This article was originally written by Chuck Miller for Goldmine magazine in 1998.
At the center is a voice. A voice that could wring emotion out of any lyric; a voice that could capture an audience and share the emotions of ecstacy and pain and love and longing. A voice that has evolved over the past four decades of performing – a voice that captured rock singers and producers and presidents and servicemen and family members and music lovers all over the world. It was a coquette’s voice, packed in Salome’s body and powered by the diesel engine of rock and roll.
It was born in the street corner serenades of Spanish Harlem; it grew alongside a Wall of Sound; it almost lost the sunshine in a California hothouse; but it came back even stronger, thriving with the Boss and Eddie Money and a whole new audience. And today, armed with the energy of a new record label and the support of her husband, her family and three generations of fans, Ronnie Spector is back on stage and back in the record stores – ready to take back her place in the tapestry of rock and roll history.
“Just before I go on stage,” said Ronnie, “my heart starts beating hard, and it’s like ‘oh no…’ – and then you get out there, and after that first song and going into the second song, that’s when it all starts happening for me. That’s when I know if I have the audience or not, and I can usually tell in the first couple of songs if I have them. Once you take the stage, it’s like you don’t have any problems, you don’t think about your children, you don’t think about your husband, you don’t think about anything but the people in the audience and pleasing them. I feel I have to give them my all, because they paid to come see me. It’s a love relationship you have with your audience – they give love to me, and it makes me love them. It’s impossible to not have that.”
An entire generation first heard Ronnie’s voice as the lead singer of the doo-wop bad-girl trio the Ronettes, as she cooed “Be My Baby” in the summer of 1963. But some music fans say her singing career began on August 10, 1943, when Veronica Bennett, on her first day of life, sang at the top of her lungs at the maternity ward. Ronnie grew up in Spanish Harlem, New York’s true melting pot. “I went back to the neighborhood three years ago, when I was doing a piece for Entertainment Tonight. I loved being in Spanish Harlem, because at night you heard the Tito Puente records and the Spanish music that was lulling me to sleep. I grew up hearing the music outside the window.”
Veronica loved hearing music so much, she would perform her own living room concerts for her family, singing top 40 songs of the day like “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” or “Jambalaya” for them. Her mother, Beatrice Bennett, made ends meet by working as a waitress at King’s Donuts in Spanish Harlem.
One day during her shift, Bobby Schiffman, whose family owned the legendary Apollo Theatre, entered the donut shop and started up a conversation with Ronnie’s mother. That conversation lead to an opportunity for Ronnie and her sisters and cousins to appear at Amateur Night at the Apollo. At the age of 14, Veronica Bennett, her sister Estelle and her cousin Nedra Talley, practiced for their first performance in front of a non-upholstered audience. Feeling that a trio wouldn’t be enough, they added two more cousins, Elaine and Ira, and took the stage at the Apollo.
Unfortunately, once the curtain went up, lead singer Ira was hit by stage fright. With the orchestra playing “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” Ronnie took charge – she grabbed the microphone from Ira’s hands, and sang a four-star performance that won over the discerning Apollo audience.
By 1960, the trio of Veronica, Estelle and Nedra started working with a small time agent, Phil Halikus, who had connections with the Brill Building and its team of songwriters. For almost a year, Halikus got the girls – now known as the “Darling Sisters” – their first paying gigs, birthday parties and bah mitzvahs. Within a year, Halikus upped the ante and introduced the Darling Sisters to Stu Phillips of Colpix Records, and the girls recorded their first 45’s.
Many of the songs recorded at the Colpix sessions were either Top 40 standards like “Silhouettes” or Brill Building assembly-line product like “You Bet I Would,” written by a young Carole King. Colpix released one single from the recording sessions, “Sweet Sixteen,” credited to “Ronnie and the Relatives,” and the girls bought as many copies as they could for family and friends.
But despite Ronnie and the Relatives’ enthusiasm, “Sweet Sixteen” sold very few copies, and it was back to the bar mitzvah circuit. “Most of the songs I recorded for Colpix I really didn’t understand, because we were too young. The only song I liked was ‘(What’s So Sweet About) Sweet Sixteen,” because I was sixteen, and I didn’t have a hit record, so I was very depressed because of it. So certain songs I could relate to. But we didn’t have a say-so in picking our songs back then.”
But by that time, Ronnie wanted to move forward – she wanted to go to the Peppermint Lounge, the top dance club in New York City and home of the “Twist” dance. In 1961, the Peppermint Lounge was the place to be at and to be seen. Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra took a chance and went to the Peppermint Lounge, hopefully to find a job performing or singing in the club.
When the front door guard saw the three girls, their hair teased high and their hem lines even higher, with two of them looking suspiciously under age to enter a club that served alcohol, he went inside to get a manager. The manager came out, saw Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra, and asked, “What are you doing out here on line? You’re already late!”
Instantly, the girls were whisked into the Peppermint Lounge, and placed on stage to dance behind Joey Dee and the Starliters, who were performing that night. The manager had mistaken Ronnie and the Relatives for some dancing girls that he had hired, and when those girls didn’t show up and these girls did … opportunity knocked, and Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra all made the most of it. They danced behind Joey Dee, and when Ronnie was offered the microphone during a performance of “What’d I Say,” she excitedly tore into the song, to the amazement of the band and the audience. Eventually the girls were welcomed as regulars at the Peppermint Lounge.
“You never saw people taking drugs at the Peppermint Lounge,” said Ronnie. “It’s like a different world now, because drugs are so much a part of everything. In the 60’s, when I was in the Peppermint Lounge, I never smelled a joint, I never saw people taking drugs – I saw people having fun. And it was not like – let’s drink and take drugs to get the feeling of the beat. It was none of that. When people drank there, it was because you had been dancing so long, the drink was just to quench your thirst – whether it was a soda or scotch. But it was certainly not a ‘let’s go there to get drunk’ place. In the 60’s, everything was fun. And that’s what’s missing now, I think.”
By then, the girls had also changed their name – no longer the Darling Sisters or “Ronnie and the Relatives,” at the suggestion of Ronnie’s mother, the girls took their first names and combined them into the “Ronettes.”
