Tina Turner Finds Love, Rivers Deep, Mountains High
In 1986 when Tina Turner introduced Erwin Bach to the world as her first serious suitor since divorcing Ike Turner, few gave the relationship a second glance. Bach, at 17-years her junior, working as an executive for EMI Records (a subsidiary of her label Capital), and who gave a rather hard-faced appearance in public, was reduced in many minds to a “toy boy.” Commentators, however, often spoke of Bach as serious, business-minded, and focused solely on Turner. He refused to answer questions and was clearly disinterested in being “Mrs. Tina Turner.”
“I'm not in love with the rock act,” Bach told 60 Minutes in 1996. “I’m in love with the human being. I think she is the boss, yeah. I'm second to the boss, but she's the boss.” By 2006, and after constant jibes about engagements and marriage, Turner revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that Bach had proposed to her at least twice. Both times Turner had turned Bach down.
“People often ask me why don’t I marry. I have love. I have a good life. I don’t need to interfere with that. For some people, marriage means ‘You’re mine now.’ That can be the beginning of the failure of a relationship. Psychologically, something happens when someone says, ‘You’re my husband or wife. You can’t do this or that.’ It’s about ownership. That freedom that two people loving each other and wanting to be together – and being able to leave if anything is wrong – is gone,” Turner said. “Neither Erwin nor I feel the need to get married. We’ve been together for 18 years. What would marriage give me that I don’t already have? Marriage would be about pleasing the public. Why do I need to please the public if I’m already pleased?”
Finally, however, in July 2013, the couple married.
Turner has spent the nearly fifteen years out of the public eye, quietly enjoying retirement, but also battling a series of health conditions, transitioning to life outside the U.S., and most recently, the suicide of her eldest son, Craig. In a memoir set for release later this month, Turner reveals much. For those unfamiliar with the Turner's rise to stardom as a part of the legendary duo, The Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and her phenomenal rise back to the top as a solo artist in the 1980s, Acumen offers a glimpse here. We uncovered several interviews conducted by our writers, spanning more than 30 years with Turner’s colleagues, family, and family friends. Here, we invite readers to reminisce about the life and legacy of one of the world’s natural wonders.
THEY CALL IT, NUTBUSH!
The folks of Nutbush, Tennessee are right off the pages of Anytown America Magazine. Country people, they're big on niceties and Southern hospitality. I first journeyed to Nutbush in route to points further South and found it just as the song "Nutbush City Limits" proclaims: a church house, gin house, school house and outhouse...and well, once you've passed them, you've entered another town. The place of Turner's birth, childhood and later abandonment, Nutbush and its denizens were the village that reared the child later to be crowned the Queen of Rock n' Roll. Only here, Tina Turner is still simply Anna Mae Bullock. According to Nutbushites, her appetite for wowing a crowd started early and knew few limits.
Born November 26, 1939, Turner was the second child born of a loveless marriage between her parents, Richard and Zelma Bullock. Instead of her birth being a welcomed event, it created a sense of dread for her mother, who was in the process of leaving her father. Even though her parents stuck it out for a few years after her birth, she soon found herself motherless and clinging to her father for comfort. Richard Bullock remarried in short order to try and alleviate some of the burden of rearing two daughters, only to find himself choosing between his children and his new wife. Richard chose the children, but within a few years, found the responsibility of single parenting overwhelming, and he too, left the girls to grandparents and neighbors. One of those neighbors, Eddie Mae Clemons, described this period in Turner's young life as a spring board for building her independence. Clemons suggests that Turner's abandonment left no visible scarring.
"After Anna Mae's parents left her, she would stay with me sometimes," says Clemons. "She was a real sweet girl, but very aggressive on the basketball court. Performing in front of people brought out something in her that wasn't in her personality otherwise. She was very versatile on the court and anywhere you needed her, she could be. If there was a big girl that no one could out-jump, she could cover her. When half-time came, Anna Mae would run and change into a cheerleading uniform and flip and dance for the audience, then change back and continue with the game."
Turner's high spiritedness was not always a welcomed occurrence, as it often kept her mind on things other than the game.
