Photos by Dino Perrucci
“A quarter can still buy you a good time on 42nd Street,” reads a sign outside an arcade on a section of that fabled street between 7th and 8th Avenues. That video establishment doesn’t do it nude style and, even though there are still classic porn shops not far off, that section of 42nd is decidedly Rudyfied. Teeming with visiting families and other tourists there to hit The Lion King, Madame Tussaud’s House of Wax, multiplex movie theaters and franchise restaurants it’s not a section of town that too many of the locals frequent unless they’re working or selling something on the street.
We have a new mayor in NYC and the nascent era upon us closely mirrors the change in B.B. King Blues Club. As recently as six months ago, B.B.’s wasn’t on many lists of the people I hang out with at shows but an expanded diversity in bookings and friendlier ticket prices have been bringing us there more and more. From Velour jam sessions to Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, the seated dinner and a show crowd has been steadily mixed with floor clearing throngs of boogie fiends and that trend doesn’t seem to be reversing at all.
Saturday night, I went down for the double bill of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Ike Turner. What’s domestic violence got to do with it? Nothing, unless you brought your judgements through the door with you. My way is not to condemn but to observe and focus on not emulating that behavior which I deem unnecessary and violence definitely falls into that category. Love is trust and the infliction of pain breaks the bonds that we need not only to hold interpersonal connections together on a one to one level but globally as well. What I’ve found is that the music can bring us together regardless of any differences we think exist and, despite Ike Turner’s very publicly known history, B.B.’s was packed full of all genders, pigmentations and backgrounds. One thing we all had in common, though, was a great night of music.
I’m so conditioned for late nights that the 8 o’clock start took me by surprise and I missed the beginning of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s set but, luckily, I still got to hear a good bit of what they have going on. Growing more and more near sighted as I am, I had to edge closer to confirm what my ears heard. The Blues Explosion has no bassist, it’s a power duo of guitars featuring Jon Spencer and Judah Bauer who change off between rhythm and lead with drummer Russell Simins cooking the beats behind. Their brand of rock is heavily based in that genre’s genetic foundation in the blues but the more abrasive licks and throbbing chords they toss in show how far they’ve grown from the root.
That root was credited to “the father of rock n roll,” as Ike Turner was introduced. The band had taken the stage before him and automatically tossed a half container of accelerant on the rhythmic fire led by the bass. Somewhere not far from Robert Johnson’s Mississippi crossroads there’s a fork. Down one path you might find the authentic traditions of gospel and hill music and the other leads along the sidewalks of the figurative temples dedicated to such greats as Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. But, go back to the elbow of that fork and you find Ike Turner, the man who paved an overlap between and inspired future generations of R&B and rock musicians.
The foot stepping frenetics of the band bounce off the road beneath your feet while each delta breeze rustles the sounds of keys from the branches of those trees lining the route. With two keyboards framing the stage, Ike came out to an electric piano set dead center, clad in the loudest silver jacket outside of Neil Diamond’s wardrobe. Any tenuous possibility for the moment was instantly wiped away by the adulation of the crowd that was already worked by the youngsters that Turner has on tour with him. A horn section three strong pounded out runs of notes to tingle every nerve to the point that the closed in nature of the seating arrangements were challenged.
At 70 years old, Ike has no problem running the board from right to left and every tone in between but the stage wasn’t filled with musicians just to occupy the space between Ike’s solos. In fact, most of the music was dominated by group jamming that hinged on constant contact and communication between members which was all orchestrated by Ike. When the band was introduced, Ike alluded to the fact that most of the band were preacher’s sons which explained the soul underlying the big band romps that could have one day been considered heathen.
The first part of their set was all about the kind of R&B that pre-dates any infusion of that genre’s modern smoothness. The horns called charges fed by the duo of key rhythms accentuated on the high end on guitar. All the while, the bass played the most prominent role outside of Ike to the point that we were glad our booth was only half full so we could swing all over it, hands in the air, smiles as wide as that room is spacious.
The songs themselves ranged from classics like “Calidonia” and "Rocket 88" to newer ones from Ike’s current album, Baby’s Got It, which has been nominated for a Grammy. Thrown into the mix of Ike’s own tunes was a raucous rendition of “Johnny B. Good” as well as the high point of the night which was a cover of the Sly & the Family Stone rager, “I Wanna Take You Higher.” By that point in the night, Ike switched from keys to guitar and showed that his chops haven’t abated one bit.
The last part of the show, though, lost a bit of momentum when he brought out a female singer. Ike didn’t interact with the audience much beyond smiling in appreciation for the applause and shouts but, at this point, he credited himself with the ability to find quality singers. The female vocalist he brought out sounded like a bargain version of Tina Turner to my ears which was accentuated the next day when a friend popped in a DVD of Gimme Shelter. The old clips of Tina working it were amazing and showed how many light years ahead she was in both range and texture. They actually played the same song as is on that DVD which is a lurid interplay of sexual lyrics, groans and moans between the male and female leads.
After that, they ended the show with “Proud Mary,” done exactly as the old Ike and Tina shows sound. Starting slow and languid, it was the hip sway of a willow swerved up in speed to the point that the whole band and their families’ worth of folk were shakin’ that tree from the trunk upward.
It was a purely fun experience that was punctuated by the chorus line to a traditional sounding blues tune Ike trotted out back around midset. “I worked 18 years with one woman and she had the nerve to kick me out... and do a movie.” The audience erupted in laughter and it didn’t seem the uncomfortable kind of anxiety relief but more a general recognition that this man has made it back from public scorn. His now able to accept the mantle he built by nature of decades worth of music that fueled the most popular and enduring genres of musical expression. How Ike Turner is really impacted by the actions of his past is a matter for his own reflection. On Saturday, though, the audience wore no robes and carried no gavels. Only the happy eyes of appreciation that a legend could still snap it and kick it like he once did.
JamBase NYC Correspondent
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Thanks to Dino Perrucci for the photos!
For more of Dino's stuff visit DinoPerrucci.com