Ike Turner & the kings of rhythm with the Russell Leon Band at the Reverb (651 Queen West), Saturday (April 16), doors 7 pm. $38. 416-870-8000.
It's understandable why so many people think Ike Turner is nothing more than a wife-beating control freak with a devastating drug habit.
That's how he was depicted in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic What's Love Got To Do With It?, and his demonization as a viciously abusive coke fiend left many believing that Ike Turner's only contribution to music was giving Tina Turner the backhanded impetus to start a solo career.
Of course, if the details of the film's characterization weren't accurate, there would be grounds for legal action. The fact that Ike Turner never filed a lawsuit was taken by many as an admission of guilt. Not quite, as he explains.
"I don't really want to get into Ike and Tina," says the 73-year-old from his Los Angeles home. "My only regret in that whole relationship is that while I was on drugs, I let myself to be coaxed into signing that contract with Disney that allowed them to portray me in the movie any way they wanted and I couldn't sue them.
"That sabotaged my career and caused hell for me. It took me until 1999 to get it all behind me."
That year, Turner released his autobiography, Takin' Back My Name: The Confessions Of Ike Turner (Virgin Books) and told his side of the story, speaking frankly about his brutal behaviour and the destructive cocaine addiction that led to a "life-saving" seven-month prison stint.
The book's great failing is that in recounting the outrageous tales of dope-addedly debauchery, Turner often dismisses or neglects to discuss his many important musical achievements. Hate him or love him, there's no discounting Ike Turner's cornerstone role in the foundation of rock 'n' roll.
His piano-pounding Rocket 88 recording from 1951 is generally considered the first-ever rock 'n' roll song. Little Richard has confirmed that was the tune that inspired him to play piano, and he later copped the intro for Good Golly Miss Molly.
"It was nothing special really," Turner remarks modestly. "Just a jump blues with some boogie-woogie piano. Some people call it the first rock 'n' roll tune, but at the time it was just rhythm and blues."
And although Turner is best known as a guitarist, famous for his searing solo runs, he still considers the piano his main instrument. That's what he learned to play first and initially used to make a living playing on sessions backing B.B. King on all his early RPM hits and on the classic Cobra label sides of Otis Rush and Buddy Guy.
"I only learned how to play the guitar because I kept having problems with the guitar players in my band."
Like Jimi Hendrix?
"Yeah, I had to fire him. This was back in the early 60s before clubs had balanced lines, so every time he'd switch from one pedal to another it would feedback. By the time all the squealing stopped, the solo would be over. I guess he made a pretty good career for himself out of it."
When questions turn to the many important artists he's credited with discovering - Howlin' Wolf, Rosco Gordon and Bobby "Blue" Bland - or inspiring while working as a talent scout for the Bihari brothers, who ran the Modern and RPM labels, Turner just chuckles to himself before recalling brief anecdotes that involve drinking or fighting, sometimes both.
A synth-tweaked song called Golden Empire he recorded at his Bolic Sound studio circa 74 sounds like something Prince might've done a decade later.
"That doesn't surprise me," says Turner. "Prince used to hang out at Bolic back when we were doing that stuff. He wasn't much of a talker."
Although Turner hasn't released anything since 2001's Grammy-nominated Here And Now (Ikon) disc, he's been busy writing and recording songs for the follow-up, which he warns will be a change in direction.
"You know, I don't just do the kind of blues and R&B stuff that was on Here And Now. I can do hiphop, jazz or whatever, and do it well. I think even the blues fans will be surprised when I get into the real gutbucket stuff, way down into that Muddy Waters Hoochie Coochie Man territory.
"Tomorrow night I'm having a meeting with Snoop Dogg about doing some rapping on this Dre-style song I've got. I want show everyone a different side of me."