How Ike Turner Invented Rock 'N Roll

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Ike Turner wasn’t born in a crossfire hurricane, but he more or less died in one. He passed away at 76 in 2007, from a cocaine overdose, but by then he was very sick anyway, with heart disease and emphysema. In the last 30 years of his life, he was mostly broke, mostly disgraced, drug-addicted, sometimes homeless and, for 17 months, in jail. A few years before he died he released a record of new music, Here and Now, which was well received and nominated for a Grammy and went some way towards reshaping his legacy as first and foremost a gifted musician. Notice of his death really just reminded us how much we had forgotten him. An inauspicious end for the creator of Rock ‘n Roll.

As even some primitive tribes in the Amazon know, “rock ‘n roll” was first coined to describe the genre by legendary radio DJ Alan Freed, who one day on a trip to a local record store in 1951, noticed that a surprisingly high number of white teenagers were buying so-called “race” music — the then name for R&B. Freed was a news reporter at WJW in Cleveland but, historically, convinced the station’s manager to let him air an overnight show he named “Moondog’s Rock n’ Roll Party”, where he played these exciting records.

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