Joey Dee took them to Florida, where they helped him opened the Miami branch of the Peppermint Lounge. During one of their performances, the Ronettes caught the eye of Murray “the K” Kaufman, the legendary New York disc jockey. Kaufman immediately hired Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra for his shows at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre, were teenagers could pay $2.50 for the pleasure of seeing ten to fifteen Top 40 artists of the day. On those shows, the Ronettes were introduced as “Murray’s Dancing Girls,” and also sang backup for other artists on the show. The Ronettes had their own time on stage, and their performances – unbridled sensuality coupled with tough doo-wop harmonies, with their high-teased hair and thick Spanish Harlem eyeliner and slitted miniskirts – was so different from the demure appearances of girls like the Shirelles or the Chantels that it captivated the crowd.
In the audience at the Brooklyn Fox was a young producer who already had some hits to his credit, Phil Spector. He enjoyed the concerts at the Brooklyn Fox, and noticed the reaction that many of these acts had with the kids in the audience. He also noticed the with no songs on the radio and no singles in the stores, the Ronettes still generated enthusiastic applause.
One afternoon, Estelle and Ronnie were talking in their bedroom, discussing getting back into a recording studio and making records again. Eventually, Estelle got the idea to call Phil Spector – and that maybe the man who had a #1 hit with the Crystals could get them a #1 hit as well. Within an instant, Estelle got the phone number for Philles Records, and told the secretary she wanted to speak to Phil Spector himself. Amazingly, the secretary put the call through directly to Spector. Spector knew about the Ronettes from the Brooklyn Fox shows, and gladly offered them a chance to record for him.
Originally, Phil only wanted to sign Ronnie to a contract, but Beatrice Bennett said that the Ronettes were a package deal – sign all three or none at all. So in 1962, Veronica Bennett, Estelle Bennett and Nedra Talley became part of Phil Spector’s Philles Records.
The Ronettes arrived at a most opportune time – Phil Spector’s artists were benefitting from a “Wall of Sound,” a multitracked, overdubbed aural symphony Phil used as the smorgasbord to highlight his singers, with his “wrecking crew” of session musicians like Hal Blaine on drums, Leon Russell on piano, and Glen Campbell on guitar. And the stable of writers Phil used – Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Pete Andreoli and Vinnie Poncia – were among the top tunesmiths of their day.
The Ronettes were also among a new wave in pop music, as girl groups like the Angels, the Shangri-Las, the Chiffons and the Orlons were bringing female pop music harmony from its “I wish I had a boy who loved me” malaise into a lyrically tougher edge; why wait for Richie or Potsie when you can demand – and get – Fonzie or Chachi.
Even though the Ronettes rehearsed and recorded songs like “Why Don’t They Let Us Fall In Love,” Phil Spector looked instead for a song he felt would showcase Ronnie’s powerful voice in the best possible light. One day, when Phil invited Ronnie to his New York penthouse apartment, then disappeared for a while, Ronnie could hear Phil working around a piano with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich on a new song. Through the walls of the penthouse, all she could hear was “Be my baby, be my baby now…”
It was the missing piece to the puzzle.
Recorded in July 1963 at Gold Star Studios, Phil Spector’s acoustically favorite recording setting, “Be My Baby” had all the earmarks of a great hit – a booming hooky intro and chorus, the thick “Wall of Sound” background, all centered around Ronnie’s voice – a song sung not in passive tense (“I want him”), but in the active tense (“I want you”). It was a song aimed at every teenage boy who wanted to date a different kind of girl – not the prom queen, but the tough girl who could clobber her adversary like Mae Young could defeat the Fabulous Moolah.
That summer, “Be My Baby” took off like a rocket, taking root on every radio station and TV dance party. It eventually reached #2 in Billboard and #1 in Cashbox, and people in the Peppermint Lounge were slow twisting to a brand new hit. Suddenly the Ronettes went from being “Murray the K’s Dancing Girls” to headliners at the Brooklyn Fox and at the Apollo Theatre.
“On the marquee, the Ronettes’ name was as big as the words APOLLO,” said Ronnie, “and I was in shock. When I was a little girl, my mother worked right next door as a waitress, and I had to come there every day after school and be stuck in the employment lounge of the donut shop, and the Apollo was everything to me. The lights, the excitement, that’s where you saw people laughing. I was 10, 11 years old, watching all these happy people and lines around the block. So the Apollo, to me, was like my God, it’s like royalty if you go over there. If the audience loved you, the whole world will love you if the Apollo loves you. I used to watch people going into this place, all my young life, from 7, 8 years old, and saying, there must be some incredible performers in there, to have all these lines of people outside. And mind you, the people were not all just black people, they were white, Chinese, Spanish – of course, today, they say the Apollo is for Black stars. But when I was a little kid growing up, I saw white, black, Spanish, Chinese, everybody standing on line. It wasn’t like a black place to go – in my mind, as a little girl, that’s all I saw is those lines, and I saw people from every color.”
But when the Ronettes headlined that evening, a riot broke out among rival ethnic gangs over what nationality the girls really were. One all-black gang said the Ronettes were black like them, while a Hispanic gang said the girls were Spanish, like them. The girls were indeed multi-racial – black, white, Spanish, Chinese, a family tree of many different roots – but when they took the stage that night at the Apollo, they were accepted by all races and nationalities in the audience.
With their success, the Ronettes were booked on an international tour, and a new group called the Rolling Stones were their British opening act. When the Stones made their first concert appearances on American soil, Ronnie brought them into her home in New York, where Beatrice cooked homemade breakfasts for them. Ronnie never lost contact with the Rolling Stones, especially lead guitarist Keith Richards.
Flash forward to December 1998, when Ronnie Spector performed a Christmas show in New York. She sang a mixture of three decades of her hits and classics, then “special guest” Joey Ramone joined her for a duet on “Baby I Love You.”
Then, Ronnie points to stage right and says “Our next guest needs no introduction…”
And Keith Richards, guitar in hand and ready to rock, hits the stage. He hugged Ronnie, sang a Chuck Berry classic, and closed with “Be My Baby.”
For Ronnie, the memories of working with Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones flooded back like a bright light in a dark room. “I love Keith Richards,” said Ronnie. “He’s raw and he’s real, and seeing him at the Christmas show, it was like I saw him a few weeks ago. It was like we still had that same vibe, I could tell that once he hit that stage, him and that guitar. And it was just like it was in the 60’s, a 30-year flashback, the most amazing feeling.
