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From the Archive: George Crile and Charlie Wilson

The late George Crile, a producer for CBS' 60 Minutes, wrote the book that inspired the new film Charlie Wilson's War. It's the story of an East Texas congressman who, with help from a CIA operative, steered money and arms to Afghan mujahedeen fighting against the Soviet invasion. Later in this segment: A chat with Charlie Wilson, who's since retired and gone to work as a lobbyist.


Other segments from the episode on December 14, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 14, 2007: Interviews with George Crile and Charlie Wilson; Obituary for Ike Turner.


DATE December 14, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: George Crile discusses his book "Charlie Wilson's

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for,
sitting in for Terry Gross.

The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s between the Afghan fighters known as the
mujahideen and the invading Soviet army transformed the world. The Afghans
won with arms and training covertly funded by the CIA, and their victory
contributed to the fall of communism. But the American backing of the Afghan
jihad led to many unintended consequences, which America continues to face in
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Who was behind American support of the
mujahideen? That's the story of the new film "Charlie Wilson's War," based on
the book by the same name by journalist George Crile. Crile described our
support of the mujahideen as the biggest and most successful CIA covert
campaign in history. George Crile died last year at the age of 61 after
suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Charlie Wilson, a former Democratic Texas congressman, was an unlikely figure
to back a so-called holy war. His reputation in Congress was as a seemingly
corrupt, alcoholic, scandal-prone womanizer. Wilson was introduced to the
Afghan cause by Joanne Herring, a conservative, fiercely anti-communist Texas
socialite. In the film, Herring is played by Julia Roberts. Charlie Wilson
is played by Tom Hanks.

(Soundbite of "Charlie Wilson's War")

(Soundbite of clanking dishes and cutlery throughout)

Mr. TOM HANKS: (As Charlie Wilson) Joanne, darling, dial down the religion.

Ms. JULIA ROBERTS: (As Joanne Herring) What?

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) It could alienate people who

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Herring) It's luncheons like this that are raising the
money we need.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) This thing is not going to get done by ballrooms full
of people in the Houstonian Hotel. It's going to get done by the CIA, Israel,
Egypt and Pakistan. And it's going to get done quietly. Now, you start
making people think we're trying to convert everybody to Christianity...

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Herring) I was saved by Jesus Christ, Charlie, and I am not
ashamed of it. My fervor is not about religion, it's about freedom of
religion, which we have, they want and the communists are slaughtering them

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) And I get it. Just tamp down the fervor.

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Herring) I can't modulate God's will, sweetie.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) You can try. Now, I got to get back to DC. They've
set up a briefing for me at Langley.

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Herring) On what?

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) On getting the guns.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: A scene from "Charlie Wilson's War," which was directed by Mike
Nichols. Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay.

Later in the show we'll hear Terry's interview with the real Charlie Wilson,
but we'll start with George Crile. Terry spoke with Crile in 2003. He told
Terry about the wealthy Texas woman who introduced Charlie Wilson to the
Afghan cause.

Mr. GEORGE CRILE: She was the most unlikely figure, a Houston socialite who
was part of the oil-rich world of Texas in the '70s and an archconservative,
who most reporters at the time who wrote about her described her as a kind of
mix between Scarlet O'Hara, Dolly Parton, and I like to throw in Arianna
Huffington. In any case, she was totally the kind of person who could only be
created in Texas. And she was General Zia-ul-Haq, the dictator of Pakistan's,
honorary counsel and his principal adviser on America, if you can believe it.
And she was also a great, passionate conspiratorial anti-communist.

And for some odd reason we came upon her once the Russians invaded
Afghanistan, that if she could just put Zia-ul-Haq, this magnificent Muslim
dictator, and the mujahideen of Afghanistan, who were heroically fighting the
Russians without any weapons, if she could put them together with this
congressman she had met, who had supported the independent oil interests so
effectively, that she could change the world, that they would combine and they
would go deliver a lethal blow to the Soviet empire. And that's, curiously,
just what happened.


Now Congressman Charlie Wilson managed to get a lot of money from the CIA for
arming the mujahideen. How did he as a congressman manage to make that
connection with the CIA?

Mr. CRILE: With great difficulty. The CIA, at all costs, wanted to avoid
having anything to do with him. They felt that he was a cocaine-sniffing,
scandal-prone, skirt-chasing danger; you know, probably the most notorious
wildest man of Congress at the time. And their reaction when he came into
their lives offering to increase their budget to fight a secret war in
Afghanistan was to look with absolute horror at such an offer. They thought,
`With friends like that, you know, we need no enemies.'

