With her festive new single, the Phil Spector flavoured ‘It Won’t Be Christmas Without You’ storming up the I-Tunes chart and receiving extensive airplay these are heady times for the vivacious soul diva. It seemed like a good time to catch up. Lyndon Noon asked the questions:
Arriving in England in 1966 as an Ikette with the Ike & Tina Revue at the height of the duo’s “River Deep Mountain High” success in the UK, PP Arnold was was spotted by Mick Jagger who immediately convinced Andrew Loog Oldham to sign her to his “Immediate” record label. Best known for her definitive version of Cat Steven’s Classic ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’ and also ‘Angel Of The Morning another big hit, she’s a majestic singer who has performed alongside such talents as Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, Barry Gibb, Eric Clapton,Nick Drake, Roger Waters, Ocean Colour Scene to name but a few
Your first Christmas single. Tell us how it came about?
The track was originally supposed to be recorded by Cher but her schedule clashed so it was offered to me. Well, as soon as I heard it it took me right back to the sixties – the whole Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound’ thing. Y’know, The Ronettes, The Crystals and of course I was an Ikette. So it reminds me of being a teenager. In fact I wanted to portray that youthfulness and I think I did it. So move over Mariah!
You grew up in Watts a district of Los Angeles in the sixties. By the age of 17 you had two children and an abusive husband. Yet you say in your acclaimed autobiography ‘Soul Survivor’ that a prayer changed your life.
I was in a bad place. Struggling to bring up my kids, and with an abusive husband. Then one Sunday morning after doing the laundry I prayed to God for help. An hour later the phone rang, it was two girls I knew (Maxine Smith and Gloria Scott) asking me to help them out, cause they were auditioning for Ike & Tina Turner and a friend had let them down. I had no thought of being a singer but the girls knew I sang in church. I said ‘no way’, but 10 minutes later they wound up on my doorstep pleading with me. I lied and told my husband I was going shopping. Next thing I know I’m in the Turner’s living room singing ‘Dancing in The Street’ and Tina says ‘you got the gig’. I was afraid to join, but Tina says ‘we’re playing in Fresno tonight. Come and see us play. If you’re going to be in trouble you may as well be in trouble for something!’ My husband hit me in the head when I got home and that decided things. My parents helped me with the kids and I became an Ikette!
Tell us about Ike Turner
He was a very aggressive and abusive character. He was band leader and he ran the show. There was no room for anybody singing out of tune or being late. If you weren’t on it you’d get fired! But despite that, working with Ike and Tina was a blessing at first. I’d escaped my abusive husband. I had a steady wage so I could look after my kids. I’d messed up my education, my school, I didn’t have any diplomas or anything. So, it was a great escape. And of course that’s where my recording career started, singing on the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ album. Tina was so pleased it was a hit in Europe after it had flopped in America, she wanted to have a solo career to get away from Ike. She was tired of singing the blues and wanted to sing rock’n’roll. She also wanted to get rid of me because of Ike – who raped me. I was trapped, I despised Ike but what could I do.
Touring England in 1967 as an Ikette was a turning point.
We toured with the Rolling Stones and I became friends with Mick Jagger and we became lovers. He made me laugh and I hadn’t had a lot of laughs in my life up to that point. I was very shy, very introverted at that time. I mentioned to Mick that I wanted to leave the Revue because of Ike. He then introduced me to Andrew Loog Oldham (the Stones manager) and they invited me to stay in England and record for Andrew’s new label Immediate. It was a great label with Small Faces, Amen Corner, Fleetwood Mac and so I really landed on my feet, especially with The Nice being my backing band. Sadly when it went bust in 1968 it affected me really badly because I was so young – I didn’t have a clue about the music industry.
Your time at Immediate produced some big hit records and your own sound.
I was different because I was an American artist working with English producers and musicians. I was a pioneer in a way crossing rock and soul. I was in the right place at the right time. When producer Mike Hurst brought me ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ it was just magic. Cat Stevens who wrote it says it’s the definitive version. That song was written for me, I cut it first and it was my life experience up to that point. So, when I sing it there’s a different sensitivity to it than somebody just copying it and singing the melody. I still love that song, I have sung it hundreds of times but I never tire of it.
After Immediate went bust you worked with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton on what would have been your third album. Yet it took the best part of 50 years to get it released!!
Barry had split with his brothers at the time. He’d liked my version of ‘To Love Somebody’ off my ‘Kafunta’ album and we were introduced by a mutual close friend. Barry then agreed to produce me and get me a record deal. Barry got me a deal with RSO Records but the boss Robert Stigwood wasn’t really happy because his aim was to re-unite the Bee Gees – he saw me really as a nuisance. The recording sessions went well and I put my heart and soul into them but then the Bee Gees got back together and the record was put on hold. Stigwood then put me with Eric Clapton and we went on the road with Delaney and Bonnie. I had a great band with Steve Howe, Tony Ashton, Roy Dyke and Leslie Duncan involved and we had a great time touring England and Germany. After the tour Eric Clapton along with the band that became Derek & the Dominos produced three cover versions. Robert didn’t think they were commercial enough and apart from two songs that were released as a single (Bury Me Down By The River) they ended up on the shelf until I managed to get the rights to them a few years ago and they came out as ‘The Turning Tide’ album.
You call the Seventies your lost years. But you bounced back in the Eighties with many colaborations including working with Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.
Roger had been chasing me for six months. He was getting ready to go on the road but I was finally getting myself back together, I had a band, and we did two sell-outs’. His Manager ended up throwing all this money at me so thought Ok I’ll do one tour with Roger and that will help finance my own thing. I ended up doing 10 years. Singing with Katy Kissoon is always a joy. Carol Kenyon, and for a short while with Linda Lewis and Susannah Melvoin was nice. I loved it. Roger saved me and was a good place for me to be. It was a blessing working with Roger and singing in amazing settings. It was special!
You recently published your acclaimed autobiography ‘Soul Survivor’. My only question is why did it take so long!
I started in 1994 but I lost the whole thing trying to make a copy. So, I had to start again. Luckily it was my life and I had all my notes so it wasn’t too difficult to put back together. I’d had various offers over the years but they just weren’t right. Then I got a call from Pete Selby on Nine Eight Books during lockdown. He read it, liked it and made a very fair offer.
I wanted to tell the truth with the book. I’ve always tried to live my life honestly. I’m not always right and I’ve made mistakes for which I take responsibility, but this is my story. People think they know me but I’ve never put myself onto that whole celebrity thing. I just love to sing. Singing is my gift and I hope I can continue to do it. It’s very difficult to do as a solo female artist, but I’m working with management now who are using all the modern tools to get me out there. I don’t believe my age is a barrier, I have lots of kids discovering my music all the time. The reaction to my new single has been great and is a bridge to a new record I hope to record next year. I’m not retiring. I have my fitness and my faith and I’m still out there.
I’d like to thank everybody for their support. A very Happy Christmas. Let Love, Peace and Joy be the message!!
Find her new single here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0BJNQW829?tag=httpabsolut08-21