Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Muse-Artist : Ronnie & Phil Spector... Crazy in love.

Phil Spector & Ronnie Bennet in the studio working on Ronettes recordings, circa 1963.

In 1963 the beehive crowned trio from Spanish Harlem, The Ronettes, shot to stardom with the hit "Be my baby", but lurking behind the curtain was the the elf-ish little man in dark glasses who orchestrating the act.  While the stars bathed in limelight, the more powerful, svengali-like Phil Spector was the one with the vision, the plan, the eye, the ear, the brain, and consequently, stockpiles of money, power and an industry notoriety that trumped anything the beauties in front of the curtain could claim.

Sisters Estelle and Ronnie Bennett, and their cousin Nedra Talley (dubbed The Ronettes after their lead Ronnie), were discovered by Spector who was already defining the girl group sound, beginning to create his signature "Wall of sound", and searching for his muse... Someone with the raw elements he desired to polish, someone young enough to be mold-able, someone hungry for fame who will idolize his success, and someone open enough to allow him to form her in his own image.   Phil had already worked with a number of acts, carefully manipulating the sounds and the line-ups to his benefit.  He created one of the most infamous synthetic pop creations The Crystals using talented musicians like Darlene Love without crediting their performance, and switching the singers in and out unbeknownst to them or the audience.
In Phil's mind, he was Wagner, the genius composer conducting every puppet player. Production, not performance, was everything. He had all the bells and whistles on his console to spin straw into gold. Even in hindsight Phil arrogantly feels the contribution of rich voices by gospel/soul singers like Darlene Love were minute compared to the power of his production, "My artists could easily have replaced each other because it was always the production that carried the songs" he remarked in a later interview. He was the up-and-coming 20 year old prodigy that carried himself powerfully in the burgeoning girl group scene, Spector reflected, "Sometimes I was so brash in those days, I could strut sitting down." A sound engineer later remembered, “we had to work hard to satisfy Phil. He’d spend an inordinate amount of time working on each section and playing it back before moving on to the next one, and that was very hard for the singers.... I always commiserated [with the singers] because Phil didn’t pay too much attention to them. He treated them as if they were another instrument. I mean, they weren’t ill-treated, they were just ignored.”  Phil quickly adapted to being in charge, a far stretch from his early days shlepping to execs and brief teen star treatment as a member of the one-hit wonder band The Teddy Bears

Phil's early teenage career starts with the Teddy Bears and as a Writer/Producer.

Spector and sound engineer manning the console during at the beginning of his peak and most iconic style phase.

Wunderkind millionaire by 21.

Starting out as a young teen singer pounding the pavement, Veronica Bennett, as she was then known, was a sheltered mixed-race young girl from a strong, close-knit family who grew up admiring the "the sassy black girls flicking their cigarettes on the street" and started cooking up a less wholesome image for herself as a tough chick with a cool backstory.  She didn't drink or smoke, but quickly added these elements to the menu along with new styling:  a fierce beehive, heavy black eyeliner, short skirts and a dangerous past. "She wasn't really rebellious," said writer Josh Allen Friedman, one of Ronnie's ex-boyfriends "She wasn't allowed to date musicians. She had her mama looking out for her. At the time I knew her, she didn't have one record in her apartment."  But, the rebel-girl image is one that Ronnie would use to define her career, as even today her website claims to be the 'official website of the bad girl'.

The girl group scene were predominately teenage girls who loved to sing with a background in gospel singing at their local churches or forming informal cliques with other neighborhood kids to coo doo-wop harmonies on their stoops. Phil plucked young singers to record and his controlling style was unchallenged by the teen girls dying to sing and trusting the creative millionaire wunderkind as he built his empire (he had achieved his first million from song royalties and production credits by the time he was 21) under the name of his new record label, narcissistically called "Phillies".   Spector had already taken similar girl-next-door groups like The Crystals to glamorous heights on the charts and The Ronettes hoped he could do them same for them.   Seventeen year old Estelle called up Spector hoping for a meeting with the biggest name in the biz, she surprisingly got through, and a dinner and limo ride later, Spector knew he would see the girls again.  Ronnie recalled of her informal first audition: “When he first heard my voice, I remember he came to one audition to see if I sounded as great as he thought I did, and he saw us at this little club… [W]hen he came to a rehearsal, and I sang one of Frankie Lymon’s songs, he knocked the bench over from the piano and said, ‘That’s the voice I’ve been looking for.’… I’ll never forget that. And that’s just before they went in and wrote ‘Be My Baby.’”  