And what ensued was a knock-down-drag-out fight, but it was only possible
because of the curiosities of Congress and his position on the Appropriations

GROSS: How important was he on the Appropriations Committee? And how did
that help him?

Mr. CRILE: Well, if you think of our country, it's so huge, and the number
of things that Congress has to deal with are just so vast that it all gets
broken down into areas of responsibility, and if you're--when it came to the
CIA, if you were not on one of several committees, you really couldn't even
talk to them. And no congressman, no member of Congress had ever been able to
insinuate himself inside an actual covert operation. That was a line that had
been drawn and maintained very effectively ever since the beginning of the
Cold War and the beginning of the CIA.

But what you have is with the Appropriations Committee, where the money is
actually spent, when you drop it down to the defense appropriations
subcommittee, you will have 11 people in the House responsible ultimately for
deciding how much money the Pentagon gets, the NSA, the CIA, all the
intelligence agencies. And Charlie Wilson was one of those 11.

GROSS: Now he finally had an ally in the CIA. Who was the ally?

Mr. CRILE: A most unexpected character named Gust Avrakotos. By the time
that Wilson met him, he both had a very distinguished history at the CIA as a
kind of--I call him the blue-collar James Bond--but also a person who had
alienated most everybody. And he was very, very distressed with what he
thought were the bureaucratic cowardice that had come over the CIA and the
domination of the agency by lawyers.

And what happened in this case is that Avrakotos, who had been making his way
in a very dramatic and bizarre fashion to a position in the Afghan task force,
had encountered Wilson's attempt to force the CIA into a larger war. And
without telling any of his superiors, he took off in a car, went down to
Congress and entered Wilson's office, completely unauthorized, and confronted
him, confronted him with the challenge that, `If you think you want to fight
the Russians and kill the Russians more than me, you're crazy.' And he did it
in such a way that made Charlie feel that maybe he might physically attack
him. He's a really tough customer.

And from that moment on, the two of them began to engage in a partnership and
what amounts to down-and-dirty plotting to figure out how with Avrakotos's
information of how things happen in the CIA and what Wilson should say using
his power on the Appropriations Committee--how they could put the CIA into a
box where it had no choice but to accept stunning amounts of money that they
didn't want to spend.

GROSS: How did they do that? What was their approach?

Mr. CRILE: What he did is that he told Wilson exactly what to say to Bill
Casey, who was then the CIA director, and he did it in the following way. He
said, `As soon as I leave, you call the director and say that you just got $50
million more that you can give to the CIA, and you want to know if they can
use it. And, by the way, I just had run into Gust Avrakotos and I told him
about this and asked him to look into it.'

And what Wilson always had in the back of his--his ace hidden away that he
could pull out is that Ronald Reagan's rhetoric was so powerful and his
popularity so great that he would simply say, `If you do not support the
Afghans with everything they need and with the money I'm offering you, I'll go
to the president, who is calling for this support, and complain.' And he meant
it. He meant that he would probably destroy, you know, the CIA bureaucrats.
And nobody in a high position in the CIA had ever engaged a congressman
willing to out them, essentially.

Terry, can I give you a context here?

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. CRILE: You know, if you think back to that time, when this story begins,
right after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas of 1979, just
about a month later the Afghans are a lost cause. The whole world has come to
recognize, with 100,000 Russian troops in Afghanistan, with the invincible Red
Army occupying the country, that the story is over. And the terrible scenes
that were broadcast around the world of the Afghans beginning to flee their
country and the beginnings of what came to be called a genocidal war were very
evident, and there was nothing really that they could do to change the
picture. They just had World War I rifles and hunting rifles and this
ferocious fighting spirit and conviction.

But at that moment they had nothing really that could help them, other than,
as in a fairy tale, they needed a heroic figure to emerge out of somewhere and
magically come to their rescue, and there was such a person, curiously. But
at that moment he was stepping into a hot tub in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace
in the fantasy suite with two naked women with cocaine in their purses. And
it is so odd to think that this is the man, Charlie Wilson, Congressman
Charlie Wilson, who will get himself out of the hot tub and pull himself
together and, about a year and a half after this, discover the Afghans,
discover this cause. And for a period of about five years, he will emerge as
the centerpiece in the biggest and meanest and most successful CIA campaign in
history, and will be responsible for giving and making possible a total
victory for militant Islam in the greatest jihad of modern history.

BIANCULLI: The late George Crile, author of the book "Charlie Wilson's War."
The new film based on Crile's book stars Tom Hanks as Representative Charlie
Wilson and Philip Seymour Hoffman as CIA operative Gust Avrakotos. Here's
another scene from the film. Wilson and Avrakotos are having a drink in the
congressman's office.

