LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Ike Turner, whose achievements as one of the founding fathers of the genre were overshadowed by ex-wife Tina Turner’s claims that he regularly beat her for almost two decades, died on Wednesday at his home near San Diego. He was 76.
His cause of death was not immediately known, said his manager, Scott Hanover.
After years of obscurity, Turner was on a comeback trail of sorts. He won his first Grammy in 35 years this past February for an acclaimed blues album and had been collaborating on musical ideas with producer Danger Mouse, one-half of the pop-soul duo Gnarls Barkley.
The one-time disc jockey arguably invented rock ‘n’ roll with his 1951 song “Rocket 88,” and he enjoyed huge fame in the 1960s and 1970s as the Svengali behind Ike and Tina Turner, a R&B revue that dazzled audiences with high-energy performances of such tunes as “Proud Mary” and “River Deep Mountain High.”
But Ike Turner was also a violent man, according to his ex-wife and others including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who said he saw him pistol-whip a fellow musician.
“Ike acted like a goddamned pimp,” Richards told Vanity Fair in 1993.
Tina Turner’s memoir, “I, Tina,” and a 1993 biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It” turned Ike Turner into one of the most notorious villains in the music industry.
The singer said her ex-husband regularly abused and humiliated her for 16 years, and drove her to attempt suicide in 1968. He cracked her ribs, threw hot coffee in her face, burnt her with a cigarette and punched her in the nose so often she had to have surgery, she said.
Ike told a New York news conference in 1993, “I only punched her with my fist once. I have slapped her, and the times where I slapped her were when she was looking sad.”
A spokeswoman for Tina Turner, who lives in semi-retirement in Europe, said, “Tina is aware that Ike passed away earlier today. She has not had any contact with him in over 30 years.”
Izear Luster Turner was born in 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, an area steeped in the traditions of blues music, and as a boy learned to play piano and was a disc jockey for a local radio station.
He formed his first band in high school and by 1951 was the man behind the Kings of Rhythm and their song “Rocket 88.” The Chess Records release was credited to the band’s saxophone player Jackie Brenston “and his Delta Cats.”
As a guitarist and pianist, Turner played with the likes of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in the 1950s, and his band performed in the popular style of a revue featuring different vocalists.
One of those singers, a teen-ager named Annie Mae Bullock, joined the revue in 1956, and by 1958 she had changed her name to Tina, joined the band for good and married Turner. In 1972, they won a Grammy for their cover of “Proud Mary.”
“Ike’s strutting confidence, aggressive approach to rhythm, and snap-tight funkiness — as well as his enthusiastic understanding of rock and roll showmanship — all combined to make him a thrilling and influential guitarist,” said Michael Molenda, editor in chief of Guitar Player magazine.
But after he and Tina divorced in 1976, Ike Turner was crippled by a cocaine addiction that drained his finances. He was arrested several times, mostly for drug-related offenses.
When the Turners were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, Ike Turner could not show up for the ceremony because he was serving time in prison.
As Ike’s fortunes dimmed, Tina mounted a huge comeback in the mid-1980s and had hits with songs like “Better Be Good to Me” and “Private Dancer.”
Ike Turner eventually tamed his drug addiction and in 1999 his autobiography, “Takin’ Back My Name,” was published. He won his Grammy this year for “Risin’ with the Blues.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham