Tag Archives: Hal Blaine

A Few Interviews of Interest

Here’s a little something that just sort of popped up out of the blue the other day when I routinely searched for some Spector-related stuff online.

Music journalist Steve Escobar has a website where he has published a few of his interview with musicians – and lo-and-behold; if you’re a fan of Spector as well as the 60s LA recording scene, there are a few interviews on there that would be of interest.

nancy

Off you go; Brian, Glen, Hal, Jackie, Johhny, and Nancy are all ready to tell you a bit about their musical adventures…

Brian Wilson (proving once again he’s not the most talkative interview subject!)

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=20

Glen Campbell

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=208

Hal Blaine

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=13

Jackie de Shannon

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=85

Johnny Rivers

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=73

Nancy Sinatra

http://www.steve-escobar.com/?p=76

jackie

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Don Randi Interview

One of the great things about keeping this blog is that I get the chance to discuss the Wall of Sound and Phil Spector with key people who have interesting insights. If you do a search for ‘interview’ via the search function on here, you’ll find quite a few I’ve done so far. I really enjoy doing these as I tend to learn something new each time – and I hope you readers out there appreciate the interviews as well.

No matter what, I’m sure you’ll dig the following one with none other than pianist Don Randi of the legendary Wrecking Crew! Don has literally played on thousands of recordings, including some of the biggest hits of the 60s. His piano playing adds to the rumble on the majority of Spector’s iconic Philles-era output as well as on later recordings. Don has a book underway about his life in music with the highly relevant, tongue-in-cheek title ‘You’ve Heard these Hands.’ Undoubtedly, everyone has heard his piano at some point due to the incredible and versatile productivity of the Wrecking Crew.

dr

I’m very honored that Don would take the time to answer questions for Cue Castanets about his work in the studio with Spector as well as indulge us with other stories from his longstanding career in the music business. It came about after I posted about Don’s upcoming book a while ago. Don and his collaborator, Karen Nishimura, were very open-minded towards my follow-up request for an interview for which I am very grateful. I also can’t thank my friend and fellow Wall of Sound-fanatic Anthony Reichardt enough for helping me out with the interview, including adding a few highly relevant questions.

Let’s travel back in time then to 1960s Los Angeles and hear some stories about Don’s studio work with Spector and others.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Don, first off; do you remember what was your very first session with Phil Spector? Were you already onboard at his first LA session, ‘He’s a Rebel’ in 1962, with what would be become known as the Wrecking Crew?

We were actually called the Wall of Sound. We weren’t the Wrecking Crew yet – the Wrecking Crew name came three years later, maybe four years later. Originally, we were the Wall of Sound – for Phil – that was the sound the other producers wanted. That made us so in demand. And I think the first record was ‘He’s a Rebel’, – that was right at the beginning of me recording with Phil.

I was hired by sax player, Steve Douglas. Steve, who went to high school with Phil, actually introduced me to Phil Spector a few years before that recording session. And I knew Steve Douglas because he played with me occasionally in a jazz band that I had.

How did Spector in general strike you in the studio? I’ve heard that he worked you guys hard, letting you play on and on for hours before recording actual takes?

Yes, he did work us really hard. I would love to say I was the only piano player but there were three or four of us, and sometimes five! Sometimes only two, but most of the time there were three or four of us playing piano; five guitar players, two basses – one acoustic and one electric bass, one drummer and some percussion. And then of course the horns. So it was interesting because that was basically the band and we all fit in one room at Gold Star Studios.

wrecking_crew_3

Is it true what Hal Blaine writes in his book about Spector always letting the tape roll while you guys were warming up before actually recording takes? If so, there must be tons of tapes in the Spector tape vault.

I don’t think he let it run all the time, it was not a constant thing. I know he had tape echo running along with the Gold Star echo chamber but I don’t think there was another tape running.

A few session takes has been floating around amongst collectors. They give the impression that there was a good, friendly vibe on those sessions, jokes flying back and forth?

Oh absolutely! That was the start of us getting called the “Wrecking Crew.” The tag meant the guys in the session were always messing around, “Be careful, or they’ll wreck your date!” Which happened later on because we would take time-outs. We had to! We would just have to lighten it up because we were working so hard. Especially with Phil! And not a lot of people realize that he appreciated a great joke too. Phil was one of us.

wcspec

Now, in terms of the Wall of Sound; did you as musicians recognize it as a very specific and influential ‘trademark sound’ while you were in the middle of perfecting it during the early to mid-60s?

I think perhaps we did a little bit. We didn’t know too much at the beginning of a session. Working with Phil’s songwriting and his direction was great so that really helped a lot. It really did. Phil Spector contributed a lot. He liked to have a steel grip on production while getting to the right sound. We would go take after take and when it got to a certain point that was sounding good, we knew that was what he wanted.

