Words : Jeremy Miles - Picture: Judy Totton
Sixties soul singer P.P. Arnold has told how her friend and mentor Tina Turner saved her from a troubled teenage marriage and set her on the road to stardom.
California born Arnold, now 62, was just 18 years-old and already the mother of two young children when she auditioned as a backing singer with Ike and Tina Turner’s famed soul revue back in 1965.
A year later she was a fully fledged member of the Ikettes song and dance troupe, singing harmony behind Ike and Tina and touring the UK as opening act for The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds.
But behind the glamour that would soon see her launch her own successful pop career was a bleak tale that had seen the girl from the wrong side of the tracks break away from a vicious circle of drudgery and violence Arnold, who was born Patricia Cole in Los Angeles’ notorious South Central, in 1946, had been facing a dead-end life. As the sound and fury of the Watts race-riots and gangland clashes echoed around her once peaceful neighbourhood, Cole found herself struggling to survive.
Pregnant at 15 she had been railroaded into a shotgun marriage by her controlling father. She was forced to work as an office clerk by day and a factory worker by night just to get by. Her young husband, David Arnold, felt trapped and resentful.
A few miles across town soul revue stars Ike and Tina Turner seemed to have it all but their relationship too was marred by troubles
A curious chapter of accidents would bring PP Arnold into their life and offer the young singer a path to freedom.
Speaking as she prepared for a major UK soul tour with fellow sixties veterans Geno Washington and Jimmy James, Arnold said that auditioning for Ike and Tina was quite literally “the answer to a prayer”
Amazingly the fortuitous audition happened entirely by chance. “I never dreamed of being in show-business,” she told me. “ I was married, I had two kids, I worked two jobs. My life was hard. But one day Maxine Smith, an ex girlfriend of my brother, called me up. She and another girl, Gloria Scott, were due to audition for Ike and Tina and a third singer who had been meant to go with them hadn’t shown. Maxine called me out of desperation to make up the trio.”
Ike and Tina were impressed by the girls and to Arnold’s astonishment they were offered the job on the spot. She admits she was terrified.
“At first I said ‘No, I can’t possibly go out on the road. I’m married. I’ve got two kids and I have to get home now! My husband doesn’t know where I am and I’m going to be in trouble when I get back,’
“Tina just said: ‘Well if you’re going to be in trouble for nothing why don’t you come to Fresno with us and see our show tonight and then make up your mind?’
“It was just one of those moments when you suddenly think ‘Yeah, well why not? I might as well go with them.’
Fresno was a 300 mile drive from Los Angeles. Arnold had never been so far from home. “Man, I’d never even been to Hollywood. It was a long way away,” she chuckles at the thought of her naivity and inexperience.
She loved the show but still wasn’t sure about joining the band...until, that is, she finally got home.
“I got back about six o’clock the next morning and the door opened. He was furious.. Something in my head clicked. I was thinking: ‘I prayed to God yesterday morning to show me a way out and 24 hours later I’ve got an alternative.’ The Lord certainly works in mysterious ways.”
Today Arnold, who would go on to score British chart hits like The First Cut Is The Deepest and Angel Of The Morning, says that that fateful day marked the beginning of her liberation.
But first she would witness Tina Turner suffering an all too familiar fate at the hands of husband Ike.
With her parents looking after the children – Kevin aged 3 and Debbie, 2, (Debbie would later die in a car crash in LA at the age of just 13) – Arnold hit the road as an Ikette. It brought her into close contact with the Turners’. dysfunctional and violent marriage. It also made her part of one of the most iconic soul show bands of the 1960s. “Their personal life was one thing but that music and working within that unit was just absolutely incredible.” she says.
Every night on stage they drove fans to a frenzy with big production numbers like River Deep Mountain High. Out front Tina strutted her stuff looking sassy, sexy and totally in control. Few noticed glowering guitarist Ike directing the show in the background, but behind the scenes it was another story.
Ike was an inspirational musician but also a controlling often angry figure whose spiralling drug use would over the next few years lead to increasingly violent and out of control behaviour.
Tina Turner, who went on to become megastar in her own right finally broke free after 14 years of tempestuous marriage, said Ike would punch her and burn her with cigarettes.
Arnold fresh from her own domestic problems witnessed the growing abuse.
“Of course I saw it happening,” she says. “We travelled together. We were family. We went on the road on 90 day tours and we were working real close together for 87 of those days. “I genuinely felt for Tina. I felt what she was going through so deeply. It was very frightening. Ike Turner died in 2007 from a cocaine overdose. He was 76-years-old. The marriage to Tina, which had ended in divorce in 1976, was graphically featured in the 1993 film What’s Love Got To Do With It starring Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett.
In the years before his death Ike argued that the film's portrayal of him was inaccurate but now Arnold says she’s preparing to tell all in an autobiography. “There’s a lot of stuff that I never liked to talk too much about because the story has already been told by Tina but I’m going to tell another side of it. I’m going to look at it from my point of view,” she told me.
*P.P. Arnold appears in the This Is Soul Tour which plays nationwide until Saturday February 28