Turner was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His musical career began with his childhood piano teacher, Pinetop Perkins, who taught him the boogie-woogie that he later transformed into early rock and roll. Turner's 1949 recording of "Rocket 88" is considered one of the earliest examples of rock and roll with a driving back beat and topped with electric guitar and wailing saxophone. It was a sharp contrast from the relatively more jazzy and sophisticated jump blues or swing combo music that preceded it.
The record was released under the name of Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, but was actually performed by Ike Turner and His Kings of Rhythm. Through music-business intrigue, Brenston, Turner's saxophone player, ended up with artist and co-author credit on Turner's tune.
Turner is also noted for introducing the classic soul music show to general audiences with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, featuring a full band, Tina Turner, and the Ikettes, a female trio of frantic singers and dancers. The Revue opened for the Rolling Stones on their American tours in 1966 and 1969. Ike was married to Tina Turner for 18 years, starting in 1960. She accused him of violent spousal abuse. The two were divorced in 1978.
In addition to his bandleading, Turner was a talent scout for independent record companies and played guitar for many pioneer blues performers, including Robert Nighthawk, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Otis Rush.
His autobiography, Taking Back My Name (ISBN 1-852-27850-1) was published in 2001.