(Soundbite from "Charlie Wilson's War")

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) Do you drink?

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: (As Gust Avrakotos) Oh, God, yeah.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) Well, should we try this scotch or is it going to
release sarin gas when I open it?

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) Well, I don't think so but open it over there.

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) How'd a guy like you get into the agency?

(Soundbite of liquid poured into glass)

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) What, you mean a street guy?

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) You ain't James Bond.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) You ain't Thomas Jefferson, so let's call it

(Soundbite of snickering)

Mr. HANKS: (As Wilson) Deal.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Avrakotos) Since there's no other reason I should be here,
let's assume it's because I'm very good at this.

(Soundbite of glasses clinking)

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Later in the show we'll have an interview with the real Charlie
Wilson, and we'll continue Terry's conversation with George Crile after this
break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2003 interview with George Crile. The
film "Charlie Wilson's War," based on Crile's book, opens next week.

GROSS: Was the CIA very interested in supporting the Afghans? I mean, you
talk in your book about how this was one war in which the real enemy, the way
they saw it, the real enemy, the Soviets, could actually be directly engaged.
It wasn't a war with Soviet proxies, it was a war with the Soviets themselves.
Was that very appealing to the CIA?

Mr. CRILE: Yes and no, but mainly no, in that they didn't want to do it in
the way that Wilson and Avrakotos ultimately forced them to do it.

GROSS: Too risky?

Mr. CRILE: Yeah, much too risky. I mean, what had happened, by that year,
or by that time in the early 1980s, the CIA had more or less established a
pattern of conduct where they were engaged in endless war. It was almost as
if it was viewed as permanent campaigns on the fringes to contain the Soviets.
And the one thing they didn't want to do is to take on any kind of provocative
campaigns that could escalate into some unforeseen drama.

And in the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, they had no choice but to use
General Zia, the military dictator of Pakistan, presidency in Pakistan, as the
base of operations. And it was provocative, because the United States for the
very first time was supporting anti-communist guerrillas who were moving to
kill Soviet soldiers. Curiously, it had never happened in the Cold War. It
was the very first time that the United States actually set out to kill our
enemy, to mount operations designed to kill Russians.

GROSS: So the CIA didn't want the Soviets to know that Americans were arming
the Afghans to the extent that we were.

Mr. CRILE: It was a kind of sense that we could get away with a lot, if the
United States was just sensible and that if it did a calibrated escalation in
which the idea would be to win fantastic propaganda, propaganda victories,
which we were doing, to inflict a certain amount of pain, which we were doing
through blowing things up and killing a certain number of Russians. But what
changed the dynamic here completely is that Wilson, in conjunction with Gust
Avrakotos, transformed the whole idea. They suddenly decided to hijack the
covert policy and to take the United States for the very first time in the
Cold War into a all-out, winner-take-all confrontation, to turn the tables on
the Russians and give them in Afghanistan their own Vietnam, the sort of
payback time in their minds. And it was something that the CIA at all costs
wanted to avoid doing. And it was a knock-down drag-out fight that stretched
over a couple of years and then ultimately resulted in a total victory for
Charlie Wilson.

GROSS: Were there any concerns in Congress or in the CIA or in the Reagan
administration that the United States was going to be arming Islamic
fundamentalists with high-tech weapons, training these warriors how to use the
weapons while knowing that a lot of the Islamic fundamentalists hated the
United States? They didn't just hate the Soviets.

Mr. CRILE: There was certainly a good deal of concern inside the CIA in the
early years, when Charlie Wilson was trying to force them to escalate this
war. And one of their perfectly understandable concerns was that. You know,
`What happens afterward? What are the unintended consequences? Is it a good
idea to make this a huge war? Would it provoke a Pakistan--or an attack by
the Red Army, the Russians, on Pakistan? What consequences could that have?
What are we going to do with all these Muslim fundamentalists? How many--what
kind of weapons, what kind of training is appropriate to give to them?' And
all of those questions were very real and part of the initial battle that the
CIA waged to try to prevent this massive escalation.

But the truth is once they got into it, once they lost the battle with Charlie
Wilson and the secret partner, Gust Avrakotos, helping him from within the
CIA--once they lost it and the money started to flow in and the war started to
escalate and the tide started to turn, the CIA became absolutely giddy and
thrilled at this battle because it was the first time that they were actually
setting out to kill the enemy, to engage him in a winner-take-all battle. And
no one thought that this was possible to win, but they increasingly came to
think it would be. And then it happened. And for the longest time, this was
viewed as the great triumph of the CIA in the last campaign of the Cold War.

