Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider Proud Mary, a great `swamp rock’ song from the 60s. We will review the original version by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and covers of that song by Solomon Burke and Ike & Tina Turner.
Creedence Clearwater Revival and Proud Mary:
We covered Creedence Clearwater Revival in our post on the song Heard It Through the Grapevine. Here, we will provide a brief summary of their career. Creedence Clearwater Revival was an American rock and roll quartet, who enjoyed tremendous popular success in the late 60s and early 70s. Because their music was described as “swamp rock” with emphasis on Southern and Creole music, many assumed that CCR were a Southern band although they were actually from northern California’s Bay Area.
The band was initially formed by Tom Fogerty and also included his younger brother John. Rather quickly, John replaced Tom as the leader of the band, as it became evident that John was an incredibly talented musician. In addition to lead vocalist, John was the band’s lead guitarist, songwriter, and arranger. He also proved proficient in the studio, overseeing production of the group’s records.
Once they gained national exposure in the late 60s, for the next five years CCR became a pop music phenomenon. Their albums shot up to number one on the charts, their singles were smash hits, and they were headliners on tour.
John Fogerty’s raspy vocals, which owed a great deal to Little Richard, seemed just perfect for the group’s up-tempo, hook-filled pop sound. Songs like Who’ll Stop the Rain, Fortunate Son, Down on the Corner and Bad Moon Rising established the band as a leader in this genre. CCR were pioneers in what is now called `roots rock.’ They managed to produce new pop songs that seemed to retain the flavor of authentic down-home Southern music.
Here is a photo of Creedence Clearwater circa 1970. From L: John Fogerty; Doug Clifford; Tom Fogerty; Stu Cook.Embed from Getty Images
The song Proud Mary details the saga of a working man who recounts a life of hard labor, which was brightened when he rode a riverboat on the Mississippi.
Left a good job in the city
Workin’ for the man ev’ry night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleepin’
Worryin’ ’bout the way things might have been
Big wheel keep on turnin’
Proud Mary keep on burnin’
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on the river
Here is CCR performing Proud Mary live in 1969, the year the record was released. This was the ‘break-out hit’ for Creedence Clearwater Revival; the song went up to #2 on the Billboard charts, the first of five #2’s for CCR.
Pretty catchy, huh? John Fogerty is rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ on lead vocals and lead guitar, while his brother Tom plays rhythm guitar with Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums. This is CCR at their ‘swamp-rock’ best. For a few years during this period, CCR albums consistently struck gold and their popularity seemed untouchable.
However, discord in the band was simmering just below the surface. The other three CCR members chafed at what they perceived to be John Fogerty’s high-handed ways. They were angry that John insisted on more or less total control of the band, and they felt that several of his decisions were detrimental to their fortunes.
From John’s perspective, it seemed only natural that he should be making the decisions, as he was clearly the driving force behind the group. He wrote the songs, sang lead vocals, played lead guitar, supervised the recording sessions, and for a while even managed the group!
On the other hand, CCR did suffer from some decisions made during this time. In hindsight, their record company deal did not look very generous (bassist Stu Cook, who had a degree in business, claimed that because of poor judgment on John’s part, CCR had to abide by the worst record deal of any major American recording artist). In addition, although CCR were headliners at Woodstock, John was disappointed in their live performance, so he insisted that the group’s numbers be omitted from both the Woodstock movie and soundtrack. That decision clearly cost the group substantial exposure and lots of cash.
Tom Fogerty quit the group in 1970, and they continued as a trio for two more years before disbanding. There have been scores of acrimonious breakups of rock bands – the VH1 program Behind The Music is basically a history of such debacles – but the bitterness over CCR’s dissolution continues to this day. For decades after their breakup, John refused to perform his CCR songs, because the performance royalties would have gone to Fanatasy Records CEO Saul Zaentz. When CCR was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, John refused to go on stage with his surviving bandmates Stu Cook and Doug Clifford; instead Fogerty performed with an all-star band.