"Anna Mae would get so busy popping her fingers and singing on the court, that she would sometimes space out and miss the ball. I would have to get on her about that a lot," says Clemons.
EAST ST. LOUIS & IKE TURNER
Turner's childhood quickly gave way to bright lights and the big city when her grandmother died and her mother returned to Nutbush from St. Louis to retrieve her. At 16, far removed from the cotton fields of Nutbush, Turner was influenced easily by the flourishing music scene of East St. Louis, led by a very charismatic "bad boy" named Ike Turner.
"When I met Ann, she was like a little sister to me," Ike Turner told us in a 2003 interview. "She came to the clubs with her sister Alline and, man she was just a kid, so I didn't take her seriously when she started saying she wanted to sing with my band. A lot of girls said they could sing and couldn't, so I didn't pay her much attention."
Ike's resistance would implode when a microphone was tossed Tina's way one night and to his surprise and that of everyone in the club, this skinny little country girl had a voice like thunder. Ike quickly made her a part of the group, calling her out to sing a few songs during their set. Before long, Anna Mae was christened Tina Turner and a trio of sisters in hip-hugging mini-dresses and back-length wigs were vocally backing her. With just a few short months of performing under her belt, a song created for another singer was recorded and released with Tina's vocals. It was "A Fool In Love," and it launched them onto the charts for the first time.
"That song was supposed to have been recorded by this other guy who owed me money," explained Ike. "I guess he figured that I was gonna ask him for my ninety dollars, which he didn't have, so he decided not to show up for the recording session. Since the time was already booked, I decided to record Tina and then later replace it with his vocals. In the meantime, I played the song to a few people and it was a tremendous success!"
The "Turners" officially married two years later in 1962 and The Ike & Tina Turner Revue was born. From 1962 to 1978, the Turner's were considered the first couple of R&B and Rock n' Roll. They had crossover appeal that was literally unheard of in the `60s. While much was being made of the success the Turners enjoyed as one of the biggest concert draws in the world, only peeps and whispers were being heard of their increasingly "suspect" marriage. Later described as "tumultuous, abusive and a joke" by a former associate, Ike's extramarital affairs were both blatant and numerous."I loved Tina," says Ike. "I've always felt she was attractive, but she felt more like my sister, not my wife. She was my buddy and long before we began to have sex with each other, I would tell her all about the kinds of women I liked and the ones I'd been with. We had that kind of relationship. This didn't change once we were married. Maybe it should have because I didn't know at the time that she was hurt by my actions. Not until she was gone did it really hit me that what I was doing was insensitive." The relationship was decidedly toxic and violent, though, Turner said she still thinks of Ike, who passed in 2007. “I don’t know what the dreams are about. The dreams are still there — not the violence or the anger; I wonder if I’m still holding something in,” Turner said.
The new memoir, scheduled for release October 16, promises to pick up where I,Tina ended, and offer new insights into a more personal and intimate, Tina. In fact, as one excerpt notes, life has been full of quick turns and loving moments.
Excerpt from Tina Turner: My Love Story
I had a lot of pride and I’ve always had great timing. So, at the end of the [50th Anniversary] tour, I hung up my dancing shoes and went home. From the start, I loved retirement. I just wanted to shop for food, take walks with Erwin, work in my garden, watch the seasons change by the lake and, most of all, enjoy the quiet. I felt good. I’d never smoked or taken drugs. I was still in good shape after 50 years of intensive stage workouts. I still looked pretty good, too: in 2013, German Vogue asked me to be on its cover.
I think I can safely say that, at 73, I was the oldest cover ‘girl’ in Vogue’s history at that point.
The year before, Erwin had proposed once again, and this time I’d answered with an emphatic: ‘Yes!’ It was a commitment that didn’t come easily to me, but I knew he was the love of my life. You know that wonderful expression: ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans’? On an ordinary October morning in 2013, just three months after our glorious wedding, I woke up and felt a lightning bolt strike my head and right leg. I tried to speak but I couldn’t get any words out.
I was having a stroke.