“It was more than that though, because before they came to America and stayed in my house and slept on the floor, we toured with them – they were the nicest guys, and we just kept up a relationship, either through mail or faxing or phone calls through years and years and years. When I saw Keith last year, all those feelings came running back to me. It was sort of sexual – I felt like he was saying to me, ‘Where have you been?’ – I felt his compassion for me, in other words. We were both married of course, but if we could have spent one night together … The look I had in my eyes, and the look I knew he had in his eyes, it was like ‘If we could only have one night together, forget about our wives and husband and kids, just me and you, babe’ – it was that feeling.
“I’ve always loved the Rolling Stones’ music, and if I do listen to something, if I go over to my sister-in-law’s house and stuff, I put the Rolling Stones on. I love their music, they stayed the same, which has made them great. Mick is out there, shaking his tush, and it’s so good to see people that are just out there, rocking and rolling, and that’s why they’re great and they always have an audience.”
It’s a sweltering summer Saturday in Central Park, the temperature as hot as your true love’s first kiss. Rollerbladers and bicyclists and dog walkers travel up and down the pathways; sunbathers increase their tans on Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. As four thousand people fill the seats for the first performance of “Summerstage 1999” – a free concert series featuring a variety of artists and musicians – Ronnie Spector gets ready. She had already wowed the parks volunteers and stagehands at the soundcheck; and as New York oldies disc jockey “Cousin Brucie” Morrow called out her name, she took the stage.
With every song she sang, the crowd cheered and begged for more. She sang all the classic oldies – “Baby, I Love You,” “Say Goodbye To Hollywood,” “I Can Hear Music.” By the time she got to her signature song, “Be My Baby,” there were four thousand Ronettes in the audience, all singing backup.
A hundred yards away from the Summerstage is Strawberry Fields, an enclave in Central Park dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. Ronnie remembered the Beatles – her career intertwined with the Fab Four’s so much she could almost be considered a fifth Beatle.
In December 1963, when the Ronettes made their first UK tour, executives from Decca Records (the Ronettes’ UK label) introduced the girls to the Beatles – and the early stages of Beatlemania. The Fab Four danced with the Ronettes all night, and before long, Estelle and George Harrison had paired off, while Ronnie spent some quiet time with John Lennon.
“Paul McCartney was with Jane Asher, they were engaged,” said Ronnie. “This was before Beatlemania took place, when they were just playing in clubs in England, I saw Paul and Jane sitting there, and I was dancing with George and Ringo and John, but Paul was sort of spoken for – and he’d be sitting there in a corner with Jane, and she was a TV star back then. She came from a very influential family, so he sort of did what she said back then.”
Ronnie and John’s conversations eventually brought them closer than friends, but both had other commitments – John had a wife and a baby on the way; and Ronnie was spending more personal time with Phil Spector. But throughout their lives, Ronnie and John never lost contact with each other – and eventually, John helped Ronnie in her solo comeback.
In 1963, a young singer-songwriter named Brian Wilson fell in love with “Be My Baby,” and attempted to write a follow-up record that the Ronettes could record. “That’s my all-time favorite song,” said Wilson in Rolling Stone. “When I first heard [‘Be My Baby’] in my car, I had to pull over to the side of the street to listen to it. It blew my mind.”
Wilson brought a demo of “Don’t Worry Baby” to Phil Spector, who rejected it in favor of his own compositions. Ronnie still remembered that day in the studio, with Wilson peeking through the window and waving at her, begging her to listen to his new song. “In those days, the producers wanted their own writers to write their own material. Brian Wilson didn’t care, he wrote ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ especially for me, after he heard ‘Be My Baby.’ I was very hot coming off a #1 record, ‘Be My Baby,’ and so Phil and Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry wrote ‘Baby, I Love You,’ while Brian Wilson wrote his song as if it was tailor-made for my voice and everything. In the early 60’s, the writers and the publishers were the main key that determined what your next song was. But ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ was a song that when I first heard it, I almost fell off the chair. It was such a perfect follow-up to ‘Be My Baby.’ You know what I mean? ‘Be My Baby,’ and then next, ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ how sexy is that? That is just so sexy.”
Disappointed but nonetheless undaunted, Wilson took the song back to the Beach Boys, whose version became a Top 40 classic.
Meanwhile, after putting the finishing touches on “Baby, I Love You,” Ronnie joined the rest of the Ronettes on tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars (replacing her cousin Elaine, who had been singing lead in Ronnie’s absence).
“What people don’t know is that when Dick Clark wasn’t doing American Bandstand, he was on a little dinky bus along with all the other acts, whether it was Little Eva or Frankie Avalon or Bobby Rydell, and it was so much fun. I love Dick Clark – when we went on our first tour with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, he only had a little bunk in the front to lay down in, and he would give me or the other two Ronettes the bunk, and he would let us lay down and he would stand next to the bus driver or with his wife. He didn’t demand anything just because he was the great Dick Clark. You could tell that he wanted everybody to make it. He was a man, and he was rich and he had his own TV show every Saturday – but to actually see this man on a bus, with all the groups, and not letting any of the groups go into hotels when they would give the black groups a hard time. I remember going inside diners and getting hamburgers for a lot of the black guys – I never thought about black or white until I traveled on the Dick Clark tours, and I saw people afraid to go into a restaurant because of the color of their skin and what might happen to them if they did.”
Although Philles Records held their own on the pop charts with the major labels like RCA, Capitol and Decca, they were still a small independent company, and financial success was only as good as their last hit 45. For Phil Spector, that meant every song had to be in instant hit – and the only way he could guarantee payment from the network of independent distributors was to produce hits that would dominate the airwaves and sell lots of copies. This drive for perfection, along with endless rehearsals and an end-justifies-the-means method of business, invariably drove wedges between the producer and many of his artists. He would record studio groups like the Blossoms, and release their material as “Crystals” hits. Even on the Crystals’ debut LP (Philles 4003), Ronnie Bennett’s unmistakable – and uncredited – voice can be heard singing lead on ‘The Twist” and “The Mashed Potato.”
In 1963, Spector harnessed many of his artists – the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, to an all-star Christmas album. A Christmas Gift for You(Philles 4005). The Ronettes sang “Frosty The Snowman,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “Sleigh Ride.” Although the record itself stiffed on its first release (John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, taking much of the Christmas mood out of the country), over the years the album has become a perennial holiday favorite, with the Ronettes’ tracks popping up on rock stations the way Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” and Elton John’s “Stepping Into Christmas” return like clockwork.