GROSS: How long do you think it took for the CIA to start thinking about the
blow-back, about the bad, unintended consequences of arming the mujahideen?

Mr. CRILE: The simple answer is that they really worried about it but didn't
think too much about it for a long time because so many incredible things were
happening. Almost immediately after the Russians withdrew after this thing
that President Zia of Afghanistan called `the miracle of the century,' when
the Red Army turned tail and walked out with their own Vietnam haunting them,
everything started to tumble. You know, it wasn't very long before the wall
came down, and it wasn't long before the Velvet Revolution and the fall of

Too many things were happening that were too exciting for anyone to worry
about what was happening inside Afghanistan. And because it was a secret
campaign and because people didn't really understand that it had been a huge
victory, there was no sense of accountability to the Afghans or a sense that
we had to worry about whether we had a responsibility to stay in there and try
to help rebuild the country. So it was the blow-back concerns, the whole
sense of the unintended consequences, probably didn't really set in until the
first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

GROSS: George Crile, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CRILE: Thank you, Terry.

BIANCULLI: George Crile, author of the book "Charlie Wilson's War." The film
based on Crile's book opens next week. It stars Tom Hanks. Crile died last
year at the age of 61.

Coming up in the second half of the show, a conversation with the real Charlie
Wilson. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Charlie Wilson on his role in helping Afghans fight
the Soviets in the 1980s

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

The new film "Charlie Wilson's War" is about the American secret support of
the Afghan mujahideen in their battle against the invading Soviet army during
the 1980s. At the time, Charlie Wilson was a Democratic congressman from
Texas. He took on the mujahideen's cause as his own and became one of the
leading figures behind their covert funding. Terry spoke with Charlie Wilson
in 2003 and asked him why he felt so strongly about the Afghan cause.

Former Representative CHARLIE WILSON: I was outraged, of course, Christmas of
1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan for no reason other than simple
aggression. And I thought that, `Well, this will just be another case of six
weeks, and they'll pacify the country and kill all the fighters. And it'll
just be another satellite.' But after several months, it began to dawn on me
that the Afghans, without weapons, were killing Russian officers in Kabul with
knives and stones and anything they could get their hands on.

And then it became clear to me--and I think this is the most important single
part of this war. It became clear to me that the Afghans had made a decision
themselves without American or any Western participation, but they had made a
decision themselves to fight till the end if they had to fight with their bare
hands. And I just strongly felt that people that brave, that were that
opposed to being subdued by the evil empire, if you will, that we would be
damned by history if we let them fight with their hands. And so my interest
was aroused there.

And after another few months, I made a trip just to see for myself as much as
I could see along the border there. I had been friendly with Pakistan before
this. And when I visited the hospitals and saw the children with their feet
and hands blown off by the Soviet mines that had been disguised to look like
toys and that sort of thing, I just became radicalized.


Now at the time, you were living a lifestyle very different from the Afghan
mujahideen. You were hanging out in casinos, hot tubs, relationships with
beauty pageant queens. Is there an example you can think of of the most
unusual coming together of cultures, your culture and their culture?

Mr. WILSON: Well, let's see, there certainly wasn't an example that had
anything to do with alcohol because I didn't do that in front of them. I
suppose the fact that I was single at the time, and I'd been traveling to
exciting and exotic places. You like to have someone to share it with. So I
suppose the fact that I wasn't married and they saw me with different Western
girlfriends was a major shock to them, although they never, never gave any
evidence of it. They didn't lift an eyebrow.

GROSS: There's an expression called blow-back to describe the unintended
consequences of a war. What surprised you most about the blow-back after the
Afghan war with the Soviets?

Mr. WILSON: Well, of course--and I take my full share of the blame, and at
the time I didn't realize how serious it was, but the United States, once the
Communist government had fallen, once the Russians had left, we sort of lost
interest, the United States and other Western countries. And because of that,
we created a vacuum. And Afghans in a vacuum tend to fight each other for
power, and there were many of them that had been radicalized on the Islamic
side from their war with the godless Soviets. So it was largely our
responsibility because we should have stayed there, and we should have
insisted that they somehow work together. We should have held out a lot of
carrots and, more or less, forced them to work together or at least not to go
to war with one another. And I was surprised by that.

The Taliban then, when they really came in and totally filled the vacuum--and
many people in Afghanistan supported the Taliban that did not adhere to their
religious beliefs or to their philosophy, but simply because they saw them as
the first chance to have order in 15 or 18 years, to not have war. I was
stunned and totally surprised and felt very badly about it.

