Tina Turner (RIP) Delivers a Blistering Live Performance of “Proud Mary” on Italian TV (1971)

Note: The great Tina Turn­er passed away today at her home in Switzer­land. She was 83. From our archive, we’re bring­ing back an elec­tric 1971 per­for­mance, a reminder of what made her … sim­ply the best. The post below first appeared on our site in April 2021.

John Foger­ty once said that he con­ceived the open­ing bars of “Proud Mary” in imi­ta­tion of Beethoven’s Fifth sym­pho­ny. It’s an unusu­al asso­ci­a­tion for a song about a steam­boat, but it works as a clas­sic blues rock hook. Most peo­ple would say, how­ev­er, that the song didn’t tru­ly come into its own until Tina Turn­er began cov­er­ing it in 1969.

“Proud Mary” helped Turn­er come back after a sui­cide attempt the pre­vi­ous year. Her ver­sion, released as a sin­gle in Jan­u­ary 1971, “plant­ed the seeds of her lib­er­a­tion as both an artist and a woman,” Jason Heller writes at The Atlantic, bring­ing Ike and Tina major crossover suc­cess. Their ver­sion of the CCR song “rose to No.4 on Bill­board’s pop chart, sold more than 1 mil­lion copies, and earned Turn­er the first of her 12 Gram­my Awards.” See her, Ike, and the Ikettes per­form it live on Ital­ian TV, above.

It’s a sad­ly iron­ic part of her sto­ry that the suc­cess of “Proud Mary” also helped keep Turn­er in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship with her musi­cal part­ner and hus­band Ike for anoth­er five years until she final­ly left him in 1976. She spent the next sev­er­al decades telling her sto­ry as she rose to inter­na­tion­al fame as a solo artist, in mem­oirs, inter­views, and in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It.

The new HBO doc­u­men­tary, Tina, tells the sto­ry again but also includes Turner’s weary response to it. Asked in 1993 why she did not go see What’s Love Got to Do With It, Turn­er replied, “the sto­ry was actu­al­ly writ­ten so that I would no longer have to dis­cuss the issue. I don’t love that it’s always talked about… this con­stant reminder, it’s not so good. I’m not so hap­py about it.”

Like all musi­cians, Turn­er liked to talk about the music. “Proud Mary,” the sec­ond sin­gle from Ike and Tina’s Workin’ Togeth­er, came about when they heard an audi­tion tape of the song, which they’d been cov­er­ing on stage. “Ike said, ‘You know, I for­got all about that tune.’ And I said let’s do it, but let’s change it. So in the car Ike plays the gui­tar, we just sort of jam. And we just sort of broke into the black ver­sion of it.”

She may have giv­en Ike cred­it for the idea, but the exe­cu­tion was all Tina (and the extra­or­di­nary Ikettes), and the song became a sta­ple of her solo act for decades. Now, with Tina, it seems she may be leav­ing pub­lic life for good. “When do you stop being proud? How do you bow out slow­ly — just go away?” she says.

It’s a ques­tion she’s been ask­ing with “Proud Mary” for half a cen­tu­ry — onstage work­ing day and night — a song, she said last year, that could be summed up in a sin­gle word, “Free­dom.”

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Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How Aretha Franklin Turned Otis Redding’s “Respect” Into a Civ­il Rights and Fem­i­nist Anthem

Watch the Ear­li­est Known Footage of the Jimi Hen­drix Expe­ri­ence (Feb­ru­ary, 1967)

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • bhakta_joe says:

    Quite a poet­ic song with deep coun­ter­cul­ture mean­ing.

    Remem­ber that although Proud Mary lyrics hint at
    at gan­ja cul­ture, it is actu­al­ly about life in the big wheel
    pad­dle steamships doing the trade on the rivers.
    Proud Mary is a type of high ener­gy fuel for the steam
    “The coal or wood in the engine that keeps the big wheel toinin’.
    Proud mary is the name riv­er boat cap­tains gave to the mix­ture of
    horse manure and coal that was burned when more pow­er was
    need­ed such as when mov­ing upstream against the cur­rent.”

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