RSVP: Bob Gruen on the Moment Tina Turner Found Her Star Power

RSVP: Bob Gruen on the Moment Tina Turner Found Her Star Power

They arrived to put on a show and left as legends. Bob Gruen remembers the moment Tina Turner found her star power.

They arrived to put on a show and left as legends. Bob Gruen remembers the moment Tina Turner found her star power.

Text: Bob Gruen

This story on Tina Turner by Bob Gruen first appears in V119, our Music Issue. V119 is available for sale now at vmagazine.myshopify.com

I graduated [high school], but my [version] of dropping out was to move in with a rock band. It was the ’60s, and I was just getting into music [photography]. One night, a friend suggested we go see Ike and Tina Turner play at the Forum. Watching Tina dance, illuminated by the strobe lights flashing, I was floored. It was electrifying. Days later, I went back to see them play the Honka Monka Club, intent on capturing Tina with the strobe. With a couple of frames left, I took a chance, snapping five [in a row]. One turned out to be one of my favorite pictures ever.

We went to yet another Ike and Tina show a couple days later, and this time I brought the pictures to show my friends. We were just leaving when one of my friends saw Ike leaving his dressing room. [My friend] pushed me in front of Ike, and into the rest of my life. I showed him the pictures I had, and he took me into the dressing room to show Tina. They both liked the pictures. It was really the beginning of my career.

I traveled with them for a couple of years. My very first album cover (Ike and Tina’s ’Nuff Said) was an image of Tina taken in a grocery store while she was paying the check, looking strong and confident. After they broke up Tina continued giving me jobs, including one to document her show in January, 1983 at The Ritz, Jerry Brandt’s rock club [in the future Webster Hall space].

David Bowie was there that night, and Keith Richards came too; Jerry Brandt was the one who’d brought the Rolling Stones to America, so it was no big thing for Richards to show up at The Ritz. [Richards] was also friends with Tina because she and Ike had opened for the Rolling Stones in Europe in the sixties. [That tour happened] because Mick had actually wanted to learn how to dance; they used to study Tina every night, literally [learning] how to dance [from watching her].

Tina’s Ritz show was fantastic; she was obviously back to being Tina Turner the star, doing what she knew how to do best: entertain. I don’t know how to describe it, but she was more experienced being on her own at this point. The audience was totally with her; their energy was in the palm of her hands, or rather her legs. This was the beginning of her career comeback. Whenever there was a big show at The Ritz, the afterparty at Jerry’s office would get pretty crowded. There was a side room, which is where we all ended up with Tina, Bowie, Keith, Patti Hansen. Everybody was so happy. I remember Tina trying to pour the champagne for David Bowie. He was nervous about it splashing on him, and Tina wasn’t really a drinker. This was all about celebrating.

I’d seen Tina perform many times, so her on stage as a solo act, applauded by some of the greatest musicians in the world, was fantastic—it wasn’t a surprise. But Tina as the center of attention in the back room, out on her own, hav- ing friends and people complement her... That was the big difference. After shows with Ike and Tina, Ike was the dominant figure. Tina would retreat to her hotel or dressing room and not really join in any celebrating. But that night in ’83, it was her party. She was really enjoying it. No matter who was in the room, she was coming out and taking her space.

Credits: Photography Bob Gruen

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