Did you feel as if you were making history on those sessions?

I’ll tell you something very funny. The first time I realized that was when I was in my car, listening to “He’s a Rebel” – the final mix. Phil liked to mix the way it was going to sound in the car. He would go down to these little, tiny speakers that were almost the same as those car speakers. And he would mix that way. So I was driving in my car and said “Oh my god, that’s the first hit record I’ve played on.” And after that of course, lots!

rebel

The music was very influential, but we didn’t know that at the time. We know it now but back then we were so busy making so many records – one after another after another. And for me, I kept going like that right up to the end of the eighties. I was that busy. Producers would still call me in for sessions.

The Wall of Sound was of course a huge meshing of sounds; several guitars strumming in unison and for instance, like you’ve pointed out, three or four pianos playing together.

As a highly skilled musician with a jazz background how did you feel about playing this way? In a sense, you and the other Wrecking Crew members served in a musical cogwheel rather than each instrumentalist standing out like I suppose you’d been used to playing jazz? Did that affect you in any way?

No, it didn’t because you could play jazz your whole life and call yourself a jazz musician but we needed to earn money! The rock ’n’ roll game was money. Unfortunately, most people in other countries around the world in those days appreciated jazz more than people in America did.

Rock ’n’ roll was a way to make a living and you got to express yourself – not like you were playing ad-lib of course but to a point. With Phil, it was more structured than with most other producers.

drtrio

Was Spector open towards letting you guys come up with riffs or musical flourishes that would benefit the tracks? I’m wondering how much spontaneity or how many on-the-spot decisions went into the iconic Spector productions you took part in? If that did happen, you may remember some examples?

I think very little. Very little. We were given chord sheets that Jack Nitzsche wrote. Basically, we were playing what they call rolling eights or sixteenth notes and most of his charts were the same on every song, just about.

It got more interesting when the Righteous Brothers came in. One of my favorite albums that Phil ever did – a favorite of mine because it was a departure – was the Phil Spector’s Christmas album. I think it’s the most outstanding Christmas album of all time.

Well, we can agree on that!

Looking back, are there other particular Spector sessions you look back on as especially rewarding or noteworthy?

Yeah, the first time I met Ronnie Spector and working on those Ronettes sessions. I fell in love with Ronnie first because she was so delightful and easy to work with – it was a real pleasure.

Through the decades there have been many rumors about full-blown Spector productions that went unreleased – and during the mid-70s a whole batch of great Philles-era productions did indeed come out on the two ‘Rare Masters’ LPs.

Fans speculate that there may be more in the Spector tape vault. Do you remember if you played on something that, to your knowledge, has never come out?

Yes, I do. It was something we recorded with Phil Spector – meaning with Phil himself singing! It was this thing we did and I loved it. It was in the style of a corrido which is a Mexican polka. He did this thing and the artist was called “the Little Prince.” And that was Phil!

The Little Prince?

Yeah. That was a fun record. I don’t think Phil ever released it. We had a ball making it. That one was hilarious!

Interesting! There were actually a couple of recordings of Spector singing that didn’t see a release. One is “Down at TJs” which was for a television show that never took off. And it’s a really huge Wall of Sound record from about 1966. And then there was another one for the Lucy show, “Lucy in London.” He actually sang the vocals on those two tracks.

It could very well have been something I could have played on. I don’t particularly remember those tracks but it could possibly be.

We can’t discuss Phil Spector, the Wrecking Crew and the Wall of Sound without mentioning the great Jack Nitzsche. How would you describe the working relationship between him and Spector?

Jack was a very close friend of mine. He was a part of my life at the beginning of my association with Phil Spector. My wife and I lived near Jack Nitzsche and his wife, Gracia.

Jack Nitzsche, Darlene Love & Phil Spector
Jack Nitzsche, Darlene Love & Phil Spector

There was a time when Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Sonny Bono and I did everything together. We’d go out to restaurants and jazz clubs, buy our suits at the same place, whatever. We hung out together. We were buddies and a team. In my book “You’ve Heard These Hands” I describe a situation when we took Phil to the airport that’s hilarious. You’ll get a kick out of that when you read it.

But Phil was a character. What can I say? He was a lovable character – eccentric. We didn’t talk to each other for maybe nine or ten years after the Righteous Brothers left Philles Records. Which was no fault of mine. But I was still playing sessions for the Righteous Brothers – for MGM Verve Records. Phil got so angry with me when he found out. He called me and said, “How could you do that?” and I said, “Hey Phil, that’s my job! You wanna put me on salary? I’d be glad to do it. I’ll be your private piano player!”

Speaking of Jack; he arranged a great single by you, “Baby, You Don’t Understand Nothin’,” from 1965.

Now, that’s a great song!

You released some great solo singles during that period, recordings like “Mexican Pearls” and your stellar take on “Spanish Harlem.”

It seems that all that creativity in Gold Star studios couldn’t be contained on Spector’s productions solely? Other people such as yourself took on that whole sound and did it on their own.

I’ll tell you, – it’s really hard to classify that much, you know? Jack Nitzsche was one of the best arrangers around. He was a very talented composer –that’s why he was such a good arranger. He realized it later on, when he did films and received an Oscar.

Jack was also a scholar. He knew what he was doing. I think sometimes he took on way too much work. It was very demanding and Jack just couldn’t keep up with it all the time. It would catch up to him and a lot of that work got done by other people at that point. I know Ray Pohlman would handle some work. I would help him out, too. But it was just that Jack was so damn busy.

Nitzsche ad

In terms of “Baby, You Don’t Understand Nothin”’ you have previously revealed that you originally wrote it for the Righteous Brothers and that you did a demo with Glen Campbell doing the lead vocal.

When you did a demo was it just a simple, little demo or a full-blown recording?

It was a simple demo. Just like maybe two or three of us. The production wasn’t there. But I’m glad you brought that up because some of the greatest recordings we will never hear, that are hit records by other artists, BIG records – are the demo versions that Glen Campbell sang!

One of my favorites is one that was written by Red Steagall and Donny Lanier. It was called, “‘Here We Go Again”; it went, “Here we go again / She’s back in town again / I’ll take her back again.” It was a country record and Ray Charles recorded it. And other artists did it. Ray Charles and Norah Jones did it again. It was a hit eight different times with different artists.

But the best version was done by Glen as a demo at studio B at Gold Star. It was dynamite! Glen played guitar, I played piano, Al Casey was there… It was great. You’d sit there with the biggest smile on your face and you knew that at some point Glen had to break through as a solo artist. Somebody was going to recognize this and say, “Hey, wait a second! This guy sings too damn good!” And thank god Glen did break through.

Center of Photo; Hal Blaine and Geln Campbell
Center of Photo; Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell

Gold Star must have been a magic place, – yet, the studio was so small and I imagine it must have felt crammed inside with all you guys gathered for a typical Spector session? In your opinion, what was so special about Gold Star?

Well, the first thing that was so special was that they had great engineers there. Between Stan Ross and Larry Levine, especially. They were dynamite engineers and they had the patience and the austerity, so to speak, to handle Phil Spector. Which they needed to have because he could be relentless.

Phil Spector and Larry Levine at Gold Star.
Larry Levine and Phil Spector at Gold Star.

Also, there was the echo chamber at Gold Star – that funky echo chamber – that nobody else had. That was so important and a good part of it.

But I think it also had to do with the fact that we were going with one track – it was mono! That’s the key point for me – how they did get all those musicians, all those wonderful people, recorded on one track. The way recording is done today is so completely different. I mean, it’s not even close to the way we did it at Gold Star back then. Everybody being in that same room together became part of that Phil Spector sound. He knew what he wanted. It wasn’t actually that crammed. I mean, it was small but not that small.

It’s fascinating to know that the console only had twelve inputs. And they managed to make those gargantuan records with just that!

I’m going to tell you a quick story. I was teaching a class at MI talking about the record business and the Wall of Sound and I said, “You know, in the beginning it was mono.” And some kid in the class let out a loud sigh, “Ooooh”, and everybody turned around and looked at him. I said, “Are you okay?” and he then says, “You know, my dad had that!”

He didn’t know what I was talking about. He only knew that mono (mononucleosis) was a disease, not monaural. That’s about it.

The kids today!

I’d also like to ask you about Brian Wilson. He was very inspired by the things Spector did in the studio. And you played on sessions with both of them. What would you say were their similarities and differences as producers?

I would say that the similarities were that they both are geniuses. They both knew what they wanted. Brian’s approach was much more musical while Phil’s approach was much more technical.

Brian hired a lot of us for his sessions. He’d let us be a part of his records where we would experiment or come up with ideas. During a session Brian would say, “Oh, that’s not good. Oh, that was great. Let’s do that!” There’s a video on YouTube of Brian and me. He was having a problem on “God Only Knows” and I just said, “Brian, let’s play those chords really short.” And when he heard the word “short” he looked at me, gave me a big smile and said, “That’s it!” Because we were holding the notes down too long on that one section of “God Only Knows” and it works much better when they’re shorter.

Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.
Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.

Yes, it’s amazing to listen to those Pet Sounds session tapes. That creativity – oh my god!

“God Only Knows” is such a marvelous song. Before Pet Sounds, I did several sessions for Brian but at one particular session we went in, sat down and the music in front of us was completely notated – everything was ready to go. It was a session we did at TTG studios in Hollywood. On the music the title was “Help Me Rhonda.” We played it through and after the first take I just sat there and said “if that’s not a number one hit, nothing is!” I just knew it. It was great!

