Spector, Phil

Spector, Phil (Harvey Philip), 1939-2021, American record producer, b. Bronx, NY. The child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Spector’s father passed away when he was young, and his mother relocated the family to Los Angeles. He first achieved fame as a member of the teen vocal group, The Teddy Bears, with his song, “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (1958). The group disbanded and Spector went to work in New York for producer Lester Sill, who introduced him to songwriters Leiber and Stoller, who employed him as an assistant on their sessions. On returning to LA, Spector partnered with Sill to start Philles Records (combining their two first names). Spector became known for using a large group of LA session players, often doubling or tripling the usual instrumental backup, to create what he called a “wall of sound.” He signed the group The Crystals, scoring major hits with “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” (1961), “Uptown” (1962), “He’s A Rebel” (1962) “Da Doo Ron” (1963), and “Then He Kissed Me” (1964). Spector also shepherded to success the Ronettes, a trio of girls from Harlem led by Veronica Yvette (“Ronnie Spector”) Bennett (1943-2022). They scored five top 40 hits in the ‘60s, most notably “Be My Baby (1963).” Ronnie married Spector in 1968, but they divorced six years later following her allegations of physical and mental abuse. Spector’s last major hits of the period came with the Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” 1964) and Ike and Tina Turner (“River Deep, Mountain High, 1966”), both often cited as ultimate examples of Spector’s production skills. Both John Lennon and George Harrison admired Spector’s productions of the ‘60s and were drawn to working with him after the breakup of the Beatles. Spector oversaw the final production on the group’s last album, Let It Be (1970), and then worked with Lennon on his best-selling album Imagine (1971) and Harrison’s three-record set, All Things Must Pass (1970). His final collaboration with Lennon, on sessions in 1973 for what would become the album Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975), were marked by Spector’s increasingly erratic behavior. Spector’s final major work came with Leonard Cohen (Death of a Ladies’ Man, 1977) and the Ramones (End of the Century, 1980). Spector’s career enjoyed a brief revival in 1989 when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This was followed by the boxed set, Phil Spector: Back to Mono, in 1991, a definitive collection of his greatest work from 1958 to 1969. Increasingly reclusive, Spector spent most of his time alone in his heavily guarded mansion. In 2003, following a night of drinking at LA’s House of Blues, Spector brought home the club’s hostess, Lana Clarkson, who he subsequently shot. After a first trial that ended in a hung jury, Spector was sentenced to 19 years to life in 2009. He died of COVID-19 in prison serving his term.

See biographies by M. Ribowsky (1989), R. Williams, D. Thompson (2004), M. Brown (2007).

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