Ike Turner is scared.
For the last 18 months, the architect behind the sizzling Ike and Tina Turner Revue was confined to prison on cocaine charges.
All the while, Turner, 59, kept his spirits up by picturing the day when he would finally be able to return home to Los Angeles--and begin resurrecting the pop career that he claims was derailed in the early ‘80s by drugs.
And Turner--who sat in his San Luis Obispo prison dorm the night last January when he and his ex-wife were supposed to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at a gala dinner in New York--wasted no time on Tuesday getting back into the limelight.
Less than three hours after being released, Turner sat in a West Hollywood office, preparing for a press conference that was attended by TV and print journalists from around the world.
“To tell you the truth, man, I’m a bit scared,” Turner said, sitting on a couch, next to his 32-year-old daughter, Twanna Melby. “All the time I’ve been in jail I’ve been saying to myself when I get out I’m going to make some great music and re-establish my career.
“Well, this morning I walked out a free man and I feel fantastic. But it makes me nervous. Because the day has finally arrived and now I got to do it.”
Still, Turner--who on Monday played a farewell Labor Day concert with a makeshift band of inmates for the prison population at the California Men’s Colony--is forging ahead. He’s scheduled to perform Friday night at a club near Vallejo with Melby, his daughter by a St. Louis woman with whom Turner was involved with before the marriage to Tina.
In a sudden flash of humor, he said, “Who knows, we might just shock the world. Maybe we’ll come out with a record as Ike and Twanna.”
Looking trim and fit, Turner was paroled Tuesday after serving 18 months of a four-year prison sentence for a misdemeanor drug and probation violation. Dressed in a paisley shirt, blue jeans and jogging shoes, the rock veteran expressed no bitterness about his prison experience.
“I think prison may have been one of the best things that ever happened to me,” a smiling Turner said. “You see, I got in deep with drugs and jail has a way of putting things back into their proper perspective. It teaches you to appreciate life.”
Turner’s obsession with cocaine began 20 years ago during his most successful years on the road with Tina. By 1988--10 years after their divorce--his addiction had left him deeply in debt.
“I used to love cocaine because I thought it gave me energy to stay up all night and be creative,” said Turner, who now estimates the cost of his past addiction at more than $35,000 per month. “But look what I let it do to me. I burned a hole right through the membranes in my nose.
“I took everything God gave me for granted: Tina, my family, my career. When me and Tina broke up, man, I panicked. I got so insecure. I thought the public would reject me without her. I knew I was in real bad shape, but I couldn’t stop.”
Turner was arrested four times between 1985 and 1989 on drug-related charges in the Hollywood area. Turner was sent to San Luis Obispo in February, 1990, when he pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of cocaine. A jury convicted him of two drug misdemeanors but deadlocked on two felony charges--transportation of cocaine and possession of the drug for sale.
According to Larry Kamien, associate warden of the California Men’s Colony, Turner spent the past year and a half working as a clerk in the prison library and was a “model inmate.” With his sentence cut in half due to good behavior (plus credit for prior time served in Los Angeles County jail), Turner was enthusiastic about his first day of freedom.
“To tell you the truth, what I’m looking forward to now is a hot bath, a decent meal and a clean hotel bed,” Turner said. “But most of all, I want to make some music.”
As part of his probation agreement, Turner will take up residence in Vallejo today, sharing a house with his daughter. While she discovered at age 11 that Turner was her father, Melby said she was unable to track him down until three years ago.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be sitting here with my father,” she said, squeezing Turner’s hand. “I’ve waited so many years for this day. Honestly, I was a bit hesitant to meet him for a long time, because of all the bad things I heard about the drugs. But the past is behind us now.”
Turner said he is writing an autobiographical rebuttal to his ex-wife’s 1985 bestseller “I, Tina"--which portrayed him as an unfaithful and ill-tempered tyrant who beat her repeatedly. He voiced irritation over Tina’s allegations during the interview, including one incident in which she claimed he broke her jaw.
“The problem is that there are two sides to every story and they only printed the bad side,” Turner said. “She shouted at me and so I (hit) her. She came out and sang, and after the show I took her to a doctor. I don’t know what the doctor said because I just sat out in the car. But we never missed no work. They didn’t wire her jaw or nothing. It’s just something that happened. I regret that I’ve screwed up my life but I’m not ashamed of nothing I did.”
A Clarksdale, Miss. native, Turner began in music as a guitarist and keyboardist backing bluesmen in clubs around the Delta area. In 1951, his band, the Kings of Rhythm, recorded a single called “Rocket 88"--cited by many pop music critics as the first true rock ‘n’ roll record.
Though he worked with numerous key blues figures in the ‘50s, his biggest discovery proved to be Annie Mae Bullock, who eventually became known as Tina Turner.
Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the pair recorded a string of hits including “Proud Mary.” Turner helped establish the act by developing a sexy live soul revue featuring his wife, a buxom trio of dancing backup singers plus a nine-piece band. But after Tina divorced him in 1978, his career faltered.
Prior to the press conference Tuesday, Turner said he hoped to be back in the studio within the month to record a new solo project featuring 15 new songs written during his jail tenure.
In the meantime, Esquire Records, a small independent record label based in Hollywood, plans to issue 20 previously unreleased Ike and Tina Turner selections culled from Turner’s private tape collection.
Suzan Evans, executive director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said Turner is welcome to attend this year’s proceedings, but the rock veteran said he is not certain whether he’ll go.
“I really don’t have any feeling for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Turner said. “It’s not like I’m ungrateful. I’ve just never cared much about the Grammys or the money at the gate. That’s not what motivates me.
“What I love is to play guitar and piano and create music from my heart. I mean, the pay-off for me is when you can walk out on stage and get 30,000 people jumpin’ up and down with their hands up in the air. Man, you know there ain’t nothing in the world can top that.”