However, we prefer to remember the group from their heyday. Quoting from the CCR bio in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
“Creedence Clearwater Revival … were progressive and anachronistic at the same time. An unapologetic throwback to the golden era of rock and roll, … their approach was basic and uncompromising, holding true to the band members’ working-class origins. … Creedence Clearwater Revival became the standard bearers and foremost celebrants of homegrown American music.”
Solomon Burke and Proud Mary:
Solomon Burke was a titanic figure in the history of soul music. He is also one of the greatest largely-unknown artists in that field. Although he released 35 albums during his lifetime for 17 different record companies, and though he sold nearly 17 million albums, he never had that blockbuster hit that would have made him a household name.
Like so many other R&B artists, Solomon Burke came to soul music from gospel. He first gained fame as a teenage preacher, where he gave sermons and sang in tent revivals. Similar to former gospel singers such as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, Burke had considerable ambivalence about abandoning gospel for popular music. In fact, because of the taboo regarding the blues as the “devil’s music,” Burke was highly reluctant to be labeled a “rhythm and blues” performer, always insisting that he was a “soul artist.” In fact, he only adopted the title “soul singer” after clearing it with his church.
There was no denying the influence of gospel on Solomon Burke’s music. Eventually he was reconciled to believe that pop music was simply an efficient alternative method to deliver God’s message. Burke’s live performances adopted many of the trappings of revival tent meetings, and audience members experienced some of the same emotions and audience participation that characterize gospel services.
Burke took seriously his nickname as the “King of Rock ‘n Soul,” so much so that his live performances would often include
a crown, a scepter, a cape, robe, dancing girls, and colored lights.
Apparently Burke’s robe was ermine-tipped and his crown was copied from the crown jewels of London. Burke’s performances pre-dated those of James Brown, whose act also included capes and similar apparel. At one point Burke received $7,500 to appear at one of James Brown’s concerts and `surrender’ his robe and crown (apparently Burke took the cash, but continued to use the props in his own act).
Below is a photo of the “King of Soul” circa 1972, complete with throne and ermine-trimmed cape.Embed from Getty Images
First we will play the audio of Solomon Burke’s cover of Proud Mary, from his single released by Bell Records in 1969. At the time, it was unusual to issue a cover so soon after the original had been on the charts. However, the song made it to #45 on the Billboard pop charts and #15 on the R&B chart.
So what do you think? I really like Burke’s song, a much slower and more soulful version than the original. Burke also connects the song to African-Americans who were brought to this country on slave ships, suffering long hardships before they were finally freed at the end of the Civil War.
Next, here is live video of Solomon Burke performing Proud Mary; this is from Festival Lent in June 2009 in Slovenia.
This is a much faster version of the song than on Burke’s record. As we shall see, I believe that Burke’s live version was strongly influenced by Ike & Tina Turner’s cover of Proud Mary.
If you can get past the extremely poor video work (the cameraman seems unable to remain focused, constantly jerking the camera around), you will see many of the trappings from Burke’s live shows. He is seated on a gigantic throne, symbolic of his nickname the “King of Soul.” Burke is also wearing a red costume covered with gold glitter.
You can also see that Burke is truly gigantic. Later in life his weight hovered between 350 and 400 pounds. He performs sitting down, and it is altogether unclear whether he was capable of standing up. Anyway, it is nice to hear his wonderful voice, still strong and powerful just a year before his death in 2010. In 2001, Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was a well-deserved honor and must have been appreciated by Burke, as he had been nominated for induction eight times before achieving success.
Ike & Tina Turner and Proud Mary:
Ike and Tina Turner formed one of the great R&B bands of the 60s and 70s. Ike Turner was a true rock music pioneer. Many people credit the 1951 record “Rocket 88” as being the very first rock and roll song. Although the song is credited to “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats,” it is actually performed by then 19-year-old Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm. Brenston was a saxophonist and singer with Ike Turner’s group, and was credited with writing the song.
Ike Turner subsequently moved to St. Louis, where his Kings of Rhythm became one of the most popular bands in the area. Apparently they would play clubs in St. Louis until they closed, and then move to East St. Louis where they would continue to play until dawn.
