Ronnie Spector-17 - RS53 - Photo credit Debra Greenfield

Video Feature & Web-Exclusive Interview

Video:  “Be My Baby”

Iconic singer and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ronnie Spector solidifies her status as the Rosetta Stone for female rock performers of today. Christmas tour is set to kick-off.

Critical respect is at its peak, and Ronnie Spector continues to thrill—inspiring and empowering a new generation of fans as an enduring, transcendent figure, who has overcome adversity to build a career that is nothing short of remarkable

Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever! is a raucous, rocking, and intoxicating blend of her Christmas classics. Ronettes’ hits including “Be My Baby,” recently named by Billboard magazine as the #1 Greatest Girl Group Song of All Time, “Walking in the Rain,” “Baby I Love You,” cult gems from her back catalog, a splash of doo–wop, and plenty of Spector’s inimitable off–the–cuff commentary. As an added treat for the upcoming Holiday shows, Spector will perform as ‘Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes’ for the first time since the 1970s.

At Spector’s December 11, 2017 concert in Austin, she’ll be joined by special guest Wanda Jackson, ‘Queen of Rockabilly.’ For three decades, Spector’s Christmas show has been a cherished holiday tradition, with a song list that includes her renditions of “Frosty the Snowman,” “Sleigh Ride,” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Her definitive versions of “Frosty” and “Sleigh Ride” dominate the airwaves at Christmas time and are perennials on ASCAP’s list of the Top 20 Most–Played Holiday Songs for the past decade. Spector’s Christmas tracks have also been heard in hit movies such as Goodfellas, Joy and Jingle All the Way.

Ronnie Spector

For Ronnie Spector, her upcoming holiday shows are the latest highlight in a current stretch described by People magazine as a “victory lap” for “The Original Rock Queen.” Spector’s busy 2017 has included the release of “Love Power,” her first single recorded with The Ronettes in decades, a commanding performance at Lincoln Center, her first tour dates as Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes since the 1970s, an appearance on Fox-TV’s Good Day New York, a main stage performance at SF Pride and more.

NPR included Spector’s 1964 debut at #20 on their “150 Greatest Albums of the Rock Era, Made by Female Artists,” and Spector was presented with the Legend Award by The Women’s International Music Network at their She Rocks Awards ceremony. In addition to being named the #1 Girl Group Song of All Time, “Be My Baby” has been added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, preserved as a work of historical and cultural significance, and is also now an official addition to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

As a seminal force in sixties rock, Spector’s swagger, moxie and trademark voice, still instantly recognizable from the first note, defined an era. Now in her sixth decade as a performer, Spector has reached a new level of cultural significance. Critical respect is at its peak, and she continues to thrill—inspiring and empowering a new generation of fans as an enduring, transcendent figure, who has overcome adversity to build a career that is nothing short of remarkable. Much as B.B. King came to embody the blues, or Chuck Berry was to early rock ’n’ roll, Ronnie Spector has solidified her status as the Rosetta Stone for female rock performers of today.

We talked with Ronnie Spector about her passion for music, her unique look and trademark voice, and the love of music that still keeps her on stage.

Ronnie Spector-4 - RS 14

RONNIE SPECTOR Web-Exclusive Interview
with M Music & Musicians magazine publisher, Merlin David  

Why do you think “Be My Baby” still resonates with such a wide audience?
“Be My Baby” is two minutes that changed the world. Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry wrote it for me, and that helped my performance—it was real natural. It’s because of its honesty and the arrangement. When it came out, there wasn’t any other recording that sounded similar. A big thing for me always was—not better, just different. And I think “Be My Baby” was that.

You’ve been fortunate to play with some amazing musicians.
I had Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell—I had the best musicians. For years now another one, Liberty DeVitto, Billy Joel’s former drummer, plays with me. But last year at the NAMM show outside Los Angeles in Anaheim, Hal Blaine came to play on “Be My Baby”—and it blew me away. He was amazing, and still is. When he started “Be My Baby” with the bump-da-bump, the audience went crazy, and I did too.