GROSS: Anything you would do differently if you were going about helping to
arm the mujahideen?


GROSS: If you were doing that again?


GROSS: You'd do it all the same.

Mr. WILSON: There's nothing I'd do different.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WILSON: Yup. Now what I would do profoundly differently would be to try
to prevent--and I don't think one congressman could have done it, but I would
have tried to prevent the immense distraction that our country had with the
falling of the Berlin Wall, with freedom in Poland and Czechoslovakia and all
the others, where we just completely were distracted from the problems in

I would try to persuade the administration--and that was the Reagan
administration and the first Bush administration that was extremely
sympathetic to the cause of the mujahideen. And I would have tried to
persuade them to not leave and to maintain an American presence and to do
whatever was necessary in the form of a mini Marshall Plan, not only in our
own interest to keep something like the Taliban from gaining control of the
country that provided a refuge for Osama bin Laden, but also to say thank you
because these people are the ones that shed the blood, that defeated the Red
Army for the first time it had left its barracks since 1945. And we owed them
a great deal and, in my view, never properly said thank you.

GROSS: What are some of the things you think the CIA did to try to hide the
fact that it was funding the weapons for the mujahideen...

Mr. WILSON: Well, I don't think...

GROSS: ...and that it was funding intelligence? Yeah.

Mr. WILSON: I don't think that the Soviets were ever fooled. They were
fooled for the first few years, maybe till 1983, something like--'84. They
were fooled by the magnitude. But it was taking us that long to get
everything in the pipeline: as the book points out, the Chinese connection,
the Egyptian connection and all the rest. But I think that they knew that it
was a far bigger piece of cake than they had intended to bite off in '84 and
'85. And then in '86, when the Stingers started shooting down their Hind
helicopters, which were their major and most effective weapon, then they knew
it was a fight to the death.

GROSS: What went through your mind on September 11th when you heard, you
know, when you found out that it was Islamic fundamentalists who were behind
the attacks?

Mr. WILSON: Well, I was very grievous and devastated, and somehow I knew
that--I felt very badly about that. I didn't feel conscience stricken. I
just felt sad that--of the cruelty of the attacks and the fanaticism of the
attacks and the fact that they obviously were coming from radical Islamic
people, who I still felt that we were in great debt to many of for really
driving the nail in the coffin of the evil empire. And then to see them not
on our side was a tough nut for me.

GROSS: Well, Charlie Wilson, I want to thank you very much for talking with

Mr. WILSON: You bet.

BIANCULLI: Charlie Wilson speaking with Terry Gross in 2003. The film based
on the book "Charlie Wilson's War" opens next week.

Coming up, we remember Ike Turner who died earlier this week. This is FRESH

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Ike Turner, in 1996, discusses his career and songs

Musician and songwriter Ike Turner died Wednesday. He was 76.

(Soundbite of "Proud Mary")

Ms. TINA TURNER: You know, every now and then I think you might like to hear
something from us nice and easy...

Mr. IKE TURNER: (Singing) Left a good job down in the city.

Ms. TURNER: But there's just one thing, you see, we never, ever do nothing
nice and easy.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Working for the man every night and day. But I never
lost a minute of sleeping.

Ms. TURNER: We always do it nice and rough.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Worrying about the way things might have been.

Ms. TURNER: And we're going to take the beginning of this song and do it

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Big wheel keep on turning.

Ms. TURNER: But then we're going to do the finish rough.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Proud Mary keep on burning.

Ms. TURNER: We're going to do "Proud Mary."

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) And we...

Mr. TURNER and Ms. TURNER: (Singing in unison) Rolling, rolling, rolling on
the river.

Ms. TURNER: Listen to the story now.

(Singing) Left a good job in the city.

Mr. TURNER: (Singing) Down in the city.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Turner use to be most famous for his musical partnership with his
wife Tina Turner. Then he became famous for having beaten her after his
portrayal in the movie "What's Love Got to Do With It," based on Tina Turner's
memoir. But in the early days of rock 'n' roll, he had a track record as a
songwriter, talent finder and record producer for small Southern rhythm and
blues labels, doing sessions with now such now-legendary figures as B.B. King
and Howlin' Wolf. As the leader of his own rhythm and blues act, he wrote and
arranged the songs, played piano and guitar and choreographed the steps.

Turner did time on drug charges in the early '90s, then he made a comeback
which was jump started with the success of Salt-N-Pepa's recording of "Shoop,
Shoop" based on Turner's song "I'm Blue."