But if a Philles song didn’t become a hit out of the box, sometimes it was yanked right out of the catalog. When a Darlene Love song, “Stumble and Fall,” didn’t receive encouraging sales, it was replaced – catalog number and all – with the Ronettes’ “Walking In The Rain.” “Walking In The Rain,” with Ronnie’s vocals recorded in one take, became not only a huge Top 40 hit, but also became a successful marriage of voice and music and sound effects (the crash of thunder surrounding her in a recorded evening shower with the boy of her dreams).
By 1966, the Ronettes were booked for a tour through Germany. At an army base in Gelnhausen, the girls got ready for their show – and discovered their audience were wall-to-wall GI’s who were a continent away from their wives and girlfriends – and took out their testosteronic excitement on the Ronettes.
“I was afraid of Germany because of Hitler, because we heard all these terrible stories about Hitler when I was a kid. And before we went on tour, Phil wrote me a letter, saying, ‘How could you go to Germany?’ Because he was Jewish. But we were playing for the American soldiers. To go all the way over there and see how great it was, and to see how hungry those guys were to see a girl – three of us, all decked out with the slit skirts and the long hair and the eyeliner out to there. I was used to people being shocked with our look. But over there, to play for all men that weren’t having sex at the time – my God, we three thought we had created sex for them! Men were having orgasms on the floor!! I never forgot it, because they were so passionate towards us. One of the MP’s said, ‘Ronnie, you’ve got to get out of this place, they’re rioting, they’re throwing bottles and rocks!’ These guys were so in awe – their mouths had dropped and their eyes were as huge as 50-cent pieces, that’s how I remember their look – the look of LUST!!”
Eventually the professional and personal relationships of Phil Spector and Ronnie Bennett grew closer and closer, and they married in 1968. Mr. and Mrs. Spector moved to a Los Angeles mansion, where servants waited on Ronnie hand and foot. But before long, that California mansion became a claustrophobic prison – the day after their wedding night, workers surrounded the mansion with barbed wire and an electrical fence. Soon after that, the grounds became the domain of attack dogs, and woe be to any visitor.
Ronnie became a prisoner in her own mansion, a songbird with golden handcuffs and a platinum muzzle. Performing was out of the question; she was now Veronica Spector, multimillionaire producer’s wife. Whatever Phil thought she wanted, he bought for her – including three kids (including making Ronnie wear a pillow under her dress when people came over to the mansion so they would think she was pregnant) and a car (with its own inflatable replica of Phil Spector to ride shotgun in case somebody thought she was driving alone). In her book Be My Baby, she recounts stories of how she suffered from bouts of mental and emotional abuse at the hands of Phil Spector, and she eventually turned to an open liquor cabinet in the hopes of making the pain stop.
While Ronnie was shuttered in the mansion, many of the Ronettes’ biggest hits were re-appearing on the pop charts, albeit in radically different interpretations from the original “Wall of Sound” productions. Jay and the Americans had a Top 40 hit with “Walking In The Rain,” while the Partridge Family added that song on as an album track. Cissy Houston had an R&B hit with “Be My Baby.” And Andy Kim recorded two Ronettes songs – “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You.”
But Ronnie remained record-less – until 1971, when she crossed paths with the Beatles again.
Phil Spector had been working with John Lennon and George Harrison on their post-Beatle albums, and eventually signed Ronnie to a recording contract with Apple Records. As part of Spector’s deal with Apple, the former Beatles requested – and got – a recording contract for Ronnie Spector with Apple. She flew out to England, excited to record a George Harrison song like “My Sweet Lord” or “Here Comes The Sun.” What she got was something entirely different – a slow ballad called “Try Some, Buy Some” (Apple 1832).
Although the song did climb the Billboard charts, eventually peaking at #77, “Try Some, Buy Some” was a radical departure from previous Ronettes hits – the lyrics barely made sense (Ronnie tried her best with the song, but she never figured out who “Big Fry” was), the key was way out of Ronnie’s vocal range, and the tempo was as slow as a madrigal. There were plans for a proposed Ronnie Spector album featuring input from Lennon and Harrison, including a version of “You” that ended up on Harrison’s Extra Texture album, but the project never got off the ground, and Ronnie was flown back to the Spector compound.
“Try Some, Buy Some” reappeared once more, this time as recorded by Harrison on hisLiving in the Material World album. “[Phil] liked my ‘Try Some, Buy Some,'” said George Harrison in a Musician interview, “so we orchestrated it and knocked off a B-side for a Ronnie single on Apple in ’71 (“Tandoori Chicken”) … We also did a song which I later used on Extra Texture called ‘You.’ It was high for me, singing it, because I wrote it in Ronnie Spector’s key and put my vocals on the instrumental track we’d completed. [A proposed Ronnie Spector album] didn’t come out, because Phil couldn’t last in the studio for more than a few hours. We did about four very rough backing tracks. I loved those Ronettes records and those Phil Spector records. I still do.”
With the claustrophobia from being Phil’s trophy wife in a maximum security mansion bearing down on her, Ronnie found unique ways to escape – get so drunk that Phil would send her to a detoxification center; or spend nights at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Even Beatrice Bennett, Ronnie’s mother, came out for a visit and saw her daughter was an emotional train wreck. In 1972, Ronnie Spector, with the help of her mother, finally escaped the mansion. She had to leave barefoot; Phil had confiscated all her shoes. Two years later, the Spectors were divorced.
After Ronnie finally left Phil for good, she attempted to resurrect her career. Neither Estelle nor Nedra were interested or able to resume being Ronettes, so Ronnie hired two new singers, Denise Edwards and Chip Fields, as new Ronettes. With new producer Stan Vincent, she recorded two singles for Buddah – “Lover Lover” (Buddah 384) and a remake of “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine” (Buddah 408), and, with Fields and Edwards behind her, headlined a Madison Square Garden Richard Nader oldies show.
“Chip Fields and Denise Edwards weren’t family, they were two girls that I hired when I came back from California because the other two Ronettes didn’t want to sing any more. So I had to go out and find two new Ronettes. One of the girls that sang background with me, you know Kim Fields from The Facts of Life? Chip Fields was her mother, and she was one of the 70’s Ronettes. I remember going down to Harlem once, and Chip Fields was there with her manager, and they had this youth center for all the little kids in the neighborhood. And Chip and her manager would show all the girls in the youth center, there this is what you should look like to be a proper lady – meaning me. And I was very proud that they used me as an example of how you should look, talk, act and everything.”
