Ike White is one of those musical obscurities, like Jim Morrison’s doppelganger from 1974, The Phantom, or “Sugar Man” Rodriquez, dubbed as a Bob Dylan doppelganger (ironically, both are from Detroit), that you won’t read about in Rolling Stone Record Guides or musicpedias. Ike White is an artist — like unheralded R&B soul artists Gil Scott-Heron and Shuggie Otis — that should have been as chart-topping on radio station playlists and Billboard sales charts as Stevie Wonder. Or Al Green. Or Curtis Mayfield. We should speak of Ike White with the fervor afforded to George Clinton and Bootsie Collins. And King Sunny Aide. And Sun Ra. And Taj Mahal.
And, for a time, Ike White was. Then he simply vanished.
Ike White — sans our mentions of the chart-topping and commercially-aware artists of George Clinton, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder — was an artist for record geeks. For he was an artist you heard of in the dusty, molded cardboard repositories of vintage vinyl outlets and record swap meets. He was a man doing life for murder; a multi-instrumentalist (even drums) discovered by the man who discovered Jimi Hendrix and took War and Sly and the Family Stone to the top of the charts. Sadly, even with the patronage of Jerry Goldstein and, eventually, Stevie Wonder himself — who secured Ike a new attorney and successfully got his prison sentence suspended — Ike White was a troubled soul beyond help.
And after one critically-acclaimed album — recorded inside prison — and an offer from CBS-TV to produce a TV movie about his life, Ike White went off the grid for over 40 years — like “Sugar Man” Rodriquez.
And like the similar-themed document Searching for Sugar Man, a film which reignited the forgotten musical career of Rodriquez, so could have The Changin’ Times of Ike White. Instead, this BBC-TV production does not offer us the expected, uplifting fairy tale ending; it instead shifts from a life document into a twisted mystery about a man that many thought they knew; a life more complicated than anyone could have imagined.
This is the one time when you drop your hesitations on watching a documentary for your evening’s entertainment — and watch it. You’ve never seen a documentary about a life with character revelations and plot twists like the life of Ike White.
There’s more forgotten musicians getting their much-deserved dues in the frames of Witch: We Intend to Cause Havoc and Orion: The Man Who Would Be King.
You can learn more about the film at its official Facebook page and at Kino Lorber. You can listen to Changin’ Times, Ike White’s debut album — recorded with a backing band of Santana bassist Doug Rauch (also did a stint with Davie Bowie) and Sly and the Family Stone drummer Greg Errico (a walking rock ‘n’ roll Venn diagram) — in its entirety, on You Tube.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.