Ike Turner's place in the history of rock 'n' roll begins with the record some
critics consider the first rock 'n' roll record ever made, "Rocket 88." Turner
co-wrote the song and played piano. The singer, Jackie Brenston, was the horn
player in Turner's band. Terry spoke with Ike Turner in 1996 and asked him
about the story behind that song.

Mr. IKE TURNER: Well, we was on our way to a--well, first of all, we stopped
by where B.B. King was playing at down in Mississippi. And he made an
appointment with Sam Phillips at Sun recording studio in Memphis. And we
didn't have any original tunes. All we was doing was covers on the radio at
that time. And he asked us to bring some original tunes. And I told him OK.
And we didn't have any. And so anyway, on the way up there, we was counting
cars, like how many Fords did we see, how many this car did we see. You know?
We'd make bets on it. `I see more Fords than you do, Plymouths.' Stuff like

And so, anyway, the Rocket 88, they were new at that time. I think they came
out in '49 or '50, somewhere back in there. But, anyway, we was counting
cars. So finally Jackie said, `Hey, man, let's do one about that fast car.' I
said, `OK.' So we started writing about the Rocket 88.

(Soundbite of "Rocket 88")

Mr. JACKIE BRENSTON: (Singing) You women have heard of jalopies
You've heard the noise they make
But let me introduce my new Rocket 88
Yes it's great, just won't wait
Everybody likes my Rocket 88
Baby, we'll ride in style
Moving all along

V8 motor in this modern design
Black convertible top and the gals don't mind
Sporting with me, riding all around town for joy

(Spoken) Blow your horn, baby, blow!

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Now the vocal on "Rocket 88" is done by Jackie Brenston.

Mr. TURNER: By Jackie Brenston, yeah. He was the baritone player.

GROSS: Now, did you want to sing?

Mr. TURNER: Me? No, no, no. I've never liked to sing. Even now I do it on
stage, but I don't like to. I like to teach other singers to sing and stuff.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TURNER: Yeah.

GROSS: Tell us what a show featuring Ike Turner's Rhythm Kings would have
been like in the 1950s, in the days before Tina Turner was part of the group.

Mr. TURNER: Oh, well, what we were doing, we were just--basically we did
everything that was hot on the radio, and then we would do the songs that we
were--you know, the recording that we were doing. Basically like that.

GROSS: Well, how did you discover Tina Turner and add her to your revue?

Mr. TURNER: My drummer was going with this girl named Eileen Bullock, which
is Tina Turner's sister. And we were playing like, what, 13 jobs around St.
Louis a week, and we had a big following of women in those days. And so
Tina's sister, Eileen, she kept telling me to--why didn't I let her sister
sing, because there was some people who we would call up on stage as guests to
sing. And so, anyway, I never would call her. So finally one night, while we
were playing, my drummer--I didn't see him. I was up there just sitting down
playing the organ on a break. And then all at once I heard this voice coming
out of the speakers and there was Tina. And I said, `Dawg, that girl can
sing, can't she.' So she, you know, she had a pretty--she had a good voice,
you know.

But, you know, I didn't care that much about women's voices because then--I
don't know what women if any that they had back in that time doing R&B,
because Tina, at that time, I started her singing songs that Ray Charles would
sing, or whatever man that was popular--not Jackie Wilson. I don't think he
was out then. I was having her singing what they would sing.

And so, anyway, I had this guy named Art Lassiter that was staying at my house
over in East St. Louis. And so Art--I wrote a song for Art Lassiter and so I
had the studio booked for one day the following week, and he didn't show up at
the recording studio, long story short. And Tina was sitting there every
night when I was teaching him the words to the song and teaching the girls the
background. And the song was "A Fool in Love." And so when he didn't show up
at the studio and we had waited there about an hour, hour-and-a-half, and I
was paying, I think, it was $25 an hour then, which was a lot of money in
those days. I think that was 1960. Tina says, `Well, I know the words. Do
you want me to sing it and then when you find him then you put him on it?' And
so I went and asked the engineer and say he could do it because I think back
then all we had was two tracks. And this guy, all he did was commercials so
nobody never screamed over his microphones and things. He was really picky
about his equipment.

And so this song, "A Fool in Love," if you notice on there when Tina
holler--"hey, hey, hey, hey, wow!"--when she holler like that, man, he hit the
table, said, `Goddammit, don't holler on my microphone.' You know? Because he
had never heard nobody holler like that on a microphone before, you know. And
he stopped the machine, and, you know, and he pitched it, you know. So
anyway, she hollered again but he put he way back in the corner from the
microphone so when she screamed it wouldn't peg his needles or whatever. I
don't know if they had limiters then or not.