The Ronettes (From left to right)  :  Nedra Talley, Ronnie Bennet, Estelle Bennet.

                                                                                        Secret Blues,  circa 1964.


Iconic headshot, circa 1962-3.

Spector had found his muse, but Ronnie insisted she was a package deal, only coming aboard Spector's label with her sister and cousin in tow. Writer Michael Enright commented on Ronnie's sound and how well it married with Spector's sounds:  "…Ronnie had a weird natural vibrato – almost a tremolo, really – that modulated her little-girl timbre into something that penetrated the "Wall of Sound" like a nail gun. It is an uncanny instrument. Sitting on a ragged couch in my railroad flat, I could hear her through all the arguments on the street, the car alarms, the sirens. She floated above the sound of New York while also being a part of it – …stomping her foot on the sidewalk and insisting on being heard.”  By 1963 Spector had begun crafting his "Wall of Sound" a signature production scheme that was unmistakable: heavy brass and drums, and layered tracks with a thunderous reverb creating the effect as if an impenetrable symphony of musicians surround the listener: 

"Spector combined multiple pianos, guitars, saxaphones, and horns with studio mixing and over-dubbing. The typical line-up of musicians and instruments in an early 1960s’ Spector session, according to one account, included 'a drummer, two bass players, three or four keyboard players, four guitarists, three or four reeds, two trumpets, two trombones and any number of people who could help out on percussion.' Spector’s instrumentation filled all the space in a song without killing the vocals, while incorporating a good driving beat. The result of this orchestration and studio wizardry often had a clear demarcation in the song, producing an almost “wall-of-music”-like effect. Spector once described his productions as “Wagnerian” and also called them “little symphonies for the kids.” New York Times writer Glenn Collins, years later, would acknowledge Spector’s successful technique, describing it as “overdubbing squadrons of guitars, pianos and percussion instruments in a wave of hormone- thrilling noise.” And indeed it was. Ask any aging baby boomer who grew up in that period. Rock music, in any case, would never be the same after Spector; it would no longer be the thin-sounding guitar and drum-based music of the 1950s. Spector changed things, and his technique lifted the quality of rock and roll, making it more complex and more musical." VIA Pop History Dig

"Be my baby", 1963.

Fun and games at the height of their fame.

Studio Sessions, 1963.

The girls look on as Spector waves the magic production wand over the tracks.