Tell us more about the amazing drummer Hal Blaine.
When we first recorded “Be My Baby”—once I heard that “bump-da-bump” that Hal Blaine played, I immediately came in with (sings) “The night we met”—and it blew his mind. Hal stopped playing because he heard my voice and went nuts. All the other musicians did too. My voice wasn’t better than most groups, it was just different. Even when we did the Dick Clark show, he thought we were Native Americans. He said, “Sit still. We’ll show you one of our artists. They’re very interesting. They’re unusual because they make what is, I guess, Native American music. You’ll see in a moment. It’s one of the popular sellers of the day. Ladies and gentlemen, the Ronettes.” (Laughs) I said—Native Americans? We’re from Spanish Harlem. (Laughs)

Ronnie Spector-5

At that time, being from Spanish Harlem must have been unique.
We’d been to so many places, and people thought we were—not better, just different—because we had a different look, and the swish up the side. And we sang and danced. In those days, girl groups didn’t dance—they gave you hand motions. We didn’t do that. We went out one by one. First my sister [Estelle Bennett] would go out, then my cousin Nedra [Talley], and then me. We’d rip it up. It was so great—and it still is.

How does it feel to be performing with the Ronettes after all these decades?
I have had a long career in this business. I started making records in 1961, and I’m still making them now. I’ve had some highpoints along the way. But no matter what happens in my career, what I do or where I go, nothing compares to those magical times between 1963 and 1966. There was an innocence about the music and the times, and I miss that. Way before all the craziness, the lawsuits, the rip offs—it was so much fun. So performing as Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes I get closer to that vibe, when it was all about the fun. It feels great getting the reaction from the crowd when I get up there with the girls—doing our thing.

What’s different about these new live shows?
I have two new Ronettes. I was so used to my sister and my cousin. But when we were in Glastonbury, and Adele was on the show, I looked over at the girls and I was having so much fun. It reminded me of the sixties with the original Ronettes. I thought—I’ve got to keep these girls and continue with the Ronettes—like it was in the sixties. I’ve never stopped thinking about that moment. Every time I get on stage—it’s good. They have their own little routine. I leave the stage, and they do this thing with a Sam & Dave routine. And I come back out. I love it so much.

How do you take care of your instantly recognizable, iconic voice?
I don’t go out to parties and really don’t use my voice much except on stage. I still drink my coffee in the morning. There are no routines, just no real excess. I’m very lucky. I still sing my classic hits in the same key I recorded them in. It’s mostly in my genes I guess.

Ronnie Spector-7

Your shows are intense. What do you do to relax afterwards?
I simply go back to my room. I don’t drink—I hate drinking. I still smoke—cigarettes, that is. (Laughs) Even though we got known in a club, I don’t go to clubs. The Peppermint Lounge was the first place we performed. But I would be thinking—oh, I’ve got school in the morning. Am I going to be able to do my homework tonight? It’s so late. (Laughs)

Tell us a “pinch me” moment when you thought “Wow, this is really happening to me”?
Never. Being on stage is where I belong, never a problem. Off the stage, I am a shy person, and it’s not always easy. There might have been a moment where I pinched myself because of who was in the audience—like the President, but never on stage. I am always having fun on stage.

When I was in high school, at night, the Ronettes would perform at the Peppermint Lounge before we ever had a hit record. The Pepp was the hottest club in the country, everyone wanted to get in there. I remember twisting on the rails and looking out and seeing people like Jackie Kennedy, Jayne Mansfield, Judy Garland—and thinking about homework.

It must have been an exciting scene.
We’d see people like Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe. Even though we were on stage, we were star struck—singing to these superstars. I was only 18. I could hardly sleep at night. I remember taking Sominex, so I could get up in time for school the next day. (Laughs) That was until I had a hit record, and then I graduated from high school. But we were star struck. 50 years ago, for a girl like me—18 years old, seeing Jackie O doing the twist! It was incredible. All clubs back then were about dancing, and everyone came there and danced.

