Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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SPECTOR, Phil

(b 25 December 1940, Bronx, NYC) Producer. To Los Angeles as a child; He formed vocal group the Teddy Bears in high school with Marshall Leib and Carol Connors (real name Annette Kleinbard) and had a smash hit with his own song 'To Know Him Is To Love Him' '58, inspired by memories of his father (a suicide when Spector was a child). He worked with Lee Hazlewood and Lester Sill in Phoenix, with Leiber and Stoller in NYC '60; co-wrote Ben E. King hit 'Spanish Harlem' with Leiber. He formed his Philles label with Sill '61 and developed a 'wall of sound' style by packing musicians into a small studio, using echo, tape loops etc, and made hit after hit by Darlene Love, Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans, the Ronettes, the Crystals and others.

He bought out Sill and became the youngest record company head and a millionaire at age 21, dubbed the Tycoon of Teen. His style dominated the period between rockabilly and the British Invasion, celebrating the teen idol genre and transcending it, using good songs, first-class arrangers and sidemen; his low output with a high success rate was good business. The records sounded sensational at the time on cheap transistor radios but were actually quite badly made; in those days piling overdubs on top of overdubs meant piling up hiss and distortion, but that's the way he wanted it; listening to too many of them in a row now brings on claustrophobia. An Xmas album featuring Spector artists was released the weekend JFK was shot; it was not shipped then, reissued '67 and sold annually for many years. The Righteous Brothers' hit 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' '65 was the high point; Ike and Tina Turner's 'River Deep/Mountain High' '66 flopped in USA (but charted twice in UK); the story that the sound was too black for white disc jockeys and too white for black didn't ring true: the white Righteous Brothers sounded black and the Spector style was an influence on black pop; it may be true that disc jockeys decided not to play it for their own reasons. Spector was incensed, turned paranoid and retired, but in fact his time was passing.

He did a cameo in film Easy Rider '69, produced John Lennon disc 'Instant Karma' and doctored tapes of final Beatle album Let It Be '70 (to the dismay of some); produced Plastic Ono Band for Lennon '71, All Things Must Pass and Bangla Desh LPs for George Harrison '70-1; financed Kung Fu film Enter The Dragon '73, worked with Cher, Dion, others. His place in pop history was assured, but he was leading a troubled life. He was married to Veronica Bennett of the Ronettes '68-74; in 1988, the original Ronettes sued Spector, seeking $10 million in unpaid royalties and income from licensing the group’s recordings; they said that they had received only one payment from Spector, for $14,482.30. Ronnie couldn't sing her hit 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' in late 1996 because Spector wouldn't let her. The group lost the licensing part of the case but were said to have collected more than $1 million in royalties after many years of litigation. (While he was in court Spector won a fight for the UK copyright of his own first hit.)

It was widely believed that Spector as a member of the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had prevented the Ronettes from being nominated for induction there because of Spector's acrimonious divorce, and because of the ongoing suit for back royalties. But while Spector was awaiting trial on a murder charge and out on $1 million bail, the Ronettes were finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 12 March 2007, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC.

Like quite a few other rock'n'roll people, Spector is apparently a gun nut, with in his case a long history of threatening women. In February 2003 nightclub hostess Lana Clarkson was found dead at his home; Spector said she had shot herself through the mouth, but her fingers were said to have had defensive wounds. He was charged with 2nd degree murder; a jury was deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction, a mistrial declared in September 2007 and a new jury selected in October 2008. Meanwhile Spector married for the second time, to aspiring actress and singer Rachelle Short, on 1 September 2006. He was convicted on 12 April 2009 and on 28 May was sentenced to 15 years to life with four years tacked on for 'personal use of a gun'.