Author’s note: I was fortunate enough to interview Tina Turner several times over the years, starting during the early 80s, just before her Private Dancer comeback, through to the later stages of her career. She was always pleasant, intelligent and engaged but a touch reserved. Certainly, after the tell-all I, Tina was published in 1986, followed by the What’s Love Got to Do With It biopic, Turner was most interested in moving on and talking about the now and future.
One of my favorite interviews took place in 1997 when she returned to touring in support of her album Wildest Dreams and had just worked with Bono and the Edge on the title song for the James Bond movie GoldenEye. As we remember the music legend following her death on Wednesday at the age of 83, it’s comforting to revisit the interview. The below excerpt also includes parts of some other talks over the years.
There are a couple of myths to dispel about Tina Turner. First of all, her legs are not insured. “I think they’re talking about Marlene Dietrich,” says Turner, whose well-maintained limbs are now featured in ads for Hanes hosiery. “My body is insured, and my legs are part of that. “But I don’t go into that, ‘Oh, my precious legs. Oh, no, I got a scratch!’ or anything like that. They’re my workhorses.”
Second, Turner has not retired from touring, as she claimed back in 1993. “I’ll never say that again,” she says with a laugh. “I’m a Sagittarian, always speaking out loud. I announced I was going to stop touring as much to try to get into movies. Everyone jumped on it and exaggerated it.
“Now I’m going to do as Mick Jagger says: ‘Don’t say it anymore. Just shut up!'”
Watch Tina Tuner’s Hanes Commercial
Turner is hardly keeping quiet these days. At 57 the former Anna Mae Bullock is back on the road again, promoting an album, Wildest Dreams, that came out in 1996. But whether or not there’s new music is unimportant; over the past four decades Turner has become one of pop’s epochal performers, with timeless appeal that draws crowds – including sold-out stadiums in Europe – regardless of whether she has a hit on the radio. That status was a long time coming, too. Turner’s story is a modern fable, filled with majestic highs and heartbreaking lows – all of which have been documented in her autobiography I, Tina, and the film What’s Love Got to Do With It. “I was born singing, so to speak,” she says now. “As a very young girl I remember mother standing me on a stool and I was signing for the ladies at the shop where she worked.”
Turner started singing for the world after moving to St. Louis and meeting bandleader Ike Turner, who hired her for his group and later married her. The Ike & Tina Turner Revue was an R&B smash that transcended those boundaries to win over the rock crowd, even touring with the Rolling Stones in 1969.
But in 1976, after years of physical and emotional abuse, Turner left her husband, embraced Buddhism and began a solo career that turned golden with the 1984 release of the Private Dancer album. It sold more than 10 million copies, won three Grammy Awards and launched a passel of hits (‘What’s Love Got to Do With it,” the title track, “Better Be Good to Me”) that reestablished Turner as an international superstar.
Watch Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ Video
“How my [solo] career started was out of desperation,” Turner says with a laugh. “I had a hit record, so I just had to have a hot album. Things just kind of went from there.
“I’ve had a strenuous life. The lapse after [my divorce] gave me a chance to know I did it on my own, worked as a performer without my husband. People saw my talents were there and not shared or dependent on his.”
That success lasted throughout the ’80s, including a duet with Jagger at the 1988 Live Aid concert and a costarring role in the Mel Gibson film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The hits and record sales have tailed off a bit during the ’90s, particularly in the U.S., but that doesn’t seem to have deterred Turner’s ambitions.
“I always like to think I can make really good music that can fit in some kind of way with today’s music,” she explains. “Radio isn’t always going to play your songs. If they don’t hear it through radio, maybe they’ll get it through the live performances.”
Turner – who splits her time between homes in Switzerland and France – says the impetus for her latest tour was “GoldenEye,” the theme song for the most recent James Bond movie. The project teamed her with Bono and the Edge from U2, as well as producer Nellee Hooper from the British dance music outfit Soul II Soul.
“I’ve been a fan of Ian Fleming’s Bond forever,” Turner says. “I was curious to know what Pierce Brosnan would do with it. It felt fresh and new, and as a new Bond he was perfect.”
So was working with Bono and the Edge, she says. “It was a matter of getting the right song, and that was U2. I feel good about it. It was good company and it was good to come back this way rather than just with a new album.
“And Bono, he is an entertainer. You can sit and hear him talk, and he entertains you forever and ever.”
Watch Tina Turner’s ‘GoldenEye’ Video
The U2 bandmates were equally enamored with Turner, says the Edge. “When we heard it was Tina, we got really excited,” he says. “We’ve never had a chance to work with her, and we both really loved her singing.”
But when they finally met Turner, the Edge remembers, they learned how close the project came to not happening because she didn’t know quite what to make of the low-fi demo tape that had been sent.
“It was kind of rough,” the guitarist says with a laugh. “It’s like the worst kind of Holiday Inn band sounds. So poor Tina, when she heard the first version she was like, ‘What is that?’ But when she heard it with us she took a second listen.”
“GoldenEye”‘s success spawned the Wildest Dreams album, which also includes a remake of the John Waite hit “Missing You.” Then came the Hanes campaign, which was pitched to Turner after the company’s research showed she was the personality most identified with good-looking legs.
“When they told me, I had to laugh,” Turner remembers. “It’s been like that for a long time. There’s always been that thing about, ‘Oh, your legs, blah, blah, blah.’ I was perfectly appropriate to be their spokeswoman.”
Turner says there’s no secret to her well-maintained physique – no workouts, diets or any other special regimen. “This is my body, my genes,” explains the mother of four sons. “It’s nothing I’ve had to work for. At 50 a lot of women change. I didn’t change. It’s a gift.”
And because of that her energy level remains high, letting her put on the same barn-burning performances she did during the mid-’80s and before. She added an “unplugged” style set to the show grudgingly.
Watch Tina Turner Perform an Acoustic Version of ‘Simply the Best’ in 1997
“I don’t need to sit down,” she says with a grumble. “But you must change a bit so that you’re not always the same. People get just a bit disinterested, somehow. So we can show another side of Tina Turner.”
Turner is careful not to make any more declarations about whether this is a final tour or not. But she does want to pursue more acting, though she feels she’s not taken seriously in that field.
“Everyone sees me as a performer,” she says. But, she adds, that’s not a complaint. “Part of the dream was that I wanted to draw this many people to my shows for me rather than having several other artists on the show as it was in the past,” she explains. “I’m doing it on my own now. It feels like a great achievement.”
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