Wall of Sound set-up

Aside from the musical chemistry, their was also a magnetic force of attraction that pulled Ronnie and Phil together.   Singer Darlene Love, one of Spector's favored girl group voices, remembered Ronnie asking about Phil before the two had met and their initial chemistry was undeniable, though everyone wondered what gorgeous Ronnie saw in Phil-- a small, homely fellow with a big hang-up about it.  Though Spector was married at the time of their meeting to pretty, blonde pixie Annette Merar (creepily enough, the lead singer of another group Spector had fashioned he called The Spector Three,) he knew Ronnie would become the perfect tool to manipulate for both personal and business purposes, embodying the sound and image his first wife wasn't quite fulfilling.   She was the muse he had been waiting for his whole life:  a girl who idolized him giving him the power he craved, a scrappy neighborhood gal who gave him the street cred he need to appear cool and tough, and a girl in possession of a rare youthful, high-pitch vibrato that can pierce the "Wall of Sound".  “Their courtship provided the raw material and the emotional spark behind many of the Ronettes’ recordings,” said music writer David Hinckley, and Ronnie later reflected that Phil had written their first album of passionate love declarations to her and when she would sing them to him, in the dark booth, they would lock eyes, later retiring to Spector's digs to listen to the album playing on repeat while in the throes of passion.  "Man, between my singing and him teaching me the songs, it was like the best feeling in the world.  Like, mmmm.... Then from that first song "Baby I love you" he was telling me he loved me and then "Do I love you, Yes I love you"-- that was record Phil and I made love to the first time.   In the 60s you didnt have the cassettes like you have today, you had a turntable, and you pick up the needle and so every time we made love, and the record would come to an end, we'd start it all over again.  And we played that record all night long"  Ronnie remembers.   The artist-muse/ teacher-student relationship they shared was intoxicating, with Phil possessed by his role of maestro and Ronnie enjoying being molded for fame by a powerful teacher, creating art on vinyl detailing their union, right under the nose of Spector's wife.   Ex-Ronette Talley says the two were a fitting match "With her, it becomes 'me, me, me, me, me.  Phil's [also] got some 'me, me, me, me, me' issues."

From the moment "Be My Baby" was first released, teens and young musicians alike praised The Ronettes hailing Ronnie and Phil King and Queen of a whole new teenage sound. "The July 1963 edition of Billboard music magazine reviewing the song called The Ronettes a top singing group “who handle this dramatic material with flair,” adding that the song’s backing “has a stunning, rolling rock sound that’s bound to make the disc score with the kids” (Pop Dig). Brian Wilson declared the single the best of pop music history, causing him to pull the car to the side of the road to absorb the song when he first heard it on the radio.  Though Phil remained married to his first wife while he and Ronnie were in the depths of their passionate affair, Phil was possessive of Ronnie, restricting her from interacting with other male musicians-- and even her fellow female singers, friends, and family.  Ronnie recounted how Phil would keep her by his side at all times while he worked.  She would see the other girls laughing and chatting between takes as they belted out their harmonies, but Phil wouldn't let Ronnie join the fun.  Secretly though, Ronnie was likely flattered to be the special pet of this powerful little music industry titan, relishing her place as his pet-mistress, and happy to be play second-fiddle to his legitament relationship just to be given an elevated position from the singing slaves Phil fashioned out of his artists.  "He would say, 'You're my inspiration,'" she recalls.  Often, he would reprimand her for little things like a child, and she often was sent to bed hungry.  Of course, later in life Ronnie paints the picture as a helpless victim, but all accounts, she was a willing participant, at least early on, in this unhealthy union, savoring every moment with this Kingly figure, intoxicated with his self-possessed image and obsession with his art--- a vision that held her up as the beehived venus he has created.  At this point in The Ronettes fame, they were asked to tour with the Stones and (again, though he was still married) Phil was petrified that Ronnie would fall for one of these god-like new Rock stars filing in from England.  Of course, Phil did have something to fear:  Ronnie was striking up a warm friendship with Keith Richards, who later called Ronnie his 'first love'.  

Ronettes carouse with the Beatles in England, 1965.  George, John, and Paul in the right column.

The UK-US connection:  Spector & The Ronettes hobnob with the Beatles & Stones, 1964.

So, in 1963 the young Stones opened for the Ronettes on their first British tour. The crowds went wild for these beehived badgirls and the Ronettes received an even more euphorious reaction than in the states. The exotic sight of these racially ambiguous chicks donning Brigitte Bardot style symbols of sex with a tough edge from the New York streets drove fans wild. The hysteria prompted the British press to run the headline “Girls Scream at Stones, Boys for Ronettes.” Sensing the major attention Ronnie was getting on her first foray out of Phil's sight, he sent out a decree that up-and-coming young Rolling Stones weren't to touch, talk to, or even nod in the direction of The Ronettes for fear of their career.   The Ronettes, having no idea the musicians on tour were given this mandate, were puzzled as to why these lads from London were acting so stand-offish, and when confronting them on it, were told they were just following Phil's orders.  The girls told the Stones that there was no need to be uptight and after The Ronettes broke the ice, they became fast friends. 

