How Tina dumped abusive husband Ike and eventually found fame at a whole new level

Tina Turner on stage during a 50th anniversary concert

I was so sorry to hear of the death of the incredible Tina Turner. At the age of 83 she was a wealthy woman and global megastar, a uniquely talented singer and performer whose life had taken her from a childhood of near poverty in rural Tennessee to one of luxury in Switzerland. In between there were years trapped in a singing career and abusive marriage controlled by her first husband. Her ultimate success was not only well-deserved but a testament to her talent, courage and determination. As the tributes flowed in I found myself reflecting on an interview I once did with singer and one-time member of The Ikettes, PP Arnold, who was herself an abused wife and worked with Tina during the toughest of times.

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I was a callow 15-year-old schoolboy when the then 26-year-old Tina first roared into my life as part of the support package on the Rolling Stones 1966 UK tour.

To be honest I hadn’t been expecting much. As far as I was concerned I was simply excited to be going to a Stones concert, particularly one with The Yardbirds (featuring both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck in their line-up) as a support act. 

The fact that the Ike and Tina Turner Soul Revue was also on the tour had only been of passing interest to me. Then they hit the stage. Wow! The band and their three girl backing singers, The Ikettes, roared into action, a wall of gloriously funky sound with sexy, sassy Tina strutting her stuff and delivering soaring vocals that dominated a performance fuelled by frenetic energy and shaped by carefully choreographed precision. I’d never seen anything like it.

Of course, at the time I had no idea of the personal tragedy that lay behind that amazing outfit. I didn’t know that Svengali-like bandleader Ike Turner was a controlling and violent man and that Tina was trapped in an abusive marriage that would last 10 more miserable years.

With hindsight it is possible to view that Stones tour and the events that led up to it as the first step that Tina took to free herself from Ike’s control. It had been their transatlantic hit with the Phil Spector-produced River Deep Mountain High that,  just a few months earlier, paved the way for the invitation to join the Stones on tour. It had also perhaps offered an early taste of what Tina could achieve as a solo artist. 

Although the single had been credited for contractual reasons to Ike and Tina Turner, it was LA’s famous session team the Wrecking Crew who played on the recording. Ike wasn’t even in the studio. The writing was on the wall.

Among those who observed what was happening was singer P P Arnold who  appeared on the 1966 tour as one of The Ikettes. Years later she told me how Tina became her friend and mentor and saved her from her own troubled marriage.

Los Angeles born Arnold 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 soul revue back in 1965. A year later she was a fully-fledged member of The Ikettes and enjoying life in the road with the Rolling Stones.

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 felt trapped and resentful. A few miles across town soul revue stars Ike and Tina Turner seemed to have it all but as Pat would soon discover their relationship too was marred by troubles.

PP Arnold

A curious chapter of accidents would bring PP Arnold into their life and offer the young singer a path to freedom. 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 naivety and inexperience.

Ike and Tina in the early days

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.”

Arnold, who went 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. 

Being on the road as an Ikette brought Arnold into close contact with the Turners’. dysfunctional and violent marriage. She soon realised that their disastrous relationship was far from obvious to outsiders  Every night on stage the band drove fans to a frenzy as Tina strutted her stuff looking totally in control. Few noticed glowering guitarist Ike directing the show in the background. He was an inspirational musician but also a controlling often angry figure whose spiralling drug use would over he years lead to increasingly violent behaviour.

Arnold, fresh from her own domestic problems witnessed the growing abuse. “Of course I saw  it happening,” she said.  “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 ended in divorce in 1976.

Author: Jeremy Miles

Writer, journalist, photographer, arts and theatre critic and occasional art historian.

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