GROSS: All right. Well, let's hear the record, recorded in 1960. This is
"Fool in Love."

(Soundbite of "A Fool in Love")

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Whoa, there's something on my mind
Won't somebody please, please tell me what's wrong

Unidentified Backup Singers: (Singing) You just a fool
You know you're in love

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) What you say?

Backup Singers: (Singing) You've got to face it to live in this world

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Hey, hey, hey, whoa!

Backup Singers: You take the good along with the bad
Sometimes you're happy and sometimes you're sad

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) One more time

Backup Singers: (Singing) You know you love him, you can't understand

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Tell me about it

Backup Singers: (Singing) Why he treat you like he do when he's such a good

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Yes, he's got me smiling when I should be ashamed
Got me laughing when my heart is in pain
Oh, now, I must be a fool
But I'll do anything he wants me to

Now, how come?

Backup Singers: (Singing) You're just a fool
You know you're in love

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Tell me one more time

Backup Singers: (Singing) You've got to face it to live in this world

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Hey, hey, hey, whoa!

Backup Singers: (Singing) You take the good along with the bad
Sometimes you're happy and sometimes you're sad

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) One more time

Backup Singers: (Singing) You know you love him, you can't understand

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Girl! Tell me about it

Backup Singers: (Singing) Why he treats you like he do when he's such a good

Ms. TURNER: (Singing) Now, listen
Without my man I don't...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Now that record was released under the name Ike and Tina Turner.

Mr. TURNER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And Tina's real name was Anna Mae Bullock, and you were not yet
married when you changed...

Mr. TURNER: No. Her name is Martha Nell Bullock.

GROSS: What is it?

Mr. TURNER: Her name is Martha Nell Bullock.

GROSS: Oh, OK. Well, why did you change her name to Tina, and why did you
make it Tina Turner before you were even married?

Mr. TURNER: Before we were married we--that's something we can discuss some
other time, this marriage stuff.

But anyway, after we recorded the record, Tina was going with the saxophone
player in my band named Raymond Hill. Raymond and I from a kid, as I told
you, we was in school, he was in the group with me blowing saxophone in the
band. And so anyway, she got pregnant by Raymond. And I knew that as soon as
I come up with a hit record on her that he was going to come back and snatch
her. And so what I did, I made up the name. I sat down and wrote down
different names like Sheila. But I'm going to tell you, in the end, like
where this type name came from. I was thinking more jungle, like Tarzan or
stuff like this.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TURNER: My head was picturing this type thing. This is why later on
Tina had the wig on and her and the Ikettes, they were real rough on stage.
And the show I have now is the same thing. It's like a lot of real rough
dances, more jungle wild or raw. Well, what it was, when I was a kid, there
was a white lady, a blonde lady that use to swing through the jungle. Her
name was Nyoka. I don't know if you ever heard of her, but you go look at
some real old movies you'll find her. Her name is Nyoka. She do just what
Tarzan do. She'd swing through the jungle and fight lions and things like
that. And, man, I use to be so in love with this woman. And I use to go sit
in the front seat of the movie and try to look up under the little thing she
had on. She had a little tiger skin, and I would be trying to peep under
there and look, you know--well, anyway. I was in love with this woman. I
made Tina, subconsciously--I wasn't aware that this was what I was doing--I
made Tina the woman that I was in love with in my childhood.

GROSS: But I don't get the way--where the word--where the name Tina fits in.

Mr. TURNER: OK. Nyoka was the woman's name.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. TURNER: Nyoka. OK. So I sit down and I wrote down names like Sheila,
because that sounded like jungle to me. Tina sounded like jungle to me. And
so I just made the name up Tina.

GROSS: Tina sounds like jungle to you. OK.

Mr. TURNER: Yeah. To me.

GROSS: All right.

Mr. TURNER: I don't know what it sound like to you.

GROSS: Fair enough. Fair enough.


BIANCULLI: Ike Turner speaking with Terry Gross in 1996. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's conversation with Ike Turner, recorded
in 1996. When we left off, Terry was asking Ike Turner why Tina recorded
under his name.

GROSS: So but she had the name Tina Turner before you were married?

Mr. TURNER: Yeah. Well, we won't get into this marriage. OK. I'll say it.
I'll say it one time.

GROSS: Go ahead.

Mr. TURNER: We never was married in the first place.


Mr. TURNER: Not even till today. OK. So if you're going by what you saw in
the movie--I never saw the movie, but the movie was a lie. So back to the
records, anyway.