Keith Richards wrote about the tour in his autobiography Life,

"The Ronettes were the hottest girl group in the world, and early in 1963 they'd just released on of the greatest songs ever recorded, "Be my baby," produced by Phil Spector. We toured with the Ronettes on our second UK tour and I fell in love with Ronnie Bennett, who was the lead singer. She was twenty years old and she was extraordinary, to hear, to look at, to be with. I fell in love with her silently, and she fell in love with me. She was as shy as I was, so there wasn't a lot of communication, but there sure was love. It all had to be kept very quiet because Phil Spector was and notoriously remained a man of prodigiuos jealousy. She had to be in her room all the tie in case Phil called. And I think he quickly got a whiff that Ronnie and I were getting on, and he would call people and tell them to stop Ronnie seeing anybody after the show. Mick had cottoned to her sister Estelle, who was not so tightly chaperoned.... She later told me that Phil was jealous of my abundant barnet [london slang for hair]."

U.K. tour bill, Ronettes & Rolling Stones, January 1964.
U.K. tour bill, Ronettes & Rolling Stones, January 1964.
Ronnie, who contributed to Richard's bio, added:

"Keith and I made ways to be together-- I remember on that tour, in England, there was so much fog that the bus had to actually stop.  And Kieth and I got out and we went over to this little cottage and this old lady came to the door, sort of heavy and so sweet-- and I said, "Hi I'm Ronnie of the the Ronettes" and Keith said "I'm Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and we can't move our bus because we can't see any farther than our hands...."  So se says, "Oh! Come on in, kids, I'll give you something!" and she gave us scones, tea, and then she gave us extra ones to bring back to the bus and to be honest, those were the happiest days of my entire career."   Keith finishes,  "We just fell in love, like you do when you hear a record like "Be my baby", and suddenly you are! But same old story, can't let anybody else know.  So it was a terrible thing in a way.  But basically, it was just hormones.  And sympathy.  Without us even thinking about it, we both realized that we were awash in this sea of sudden success and that other people were directing us and we didnt like it.  But nothing much you can do about it  Not on the road.  But then, we would never have met if we had not been in this weird situation.  Ronnie only wanted the best for people.  And never quite got the best for herself. "

U.K. poster bill for Ronettes, Rolling Stones & others, January 1964.
U.K. poster bill for Ronettes, Rolling Stones & others, January 1964.
“…We were headliners over in London, and … the Rolling Stones, they were our opening act… So that’s how we met them actually. And we all traveled together. They were great guys. And I loved Keith. He loved me. My sister was usually with Mick … and Nedra was with Brian, you know. But we all were together… Like, having dinner together and eating. There was not a lot of sex and all that kind of stuff going on with us. I think that came later on with the [Stones'] groupies and all that. But with us, there was none of that… unfortunately (laughs). My mother toured with us everywhere, so I didn’t get really a chance to do anything, but I didn’t want to then…” The Ronettes were also introduced to The Beatles, and had spent some personal time with them during the tour. There was at least one night of dancing with John, George and Ringo, as Ronnie later recalled, noting that Paul McCartney was then involved with Jane Asher. Estelle and George Harrison had paired off in the dancing, as Ronnie remembered that evening, while she spent some time with John Lennon. The Ronettes, in fact, having befriended the Beatles on their first tour of Britain, were on hand February 8, 1964 to welcome the Beatles in New York as they arrived for their first U.S. visit and their Ed Sullivan Show appearance. As for the Rolling Stones, on a subsequent visit they made to New York in the 1960s, Ronnie’s mother would end up cooking for them at her home. (Via Pop Dig)

So, in 1964, during the Stones first US gig, Ronnie could return the favor and host the Stones in The Big Apple.  Ronnie and Keith hid out at her mother’s house in Harlem with the whole gang. Ronnie remembers, in Life :

"The first time Keith and Mick came to America, they weren't successful, they slept on my mother's living room floor up in Spanish Harlem.  They had no moeny, and my mom would get up in the morning and make them bacon and eggs, and Kieth would always say, "Thank you, Mrs. Bennett." And then I took them to see James Borwn at the Apollo, and thats what made them so determined.  Those guys went home and came back superstars after I showed them what I did, how I grew up,, and how I went to the Apollo Theater when I was eleven years old.  I took them backstage adn they met all these rhythm and blues stars.  I remember Mick standing there shaking when we passed James Brown's room."

