Two days ago it was reported that Kim Fowley, legendary LA scenester, producer, impressario, songwriter and every other conceivable music bizz role you can think of, had died from cancer.
Despite being an underground phenomenon, Fowley’s adventures in the world of music surely were impressive and far-reaching. You probably cannot name any artist or band from the 50s, 60s or 70s LA scene that he hasn’t worked with, or at least, claimed to have discovered or worked with! A colorful character indeed!
The reports about Fowley’s passing made me think back to what is probably the strangest Spector production of all. Forget ‘the Screw’ by the Crystals, forget ‘Tandoori Chicken’ by Ronnie Spector, forget even ‘Oh Baby’ by Harvey & Doc with the Dwellers. (Actually Spector himself and Doc Pomus goofing off)
The strangest Spector ‘production’ of all time has to be the novelty punk sneer of ‘Give It to Me’ sung by Kim Fowley. Note that I have ‘production’ in apostrophes when writing about this song as this is probably just a Spector production in name only.
The only way you’re going to hear ‘Give It to Me’ is by getting your hands on the ‘Phil Spector 74/79’ compilation LP issued in 1979 by the short-lived Phil Spector International label. The cover artwork may be terrible, but the album is great! I found it used and dirt cheap in a record store a few years after discovering Spector’s music and the album’s cream of the crop selections from Spector’s overlooked 70s productions was nothing short of a revelation to me. But that Fowley cut? Ouch! It sticks out like a sore thumb among all the elaborate productions! So crude and horrible that no one has even bothered to upload it to youtube despite the fact that all other songs from the compilation are on there to check out.
But if ‘Give it to Me’ in itself isn’t good – at least to these ears, there’s a good story behind it in typically flamboyant Kim Fowley fashion!
During the 70s Spector hung out with David and Dan Kessel, sons of respected LA guitarist Barney Kessel who Spector had taken lessons from as a teenager and later used on his many sessions. Fowley in turn had worked with the Kessels before on recording projects and one day, they asked him to come along for a session with Spector producing. Here’s what Fowley said happened when he relayed the story for author Mark Ribowsky’s ‘He’s a Rebel’ book on Spector:
“So we went to this shitty studio across from the Chinese Theater which was horrible, a toilet. Guys were sitting around in urinstained underwear and it looked like a junkie shooting gallery. I go in this dirty room and Phil appears – God, I’m in there the same way Bobby Sheen and all those poor bastards were, and he thanks me for coming and says, ‘I wanna make sure you guys get into this and make a great record. No matter what, just keep singing.’ So I begin and you know what he does? He sets off the fire alarm and seals the doors and leaves with the Kessels. Every fire truck in Hollywood came, guys with axes to rescue us. I didn’t know if there was a fire or not, and while they’re crashin’ the doors down I’m singin’ my ass off, man. So that was Phil Spector letting all the noise and hysteria make a vocal better. One of my tracks came out on a Spector album in England and I never got a royalty from him.”
True story? Who knows. But it doesn’t sound that unlikely considering the eccentric, far-out characters involved!
Rest in peace, Kim.
For more info on Fowley’s career, here’s an interesting interview on Spectropop:
As a postscript I should probably point out that it wasn’t all senseless mayhem when Spector and the Kessel brothers hit the studio. David and Dan played on the majority of Spector’s 70s sessions and even issued a B-side bound Wall of Sound track themselves under the name Stars in the Sky. They clearly soaked up all Spector’s tricks like a sponge as evidenced on ‘Love, (What a Feeling)’ – in my mind, one of the very best Spector soundalikes of the 70s.