Sitting in the Madison Square Garden audience, among the thousands of music lovers and oldies enthusiasts and doo-wop afficionados was a high school student named Jonathan Greenfield, who attended the show on his birthday. When Ronnie and the Ronettes took the stage and began their set, Greenfield was captivated – by Ronnie’s voice, by her sex appeal, by her very essence.
After the Madison Square Garden show, Ronnie and her new Ronettes, along with a three-piece band, headlined at New York’s Continental Baths. The crowd of towel-draped men loved Ronnie’s show, to the point where she exhausted her set list and started singing songs like “Superstition” and “Love Train.” “In true Bette Midler style,” said Melody Maker reporter Vicki Wickham, “‘tacky’ was the word, but it was glorious tack! … Ronnie always could sing. She still can … There’s definitely a place for Ronnie and the Ronettes in all our lives – and Ronnie at the Baths was perfect.”
In the audience one night at the Baths was a singer-songwriter named Johnny Thunders, who was better known to the patrons of CBGB’s as one of the members of the New York Dolls. Thunders loved Ronnie’s songs, and the emotion of her voice and the passion of her performance nearly brought him to tears. The paths of Ronnie Spector and Johnny Thunders would cross again after the Continental Baths – but not for another 25 years.
But returning to performing was difficult, more difficult than Ronnie could imagine. The divorce proceedings were anything but amicable; one night in Las Vegas, before she took the stage, Ronnie received a phone call from Phil Spector, who told her he hired a hitman to take her life that night. She began to drink more, hoping the alcohol would drown her fears – but it only intensified them. By 1975, Ronnie had disbanded her new Ronettes, and left the world of rock and roll behind.
Meanwhile, a new wave of Ronette-mania was rising – this time among East Coast musicians who grew up with the bad-girl-group sound of the Ronettes and pursued a career in the hopes of meeting somebody like Ronnie Spector.
Through her friendship with John Lennon, Ronnie met producer Jimmy Iovine, who was working on a new album for a band from Asbury Park, New Jersey, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. The musical energy the Jukes put out captured Ronnie’s attention, and eventually Iovine recorded her in a duet with Southside Johnny, “You Mean So Much To Me,” which later appeared on the Jukes’ debut album, I Don’t Want To Go Home. “I had nothing to do,” said Ronnie in Creem magazine, “so I went down there. And I freaked! You see, once I see music and lights there’s this urge; I can’t help it. They were singing and I started singing.”
Also in the recording studio that day was Bruce Springsteen, who had always been fascinated by Phil Spector’s production work. Ronnie and Bruce became fast friends, as Springsteen asked her tons of questions about who performed on what Crystals record, or how many guitars were used on a Righteous Brothers track. At that same time, a staffer from Epic Records, Steve Popovich, offered Ronnie a demo of a Billy Joel song – with Joel singing in a very high register, almost in Ronnie’s vocal range.
It turned out that Joel had specifically wrote the song with the Ronettes in mind. So armed with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and the Billy Joel song, Ronnie Spector began work on the single “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” (Epic 50374), the first recording with the E Street Band sharing a label credit. Although the record failed to chart, it is still considered by both Ronnie Spector fans and Bruce Springsteen fans as a watershed masterpiece – at a time when The Boss wasn’t even supposed to be recording, at least not legally. “When I recorded ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood,’ Bruce was getting sued, that was during the three years that he wasn’t supposed to do any recording or writings, because he was having those management programs. You see him on the picture sleeve with the E Street Band, but they don’t have his name anywhere, because he had given up all his royalties and rights to his writing, and he was in court trying to win all of that back. So while you’re in court, you cannot perform or write because it would only go to those people that he was suing.”
Bruce played shows with Ronnie Spector as his special guest, and they sang “Be My Baby” together in Asbury Park and East Rutherford and New York City, where she did a six-night stretch with Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Palladium Theater. “Many nights he was so confused, because he was so upset, he didn’t know the record business – like none of us really know it when you’re first getting in it, and you don’t know how people can steal from you and rip you off. He’d talk at length about it. We went to dinner a lot, he’d talk about how he didn’t know how cruel this business was until he signed these contracts with these people that ended up taking all of his songwriting away from him. I’ve been in and out of touch with Bruce and the band since the 70’s, especially the band members and all that, seeing them here and there. Some of them work on the Conan O’Brien show, and I’ve done shows with them, so I’ve seen them throughout the years.”
Even after “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” stiffed, Ronnie Spector accepted an invitation by Epic staffer Steve Popovich to record a version of a new song called “It’s A Heartache” in Nashville, with hopes of it hitting the country charts. On August 16, 1977, Ronnie recorded the song in Nashville (Elvis Presley died that day; Popovich withheld news of the King’s sudden death from Ronnie and the studio musicians, many of whom had recorded with Elvis, so that Ronnie would get at least one day of unaffected recording time). “It’s A Heartache” (Alston 3738) was released in March of 1978, but two different up-and-coming singers, Juice Newton and Bonnie Tyler, also recorded the song, and Tyler’s version eventually won the three-way cover war.
Even though Ronnie’s recording career was stumbing, her personal life was on the upswing. After meeting Jonathan Greenfield backstage at a production of The Neon Woman, a fast friendship turned into a solid relationship. By 1983, Mrs. Veronica Greenfield had found happiness as a wife and mother, while Jonathan became her manager and professional agent – as well as her support, her sounding board and her rock of Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, another person stepped up to offer Ronnie a recording contract. Genya Ravan, once a member of the Brooklyn girl group Goldie and the Gingerbreads, owned her own independent label (Polish Records), and wanted to produce a new wave/punk album which would introduce Ronnie’s music to a new audience. The album, Siren, took over two years to record – in an attempt to fit in with the new wave/punk/reggae sound permeating radio stations in the late 70’s, Ronnie and Genya went through thousands of demos. With the exception of one “nostalgic” track, “Happy Birthday Rock and Roll,” the rest of the songs on Siren were a melange of rockabilly, reggae, and punk tracks, including a remake of the Ramones’ “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” (Coincidentally, that same year the Ramones remade the Ronettes’ “Baby I Love You” on their Phil Spector-produced Edge of the Century album).
