Terrain-wise, New York is as flat as a pancake. In order to encounter the merest hint of a hillock, visitors need to head off in the direction of somewhere like the Catskills or the Adirondacks. Waterways? Well, that’s a different story altogether. For those wishing to tour the city’s tidal straits, it is possible to take in the Hudson, the Harlem and the East River and still have time for a Long Island Tea. With this essential piece of information to hand we therefore pose the question, was the high-reaching, totally-immersed Tina Turner foremost in the minds of Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich when they excavated ‘River Deep, Mountain High?’ In short, the answer is yes. At the time, Phil Spector was busy casting around for a career-defining piece of material to produce on Ike and Tina Turner, after seeing Miss Tina strut her stuff in a club on Sunset Strip. Unfortunately, as we now know, the man’s penchant for hanging out in Hollywood nightspots would ultimately prove to be his downfall.
After his majestically-produced recording scored in the UK but stiffed in the USA, Spector chose to take an early bath just as Ike and Tina flew into London to begin a nationwide tour with the Rolling Stones. It seems hard to believe now, but by pure chance I got to share a stage with the dynamic duo whilst they were in the country. Well at least Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours did, the group I was playing bass with at the time. On the night in question most of London’s music business somewhow managed to squeeze into Tiles Club in Oxford Street, which was the venue for a taping of “Ready, Steady Radio”. This trendy-sounding show, broadcast over Radio Luxembourg, featured a selection of acts promoting their latest product by way of a vox pop and a brief lyp-snych for the crowd. Needless to say, Ike and Tina were the star attraction.
Also on the bill was a then unknown Cat Stevens, an extremely sheepish Geoff Stephens (the songwriter behind the New Vaudeville Band’s ‘Winchester Cathedral’) and Pinkertons Colours. We all dutifully went through our pre-planned motions until it came time for the visiting bill toppers. It was virtually impossible for Ike and Tina, along with the Ikettes, to mime to ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, so the entire revue proceeded to blow everyone away by performing the song live, complete with a frenzied dance routine. Bearing in mind Tina’s extremely righteous vocal talents, you’d understand how I thought I was present at the Second Coming. But that wasn’t the end of it. After the show, everyone headed for Harry’s Bar at the Cromwellian Club in Knightsbridge, where Jeff Beck, a club regular, managed to pull one of The Ikettes, even though the sweet young thing had her arm in a sling. Oh, what a night it was….
Another Tina moment took place several seasons later and once again it occurred because of a radio show, this time for Capital Gold. Midway through my stint with the station, we paid a visit to Memphis in order to broadcast a series of shows from Graceland and the Sun Studio. Ravenous, after a hard day transmitting the vibe back to the UK, we hit one of the city’s famed rib-joints with a view to satiating our depleted energies. Needless to say we ate royally and regally. Yeah, verily, Henry VIII would have loved it, but perhaps not the service which was something of a down home nature. The customers were actually expected to stand in line when it came time to settle the tab, for goodness sakes.
Fortunately there was a plus side to this minor irritation, in that the checkout desk was adorned with all kinds of memorabilia along with a photo gallery that depicted some of the folks who’d eaten there over the years. Idly glancing at the many 10 x 8’s, I came across a vintage pic that showed a very young Tina Turner shaking hands with President Dwight D Eisenhower. Hmm, I thought, how could such a moment have been possible? Surely she was too young and he would have been too old for them to have met up? As I tried to figure out whether or not the photo was genuine, I suddenly spotted the telling caption underneath that explained everything – IKE, AND TINA TURNER.