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19 May 2020 00:41

Ike White Changin' Times Ike White

The Changin' Times of Ike White (BBC Four) was, like its subject, a chameleon-like beast. Back in the 1970s, renowned producer Jerry Goldstein firmly believed that musical prodigy Ike White was the next Jimi Hendrix. This film in the estimable Arena arts strand told the strange, haunting story of the virtuoso multi-instrumentalist who was given the opportunity to record an album behind bars. It garnered approval from the likes of Sly Stone and Stevie Wonder, the latter of whom petitioned for White's release and helped him find a new attorney. White got out of prison two years after those recording sessions.

MANY MUSICIANS hone their craft in their bedrooms or in the garage of their family home; Ike White started his musical career while serving a life sentence for murder. Record executives, thinking they'd found the next Jimi Hendrix, persuaded prison authorities to allow them to produce an album with him inside. Released from prison after his sentence was overturned in 1978, White seemed poised for stardom. "The Changin' Times of Ike White" starts as a conventional music documentary, with archive footage and nostalgic interviewees, who speak of White's easy confidence and charm. Focusing on the period White spent in prison and the making of his album, contemporaries, industry figures and old friends all speak of his star potential.

Here the film jumps forward 40 years to the present day, as Mr Vernon finds White leading a quiet life on the Californian coast. "I'm no longer Ike White, I'm David Maestro," he says. "It's a new birth." The film chronicles the pair's life together, and White tells the story of his early years: his family's musical background; his father's fatal heart attack onstage in a Chicago jazz club; his experiences of the civil-rights movement and police harassment. He speaks, too, of his work as a getaway driver, a robbery gone wrong and the death that resulted in his prison sentence. This section is complicated by a tragic turn of events: after giving his initial interviews and opening up his archive of photos and home videos to the film-makers, White took his own life.

The film then follows Lana as she speaks to White's past acquaintances and sifts through his personal records. "The Changin' Times of Ike White" is compelling both as a counterfactual music history—showcasing a career that could have been—and as an insight into one man's real, extraordinary life. The circumstances of White's death raise difficult questions over the effect the documentary had on him: he speaks earnestly about wanting to tell his story but he was clearly conflicted about his past. "The Changin' Times of Ike White" will be broadcast on BBC Four on May 18th Given a life sentence for murder at the age of 19, he spent his time writing songs with his fellow prisoners and was soon discovered by Jerry Goldstein, a record producer and affiliate of Jimi Hendrix. They managed to record Ike's debut album, Changin' Times, from a mobile studio in prison in California in 1974.

By 1978, Stevie Wonder had caught wind of the socially conscious, funky record and secured a new attorney for White, who petitioned for his release that year. Set free, White was poised for stardom and had just had a child with his new wife – Goldstein's secretary. In 2014, the story piqued the interest of Dan Vernon, the British film-maker behind The Changin' Times of Ike White, a documentary that airs this week. "The producer of my film, Vivienne Perry, first heard Changin' Times back in 2012," he explains. "Ike was quite surprised when he got the call from us, but he was also very welcoming – it felt like he had been waiting for someone to tell his story," he says. Two weeks after he had returned to England with this preliminary footage, Vernon got a call from White's new wife, Lana. It was only once I got back home that I realised he had only spoken about his time leading up to and in jail, but nothing after it." Remarkably, after only three days of knowing each other, White had entrusted Vernon with his archive, a treasure trove of photographs and tapes of his multi-instrumental noodlings that would prove to hold some of the secrets to his enigmatic past. "We weren't sure how we would continue on with the film, but then one day Lana called me and said she had found a tape of White getting married to someone else, despite telling her he hadn't been married before," he says. What Lana and Vernon found was a trail of at least six different names that White had used, at least five different children he had fathered and countless wives, married either legally or otherwise. In his film, Vernon paints an evocative image of the soft-speaking White, meandering from his 2014 interviews with the man to talking-head analysis of his musical prowess, conjecture on his disappearance – perhaps owing to shady dealings with local gangsters – and then a redemptive road trip narrative. "I've never done a film before where you have the responsibility of someone's entire life in your hands," Vernon says. "The film has given Lana a new lease of life," he says. With Changin' Times due to be reissued, Vernon is sure that his film will raise more questions than it answers about White. Arena: The Changin' Times of Ike White is on BBC Four tonight at 10pm A fascinating BBC 4 documentary has revealed how a talented soul singer, who was discovered in prison in the seventies, was living under various pseudonyms for decades - after Stevie Wonder backed his early release. Ike White was given life in prison for second-degree murder at the age of 19, and while inside was discovered by Jerry Goldstein, a producer and friend of Jimi Hendrix, before he recorded his debut album 'Changin' Times' remotely from prison in 1974. By 1978, the album had received industry adulation from the likes of Stevie Wonder, and a successful campaign was started to set the musician free - but once he was released, Ike disappeared. In 2014, documentary maker Dan Vernon tracked down the elusive musician, discovering he was living under the name David Maestro, and spoke to him for BBC Four documentary 'The Changin' Times of Ike White'. But in the middle of making the film, Dan received the sad news from his wife Lana that Ike had killed himself, leaving behind an incredible personal archive revealing a catalogue of different names, wives and children. Ike White (pictured in 1974) was given a life sentence for second-degree murder at the age of 19 and while inside was discovered by Jerry Goldstein and recorded his first album 'Changin' Times' remotely from prison By 1978, the album had received industry adulation from the likes of Stevie Wonder and a successful campaign was started to set the musician free. Ike is pictured recording the album in 1974 Speaking in the documentary, Ike said: 'From the time I was 18-32 I was in prison, I made a mistake, I paid for it. 'I never told anyone about my background after that, the few guys that did know had died and thought I was dead so I started my life again as David Maestro. The album, which was recorded with the help of backing vocalists who were brought into the prison, received industry adulation from the likes of Stevie Wonder. Pictured, Ike with back up singers whilst recording album in prison Pictured, Ike after being released from prison 'We'd heard about this new guitar player, he was in prison for murder, we thought we should check him out', said Goldstein. Despite being poised for stardom after a campaign by his first wife - Goldstein's secretary - to shorten his sentence, Ike disappeared and never made another album. Ike had been living under several other names before they'd met, including David White - and had been married and fathered children to various other women. In the middle of the documentary, after Ike had already been interviewed by Dan and handed over a large amount of his private personal archive, it is revealed that Ike had taken his own life. 'We went to the ocean for a walk and he didn't want to come he preferred to stay home alone, said Lana. Ike left behind a host of personal photographs and footage left behind for his wife to discover his previous life. She discovered he had been living under several other names before they'd met, including David White - and had been married and fathered children to various other women. 'He kept so many things from his past, said Lana, 'He didn't want people to know he was in prison. The Changin' Times of Ike White airs on BBC Four this evening at 10pm.