After years languishing in relative obscurity and semiretirement, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ike Turner began his comeback in earnest on Friday with a fervent set of old-school R&B at Antone's in Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and Festival.
Turner, 69, is readying an album, Here and Now, for release on the IKON/Bottled Majic label on May 22.
Turner got off to an awkward start, taking the stage by calling, "Hello, Houston" to the baffled crowd. He corrected himself after the first song, however, and promised to do a good show.
He made good on that promise and then some, dipping into his catalog from the days of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and providing a generous sampling of the new album, including such songs as "Tore Up," "Baby's Got It," and "Nuddin'."
Backed by an incredibly tight eight-piece band featuring two keyboardists — three, when Ike himself sat down to play piano — Turner sang and also played guitar. Toward the end of the set, he was joined by vocalist Audrey Madison, who sang two songs closely identified with Tina Turner, "Nutbush City Limits" and "River Deep, Mountain High."
Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas, who played elsewhere at the conference with Latin supergroup Los Super Seven, sat in for one number, "You Can't Winnum All."
Most notable among the 15 songs Turner performed was the hit "Rocket 88," which he wrote in 1951, only to have it released under the name of Jackie Brenston, the vocalist in Turner's band. Considered by some to be the first rock and roll song, it's reclaimed by its rightful owner thanks to a newly recorded version on Here and Now.
After closing with a bawdy rap titled "Sex" and a rousing guitar instrumental, Turner humbly thanked "everybody for helping me get back" and called it a night.
Surely Turner knows as well as anyone that his image needs some polishing. Portrayed as abusive and drug addled in Tina Turner's book I Tina and the film What's Love Got to Do With It, Ike is using South by Southwest's high media profile to clear the air a bit.
"I don't compromise with music. So some of my reputation and some of the ways I say I am, is true," he said in an interview the day after his show. "I did a lot of things that I regret.
"My personal life is really my personal life, but what I really regret, man, is that during the time I was doing drugs, I signed a contract thinking it was for somebody to play me in the movie with Tina," he continued. "Until I got clean and got my head on like it is now, I didn't realize that the paper that I signed — my own lawyer got me to sign it — I was signing away my rights to sue them, and they could portray me any way they wanted to. So they made a villain out of me. I'm nothing like that movie. I'm not being apologetic about it, but most people don't get a second chance at life. I did. So that's all old news now. Other than that, I don't regret any parts of my life, because it took it all to make me what I am today. And I love me today, man."