P.P. Arnold, one of the finest soul singers of all time, shares her soul with VoiceCouncil Readers.
P.P. Arnold began her career as one of the ‘Ikettes’, Ike and Tina Turner’s backing singers.
Then she moved onto hit singles such as ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’, ‘Angel in the Morning’ and ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’
Having carved out a unique career for herself in the UK, P.P. Arnold is still going strong…
…and she shares her advice for vocalists in an exclusive interview with VoiceCouncil Magazine.
You’ve carved out such a powerful and distinctive career as a vocalist without reading music – how has that been possible?
I was born into a family of gospel singers so singing was second nature. In the local Baptist church all my brothers (four of them!), me and my sister formed the nucleus of the gospel choir. I don’t remember “learning” – we all simply opened our mouths and were always in perfect harmony. This singing was completely a cappella and I always knew instinctively where my voice fit in with these harmonies.
Did this experience lead you to want a vocalist career?
I never planned to sing professionally. In fact, my father wanted me to be a legal secretary. I was the oldest daughter and had an academic bent. He didn’t think I could be a lawyer (this would be out of the question for a young black girl in America at that time) but to be a legal secretary would be a “real cool gig” for the early 60s.
It’s hard to see the connection between this and becoming an Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner!
Part of this had to do with getting pregnant at the age of 15 and my Daddy forcing me to get married –and the other part of this had to do with helping two of my friends get a gig…
Let’s start with your friends…
My friends were in a trio and landed an audition with Ike and Tina – but one of the three opted out. So, they dragged me to the audition with them. Tina loved what we did and wanted me as well as them. I tried to explain to her that I was married – and had never thought of singing professionally.
What about your marriage?
I had gotten pregnant when I was 15 and my daddy made me get married. My confidence really got knocked out of me during that period. My teenage years ground to a halt. And the marriage was not working (that is an understatement…). Things were so bad that I had been praying to the Lord to show me a way ahead – I thought the audition might be that “way”. My husband was angry about the audition and we had a big fight. The upshot of this was that my parents decided to help with my two children and I went on the road with Ike and Tina.
What was it like to be singing professionally?
I was very, very shy – I knew nothing about the music industry or being around musicians; I was absolutely green. I didn’t know anything about the world and suddenly to be with The Ike and Tina Turner review—what a big jump!
What enabled you to cope with this?
Tina used to say, “Listen, you can’t be shy out there. Off stage I hear you talking to your girlfriends and being natural and loud; that’s how I want you to be on stage.” I guess the other thing that helped me was that simply I had to do this – it was my job and my way of supporting my family. Also, there was a rule for the Ikettes: if you sang out of tune on a gig you would be fined 25 dollars!
The genre you were singing now has an impressive history – and you were there at the beginning.
Yes, in the 60s Soul and R&B music were new. A lot of the musicians doing this had been Jazz musicians – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. This was a time of promoting a new style of music; it was young, fresh and energetic – and when you were on stage you really worked!
You made another incredible leap in your career: after the Ikettes, you came to the United Kingdom and began a solo career.
What’s funny is that even with my experience with Ike and Tina, I had no sense about how to lead a band, communicate with instrumentalists or work with managers, promoters or record labels.
What was your key to handling a solo career?
I pretended that I knew what I was doing! Everybody thought that because I was with Ike and Tina that I knew everything – but I knew nothing about the record industry; all I knew was being an Ikette, being in the background. We had gone on the road for many 90-day tours (working 87 out of the 90 days!). Gigging – that was it. So when I got to Britain, I was very shy about a solo career – but all the musicians were so enthusiastic and so incredibly gifted it ended up working.
I’m still trying to figure out how you went so successfully from background singing to such a powerful solo career…
What happened was a wonderfully organic process between the instrumentalists and me. I would do my work: learning the tune – I mean really learning, knowing, living the music. Then we would all gather around the recording and learn from the originals – before making it our own. People always ask me to teach and I don’t think I really have an intricate method or anything like that – for me it has been a process of learning the songs inside and out and discovering how to best express it with my musicians.
That sounds like an incredible method for becoming a powerful vocalist!
Words are such a powerful force. It’s key for every singer to not only be able to mimic the lines of a cover tune, but to really know and feel the emotion behind those words. You have to relate to the song– if I don’t like the song or the lyrics – or if I can’t feel something positive to share – I won’t sing it.
What’s one insight or life lesson will you be thinking of to continue inspiring your performances?
The major lesson for me is to make sure that I stay rooted in myself and not get sidetracked by all the negativity that´s going on in the world or intimidated by an industry that says that I´m no longer relevant.
That’s a tall order. How are you going to do it?
I’ll simply remember that the reason that I sing is to make people happy, to uplift others. It is a gift to spread love, joy and truth. I also remind myself that it’s a blessing to have survived everything that I´ve been through and still have my health, fitness and faith to keep on keeping on.
P.P. Arnold began her singing career as an Ikette with Ike and Tina Turner. She came to London with them to tour with the Rolling Stones in the mid-sixties and began her solo career as the first female artist on the Immediate record label under the supervision of Andrew Oldham and Mick Jagger. Her first single “The First Cut is The Deepest” penned by Cat Stevens is a soul classic as well as the Chip Taylor classic “Angel of the Morning”.