Despite Ravan’s good intentions and high hopes, Siren didn’t even chart. Critics gave the record lukewarm reviews, the record was hampered by a bizarre, in-your-face promotional campaign – for example, DJ’s received copies of the first single, “Darlin'” (Polish 202) that were actually wrapped in a “Support Polish Records” jockstrap.
“Obviously, the record wasn’t a hit, obviously Genya didn’t know what songs to really pick out for me. But I’ve seen her in the last couple of years, and we say hi and stuff. It’s like we let bygones be bygones. That album wasn’t ahead of its time, if you’re talking about Siren. I just think it was something for me to do – I was still going through my divorce, and I think I needed to do Siren to continue to work and not let my voice go away. So I did a lot of stuff just to stay out there in the rock and roll world.”
Flash forward to the spring of 1986, and rock singer Eddie Money was recording tracks for his new album Can’t Hold Back. One of those tracks, “Take Me Home Tonight,” would incorporate the refrain from “Be My Baby” into his song. Money, who was a big fan of the Ronettes, contacted Ronnie and told her that the only person who should sing “Be My Baby” on his song should be the girl who sang it in 1963. Ronnie agreed to do the vocals, integrating her voice with Eddie’s refrain.
Six months later, the song was released – and became a huge success. Not only was “Take Me Home Tonight” (Columbia 06231) the first Top 10 hit of Eddie Money’s career, but it brought Ronnie Spector back to radio stations for the first time in over 20 years. Ronnie and Eddie made a video of the song, where Eddie sings in an empty arena and Ronnie joins him at the end. The video was in heavy rotation on MTV, and Ronnie became an overnight video star. “The whole concept of the Eddie Money video is because there was no audience. If you see in the video, with my being on the very end of the record, it didn’t make sense for us to be singing together on stage. And that’s what’s so cool about it. Eddie and I are very good friends, he’s a hell of a guy, he has a great rock and roll voice, and he’s one of those guys who’s a kidder, but he’s also a family man, he has five kids, he’s another one of those people that has to have a home life in order to have a good stage life. You have to have something to go home to. And I think that’s why people like Eddie Money, Springsteen, me – all of those people that have both a home and a career can continue today. You don’t get so way away from the world, because you’re with your kids. So you have these two lives – when you’re so aggravated with the business, you can just be with your family.”
Eddie and Ronnie performed “Take Me Home Tonight” together on “American Bandstand”; they appeared together on the American Music Awards. And through the success of that single, Columbia Records offered Ronnie Spector her own recording contract – her first deal with a major label in over a decade. The album, Unfinished Business (Columbia 40620) featured another Eddie Money/Ronnie Spector duet, “Who Can Sleep?” as the first single, as well as songwriting contributions from Susannah Hoffs and Desmond Child. Ronnie even added her own take on Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love,” and the Diane Warren / Desmond Child track “Love On A Rooftop” had “smash hit” written all over it.
Unfortunately, once again the album and both its singles failed to chart. But this time Ronnie wouldn’t give up on her comeback. She eventually wrote her autobiography, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, Or My Life As A Fabulous Ronette (Harmony Books, 1990). Co-authored with Vince Waldron, the book pulled few punches as it provided readers with a glimpse into the world of Philles Records, Ronnie’s first marriage to Phil Spector, the aftermath, and her rebirth. Critics loved the book, comparing it to Mary Wilson’sDreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme and Tina Turner’s I, Tina as singers who overcame the odds and captured their piece of the rock music pie. Be My Baby became a best seller, and it sent a signal to the world that Ronnie Spector may have been had her ups and downs – but she was getting up again.
She also continued to perform, headlining an HBO special, “Legendary Ladies of Rock,” singing show-stopping harmonies with Belinda Carlisle and Grace Slick. When the motion pictureDirty Dancing made “Be My Baby” a radio hit all over again, Ronnie joined a Dirty Dancingconcert stage show for a worldwide tour. She was also inducted into the New York Music Hall of Fame, where she and her “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” songwriter Billy Joel shared the induction stage. And on a Tim Rice-composed album, Tycoon, Ronnie sang the torch song track “Farewell to a Sex Symbol.”
In 1990, joining fellow music veterans Freddie Cannon, Ben E. King, Mitch Ryder, Lesley Gore, Little Anthony and Brenton Wood at a “Magnificent 7” outdoor concert in Los Angeles’ Pacific Amphitheatre, Ronnie Spector took the stage to cheers and applause. She belted out her classic hits – “Be My Baby,” “Baby I Love You,” “Say Goodbye To Hollywood” – and when she sang “Walking In The Rain,” the skies opened up and a shower drenched the crowd, proving that Ronnie Spector’s music is popular among the heavenly multitudes.
Ronnie’s voice has always been the hallmark of her performances – even somebody who only knew the Ronettes from the radio knew Ronnie’s voice like an aural fingerprint. The voice was influenced in Spanish Harlem, when a teenage Veronica Bennett was awestruck by Frankie Lymon’s style and charisma when he fronted the Teen-Agers. In her youth, Ronnie played Teen-Agers records on her living room phonograph, singing to an imaginary audience songs like “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” and “I Promise To Remember” and “I Want You To Be My Girl.” She made up her own introductions and dedications and stage patter for her living room concerts, and before long she knew she wanted to be a singer like Frankie Lymon.
When “Be My Baby” was dominating the pop charts, Lymon called Ronnie and complimented her on the song. A compliment from her teenage idol? For Ronnie, that was like receiving manna from heaven. And when he visited the Bennett household one afternoon, Lymon asked Ronnie how she got those killer phrasings and vibrato in her voice. Ronnie couldn’t imagine that the man whose voice she emulated on those old 45’s was now asking her how she developed such a distinctive voice.
