Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tina Drinks Coffee

»Black Coffee« (1972)

On the cover of United Artists LP # UAS-5598 »Feel Good« we read »Ike & Tina«. Actually, this is beside the truth. This album is, in fact, only »Tina«. Ike is quoted as producer and engineer, and the songs were recorded in »his« Bolic Sound Studio in Inglewood, Calif. in March 1972. But all songs are credited to Tina, except one Lennon-McCartney-title. On the entire album, Tina does not perform a single tune by Ike. So it seems that this was the first effort of Tina's to get away from Ike, musically for the time being. In other respects she couldn't get away from him: Black Coffee is her name. At the same time, in 1972, Ike more and more lost himself to his cocaine addiction and got his kicks, bodilywise, with white hippie girls. Tina knew it, of course, the girls often went in and out of her home. And there were quite a few persons at the time who actually viewed the self-destruction of the egomaniacal brute Ike and his escapades as a hip, never-ending party.

At first, Tina was enthusiastic about the new Bolic Studio that Ike had installed: »I always really wished that Ike could get what he wanted – a string of hit records. Because when he did, I was going to leave him. ... So when he built that studio, I thought: "Wonderful - I'll be rid of him!"« (Tina Turner with Kurt Loder: I, Tina. My Life Story, New York 1986, p. 166). But, alas, this soon appeared to be an illusion: Ike produced no hits, but went on working frenetically in his studio ... and this was to become a pain in Tina's ass: »Then the phone calls started – three o'clock in the morning: "Tina, Ike wants you." And I'd have to get up and drive down there and sing, or sometimes just bring them food. That's when I started drinking coffee, to stay awake.« (My Life Story, p. 166).

How much of Tina's life is in »Black Coffee«? A whole lot, I think, and not only because she was called to the studio in the middle of the night and pumped herself up with caffeine. »Now I'm independent and nobody's maid« seems at first sight to refer to her life-story, Tina being an Afro-American Cherokee from Tennessee: »I started out as a slave, I got free ...« we hear Tina sing. But in hindsight it is easy to see also a reference to Tina's situation in 1972 in those lines: »Now I'm independent« may therefore as well express her firm intention to get away from Ike, physically and psychologically. Again in hindsight, it proved to be wishful thinking.
But there may be more autobiographical references in this song: »my mind is black«, »a cup of black coffee is what a working man wanna see«? Black Coffee »with not a thing«, no sugar, no milk, black coffee that you can buy for a dime. Is this, after all, Tina herself, who didn't get nothing from Ike and had learned not to expect anything from him? Hadn't Ike bought her for a dime, while she had to come begging for every dollar she liked to spend? In this view, also »America, the land of the free«, as the songs says, might be little more than autobiographical sarcasm ... And what about the »Black Tea« which doesn't compare »with me«? Well yes, black it is, but tea still conjures up the idea of something insipid, pale, black by name but not by appear- ance. Could that refer to the white hippie girls who went after Ike (or the other way round)? And isn't Tina »the real thing«, the »Black Coffee« which is »what a workin' man wanna see«? Speculations. They come to mind somewhat easily. And we have to conclude: For all the rhetorics of liberation and freedom which we find in »Black Coffee« Tina wasn't free of Ike yet.

But the lyrics of this song have, quite apart from the possible autobiographical side, many other sides as well. It speaks of Black Power, of America as the land of milk and honey for all, of sexual energy. Last not least it also gives a cynical comment on the music bizness: »You can get what you want if you got some DoReMi«. Yet again, this might well be a double-sided message having also a personal tint, as Ike was fooling around with several of The Ikettes over the years, much to the chagrin of Tina! Without doubt the song alludes to all this and more besides, presenting itself to various kinds of »lectures«. Admittedly, the song itself, as a piece of music, is in danger to be buried among the significances of its messages. In fact, it is not even »a song« in the classical mode, rather a statement with musical coating. But that's not really the point here:

Tina Turner: »Black Coffee« from the LP »Feel Good« (1972)

Black Coffee is my name
Black Coffee with not a thing
Black Coffee freshly ground, fully packed
Hot Black Coffee is where it's at

Way back on yonder, I don't know when
I was brought over before I was ten
You see my skin is brown but my mind is black
But here Black Coffee is where it's at

Black Tea, black as can be
Black Tea can't compare with me
Black Tea is good as it can be
But a cup of Black Coffee is what a working man wanna see

Here in America, the land of the free
You can get what you want if you got some DoReMi
I started out as a slave
I got free, I got paid

Now I'm independent and nobody's maid
I got me a place, I got me a raise
Come over Black Coffee
And how good it taste

A dime, I say, is all you pay
For a cup of Black Coffee
Here in the States


  1. Isn't it actually "nobody's maid"?

  2. Thanks! I think you are right, and it does make better sense indeed. I corrected it above.

  3. In his own book Ike tells a story how "Black panthers" attacked them on a stage once (something about financial blackmail that he refused) and beaten everybody on a stage,though everybody was prepared and Ikettes had knifes in their stockings (!) - guy who grabbed Tina by the hair was surprised when he was left standing with a wig in his hands.It must have been real mayhem on a stage!
    On the other hand, great priestess Nina Simone covered their "Funkier Than a Mosquito's Tweeter" song on her 1974 album so here you have another "Black Panther" link, obviously they didn't appeal only to a white rock audience as everybody explains today. Nina was always known as tough and no-compromise lady (she threw a drink in face of gushing Dusty Springfield who came to give her compliments, because she found her phony - imagine that) and she would never cover a song if she didn't somehow click with her - there is a famous outtake of gentle ballad "My Father" (Judy Collins) where Simone refused to sing lyrics because they didn't resonate with her.

  4. I love the detail about the armed Ikettes! Wonder where they put these knives because most of their stockings they wore on stage you could see right through, they must have put'em pretty high up!
    Nina Simone, for all I know, was the proverbial example of a complex personality difficult to deal with. I admire her sincerity and miss that in many other artists of the epoch ... and not to speak about today's plastic artists and musical maggots, phew!