GROSS: But, wait, you never saw the movie?

Mr. TURNER: Huh?

GROSS: You never saw the movie?


GROSS: Why not? Were you...

Mr. TURNER: Because, I don't know, I just--when I read in People magazine
that she said that she hated that movie and that guy--whatever the guy's name
that produced the movie, he said that he didn't do that movie for Tina, he did
it for Walt Disney. And I knew that it was real bad. And then people started
telling me, `Man, wait till this movie come out. It's going to really ruin
you, you know, the way they portrayed you.' Even Larry Fishburne told me that.
And he told me that I would appreciate what he did to make it better than the
way they had it. And so everybody told me about it. And then people started
thinking that that movie was me.

GROSS: Well, and another question about the movie and also about Tina
Turner's memoir. In her memoir, I mean, she also portrays you as having
abused her during the years that you were together.

Mr. TURNER: Well, you know, today--I'll say this. Today they call
everything abuse. If you holler at your wife, if you disciplined your kids,
you're hollering at them, if you're dominating and tell your kids, `No, don't
you go out that door,' that's child abuse. And if you spank him and set him
down or something, somebody next door is going to call the police and put you
in jail for child abuse. So, you know, on that subject, I kind of stay away
from that because--I'll say this, I've never--I'm very proud of the way that I
raised my kids. We raised four kids, and I don't feel I've ever--I've been
dominating because I'm very--I don't compromise music at all. But as far as
like--where music is concerned, when I say I want something one way, I was
very dominating and stuff like that. It's like--but as far as abusing my
family, abusing her and stuff like that, sure, I have slapped her. She has
slapped me. We just live normal people lives. But I guess by me having
the--what do you call it?--the notoriety that I have, it's been totally
exaggerated. You know? And so I just--I stopped defending myself against it.
And so, anyway, everything is fine now.

GROSS: The group Salt-N-Pepa...

Mr. TURNER: Yeah.

GROSS: ...had a hit, the "Shoop, Shoop" song, that was based I think on one
of your songs. Is that right?

Mr. TURNER: Yes. That is based on "I'm Blue (The Gong-gong Song)" by the
Ikettes. I did it in 1961.

GROSS: I don't have a copy of that. Would you sing a few bars of your song?

TURNER: (Singing) I'm blue, blue-be-doo-be.

(Spoken) No.

(Singing) Shoo-be-doo-be-do-be blue. Hey, hey.

(Spoken) It was like that.

You don't remember that song? Oh, you was--gong, gong--how old are you?
That's the wrong thing to ask a lady, huh? OK, well, anyway, this was out in
1961. It was a real big hit for the Ikettes. And Sant-N-Pepa, they
sampled--actualy, that's the Ikettes that you hear on that record in that part
when they say...

(Singing) You make me want to shoop, shoo-be-dup

(Spoken) That's on there. I hope they do some more of my records. So far I
got like a half a million dollars from them. I hope somebody else do it. OK.

BIANCULLI: Ike Turner speaking with Terry Gross in 1996. He died this week
at the age of 76.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Producer Ian Chillag resigning from Fresh Air

And now, before the show ends, there's something Terry wants to say. So here
she is.


Thanks, David.

Actually I'm here to do something that I don't want to do, which is to say
goodbye to one of FRESH AIR's producers. The producer of FRESH AIR Weekend,
Ian Chillag. The good news is that he has a great new job in New York at the
new NPR program "The Bryant Park Project." The bad news? Well, there's so
much about him we're going to miss: his great writing, his always creative
production style, his sense of humor, and just the pleasure of working with
him. He's incredible. No matter how hard he worked on the show, he'd still
have energy to run and win medals in marathons. On the bright side, maybe
I'll feel less out of shape after he leaves.

Well, we wish him good luck. But with his talent, he doesn't really need to
rely on luck. But speaking of luck, our colleagues at "The Bryant Park
Project" are really lucky to have him.

Congratulations, Ian. We'll be looking for your work on the air, on the
Internet and on the page.

David, I think I need a moment of reflection. Why don't you do the close


BIANCULLI: One of Ian's favorite performers is Johnny Cash, so we'll let him
have the last word. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(Soundbite of "I Walk the Line")

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I keep a close watch on this heart of mine
I keep my eyes wide open all the time
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds
Because you're mine, I walk the line

I find it's very, very easy to be true
I find myself alone when each day is through
Yes, I'll admit that I'm a fool for you
Because you're mine, I walk the line

As sure as night is dark and day is light
I keep you on my mind both day and night
And happiness I've known proves that it's right
Because you're mine, I walk the line
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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