (5 November 1931 – 12 December 2007) is born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.A. He grows up in an area steeped in blues music. Ike works as a disc-jockey and forms his own band, The Kings Of Rhythm (a.k.a. The Delta Rhythm Kings). Ike Turner plays guitar and piano and also acts as a talent scout for the Los Angeles-based record labels Modern and RPM. In 1951 he plays on ‘Rocket 88’ by Jackie Brenston. This is one of a handful of contenders for the title of the first rock ‘n’ roll record. Jackie Brenston is a saxophone player in The Rhythm Kings but, because he takes the lead vocal on ‘Rocket 88’, the song is credited to him on the record label. Ironically, the sax solo on the track is not played by Brenston but by Raymond Hill, another one of The Kings Of Rhythm. Ike Turner’s prototypical dirty guitar sound is due to his amplifier having a patchwork repair after it was damaged falling off the truck on the way to the recording session. After this seminal recording, Ike Turner’s work as a talent scout is attributed with the discovery of such recording artists as Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Bobby Bland.
Ike Turner tours with ‘a revue-style show, featuring him on guitar and piano, and spotlighting various vocalists.’ This involves an open-mike section of the show where members of the audience are given an opportunity to sing with The Kings Of Rhythm. One night in 1958, the future Tina Turner is in the St Louis audience. “Many times other girls had stood to sing [with Ike] and I knew they couldn’t sing as well as I could,” Tina recalls. When her turn comes, Anna Mae Bullock turns in an impressive performance. The 18 year old becomes part of the touring show as a backing vocalist. She is billed as Little Ann. She becomes romantically involved with Raymond Hill (the saxophone player who was featured on ‘Rocket 88‘). Anna Mae Bullock bears him a son, Raymond Craig (born 29 August 1958). She describes her relationship with Ike Turner in the late 1950s this way: “He was a very nice person at the time and we were really friends, like brother and sister.” Within a year, Raymond Hill has left Anna Mae Bullock and Ike Turner’s attention turns to her. “The first time Ike actually touched me, I felt ashamed because he was my friend.” Nonetheless, in January 1960 she finds herself pregnant by Ike. Complicating the situation is that Ike Turner is already married to a woman named Lorraine. (source)