In 1991, Ronnie paid tribute to Lymon by performing his song “Creation of Love” onStreet Carols, a Christmas album by the doo-wop band Stormy Weather (Street Gold 1352). Featuring contributions from the Chi-Lites, the Spaniels, Jerry Butler and Gene “Daddy G” Barge, the album became a holiday doo-wop treasure. With Stormy Weather on backup vocals, Ronnie re-interpreted Lymon’s tender ballad into a passionate Christmas love song. “I love my regular Christmas songs, so I’m satisfied that my songs get played every Christmas. But ‘Creation of Love’ was a Frankie Lymon song, and this album gave me a chance to do a Frankie Lymon song. And I love doo-wop, all the stuff I grew up on. And when they called, I said of course I’ll do that, it’s Frankie. How could I refuse? That’s why I did it – it was all those voices, the doo-woppers were the pioneers of rock and roll. The voices meant everything then. I do think that people who did the doo-wop stuff, none of them got a fair deal, as far as royalties and writing songs. Years later, I did this Mysteries and Scandals show about Frankie Lymon, and I met Herman Santiago, one of the original guys, and I freaked out because I knew him and Frankie and the other guys because I lived in the neighborhood where they sang on the street corners, and they had all those hits, and now here’s this guy with nothing. Morris Levy couldn’t have written all those songs, because the Teen-agers were on the street corner singing those songs. I think all of those artists got totally ripped off. I thought I had it bad in the 1960’s, but these guys had it worse.”
In 1997, when Ronnie Spector performed at the G8 Summit, a gathering of the leaders of the eight most powerful nations in the world. Spector’s performance was part of a showcase of 20th-century popular music, as Chuck Berry dusted off his duckwalk, Lyle Lovett crooned his most soulful ballads, Michael Bolton stretched for his high notes, and Eartha Kitt purred through “C’est Si Bon.” When Ronnie took the stage and rocked through her classic hits, the leaders of the free world gave her a standing ovation.
“When we were doing this,” said Ronnie, “we were all backstage in the hallway, because they had this big marching band, The people on stage included Chuck Berry, Eartha Kitt, Michael Bolton, all these people, all on stage. And a whole 50-piece band. And when I finished singing, I had to stay on stage because you have to wait for the President and all the other leaders to stand up and leave before you could even move off the stage. There was so much security, it was amazing. They had dogs checking under chairs, and it blew me away because it was something you hear about but you really never see.
“And after the show was over, the Secret Service came up to me, and I hear the guy on the speaker phone saying, ‘The President would like to see Ronnie Spector, please.’ And so you hear my name all over the place, saying, ‘The President would like to see Ronnie Spector.'”
So Ronnie was escorted to the President’s chambers, where Bill and Hillary Clinton greeted her with open arms. “So when I walked in there, he just opened his arms and gave me the biggest grin and he started singing ‘Be My Baby’ to me. And it was so amazing, because he’s so tall – but so nice. I don’t care what anybody says, I love President Clinton so much, he was the nicest guy I ever met. That’s why I hated that thing with Monica Lewinsky. He’s only human – here’s a guy that does nothing but work, business, running the country, and if a girl comes into his office and has on thong panties and pulls up her dress, and you’re the President, you don’t even have time to hardly spend time with your own wife, and someone comes in like that – he’s still only a man.
“But with me, he was so nice, he hugged me and he was so happy. And he was a little flirtatious, but in a nice way. Nothing at all dirty or sexual, he was so nice. Later on, I did a show in front of the Washington Monument, and he sent his security guards over to give me a copy of one of my albums, for me to sign for the President. It was the most amazing thing. And after I signed it, when I got home, I had a letter from him. And I have it framed in my living room, saying ‘Thanks Ronnie, I love your voice, I love your records, thanks, Bill Clinton.’ With the President’s seal and stuff. And the album I autographed for him was the Colpix album – the one before I did before ‘Be My Baby.’ Which was so weird to me – I thought I was the only one that bought that album.”
It’s Friday evening, the 17th of September at the CMJ Music Marathon, a weekend convention of cutting edge musicians, radio stations and promotions people. At a club called the Threadwaxing Space, the record label Kill Rock Stars has gathered their most popular talent for a label performance showcase.
Despite the miserable weekend weather caused by a visit from Hurricane Floyd, groups like Two Ton Boa and Bratmobile entertained the crowd. Then, after the Bratmobile set, Kill Rock Stars’ newest signee – Ronnie Spector – took the stage.
With every song, the crowd cheered. With every ballad, there were tears in a thousand eyes. “The CMJ performance by everyone was incredible,” said Maggie Vail, director of Publicity and Advertising for Kill Rock Stars. “Ronnie made me cry – twice – when she was performing, she was so good. It was one of those nights when you get chills. The crowd was full of young girls mixed in with some older ones, when Ronnie started playing. There was a lot of enthusiastic response for her. This was a punk club, the PA system was terrible, but her voice was incredible.”
With the release of her new 5-song EP, She Talks To Rainbows (Kill Rock Stars 348), Ronnie Spector has taken the next step in her return to the rock world. The album, co-produced by Joey Ramone and Daniel Rey, is a mixture of classic ballads and rockers, and showcases Ronnie’s emotional yet sincere vocals as a female rock maven.
“To me, Kill Rock Stars are all about the music,” said Ronnie. “They allowed me to put out a rock and roll record, period. Other labels wouldn’t have let me have my own say. And I just love the label’s name – Kill Rock Stars – it just kills me, I love that. Sleater-Kinney (one of the Kill Rock Stars groups scheduled to tour with Ronnie this year, along with labelmates Catalaca and Bangs), I saw them recently at the Irving Plaza. I thought wow, they’re different from what’s on the radio. They have a sound, and that’s what it’s about. They do their own thing, which I respect, plus they’re unique in a world of blandness.”
Joey Ramone wrote both the title track on the EP and a duet with Ronnie on “Bye Bye Baby.” “I met Joey in the 1980’s, and that’s when the Ramones were kinda hot there. And he had recorded ‘Baby I Love You,’ [on the Phil Spector-produced Ramones’ Edge of the Century album] which is one of my original songs with the Ronettes. So he wanted to meet me, and I wasn’t doing much in the 80’s, and he called me up and we went down to this studio. They were doing a video, so he wanted me to sing “Baby I Love You” with him. And that’s how we hooked up, and then I didn’t see him for a couple of years, because the Ramones were all over the world and touring, and selling out every place. So I didn’t see him for a few years. And my husband was listening to some CD’s in the car, and he heard ‘She Talks To Rainbows,’ and it was written by Joey Ramone. And so he came home and said to me, ‘You gotta hear this, this record is so meant for you.’ And when he played it for me, I freaked out over it. I got in touch with Joey, met him down at a club near the Village, and we started talking, and he got more interested and I got more interested.
