Donald Fagen on the legacy of Ike Turner.

Bringing out the dead.
Dec. 17 2007 1:36 PM

The Devil and Ike Turner

Parsing his hits.

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Or was it that Legba had given Ike exactly what he'd wished for—a schoolboy's dream of a girl who could be both a soul mate and a creature he could mold into the perfect lover and musical partner—knowing that Ike would never have the empathetic chops to see what he actually had?

After Tina finally left in '76, Ike, already way shredded from the whole Sex, Drugs, and Rock n' Roll thing, totally came apart. Years of continued heavy drug use and run-ins with the law ensued, culminating in his serving 17 months in a California state prison. He was still in jail when he got the news that he and Tina had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Finally, just when things were starting to look up, Tina's book came out, followed by the film What's Love Got To Do With It.

Now the poster boy for spousal abuse, Ike started to fight his way back. He reconstituted the Kings of Rhythm and came out with a book, Taking Back My Name ("Sure, I've slapped Tina. … We had fights and there have been times when I punched her without thinking. … But I never beat her. … I did no more to Tina than I would mind somebody doing to my mother in the same circumstances."). Obviously, there was something Ike just didn't get about the whole hitting problem. In his comeback shows, he had a series of surrogate Tinas come out in Tina-type outfits and sing Tina's songs. It seemed like he still couldn't figure out why she was gone. And yet he soldiered on, releasing two respectable albums, the second of which, Risin' With the Blues, won a Grammy just last year.

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How did Ike make out with the Crossroads Devil? We'll never know. Faust, in Goethe's version, does horrible things, especially in regard to his honey, Gretchen. At the end, he's about to be thrown into the yawning jaws of hell when a posse of angels comes to the rescue, singing:

"He's escaped, this noble member
Of the spirit world, from evil
Whoever strives in his endeavor,
We can rescue from the devil.
And if he has Love within,
Granted from above,
The sacred crowd will meet him
With welcome, and with love."

I'd like to think Ike's version came out the same.

Donald Fagen is a New York City musician and co-founder of Steely Dan.