CLARKSDALE – Ike Turner and his Rocket 88 crew
from Clarksdale who launched the world’s first
rock and roll record are being celebrated as musical
icons this summer by the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel
“Our 23rd annual festival on August 6-8 will
be a tribute to Ike and the Rocket 88 musicians,”
says co-chairman Melville Tillis.
“We are excited about spotlighting this significant
history of Clarksdale ,” continues Tillis, who
once played trumpet with Turner in a teenage band.
Tillis said Blues Association members voted on the
tribute this week, and became so fired up recalling
stories of talented Clarksdale musicians including Jackie
Brenson, Raymond Hill, Clayton Love, C. V. Veal, T.
J. Smiley, Eugene Fox, and others that few wanted to
leave the meeting.
Being planned are reunions, interviews, exhibits, and
educational forums similar to last year’s “Remembering
Sam Cooke” and others honoring Early Wright, Charlie
Musselwhite, Latimore, and Norway ’s Spoonful
of Blues Band.
In 1951 Turner and his group called the Delta Cats including
Brenson and Hill recorded “Rocket 88” with
Sam Phillips in Memphis .
Since this took place before Sun Studios had a record
label, Phillips sent the recording to Chess Records
for release, and it rocketed to Number one on the Billboard
The story of their rag-tag trip to Memphis has become
as legendary as their composition about Oldsmobile’s
new Rocket 88.
A Clarksdale native who spent time as a child around
WROX studios with Robert Nighthawk Jr. and learned boogie
woogie piano from Pinetop Perkins, Turner has been described
by many as a super organizer, a perfectionist, an impresario.
The Top Hatters was his early band before the Kings
of Rhythm, and later the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.
In 1997 Turner and Little Milton headlined the 10th
annual Sunflower River Blues Festival to rave reviews.
The two performed together with Milton on guitar, Turner
on keyboard, and the Ikettes prancing on stage in gold
Spandex body suits.
Turner occasionally visited friends in Clarksdale including
the late Wade Walton, the late Lucille Turner and her
family, and C. V. Veal, his former drummer.
His most recept trip with an entourage including Memphis
photographer Ernest Withers focused on publicizing his
links with Clarksdale for his 2006 Grammy-winning album,
“Best Original Blues Album.”
house on Washington where he was born, a friend’s
home on Mississippi where he played keyboard,
the church his father pastored, stops outside
WROX, Haggard Drug Store, Turner was genial host
for lunch at the Ranchero to the small group.
When he died Dec. 12, 2007, his manager was talking
to Sunflower Festival co-chairman about a return
performance in Clarksdale Sunflower members encourage
area residents who remember Turner, other early
blues musicians, and/or have photographs of this
era to contact association members or the Delta
Updates on the festival including lineups will be publicized
on the Sunflower website: www.sunflowerfest.org