Richards says in the book: "The first time I went to heaven was when I awoke with Ronnie (later Spector!) Bennett asleep with a smile on her face. We were kids. It doesn’t get any better than that. Just more refined. What can I say? She took me to her parents' house, took me to her bedroom. Several times, but that was the first time. And I'm just a guitar player. You know what I mean?" Ronnie has commented on the love affair in several interviews: "I like all the Rolling Stones, Mick and everyone, but by far, Keith was the sexiest for me. He was just laid-back. Mick was out there doing his little silly dance and stuff, but Keith was never like that. He was always Mr. Cool."  And, the relationship has never ended:  Keith and Ronnie still meet up to make recordings. Richards wrote tenderly about Ronnie in his bio, then gave her a copy, writing on the first page "Its a love affair". she also admitted the attraction saying "I should have married Keith. Our kids would have great hair." and stating that they "still carry a torch for each other". She and Richards still flirt with fate: "I was just with him like three or four months ago. He has a basement with a studio down there, so he'd get me in the corner and say, 'Ronnie, you know I'm — ' And I said, 'Hey! Your wife is upstairs. What are we going to do?' So we still carry that torch, but no hugging or kissing or stuff like that." In Life, Richards said, "I’ve always kept in touch with Ronnie. On the night of 9/11 we were recording together, a song called ‘Love Affair,’ in Connecticut. It’s a work in progress."

Ronnie's last Phil produced record Try Some, By Some.

Phil and Ronnie finally tied the knot in 1968, moving to a 23-room mansion in California, which, unbeknownst to Ronnie, sealed the deal that ended their glory days as artistic partners. “…I was naïve and vulnerable. I was a girl from Spanish Harlem – he thought he could take advantage, and he did. And I was vulnerable, ’cause I loved to sing…” Ronnie said Phil would always comfort her career woes saying ‘Don’t worry, you’ll have another hit.” But Ronnie soon realized she was now the princess locked in the castle, the butterfly under the glass, a possession of mad genius Phil, never to see the outside world again.  She embodied the image of the girl put on a pedastle, but as Simone de Beauvoir tells, the pesdastle position, over looking all, is just a prison on a platform.    Ronnie had dreamed of a career but that was the last thing Phil wanted for her, the inescapable gates went up around all sides of the mansion and the guard dogs were deployed. Phil's self-proclaimed masterpiece, a record with Ike & Tina, only rose to number 88 on the charts, one of Phil's first flops as mega-producer, and he became a recluse, paralyzed by his old insecurities, from his stature to pre-mature balding.  "He was so upset over his hair!" says Ronnie. "When we had dinner, everything was really dim, because he had bad hair. Toupees." She pauses. "Boy oh boy - it got so hard to do anything because of his hair. If he couldn't get his hair right, he'd say, 'I don't feel good.'"  Insecurities stemmed from early events in Phil's life that left him feeling physically powerless and insecure.  in 1958 Phil was accosted in a public bathroom by a group of tough guys that urinated on him, prompting him to have a bodyguard and guns with him from then on.  