The stroke had delivered a powerful blow to my body: my entire right side was numb. I’d have to work with a physiotherapist to learn how to walk again, the doctor told me, and using my right hand would be a problem. But the psychological effects were even more profound. I was miserable. The battle for recovery left me with no strength or vitality. And I wasn’t just dealing with the aftermath of the stroke: my doctor was concerned that my high blood pressure might be affecting my kidneys, so he referred me to a specialist.
Dr. Jorg Bleisch, an expert nephrologist, broke the news that my kidneys were performing at only 35 percent of their normal function. We’d need to monitor them carefully, he said, prescribing yet more medication to control my blood pressure. What I didn’t realize was that there were bigger battles ahead. Battles that would leave me wondering: ‘How did I go from being the picture of health, a cover girl, a bride for God’s sake, to this?’ After a while, I began to resent the drugs I was taking to control my high blood pressure — I was certain they were making me feel less clear-headed and energetic.
So, when a friend recommended a homeopathic doctor in France, I decided to put my faith in another kind of healing. The homeopath — who replaced my conventional medicines with homeopathic remedies — suggested that my body was being affected adversely by toxins in the water supply at the Château Algonquin. Eager to try a new approach, no matter how far-fetched, I replaced all the pipes in the house and had our water purified by crystals. The new treatments actually made me feel better. But I knew my doctors wouldn’t approve, so I took the coward’s way out: I simply didn’t tell them.
The trouble started when I went to see Dr. Bleisch for another check-up. I felt fine, so I expected good news. That’s why I decided it was time to confess to what I’d done. Big mistake. Big, big, mistake. He seemed shocked and incredulous. My failure to treat my high blood pressure, he told me, had essentially destroyed my kidneys. If I’d known that unmanaged high blood pressure could accelerate kidney damage, of course, I wouldn’t have traded my medication for homeopathic alternatives. As it was, the consequences of my ignorance ended up being a matter of life and death.
Let me be clear: I’m not condemning homeopathy. In fact, I was treated successfully by a homeopathic doctor after being diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1969. But this time I was much older, with a serious long-term illness that needed conventional treatment. If only I hadn’t discontinued the medication. If, if, if! My foolish decision would continue to haunt me, yet Erwin never once reproached me for it.
Not long after this blow, my health began to fail again. I became so weak that I couldn’t leave the house; it took all my strength to stagger between bedroom and bathroom. This time, I was diagnosed with early-stage intestinal cancer — a carcinoma and several malignant polyps. As I waited for surgery, I cried to Erwin: ‘Aren’t you sorry you married an old woman?’
Fortunately for me, he always radiated confidence, optimism and joie de vivre, and helped me to keep calm. A month after my diagnosis, I had part of my intestine removed. The doctors were optimistic, and I felt a glimmer of hope again. But just a glimmer, and only for a moment. By December 2016, my kidneys were at a new low of 20 percent and plunging rapidly. And I faced two choices: either regular dialysis or a kidney transplant.
Only the transplant would give me a very good chance of leading a near-normal life. But the chances of getting a donor’s kidney were remote. At the time, Switzerland’s organ-donor rate was one of the lowest in Europe — which meant that, at 75, I’d probably never rise to the top of the waiting list. So, Dr. Bleisch scheduled me to start dialysis. ‘Oh no, no, no,’ I told him. ‘I’m not living on a machine.’ It wasn’t my idea of life. But the toxins in my body had started taking over. I couldn’t eat. I was surviving, but not living.
I began to think about death. If my kidneys were going, and it was time for me to die, I could accept that. It was OK. When it’s time, it’s really time. I didn’t mind the thought of dying, but I was concerned about how I would go. One of the benefits of living in Switzerland is that assisted suicide is legal, though the patient has to inject the lethal drug herself. There are several organizations that facilitate the process, including Exit and Dignitas. I signed up to be a member of Exit, just in case.
I think that’s when the idea of my death became a reality for Erwin. He was very emotional about not wanting to lose me, not wanting me to leave. He said he didn’t want another woman or another life; we were happy, and he’d do anything to keep us together.
Then he shocked me. He said that he wanted to give me one of his kidneys.