How Australia helped Tina Turner become a multi-Grammy-winning solo star (2023)

Tina Turner, the American-born rock, soul and blues singer, had deep connections with Australia.

Born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, in 1939, Turner has died. Australians are amongst those deeply mourning her loss.

Turner relinquished her US citizenship in 2013 — she had been living in Switzerland with her German music producer partner Erwin Bach since 1994.

She might have lived in Europe, but Australia and Australians played a pivotal role in the performer's comeback story.

Turner already had a successful career with her then-husband Ike Turner as part of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue before she left him after suffering years of abuse.

How Australia helped Tina Turner become a multi-Grammy-winning solo star (1)

In the official autobiography Tina Turner: My Love Story, Turner wrote about what it was like to start again from scratch and how she came to the realisation that she needed more from a manager than her then-road manager, friend and confidante Rhonda Graam could provide.

"I remember one day when I was lying in bed feeling a little overwhelmed and saying to myself: 'I have to get management', it was 1979. Rhonda was doing a good job booking me on the cabaret circuit, but I had dreams and they were big. I wanted to fill concert halls and arenas like the Rolling Stones and Rod Stewart. That was quite an ambition for a 40-year-old female singer, whose best years seemed to be behind her."

It turned out, however, that Turner's best years were in front of her.

Enter Roger Davies, a 26-year-old Australian living in the United States who was at the time also managing Olivia Newton-John.

All bets were off once the two met. Turner wrote about Davies, saying he understood the importance of building an audience around the globe while most Americans in the music business "didn't acknowledge that the rest of the world existed".

"It was our destiny to come together at this moment. Two people standing on the brink of new lives. He wanted an artist. I wanted a manager. His ambition was to build a star and I needed someone to believe in me, to take me to that place. We both got what we wanted. I think Roger is the brother I never had and I'm the sister he never had. We bonded the moment we started working together."

How The Best became synonymous with rugby league

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Rugby league, a game played primarily in eastern Australia, northern England, PNG and the Pasifika, was looking for a boost in star power in the late 1980s.

So how did an African American star end up providing the rugby league soundtrack?

John Quayle, who was then the Australian Rugby LeagueCEO, said it all started with Turner's song What You Get Is What You See from her sixth solo studio album Break Every Rule.

Quayle's assistant at the time was Micki Braithwaite (singer Daryl Braithwaite's first wife) and she knew Davies really well.

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Rugby league was trying to change the image it had as a blokey sport for an ageing generation and it was decided that Turner's song was what was needed.

"That week leading up to the launch —the negative-ness," Quayle said in the NRL feature Simply the Best — The Untold Story, saying people were questioning how the sport could possibly use ablack American woman who had never played the sport to promote a blue-collar league.

"[Rugby League journalist]Peter Frilingos, he rung me up, he said, 'I've got to let you know, you know you're gone if this doesn't work?' And I said, 'yeah, I've heard it, I've heard it'," Quayle said.

Not only was the commercial an overwhelming success, but Turner was invited back, with the NSWRL buying the rights to The Best.

Turner performed the song live at the 1993 NSWRL grand final between Brisbane and St George. She also re-recorded the song with rock star Jimmy Barnes.

With its chorus, "you're simply the best", it's a song that has stood the test of time and is now synonymous with rugby league in this country.

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Why does every Australian seem to know the Nutbush City Limits dance?

It's a bit of a mystery as to how or when this trend began,but if you live in Australia — especially in a rural and regional town — you'll be familiar with this phenomenon.

Chances are you've been at a gathering, the song Nutbush City Limits comes on and everyone suddenly starts line dancing — including yourself.

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It often happens at weddings, discos and even school playgrounds. And strangely, it's common only in Australia.

There are conflicting theories about the origin of what's become quite the spectacle — the only thing people can agree on is, it's definitely a thing.

Guinness even posted about aworld record for the largest Nutbush dance and of course that's held here in Australia.

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What's Australia Got to Do with It?

Turner was initially reluctant to record What's Love Got to Do with It, but Davies was convinced it was a hit — and it was.

The song was on her globally successful comeback album Private Dancer and was written by Scottish singer-songwriter Graham Lyle and English Australian songwriter Terry Britten, who is also credited with producing the track.

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What's Love Got to Do with It spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1984 and is Turner's highest-selling single.

It won Record of The Year at the 27th annual Grammy Awards in 1984. Turner also took out Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for the song at the same ceremony (winning Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for Better Be Good to Me that same year.)

Turner won eight career Grammys as a solo artist and one with Ike Turner.

Britten and Lyle teamed up again to co-write We Don't Need Another Hero (Thunderdome). That song peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1985 and was written for the 1985 film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, which Turner appears in alongside Mel Gibson and Angry Anderson. Turner wrote:

"I'm told that when the producers were discussing casting ideas for Auntie Entity, the strong, larger-than-life heroine at the centre of their futuristic action-adventure film, they kept saying: 'Let's get someone like Tina Turner'. They actually referred to her as 'the Tina Turner character'. Finally, it occurred to someone to ask the real Tina if she'd consider taking on the role."

Britten and Lyle wrote other songs for Turner including What You Get Is What You See.

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Why did Tina Turner relinquish her US citizenship?

The reason Turner gave for relinquishing her US citizenship was only that she couldn't imagine a better place to live than Switzerland.

Turner told the German newspaper Blick that she was "very happy" there.

"I feel at home here," she said.

Turner isn't the only American to forfeit a US passport, with others citing tax laws.

US citizens must file tax returns on foreign income even while living abroad.

While the mayor of Brownsville, Tennessee, Jo Matherne, said at the time that she was surprised by Turner's decision, she told Fox that Turner had always been an ambassador for her hometown.

"Tina Turner – as she has gotten worldwide fame – has never forgotten her roots," she said.

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Local love for Turner in the town where she grew up

Nutbush is an unincorporated community in Haywood County, West Tennessee.

Keith Gambill grew up in the area. He's a Tina Turner"superfan", and decades ago, in tandem with other volunteers, began an effort to have her recognised locally and establish Turner-related tourism throughout the region.

"What's so special about her is what she overcameand where she came from," he said.

"If you could see how small a place she came from – the fact that she was this black girl who wanted to be a rock star, that's just not heard of by some people [at that time].

"She could not see anything that was like what she wanted to become, but she had this in her soul.

"It's just like this one little flower growing up through the concrete. She's just such an inspiration, and she will always be the Queen of Rock'n'Roll."

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Keith started on his path to superfandom playing Turner's records for his own local radio show.

Eerily, he posted a clip of Nutbush City Limitsonsocial media this morning — hours before he heard the news that she had died. He said Turner describes Nutbush well in her song.

"There's a little highway going through the country … all you see to the left and right are fields, fields of cotton, trees, a few houses.

"Once you get into Nutbush … there's the store on the left, where she frequented, and the cotton gin on the right. That's it.

"There's no open stores, no gas station. It's right in the middle of what some people say – nothing."

He first saw videos of Australians dancing to the Nutbush in the 1990s.

"I've seen the records where they're breaking the records doing it, a wonderful dance, just totally amazing, totally amazing. I don't know who started that, but it's really well put together and a great tribute to her as well.

"It's definitely unique to Australians."

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