But hair worries were the lighter side of Phil's insecurities, at the mansion, every move Ronnie made was dictated by Phil.  She was sent to watch Citizen Kane endlessly, supposedly to send the message that she would be nothing without him, and when he felt she needed the reminder, he showed her a glass coffin and told her to picture a Snow White -esque scene where the beautiful girl was asleep forever at the whim of her prince who had to giver her the kiss of life.  "It was a sick love," she says. "He even said, 'I have a glass casket in the basement, for Ronnie. So I can look at her anytime I want.' But I was in love with the guy, so I didn't think that was too bad." By all accounts, by the 70s, the house was a fortress, impossible to penetrate, guarded by an army of staff, answering to Phil Spectre, and Phil Spectre only, and subject to his every whim.  Ronnie was completely cut off from family and friends, forbidden to read books or make phone calls, and Spectre's minions, his paid servants, were sure to carry out their job of keeping her imprisioned within the Castle walls.  By this time Phil was also starting to enact weirder behaviours on the job.  Fueled by drink and drugs, Phil would arrive at the recording studios in odd costumes or scientific lab coats, bringing guns to the sessions, while producing records for major stars like the Beatles (Let it Be).  In 1973, during sessions for John Lennon's "Lost Weekend" album of oldies covers, Rock And Roll, Spector and Lennon chased demons together in drinking marathons recorded on tape in a series of screams and a cacophony of music. Samples from this infamous session can be heard on Lennon's Anthology box set. Once during these wild sessions Phil even shot a gun into the air from inside the studio . A frazzled Spector then disappeared with the session tapes which took Lennon months to recover. Meanwhile, Phil had been supervising Ronnie in the studio and stockpiling recording mountains of tape for a supposed 'new album'. Eventually, Ronnie was left wondering when the songs would be released until finally Phil did, with the help of The Beatles, release her new single called Try Some, Buy Some for The Beatles' Apple label.  The album, passed off as a Ronettes' track, boasted "the voice of Veronica" but Ronnie appears a melancholy, glassy-eyed captive on the album cover.   Phil had become a mega-star producer with the midas touch, and his wild behavior was considered par-for the course in Hollywood, but no one knew the extent of Phil's abusive behaviour that occured within the walls of his home. 

Spector with Lennon, Harrison, and a friend or bodyguard trying to wrestle the gun out of his hands.

What could be worse than a pair engulfed in a sick love affair?  Adding children to the deadly recipe.  Phil had three children adopted to please Ronnie, presented to her like puppies under the Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, as when children are given puppies wrapped in shiny paper, the enthusiasm wears off when the daily responsibilities set in, and the children were neglected, reporting sexual and physical abuse at the hand of Phil as well.   When Ronnie's mother was allowed in one day in the early 70s, and gave Ronnie a dose of reality, they both realized it was time to make a break.  Ronnie didn't give the children a second thought and got out of the house wearing only the clothes on her back, "I knew I was going to die there. We stayed up three days and three nights plotting our escape. He had two dogs at the front gates. A dog by the car. I was trapped. My mother said, 'Don't wear any shoes,' and asked Phil if she could take me for a walk. He looked down, saw I didn't have any shoes on, and said OK." recalled Ronnie.  She later tried to get custody of the oldest boy Donte, but Spector was too cunning for that. Back when his psychological torment became too much, Ronnie would check-in to 'hospitals' for the weekend feigning a mental breakdown just to get away, and he used her psychitrict treatment against her in the custody battles to prove she was an unfit mother. In 1980, Ronnie lost custody of the kids but Donte, the oldest, escaped to the local police station to get help.

While Ronnie regained her freedom after Phil, she wasn't out of the rut yet. She started a passionate affair with a young guy named Josh Friedman. He described her as "Godzilla disguised as Gidget", she could be both sweet and horrific, in a Dr. Jackel Mr. Hyde switch of demeaner. She was still in her 20s, already irrelevant in music and relegated to Oldies gigs where she was just one of the many acts, rather than the star. Ronnie, now a heavy drinker, and still psychologically suspetible to Phil's brainwashing, couldn't let him go, and they continued to talk on the phone. Friedman said that Ronnie would go into a trance-like state when Phil called, and when she had a promising deal in the works, Phil would find a way to sabotage her. Ronnie's relationship with Friedman ended in a spat where Ronnie flipped out and sent Friedman and the maid packing. Friedman always regarded the maid just some poor old woman who came by three times a week to straighten up, and when they were both kicked out he turned to her to vent about Ronnie, and found out, she was actually Ronnie's mother! A lady that Ronnie had only spoke about as 'the maid'.

