KINGS OF RHYTHM, THE - are an American rhythm and blues and soul group formed in the late 1940s in Clarksdale, Mississippi and led by Ike Turner through to his death in 2007. Turner would retain the name of the band throughout his career, although the group has undergone considerable lineup changes over time. The group was an offshoot of a large big band ensemble called "The Tophatters". By the late 1940s Turner had renamed this group the "Kings of Rhythm". Their early stage performances consisted largely of covers of popular jukebox hits of the day. A 1951 lineup of the group recorded the song "Rocket 88", which was an early example of rock and roll. In the 1960s they became the band for the "Ike & Tina Turner Revue". For a few years in the early 1970s they were renamed "The Family Vibes", and released 2 albums under this name, both produced by, but not featuring Ike Turner. The band have continued, for a time under the leadership of pianist Ernest Lane (himself a childhood friend of Turner's), and continues to tour with vocalist Earl Thomas. The group has been running for at least 64 years.
The Kings of Rhythm: Jesse Knight, Ike Turner, Eugene Washington (front), Jackie Brenston, Raymond Hill, Eddie Jones, Fred Sample, and Billy Gayle (standing) >
In high school, a teenage Ike Turner joined a huge local rhythm ensemble called The Tophatter, who played dances around Clarksdale, Mississippi, playing big band arrangements from sheet music. Members of the band were taken from Clarksdale musicians, and included Turner's school friends Raymond Hill, Eugene Fox and Clayton Love.
At one point the Tophatters had over 30 members, and eventually split into two, with one act who wanted to carry on playing dance band jazz calling themselves The Dukes of Swing and the other, led by Turner becoming the Kings of Rhythm. Rivalry between the two former factions of the Tophatters lasted for some time, with the two staging an open air 'battle-of-the-bands' where they played from atop two flatbed trucks every fortnight.
The Kings of Rhythm had a regular Wednesday night residency at Clarksdale's Harlem Theater. This got them bookings around the Mississippi Delta region. Their early stage performances consisted largely of covers of popular jukebox hits. In March 1951 whilst driving between gigs, the Kings of Rhythm dropped in with B.B. King on a blues club date in Chambers, Mississippi. Turner persuaded King to let the band sit in and play a number with him. King contests this, remembering that it was only Turner who sat in with his band. They were well received and the club owner booked them for a weekend residency, whilst King recommended them to Sam Philips at the Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee. In the 1950s, The Kings received regular airplay from live sessions on Clarksdale radio station WROX-Am, at the behest of disc jockey Early Wright. The band would sometimes play a session that lasted an hour.
Sam Phillips invited the Kings of Rhythm down to Memphis to record at the Memphis Recording Service, and the group had to devise an original song at short notice for the session. The saxophonist, Jackie Brenston, suggested a song about the new Rocket 88 Oldsmobile. Turner worked out the arrangement and the piano introduction and the band collaborated on the rest with Brenston on vocals. "Rocket 88" came out with the group credited as Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats and went on to sell half a million copies, reaching the top of the Billboard Rhythm And Blues charts in June 1951. The success of the record caused divisions within the group, with Brenston believing he was now the star and should front the group, and Turner and Raymond Hill bitter that they had received little recognition or recompense for writing and recording a hit record. The group's regular singer was signed away to a contract with King Records, but Turner still refused to allow Brenston to take over as singer, so the saxophonist left to pursue a solo career, taking half the group with him. However Turner held onto the name and reformed the Kings of Rhythm with a new lineup.
In 1951, when the band was touring, they were going to record a song ''Juiced'', so they had Billy Love as the pianist to record it for them. It was well known, and it was also known as a follow up hit to ''Rocket 88'', but the song ''Juiced'' was just a minor hit. They kept making more songs from 1951 to early 1953, but kept getting a little less success.Some of their famous recordings were ''Tuckered Out'', ''Leo The Louse'', ''Independent Woman'', ''Starvation''.
In 1955, Turner took a reformed version of the Kings of Rhythm north to St. Louis, including Kizart, Sims, O'Neal, Jessie Knight, Jr. and Turner's third wife Annie Mae Wilson Turner on piano and vocals. It was at this time that Turner moved over to playing guitar to accommodate Annie Mae, taking lessons from Willie Kizart to improve.
Turner maintained strict discipline over the band, insisting they lived in a large house with him so he could conduct early morning rehearsals at a moment's notice. He would fire anyone he suspected of drinking or taking drugs, and would fine or physically assault band-members if they played a wrong note. He controlled everything from the arrangements down to the suits the band wore onstage. Starting off playing at a club called Kingsbury's in Madison, Illinois, within a year Turner had built up a full gig schedule, establishing his group as one of the most highly rated on the St. Louis club circuit, vying for popularity with their only real competition, Sir John's Trio featuring Chuck Berry. The bands would play all-nighters in St. Louis, then cross the river to the clubs of East St. Louis, Illinois, and continue playing until dawn. In St. Louis for the first time Turner and the band were exposed to a developing white teenage audience who were excited by rhythm and blues. Clubs the Kings played in St. Louis included Club Imperial, which was popular with white teenagers, The Dynaflow, The Moonlight Lounge, Club Riviera and the West End Walters. In East St. Louis, the group would play Kingsbury's, Club Manhattan and The Sportsman.
In between live dates, Turner took the band to Cincinnati to record for Federal in 1956 and Chicago for Cobra/Artistic in 1958. He befriended St. Louis rhythm and blues fan Bill Stevens, who in 1958 set up the short-lived record label, Stevens, financed by his father Fred. Turner recorded numerous sessions for Stevens with various vocalists and musician lineups of the Kings, of which seven singles were released (these are collected on the Red Lightnin' compilation "Hey Hey - The Legendary Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm" (RL0047). None of the Stevens records had wide distribution and the operation ceased after a year. In addition the band appeared on local television shows. They toured the "Chitlin' Circuit" of black southern clubs for many years.
After the addition of his new wife Anna Mae Bullock (Tina Turner) as lead singer, Turner changed the name of the band from The Kings of Rhythm to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. The creation of the revue was in a large part the birth of the soul revues of the 1960s. The band and Tina were joined on stage by the Ikettes who contributed backing vocals and choreographed dance moves. As backing band to the duo, the band played on many substantial soul hits, including the million sellers "A Fool In Love" (1960) and "It's Gonna Work Out Fine"(1961) both for Sue Records.
Bette and Mary Kirby, 1954 >
KIRBY SISTERS, THE - In the mid-1950s, the sisters Bette and Mary, were appearing regularly at Chaylor's Starlight Club in Texarkana. It was a regular gig that drew a steady stream of musicians to the area. The owner of the club had a daughter named Johnnie, who was variously described as "strange" and "very unusual". At some point, Johnnie wrote (or took credit for writing - there is some suggestion that her mother also wrote lyrics) a song called "The Blond In Red Velvet".
The song, like Johnnie, is a far cry from ordinary. Like most people living around the fringes of the music business, Johnnie wanted fame and fortune to smile on her.
It didn't help that the Kirby Sisters were in the spotlight every night. At some point in late 1955 the Kirbys made some demos at the Starlight Club. The recordings were rough, but they were good enough to demonstrate a world of potential. The tapes were sent to Sam Phillips in Memphis by Bette, renowned to...
...be the most business-oriented of the lot. The Sun label was hot at the time with Elvis Presley, and Sun Records seemed an ideal place to start. Phillips liked what he heard and invited the girls and their band to come to Memphis so that they could experiment in the studio.