Tell us about one of those clubs.
In London, John Lennon had taken me to a club called the Crazy Elephant. Judy Garland was dancing, and I was dancing with John. Paul [McCartney] was sitting there with his girlfriend, Jane Asher. Girls in the 60s wore spiked heels, and all of a sudden Judy rammed into my foot. I almost had a heart attack. But I was in awe that it was Judy Garland. (Laughs) I couldn’t yell at her. So I walked off limping, and sat down. John kept saying, “Are you OK?” (Laughs)

Debbie Harry-Ronnie Spector photo by Derek Storm

Debbie Harry-Ronnie Spector photo by Derek Storm

These days, it’s all about your live shows?
Yes, my live shows. I never think about recording. The main thing is my live shows. If something comes up, like English Heart in 2016, I’ll do it. I really love that album because we did songs of when I was at my peak and all the guy groups were traveling with us. The Ronettes were the headliners, and the Rolling Stones were our opening act. The Beatles hadn’t come to America yet, but they came to our record company party in England. So many people worked with us—the Kinks, Eric Clapton, the Yardbirds. I could go on and on. And that’s why I did that album. I even did a Beatles song because it reminded me of a time when we were at our peak.

Did you stay in touch with them?
All those guys came to America about three weeks after we left. We were the only group the Beatles knew when they got to America. They called, “Hey Ronnie, we don’t know a person here.” I went to them, and snuck them out and took them to Harlem. We went to this barbeque place, and they loved it because nobody asked for their autograph. They fit in with us and our Spanish neighborhood because our guys too didn’t get haircuts for a long time. (Laughs)

What that a popular BBQ joint?
We took them to Sherman’s BBQ at 151st Street and Amsterdam Ave—which is where my father used to take my mother. They had a jukebox in there, and those guys loved it. They could go up to the jukebox, have it play songs, and sit down and eat. They loved it. And no one knew who they were.

Which songwriters inspired you?
I was lucky to have great songwriters in the 60s—Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry, Cynthia Weil, Barry Mann and Harry Nilsson. I got spoiled by having songs written just for me. Most of the time that wasn’t the case back then. Then in the 80s, a few writers wrote songs for me—Desmond Child with Diane Warren, and also Narada Michael Walden. Those were easily the best recordings I made in that decade.

What songs inspired you at an early age?
I grew up listening to rock ’n’ roll in the 50s, so doo wop was the big thing. Growing up in Spanish Harlem, you had groups singing on the stoop and on the street corners. We’d go to the Palladium to dance to Tito Puente and Jimmy Castor—we watched them perform.

Ronettes in white dresses

Ronettes in white dresses

Who was your biggest inspiration?
Frankie Lymon—he was my inspiration and the reason I do what I do. For a female vocal group, there was Arlene Smith and the Chantels singing “Maybe.” I still get goose bumps when I hear that song. And the same guy who produced Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers also produced the Chantels—and Richie Barrett, who sang “Some Other Guy.”

Was the street scene like what we see in those old movies?
That’s what it was really like. We had a grandmother, and there were a lot of girls in my family—first cousins and others. My grandmother wouldn’t let us go out to see those groups. We lived on the top floor—the seventh floor, and we could see for miles. The neighborhood had a lot of Spanish, and a lot of black. You’d see those groups just waiting to get a chance. And their parents would say—go outside and sing. (Laughs) Even my grandmother would say, “Girls, if you want to sing—go downstairs to the lobby, and I’ll cook dinner for you.” But she would never let us go outside.

Where did you go to sing?
I had all these cousins singing background for me. Then, we’d go up on the roof, and that was the greatest thing because we could see everything. We could see Jersey—Palisades Park, and at night everything glittered. In the summer, we could see the Cyclone roller coasters and all the rides there. It was a beautiful sight to see Jersey from my grandmother’s roof.

Your description gives more meaning to the song “Up on the Roof.”
Oh. (Laughs) Doesn’t it? I didn’t think about that until you said it. I think about that song, and that Ben E. King song “Spanish Harlem” that Jerry Leiber wrote with my ex-husband. I heard that song and I thought—my goodness, he’s talking about me. All of those things back then were so real. You listen to those voices in the late 50s and early 60s—oh, you couldn’t beat Frankie Lymon’s voice.

Ronnie - Photo credit Kevin Dilworth

Ronnie – Photo credit Kevin Dilworth

Lymon had an integrated group with African Americans and Puerto Ricans—with the hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers.
That’s where we got our idea. Nedra was one of my mother’s sister’s children. Her father was Spanish. And my father was Irish. My mother is half Cherokee and black—and Puerto Rican. That’s what made us look so different.

Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs on the radio?
Actually there were two times that stand out in my mind. The first was in Wildwood, New Jersey—when the Ronettes were touring as part of the Joey Dee Revue. The three of us, Estelle, Nedra and I—were at the motel lying in bed watching Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on TV. Dick Clark introduces the next record “This next recording is going to be the song of the century” and then I hear those drums. I sat up. He plays “Be My Baby.” We freak out, start screaming “Girls, girls—it’s us!” We’re hugging each other. I was in shock.

What was the other time?
On WINS, you used to be able to request a song on the radio. So I called up to request “Baby I Love You”—the new Ronettes record. And the DJ says, “Hi Ronnie, what’s up? Why are you calling the station?”—and I didn’t know what to say. (Laughs) I still get excited every time I hear one of my songs—if I am shopping, at the movies or on the radio. It’s sort of like your kids—you put a lot of work into them, and then you might not see them for a while. But when you do see them, it’s great. I hope I never lose that feeling.

Ronnie Live in London 2016 Credit Laurie Lewis

Ronnie Live in London 2016 Credit Laurie Lewis

Top 5 Musicians who inspired you to become a singer?
Frankie Lymon has to be number one. Then, Hank Williams—because the first song I ever sang when I was three years old was a Hank Williams song. His style on that song was like a yodel, it helped me create my woah-oh-ohs. Arlene Smith inspired me. My Mom worked as a waitress at King’s Donuts next door to the Apollo Theater, and I would go over after school and hang out in the employees’ lounge—waiting for my mom to finish her shift. When James Brown performed there, he had lines around the block. I said—that’s what I want to do. He didn’t influence me musically, but he did make me want to get into show business. And Jimi Hendrix didn’t influence me because he came after, but I had a blast on stage with him when he was the house band leader at Ondine’s. It was great. That type of talent makes you come alive. We had chemistry.

Top 5 favorite albums?
There was only one album that I wore out—Frankie Lymon At the London Palladium. Before that album came out, I wore out every one of his singles. Plus the radio was always on in our apartment, and Nedra and I hung out at the Luncheonette next to City College near my grandma’s apartment. They had a jukebox, and we’d play Little Richard’s “Rip It Up,” and some Chuck Berry songs—anything fast. And we’d dance. The college kids loved watching us.

So many singers have fashioned their voice and style after you. Please name a few singers now who have caught your attention.
I do love Adele. I like Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and Elle King. When Elle King did “Ex’s & Oh’s” and did my woah-oh-ohs—I took that as a huge compliment. I invited her on stage at the Glastonbury Festival, and we had a ball. She’s a bad girl, and I like that. (Laughs) It’s about the singer and the song. Honestly I would rather make music than listen to it.

RONETTES US vocal trio fin 1965 From left Nedra Talley, , Estelle Bennett, Ronnie Spector. Photo Tony Gale. Image shot 1965. Exact date unknown.

RONETTES US vocal trio fin 1965 From left Nedra Talley, , Estelle Bennett, Ronnie Spector. Photo Tony Gale. Image shot 1965. Exact date unknown.

Best advice someone gave you about a career in music?
Well, I am still waiting on that. (Laughs)

Best advice you’d like to give upcoming musicians.
My advice to young musicians and singers is—do not get into this business unless you love it. It can be heartbreaking. For me, I have no choice, it’s like a disease, and the only cure is to get on stage and rock. I need it for my sanity. If you need it, then do it, but find a really smart, artist-friendly attorney who believes in you. Be calm. Don’t take drugs. Relax. And just know that you’re going to have someone bigger than you come up after you. For us, the Supremes came—with bigger hits.

Is there an album or EP in the near future?
I have been around too long to assume anything in the recording business. It keeps changing. But I just recorded “Love Power,” and maybe another single. And if there is a reason to go back into the studio, I will consider it. Of course, I would love to have a reason to make another album, but you have to find that reason.

After this, we’d love to spotlight your “Love Power” video.
I’d love that. It was produced by Narada Michael Walden for the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Summer of Love.

What’s next?
I want to continue being creative and performing. For me, it’s about creating something that no one else does. Like I said—not better, just different. Good things happen when you are doing what you love and making people happy.

Where can your new fans stay updated?

Photo credit Debra GReenfield

Photo credit Debra GReenfield

comment closed

Copyright © 2017 M Music & Musicians Magazine ·