In 1958 a nurse’s aide, Anna Mae Bullock, began dating one of Ike Turner’s band members. After hanging out with the group for some time, Anna asked if she could sing with the band. When she was given this opportunity, Ike was impressed with both her singing ability and her flamboyant personality. Here is a photo of Ike and Tina Turner from 1964.Embed from Getty Images
A fortunate break occurred when Ike and his Kings of Rhythm were set to record the song A Fool in Love. When the lead singer didn’t show up, the band recorded it with Anna on lead vocals. The song turned out to be a surprise hit, reaching #2 on the R&B charts and 27 on the Billboard pop charts.
At this point, Ike Turner had an epiphany. He gave Anna the stage name `Tina Turner,’ and re-named his band The Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Perhaps even more importantly, Ike deliberately moved into the background, making Tina’s singing and dancing the centerpiece of their shows.
Tina was an electrifying performer. With her teeny-tiny miniskirts, the exuberant energy of her dancing, and her rough and powerful vocals, she would rip a song right up. When coupled with Ike Turner’s tight, disciplined backing band and the vocals and dancing from backup singers the Ikettes, Ike and Tina made a powerful combination.
The Ike and Tina Turner Revue gained substantial fame. For quite some time they did not have a major hit, as their most popular song River Deep – Mountain High was a top-10 smash in Europe but bombed in the States. However, they were well known as one of the highest-octane live acts. On a couple of tours they opened for the Rolling Stones, which provided them even more exposure.
Things finally clicked for Ike and Tina in 1970. They released two albums that were both certified as gold records, their cover of CCR’s Proud Mary made it to #2 on the pop charts, and they won a Grammy with that record for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.
Here is the Ike and Tina Turner revue in 1970, giving a live performance of their version of Proud Mary.
The Ike & Tina version of Proud Mary is really effective. From Tina’s introduction of the song, it “starts off nice and easy, and ends rough.” The first half of the song proceeds with a slow, soulful cadence, with just a guitar and bass accompanying Ike and Tina. However, the song abruptly changes gear, morphing into a raucous up-tempo gospel-tinged celebration.
The horn section really gets into this song, as Tina howls out the lyrics. With Tina and the Ikettes bopping across the stage, you can’t help but dance along to the song’s insistent beat. Solomon Burke’s live performance of Proud Mary appears to copy many aspects of Ike & Tina’s ‘rough’ version.
However, Tina’s comment that “we never do nothin’ easy, we always do it rough” brings to mind disturbing images of Ike Turner’s penchant for domestic violence. Apparently Tina endured several years of truly violent abuse until she finally left Ike in July 1976. Their situation was exacerbated by Ike’s serious drug addiction issues. He was snorting so much cocaine that he had burned a hole in his nasal septum (!), and both Ike and Tina agreed that their final altercation occurred after Ike had been up for five straight days on a cocaine-fueled binge.
Tina received a divorce after a prolonged legal battle with Ike, although she relinquished nearly all financial claims in order to obtain a settlement. Both of their careers languished for a time following their divorce. However, in 1984 Tina’s Private Dancer project became one of the best-selling albums of all time. It re-established her solo career and helped her become one of the top-grossing rock music tours. Good for Tina – after years of abuse, she rebounded with a fantastic comeback!
In the 1993 movie What’s Love Got To Do With It, the movie version of Tina Turner’s autobiography I, Tina, Lawrence Fishburne gives a chilling performance as Ike Turner. Fishburne’s portrayal in that movie made Ike Turner the poster child for domestic violence, and this subsequently had a serious negative affect on his career.
Unfortunately Ike, the sorry bastard, never seemed to come to terms with his violent ways. I never heard him take responsibility for his behavior, nor did he seem to comprehend how destructive and brutal his actions had been.
He appeared to be in denial right up to his death in 2007 of a cocaine overdose, exacerbated by cardiovascular disease and emphysema. What a shame, as Ike Turner was one of the great pioneers of rhythm and blues. He put together some great bands and provided us with memorable songs.
Ike and Tina Turner were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Alas, at that moment Ike was in prison for drug offenses, and Tina did not attend the induction. Two of Ike and Tina’s single records, River Deep – Mountain High and Proud Mary, were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.