Girl Group Chronicles: The Ikettes

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One of the premier backing groups in Rock'n'Roll history, the Ikettes had some Top 40 success in their own right. Originally formed to replace the Artettes as back_up for the Ike and Tina Revue, the early Ikettes featured Robbie Montgomery, Venetta Fields and Jessie Smith.

Ike and Tina Turner's debut release "Fool In Love," was fast becoming a big hit in late summer. Art Lassiter had loaned the duo a few of his Artettes for the session, Robbie Montgomery, Sandra Harding, and Frances Hodges. When some of the group was unwilling to tour to help promote the single, the Ikettes were born.

It is still unclear who exactly christened the new group, both Lassiter and Ike Turner have claimed it was himself, but obvious influence stemmed from the success Ray Charles was having with his Raelettes, and Lassiter’s own Artettes.

The group toured with the early Revue and cut a few more backing sides, none of which really matched the success of Ike and Tina's original effort. Ike, who was under contract with Sue records, decided that he could earn more if his promoted the girls as a separate entity, leased to another label. The result was the brilliant blues stomper "I'm Blue (The Gong Gong Song)." Featuring Dolores Johnson on lead, and even Tina in the back, the single cruised up to a lofty position in early 1962. At number 19 Pop, the single was the Revue's biggest success since "Fool In Love."

More singles followed, including "Troubles On My Mind," "Heavenly Love," and "Prisoner of Love," and the group recorded for a number of labels including Atco, Teena and Innis Records. But nothing really clicked, and the Revue was becoming the prime bread and butter for the singers.

Nothing more of note came from the group, which had become a revolving door employment agency for session singers, until 1965. By this time, the British invasion had largely pushed black musicians out of their traditional turf, and the charts. The Ike and Tina Turner Revue was no exception. The Ikettes, though mostly a back-up group for the Revue, continued recording and were moved to the Modern label. Although their first single, a dance record called "The Camel Walk," failed to inspire deejays, their chart existence was quicky restored, with Jessie now on lead. "Peaches'n'Cream," a wild sounding dance tune, stormed into the Top 40 in the middle of the year, proving the group was no one_hit wonder. When follow-ups "(He's Gonna Be) Fine, Fine, Fine," and "I’m So Thankful," issued later that year also began charting, the group became a hot commodity. More releases followed suit, including covers of the Jaynetts’ "Sally Go ‘Round The Roses," and the Crystals’ "Da Doo Ron Ron." The producer of "Da Doo Ron Ron," one Phil Spector, was creating his masterpiece, "River Deep - Mountain High," for Tina Turner, at the time, so the choice of covers was not surprising. Nor was a Spector-released single on his Phi-Dan label, "What’cha Gonna Do b/w Down Down."

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With the Ikettes much in demand, Ike and the Revue planned to hold onto the group to start filling up the house again. The Ikettes, however, had other ideas. Frustrated that they had not seen any of the royalties for their hits and that they were only paid as members of the Revue, the gals were also replaced by groups of session singers to fulfill engagements elsewhere while the real group played second-fiddle, touring with the rest of the company. As if that were not enough, the fake Ikettes were often paid more than the real ones.

With Tina's sister Alline as their manager, the Ikettes left Ike and set up their own sixty-date tour. But Ike put restraining orders out and had people physically prevent them from going on stage. They tried billing themselves as "the Mirettes, formerly the Ikettes," but Ike would have nothing to do with it. Finally, they emerged as the Mirettes without any recognition of the popular act they had been only months earlier.

While no big hits followed, the Mirettes proved they didn’t need Ike to make great records. Their first single, the smooth and soulful "He’s Alright With Me," was released in 1966, on Mirwood Records, but it’s the Mirettes’ gritty version of "In The Midnight Hour," that R&B fans claim as their favourite. Still, without hit records or big-name recognition, money from touring was not as lucrative as returning to session work, and the Mirettes disbanded in1970.

Meanwhile, new Ikettes to latch onto the Revue included P.P. Arnold, who would later have a successful solo career on the Immediate label, Pat Powdrill, of "Happy Anniversary" fame, and future Honey Cone member Shelley Clarke. The new group continued to back Tina on vinyl and stage, but they would never have another hit under their own name, despite a half dozen more releases. Ironically the songs released were usually mined from Ike’s vault, and the singers featured were the very same Ikettes he had kicked out at the height of their fame.

The Ikettes got their due when their story was told on the Oscar award winning film "What's Love Got To Do With It," based on Tina's autobiography, I, Tina. Tina and Ike broke up violently in 1976. In 1984, Tina resumed her position as one of rock's leading ladies, and became one of the highest grossing artists on tour in the 1990s. Most recently she wrapped up a farewell tour, and had a Top 10 hit in Britain with "When The Heartache Is Over," from her 24/7 album.

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