Note: The great Tina Turner died today at her home in Switzerland. She was 83 years old. From our archives we bring back an electric performance from 1971, a reminder of what made it…simply the best. The post below first appeared on our site in April 2021.
John Fogerty once said that he designed the opening bars of “Proud Mary” by imitating Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It’s an unusual pairing for a song about a steamboat, but it works like a classic blues rock hook. Most people would say, however, that the song didn’t really come into its own until Tina Turner started covering it in 1969.
“Proud Mary” helped Turner come back after a suicide attempt the previous year. Her version, released as a single in January 1971, “sowed the seeds for her liberation as an artist and a woman,” writes Jason Heller on Atlantic, bringing Ike and Tina major crossover success. Their version of the song CCR” rose to No. 4 on Billboard, sold over a million copies and won Turner the first of his 12 Grammy Awards. See her, Ike and the Ikettes perform it live on Italian TV, above.
It’s a sadly ironic part of her story that the success of “Proud Mary” also helped keep Turner in an abusive relationship with her musical partner and husband Ike for another five years until she finally left him in 1976. She spent the next decades telling her story as she rose to international fame as a solo artist, in memoirs, interviews and in the biopic What’s love got to do with it.
The new HBO documentary, Tina, retells the story but also includes Turner’s weary response. When asked in 1993 why she hadn’t gone to see What’s love got to do with itTurner replied, “the story was written so that I don’t have to discuss the matter anymore. I don’t like it always being talked about…this constant reminder, it’s not that good. I am not so happy about it.
Like all musicians, Turner liked to talk about music. “Proud Mary”, Ike and Tina’s second single Work together, came about when they heard an audition tape of the song, which they had covered on stage. “Ike said, ‘You know, I forgot all about that song. And I said let’s do it, but let’s change it. So in the car, Ike is playing guitar, we’re just kind of jamming. And we just kind of broke into the black version of it.
She may have credited Ike with the idea, but the execution was all down to Tina (and the amazing Ikettes), and the song became a staple of her solo number for decades. Now with Tina, it seems that she is definitely leaving public life. “When do you stop being proud? How do you slowly bow out – just walk away?” she says.
It’s a question she’s been asking with “Proud Mary” for half a century – working day and night on stage – a song, she said last year, that could be summed up in one word, “Freedom”.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagness