Tina Turner’s Southern Soul and Country Contributions

Few if any took the struggle and pain in life, and spun it into a story of triumph and perseverance like Tina Turner did. A true Queen of Rock and Roll music, the revelation of her death on Wednesday, May 24th marks a towering loss for music. But she leaves behind a treasure trove of songs that the world will cherish for eons to come.

As Tina Turner asked in the song “We Don’t Need Another Hero” that crowned the soundtrack for the 1985 movie Max Max: Beyond Thunderdome that she also starred in, “So, what do we do with our lives? We leave only a mark. Will our story shine like a light? Or end in the dark?”

For Tina Turner, it will invariably shine. And it won’t just shine in rock, pop, and soul, which her musical legacy is best known for. Tina Turner left a mark in country music too, and a rather large one when you delve into the details of her legacy.

Tina Turner was born in Brownsville, Tennessee, not far from Memphis and the Mississippi River, and lived in Knoxville for a time as well. She grew up in rural communities and picked cotton at an early age, singing in the church on Sunday like so many Southerners. When she sang the steamboat song “Proud Mary,” she had more credibility to sing it than the songwriter John Fogerty. So when it came time for Tina Turner to release her debut solo album, she turned to her country roots for inspiration.

While still part of the Ike & Tina Turner Review with her notoriously abusive husband, Tina recorded the album Tina Turns The Country On! and released it in September of 1974. The idea was to expose Tina Turner to a wider audience by broadening her repertoire into country and folk. Turner sang Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” and Dolly Parton’s “There’ll Always Be Music” among others. The legendary James Burton played guitar for the sessions.

Tina Turns The Country On! has been one of the more forgotten entries in the Tina Turner catalog, and is regularly overlooked when running down Black contributions to country music. It was never released on CD, and streaming platforms only have some of the songs available due to permissions disputes. But those who have a copy will tell you that the album is a quality cross-genre effort, while remaining historically important as Turner’s first solo album.

During her career, Tina Turner also recorded multiple other country music classics, including “Stand By Your Man,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” “Lovin’ [Him] Was Easier” and “We Had It All” made popular by Waylon Jennings, and other country standards. The songs have since been repackaged and repurposed multiple times in various compilations with names like Tina Turner Sings Country and Tina Turner Goes Country, though these are not original albums.

But perhaps Tina Turner’s biggest country music contribution came from being a muse, not a performer.

In 1969, Waylon Jennings was hanging out at the Fort Worther Motel in Fort Worth, TX when he breezed by an advertisement for Tina Turner describing her as a “good hearted woman loving two-timing men.” Waylon immediately recognized the phrase as the perfect premise for a country song.

Willie Nelson also happened to be around at the time, though was deep into a poker game. So to get Willie’s ear, Waylon had to be dealt in. As the two played cards and called out lyrics, Willie’s wife Connie wrote them down. Both Willie and Waylon lost the poker game, but they won one of the the most iconic songs in country music history.

Waylon first recorded and released “Good Hearted Woman” in 1972, and it became a hit, peaking at #3. But when Waylon and Willie teamed up on the track and released it on the landmark Wanted: The Outlaws compilation in 1976 as a “live” track, it went to #1. Wanted: The Outlaws was the first ever Platinum-selling album in country music history and launched the “Outlaw” movement. “Good Hearted Woman” was the biggest hit on the record.

Sure, Tina Turner didn’t write it originally. But she inspired “Good Hearted Woman” by her dogged spirit, and the song has gone on to inspire a whole subgenre of country about the bad men, and the good women that love them. Turner also recorded the song herself later in her career.

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