You’ve probably heard her voice without even knowing it. That’s P.P. Arnold on Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer, The Kane Gang’s Respect Yourself, The Beatmasters’ Burn It Up and The KLF’s What Time Is Love? and 3 A.M. Eternal. She has also worked with Oasis and Primal Scream.
In fact, that was all part of her second act. Arnold, who is now 72, had ’60s solo hits Angel Of The Morning and The First Cut Is The Deepest and also sang with The Small Faces on iconic tracks such as Tin Soldier and Itchycoo Park.
Living in London during the swinging end of the ’60s meant she got to work with Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Jimi Hendrix and Steve Marriott. She got up to more than that with them, and she’s more than happy to talk about it.
I hear that this whole journey actually started with a prayer you made in 1964…
It certainly did. I was 17 and in an abusive marriage and I had two kids and I was working two jobs. It was a Sunday morning and on Sundays I went to church and sung my heart out and then would do the laundry and cleaning and cooking and get everything ready for the week ahead. I was doing my chores and said this prayer where I asked God to show me a way out of the hell I was in.
An hour later the phone rang. It was my friend, Maxine Smith, who was an ex-girlfriend of my brother’s, and she and her friend Gloria Scott were going to audition for Ike And Tina Turner. The girl who was supposed to be going with them to audition didn’t show up, so Maxine called me out of desperation to help them get the gig. In order for me to do that I had to make up a lie for my husband, David, who was very strict. So they show up a half hour later and say I’m going to the shops with them. Down the road there’s this big Cadillac with Ike and Tina Turner’s driver at the wheel and the next thing I know I’m in Ike And Tina Turner’s living room singing Dancing In The Street. Tina said, ‘Alright girls, you’ve got the gig’.
And how did that news go down at home?
Well, after the audition we rode up to Fresno to see Ike and Tina play that night and I didn’t get home until 6 o’clock in the morning. My husband was waiting for me and I knew what was going to happen. He hit me in the head and it knocked some sense in me. I’m laughing about it now, but it was not funny at the time, believe me. I suddenly realised I’d said this prayer and asked God to show me a way out, and this was my way out.
Ike Turner was well known for his abusive relationship with Tina. It’s a little ironic that you escaped an abusive marriage to go on the road with them.
Exactly. We would go out on 90-day tours and play 87 shows. We did good the first two nights and when on the third night we weren’t so good that’s when we felt Ike’s wrath. That was the first sign of what his character was like. It was hard for me to witness the abuse Tina went through. She’d turned my life around. I was a sensitive, emotional, frightened young girl. And to see what happened to her wasn’t pretty.
When you travel on the road you’re family, so you see everything. You know what’s going on with everybody. Ike was, at the end of the day, a pimp. He had more than one woman on the road with him even though Tina was the queen bee. It wasn’t just Tina getting beat. They were all getting beat. I had trials and tribulations with him, but he didn’t abuse me. I was still underage, so he had to be careful with me.
A couple of years later you moved to London via Mick Jagger after touring with The Rolling Stones. What was your relationship with him like?
Mick used to make me laugh a lot. He’s this skinny white boy with big lips doing the mashed potato, trying to be James Brown. He was just so much fun. We would laugh all the time. We became great friends and hung out on the road during that tour. At the end of the tour he gave me a call to go out to lunch and after that we went for a walk in the park and he made me this proposition. His manager Andrew (Loog Oldham) had a record label called Immediate and they wanted me to stay in England and they would produce a solo album for me. I’d left my husband by then and the trumpet player I’d been going out with I caught him messing around in New York, so I quit him and I was a free agent by the time I got to London.
You sure were. Rod Stewart and Jimi Hendrix were also in the mix, right?
(Laughs) Well, what can I say? I had some great lovers in those days. If only my life was as exciting today!
How did you meet Jimi?
I was doing a gig at the Bag O’Nails (a legendary club in London’s Soho) and my guitar player said, ‘There’s a guy here from the States who wants to jam’. I peeked out to see who this brother was. There he was with this freaky hair and psychedelic look and surrounded by all these girls. I told my guitarist he could play in the second set because you never want to be surprised and get blown out of the water. Of course, he blew us out of the water! (laughs).
As fate would have it, we lived around the corner from each other and we became very close friends. Jimi was my soul brother. I was still young and very shy. I hadn’t had a teenage life but here I was in London being a teenager with all this great stuff going on. But instead of teenagers, it was Jimi and Rod and Mick and Steve (Marriott of The Small Faces). We were all part of this incredible musical revolution. Everything moved fast in those days. I was with Mick and then Mick fell in love with Marianne (Faithful) and then I met Steve and he and I hung out. Everybody was attracted to one another. The hormones were jumping.
The ’70s weren’t so great for you, were they?
No. In the ’70s I lost my daughter (in a car accident). I lost my confidence; I lost my place in the industry, I made some bad decisions. Then I came back to the UK and I reconnected with Andrew Lloyd Webber who was auditioning for Starlight Express, I connected with the Kane Gang on Respect Yourself, I connected with Peter Gabriel and did the So album. People were glad to have me back. They liked my sound. I always had a very distinctive sound. I brought that funky sound to the rock scene in England.
So looking back, your prayer from 1964 has really been answered, hasn’t it?
It really has. And my prayers are still being answered. My friend says God always answers black women’s prayers. I pray a lot and my faith has brought me a long way.
PP Arnold is backed by Tim Rogers, Andy Kent and Russell Hopkinson of You Am I, James Black and The Wolfgramm Sisters at the Rosemount Hotel on December 16. Tickets via davidroywilliams.com/tours/pp-arnold-2018/