Eight performances in four days at a Memphis hotel, where the co-headliner is one of 1978’s hottest comedians and tickets are $12.50 per show. Pencil in Tina Turner as the other star and who wouldn’t want to travel back in time.
For Summitt Management Corporation President Fred Jones Jr., founder of the Memphis-based Southern Heritage Classic, the trip back is a memory. He was there and made it happen.
When word of Tuesday’s death of the incomparable Tina Turner reached him, Jones, like millions in myriad parts of the world, was jarred into reflection.
“We lost another one,” Jones recalls as his first thought, meaning a megastar around which circled memorable aspects of one’s own life.
“I remember I was in a meeting and looked down at my phone and (it) said Prince had died. It was like ‘whoa.’” Such was his reaction to learning about Tina Turner.
“She was the real deal,” he said. “There was no question about the talent and the ability to bring that talent to the stage and make people really want to hear and see you all over the world.”
Introduced to the world as “Tina Turner” in July 1960, the artist born Nov. 26, 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, and named Ana Mae Bullock, had freshly stepped into the solo phase of her multi-layered career when she took the stage in Memphis in 1978. She appeared with comedian David Brenner at the Hilton, at Democrat Rd. and Airways Blvd., for a run of shows from June 22nd through June 25th.
Three months earlier, her divorce from Ike Turner, with whom she had achieved stardom as the duo Ike and Tina Turner, had been finalized. She had filed the previous July after Ike Turner’s well-chronicled assault in a Dallas motel.
“This is one of the first shows that she did solo,” said Jones.
“The thing about that I remember, not only about that show, but the shows of Tina Turner … when he (Ike Turner) picked her, she was the talent. … Every time that you would see them right through the time that she decided to go solo … and in 78 (when) she played the show in Memphis … to the time when she hit the really big time, all the shows were consistent. … She was always good.”
Jones was in a position to know and make such an evaluation. His business put him there as he worked with some of the entertainment industry’s biggest stars in Memphis and throughout the country.
The most successful of his multi-year run of shows at the Hilton had been the first -– Lou Rawls and Nancy Wilson headlining in 1977. “We sold out in advance. All eight shows sold out in advance.”
Circling back to Tina Turner, Jones said, “I think for me, a person who has been around this stuff for a while, people who came out of that era … performing is what they did. And, they did it at the highest level.
“You very rarely see them not at their best. … And they were a staunch believer that the show must go on.”
He provided a case in point.
“I remember doing a show with Ruth Brown years later. ‘Baby, I, I just can’t make it. I can’t.’
“‘Ladies and gentlemen, Ruth Brown.’ Man, the cane goes up in the air, she hit that stage and she was like a dynamo. But they all came out of that era. They all did the same thing. They all really had a mindset about doing the show and looking good and making a great presentation. They were always good,” he said.
“And that’s what Tina did. So, from the years (of) Ike and Tina Turner to the years when she decided that she was going to retire, she always gave a good show.”
Still, said Jones, “When she came to the Hilton nobody (knew) what it was was going to be like without Ike being there, but she gave them what she’s always given them – a great show.”
As she did, Jones focused on his business, not even taking a photo with the icon now being remembered as the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
“For me, being in this business has always been about the business. So, I was always making sure that things were the way they were supposed to be. It wasn’t until years later that I even took a picture with artists. …
“But see, with her, like everybody in that era, once they said, ‘We going to do this show and the show going to get started at eight o’clock, and we going go do (this),’ they were ready to go. They were all pros. … And she put on a show. … Everything about that show in 1978 was what you got with Ike and Tina Turner without Ike.”
Jones had seen her year earlier as part of Ike and Tina Turner when he made his way into the old The Hippodrome, a one-night stand, Blacks-only concert venue at 500 Beale Street that Mary and “Big Foot” Johnson had evolved from an old skating rink. It was a stop on the “The Chitlin’ Circuit tours” and some consider that “the launch pad for Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
In 1984, Turner shifted into yet another gear of stardom following the May 29th release of “Private Dancer,” her fifth solo album. It was accelerated into production following the acclaim for Turner’s 1983 cover of Memphis-based Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
All of that was of particular significance to Jones. He had Turner set to appear in Downtown Memphis at a revamped Orpheum Theater.
That February 1984 show was slotted into a week of shows that featured a tribute to the legendary Nat D. Williams (the first black radio announcer in Memphis when he began broadcasting for WDIA in 1948), James Brown and The Manhattans, BB King and Albert King, Z.Z. Hill and J. Blackfoot and Gladys Knight & The Pips.
“The day that ‘Let’s Stay Together’ came out, Al Green’s cover, Tina’s people called me and said she couldn’t make the show,” recalled Jones, adding that Z.Z. Hill got sick and also could not perform.
“So, my only time playing Tina Turner was back in ’78 at the Hilton (in Memphis). … The beauty of all of this for me, I was a part of it. And looking back, I was a part of a lot of history-making moments.”