"Over the next 20 years, Ronnie and Phil have remained in each other's lives, in the most unhealthy, counterintuitive ways possible. The Ronettes sued Phil for back royalties; Phil countersued; the Ronettes eventually won. After Phil was arrested in connection with the death of Lana Clarkson in 2003, Ronnie defended him to the press, insisting that Phil wasn't that homicidal - he may have threatened to kill Ronnie, but he wasn't going to do it personally. He was going to hire hit men" (NY Post).  But unfortunately, Ronnie refused to comply with police and discuss the details of their relationship. Some are convinced that Phil paid her to stay quiet about it. The children Phil adopted evenutally got out, but not without heaps of psychological torment over the years they were held prisoner in Phil's mansion. The oldest son was living homeless out of a car, just blocks from the mansion where he grew up. And the middle child has since went public with the story, telling of the years he was locked in the bedroom of the mansion. But the torment Phil had imparted on the children were far too much for Ronnie to handle as she still focuses on building her image as the original badgirl, and she doesn't contact her adopted children anymore. She feels she needs to focus on her career, and all her lost star potential, after those years were stolen from her, and doesn't have time for family concerns.

Ronnie partying the 70s and 80s with the likes of Debbie Harry and other music industry friends.

When the Ronettes were finally inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Ronnie commented, "I was at a private party [for inductees] the other night, and they gave me a chocolate disc with my name on it, and it was the best party I ever had. The guy from the Village People hugged me - that's my reward. It was all about me." She pauses. "I'm so, so happy to be getting my due. And it is due to me." Ever the fame seeker, Ronnie still tries to belt out her iconic tunes with sex-kitten-turned-cougar stylings and gravely pipes ravaged by drink and smokes.

Ronnie's sister Estelle had a difficult downfall after the Ronettes.  She had battled with anorexia and schizophrenia her whole life and the end of the group, and subsquent tumble from the flash bulbs of stardom into anomity was enough to trigger more intense bouts with anorexia and mental illness.  But even mentally ill she never gave up the Ronettes dream, wandering the streets telling strangers about shows.  She was present and conscious for the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame induction, her face lighting up as they celebrated their 60s hey-day, but died not long after, in 2009, of colon cancer.

Throughout the 70s Phil continued to have success, producing top acts, living a world of his own creation cushioned by his wealth.  Still engaging in wacky behavior at work, one infamous myth tells the studio collision of Phil with The Ramones:  In 1979, While producing "Rock n' Roll High School" Phil got stuck on his perfecting power trip, forcing the band to play the same opening guitar chord for eight hours straight until he got it just the way he wanted it. Finally, the frustrated band attempts to leave, but Phil pulls out a gun, threatening to pull the trigger unless they play his 1963 hit by the Ronettes, "Baby I Love You."   In 1989, Phil arrived at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction with a crew of bodyguards carrying guns and proceeded to thank the crowd, mumbling and falling from the stage.  Time Europe reported that Phil spent his night roving his large estate in a Batman costume.  Today Phil continues to benefit from the Ronettes fame as he cheated them out of royalities long ago, but is still embroiled in legal battles from the Ronettes royalities to the death of actress Lana Clark, in which he was found guilty on some counts.   Ronnie strangely commented, "Phil thought he was going to be the next OJ Simpson, but they hardly ever show him [on TV]."  The magnetic chemistry between Ronnie & Phil was really just that strange, heady cocktail of fame, artistry, and wealth that they shared and they are still drawn like moths to the fiery burn they made at their peak.   

----> You can see more on the life of Phil Spector in a recent BBC documentary called The Agony and the Esctasy of Phil Spector' , which the NY Times called "creepily riveting!"

Ronnie wrote an autobiography in the 80's called  Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness.

Fresh-faced & Sassy, circa 1964.


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