“This was the first time I was actually involved musically in an album, not just as a singer. Before, I was never involved with producing and how we were going to record a song, but with Joey and I we had all that, and it was so great, just to be able to be part of a record for a change. I was so used to the way it was done in the 60’s, and the way producers and stuff handled you. With Joey, he wasn’t jealous if it was a woman in the production studio, offering ideas. It’s such a different world now in the music industry.”
One of the tracks on She Talks To Rainbows is a remake of the Beach Boys’ classic “Don’t Worry Baby.” It also became one of Ronnie’s favorite songs, as she used the lyrics and refrain as her own motivational force – whether it was battling Phil in court or surviving her own depressions, Ronnie used the Beach Boys’ music – including “Don’t Worry Baby” – as positive motivation.
“When I would hear that record, it would make me not worry. You know what I mean? I had so many problems in the 70’s, and the Beach Boys song was what kept me alive, literally. And I hear stories that Brian Wilson listened to the Ronettes songs when he’s home, all my records. But no one knows how much ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ did for me, when I was in my slump in the early 70’s. I had to listen to Brian Wilson’s music to keep me going – literally, if ‘Don’t Worry Baby,’ didn’t exist, I’d probably wouldn’t be here today.”
And recently, the song has come full circle, as Brian Wilson finally got to hear – 35 years after he originally wrote the song – how “Don’t Worry Baby” would sound with Ronnie Spector on lead vocal. “It was funny, because someone called me and said turn the TV on, Brian Wilson is listening to your version of ‘Don’t Worry Baby.’ And I turn on the TV, and there’s Brian Wilson saying ‘Wow, that’s Ronnie Spector, she sounds cool.’ And I freaked out, because it’s my new version of it – and it’s just amazing about how Brian Wilson got me out of my slump, and my songs kept him going. It’s so psychic or weird or something, isn’t it? Almost spooky.”
And today, the song is part of her new CD. “The reason for recording it now is that my Mom just passed away,” said Ronnie in a London Times interview, “so when I sing ‘Don’t worry, baby, everything’s going to be all right,’ I’m my mother, singing to me. She went through everything with me. I wish I could give her a copy.”
Another track on the CD, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory,” allows Ronnie to wring every drop of emotional energy out of Johnny Thunders’ heart-wrenching lyrics. “We would go through songs, and we’d play stuff and Daniel Rey knew what I liked and what I didn’t like. And I just said that’s the song I wanted to sing. I didn’t know about Johnny Thunders, that he was the one that was sitting in the Continental Baths crying at every song I sang on stage one night, but I loved that song. It was just so me. My mother had just passed away, and I couldn’t put my arms around her any more, so it meant so much to me. And then later I found out of course it was the great Johnny Thunders. It was the melody, it was the lyrics. From the first words, ‘It doesn’t pay to try,’ it was just like wow, it was so great.”
But to be a female rock and roller, one has to deal with a lot of men – men who can control a woman’s career, for better or for worse. Ronnie Spector admits she had it tough – but through it all, she still wants a fair chance at the rock and roll prize, a fair shot to the top of the charts. But when she does get to the top, Ronnie wants to use her past experiences to help those up-and-coming musicians and singers to prepare themselves for the future. “I know that I’ve gone through some tough times, and I’ve been looked down on when some male performers have done twice as worse as I have. But they’ve been given a second chance. That’s the double standard that exists. When you complain, it stops you from being positive. You talk about all this girl power and stuff, like the Spice Girls claim to have – to me it means nothing, if it doesn’t help the average girl singer, then it’s just another marketing tool created by the industry, which is run by men! So where’s the girl power? For the women who helped create the industry, Ruth Brown has more girl power than anyone, because she fought hard against people like Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic Records, who were ripping her off, and then saw to it that the Rhythm and Blues Foundation helped those people who needed help. That’s real girl power. Compassion after going through hell. If you don’t have a cause, if you’re not doing it for a good cause that will be there after you’re dead and gone, what’s the point with saying you have girl power? If you have the power, that means you have money. And money brings you the ability to open things. That’s what Ruth Brown did. What does girl power mean if you don’t do something with it?”
Even today, Ronnie can turn on the radio and hear fragments of her musical past in today’s pop music. Shania Twain’s “Man! (I Feel Like A Woman),” with its whoa-oh-oh hook, is a prime example. “I think they’ve heard my voice for so many years, young and old. I think what Shania Twain’s doing is a compliment, but at the same time it’s like stealing a little bit of me. People think you’re not around any more, they say it doesn’t happen in the business, but it does – where they steal your style. I remember in the 1960’s, when all these girl groups (like the Shirelles or the Marvelettes) had their hair either with wigs on or they wore big dresses, and the Ronettes came along with our tight dresses and the lipstick and the highest hairdos, and people started looking, changing and looking like us, and I hate that. Look at how these people looked before the Ronettes. Ike and Tina Turner never had dancing Ikettes before they saw the Ronettes. Ray Charles had the Raelettes, everything was “and the ‘ettes'” after a while.”
When Ronnie’s not on stage or in the recording studio, she becomes Ronnie Greenfield, devoted wife and mother. Having long since kicked the bottle away from her life, her new vice is bowling – something she used to do as a teenager; she now shares it with her kids. The rose from Spanish Harlem has finally bloomed, spreading new growth and beauty throughout.
She still keeps in touch with her family, and still holds on to the memories of her mother Beatrice – the person who encouraged her to sing, who supported her throughout the highs and lows, who made breakfast for the Rolling Stones and helped her escape Phil Spector’s maximum security mansion. Her mother stayed in Spanish Harlem, visiting her friends, looking forward to visits with her grandchildren, until she passed away in 1998. “And my mom lived in the neighborhood for her last ten, fifteen years of her life. Much of my family moved to Jersey, but I still had a couple of uncles that lived in the city, so I still have family up there. As you get older and you have your own family, you tend to do things with your own family in another town. You look at Ricky Martin, that’s how it was in Spanish Harlem all the time. I grew up on that. So it’s so weird that people are just getting in tune with something I just loved 30 years ago.”
The preceding article consisted of a series of interviews with Ronnie Spector during the summer and autumn of 1999. The assistance of Ronnie Spector and Jonathan Greenfield are greatly appreciated. Other sources of information for this article came from the Boston Globe, Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ebony, The London Times, The Los Angeles Times, Melody Maker, The Village Voice, Creem, Musician, Crawdaddy and The Manchester Guardian.