Famed Rock Photographer Bob Gruen shares his incredible photos of Ike and Tina Turner from over 3 decades, and tells the story of how they changed his life and started his career
I was 24 years old in the summer of 1970 when I met Ike and Tina Turner, and theirs was the first famous band I worked with. A friend of mine told me I should go see them, and I became an immediate fan. I first saw them when they opened for the Rolling Stones in 1968. Going on tour with the Stones was what put them in front of a white audience. They had been playing the Chitlin Circuit, the black R&B clubs in the South, but touring with the Stones really opened things up for them. Sitting up on the side of Madison Square Garden was not the same as seeing them up close.
Two years later, I went to see them again at a place called the Honka Monka Club in Queens, N.Y. This time, I brought my camera. I took some good pictures that night and, at the end of the show, Tina danced off the stage with a strobe light flashing. I didn’t know where to set the focus or the exposure, but I thought that maybe if I tried a one-second exposure I could catch several images of Tina in the flashes of light. One of the pictures came out really well, capturing five images of Tina showing the energy and excitement that is Tina Turner!
A few days later when I went to another Ike & Tina show I brought the pictures to show my friends. After the show one of my friends saw Ike Turner and pushed me in front of him saying ‘Show Ike your pictures!’ Ike looked at the pictures and took me into the dressing room to show Tina. They both liked my pictures a lot and asked me to come and work with them.
This changed my life and started my career. Ike introduced me to the publicist for their record company who took me to parties and introduced me to more people in the music business. Ike & Tina brought me out to California to spend a week taking pictures there and one of those pictures became the cover for their ‘Nuff Said album, my first album cover photo.
When I met them I had just gotten one of the first video recorders, the Sony Portapac, which you lugged around in a 40-pound box. You could film maybe 30 minutes at a time. It’s so funny that everyone now carries around their own private video cameras inside their phones, but using that bulky equipment, I made a lot of video tapes for them; Tina liked being able to show the tapes to the Ikettes right after the show to help improve their act. But I also made a lot of videos of Ike and Tina over the years, not just on stage, but as regular people, at their home, cooking, etc. I put these videos together for my DVD Ike and Tina Turner on the Road – 1971-72.
I tell people that if What’s Love Got to Do With It explains why they broke up, then my movie explains why they got together in the first place. They had an understanding of each other and there was love there.
Ike and Tina broke up in the mid ’70s but I remained in touch with them as they both pursued their solo careers. I was at the Ritz in New York in 1983 when Tina made her triumphant comeback show. When Keith Richards and David Bowie came backstage to congratulate her and I got a great picture of them together. It was good to see her continued success in the next 20 years, including a worldwide TV duet with Mick Jagger for Live Aid.
I was there in Paris in 1984 when Tina recorded a video in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Ike after the split had a rough time. He was in and out of jail, lost his studio and then the studio burned down. He had a really nice studio in Los Angeles, Bullock Studio—Bullock was Tina’s maiden name. In 2002, I was fortunate to again be in Paris to see Ike playing at Hotel Le Meridien Etoile. I saw Ike perform in Paris twice, at the Meridien. He had a couple of girls trying to do the Ikettes thing but obviously it was not the same without Tina.
Ike Turner battled drugs until the very end. I didn’t see him as a violent person or as a threat. He would allude to the fact that he knew some karate moves and sort of show them off, joking around. So, when the stories of the abuse came out, I was as surprised as everyone else. I never saw him threaten violence to Tina. People get weird when they haven’t slept for two days, but Ike would be awake for two weeks running, working in the studio. He had the best cocaine and a lot of it. He used to say, “There’s plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.”
I went to Ike’s funeral in Los Angeles in 2007. It was held at one of those mega churches and more than a thousand people were there, and many of them were people he helped. Solomon Burke, Little Richard and Phil Spector talked about how Ike helped them when they were down. I was there for the same reason. He and Tina did so much for me.