Holle Thee Maxwell & David A. Kozin – Freebase Ain’t Free
From a young age, Holly Maxwell was encouraged by her mother to sing, recognizing her child’s talent when the two sang gospel hymns at home. Her mother also sang opera, so Maxwell received plenty of classical training that lead to an appearance at the Civic Opera House in Chicago at twelve years of age. Her education continued through graduation from Roosevelt University and the Julliard School of Music. But she was destined for a different path.
One night while watching television, Maxwell was captivated by an appearance of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue. Later her mother played an album by the legendary jazz organist, Jimmy Smith. Maxwell was equally smitten, vowing to her mother that she would one day sing with both musicians.
Dreams have a way of coming true. Telling her story, Maxwell leads us along a winding path as her career steadily builds until she finds herself sitting at the bar in at Smith’s Supper Club in North Hollywood one minute, then standing on stage without invitation to sing with Smith and his band. Her performance immediately got her a request to join the group as the vocalist. At home in the early morning, savoring her good fortune, Maxwell receives a call from a friend saying they need a singer at the recording studio. Maxwell only wants to go to bed, until her friend discloses that the request came from none other than Ike Turner.
It took several hours of bus rides to get to Bolic Sound Studios in Inglewood, California, Turner’s private studio. Maxwell arrived a nervous wreck, hardly believing that she was going to meet Turner. Once she calmed down, she impressed him with her focus on singing, not letting herself get distracted by anything else, despite the musician’s repeated attempts at enticements of various natures. In short order, Maxwell is again hired as singer.
The rest of the book describes Maxwell’s wild ride as Turner’s friend, trusted associate, and closest ally. Turner would hole up in the studio for weeks on end, fueled by drugs, alcohol, and a rotating cast of musicians and hanger-ons hoping to be part of the scene. With Turner’s blessing, Maxwell handled the money, paid bills, and tried to maintain some semblance of order. At one point, she appoints herself the “orgy supervisor,” with Turner paying her to make sure his woman weren’t stealing from him. When the studio burned down in 1982, Turner began a downward spiral that would have left him destitute had it not been for some astute investments.
Maxwell repeatedly takes great exception to the portrayal of Turner in the press, and particularly in the movie, “What’s Love Got To Do With It”. Her view is that Turner was a musical genius with a kind heart, especially for Maxwell and her mother. She offers a different viewpoint of Ike’s relationship with Tina, one that shifts the blame off of his shoulders. The book makes it clear that she is fiercely protective of the legacy of the man she knew so intimately, a fact born out by multiple pages filled with letters and notes that Turner sent Maxwell while in prison on drug charges.
As to her own story, Maxwell doesn’t shy away from some of the sordid details including abuse by her step-father, getting forcibly injected with heroin, blackballed early in her career for refusing sexual advances, and astonishingly charged with abusing her mother in the days leading up to Turner’s passing. But her spirit remained strong, allowing her to share her voice from Chicago clubs to venues around the world. It is quite a life, one that makes for a very compelling read.