What I didn’t know until just a couple of years ago was “Help Me Rhonda” had been recorded a few months before with Leon Russell at the piano and other Wall of Sound musicians and the Beach Boys. At the previous session, Brian and his dad got into such a fight over Brian’s direction of the song. It was included on an album, but when the version I worked on was completed it was released as a single.

helpmerhonda

If you compare with the earlier version, which was on the Beach Boys ‘Today’ album, you can certainly tell that this later version was the one with the magic touch. Like you said, you can hear that right away.

Spector’s recording schedule became more erratic during the 70s. He produced a few singles by Darlene Love, Cher and Jerri Bo Keno and albums by Dion and Leonard Cohen. Did you participate in some of those 70s sessions?

I remember participating in the Leonard Cohen sessions. And the ones with Darlene.

I also know that you took part in Spector’s aborted recordings with Celine Dion during the 90s. As far as I’ve heard, new versions of ‘River Deep Mountain High’ and ‘Is this What I Get for Loving You, Baby’ were recorded but never came out after there was a falling out between Spector and Celine Dion’s management. What do you remember about those sessions?

That’s a sore point … Phil blew a golden opportunity for me. Had he not decided that he was going to “play” Celine and her husband, I could have been making hit records with Celine Dion as we speak – it could have gone on forever.

Celine really liked the musicians. She came out to the piano, sat down next to me, a total stranger – and at that point Celine had already become a big star – and started telling me all the stuff I had played on! And then her husband, Rene, came up to me. They were the most gracious, lovely people. There was no way anyone was going to come between them artistically, but Phil certainly did try. Phil ended up alienating Rene and he never wanted to work with Phil again.

I’ve read about those sessions and now you’re talking about them. I hope that before they stick me in a box and put me in the ground I’ll hear those recordings at some point. From what I’ve heard they’re supposed to be great!

I don’t think you ever will. I don’t think Celine will allow it, unfortunately.

At the session, Celine asked me, “Would you be interested in joining our band?” I said, “Oh wow, certainly. Certainly!” So after they had that big row, I thought to myself, “You know, I’m going to call her up.” The problem at the session had nothing to do with me. It was between Rene and Phil.

So I left a message for Celine and Rene and heard back from their office – not from them personally – that they didn’t want to have anything to do with anybody who had anything to do with Phil Spector. Unfortunately, Phil could aggravate people to the point where they’ve had enough.

What was it Phil said to the Hollywood Reporter? He was so egotistical about it; “You don’t tell Einstein what to think! You don’t tell Mozart what to write. And you don’t tell Phil Spector how to produce!” Oh, come on Phil!

He was tough. He got mad at me because I worked with the Righteous Brothers, what can I tell you? We didn’t talk for years until we saw each other again at Jack Nitzsche’s funeral. I saw Phil quite a few times after that. I saw him at court and I appeared on Court TV for him. And I hope I get to see him again.

It’s sure been enlightening hearing your stories and I can’t wait for the release of your book.

Yeah, “You’ve Heard these Hands” is going to be enlightening for a lot of people. As a matter of fact, one of the editors that I was working with asked, “Is all this true?” And I joked, “Yeah, unfortunately for me it is!”

Cover for Don's upcoming book. A must-read for fans of the Wall of Sound.
Cover for Don’s upcoming book. A must-read for fans of the Wall of Sound.

Back in the 1960s, I tried to pull it together as much as possible but you know, there was one week I did 26 different recordings sessions! I was the arranger on four of those dates. That’s how busy we were. You didn’t have time to think, so to speak.

This book of yours; when did you start working on that? When did you say “I’m going to write a book?”

Over five years ago but I went through three or four different writers and didn’t get the book done. Then finally I ended up with this woman I’ve known for years. She’s a production person and her name is Karen Nishimura. And she was the one that really got the flow. She wasn’t trying to rewrite what I was saying. That made it a lot better.

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In the book are some really interesting stories about the films and the television shows I ended up writing as a musical director, the jazz clubs I played before and during the period I was busy in recording sessions, and about my own club The Baked Potato which I still play at every month.

baked

Really looking forward to it – as I’m sure the readers of Cue Castanets are as well. Don, a heartfelt thank you for taking your time to give this interview!

You’ve Heard These Hands

Now if that’s not a cool title for a book I don’t know what is! Turns out iconic Wrecking Crew pianist Don Randi is issuing a memoir, come September. I only just learned about this today and was pleasantly surprised.

Don behind the piano during a session, second from left.
Don behind the piano during a session, second from left.

Maybe it’s all the well-deserved hype sorrounding Denny Tedesco’s Wrecking Crew documentary that we can thank for cool stuff like Don’s book coming out? It’s definately about time the Wrecking Crew and its assorted members got their due respect.

Besides Don’s upcoming book we of course have Hal Blaine’s old book about his days with the crew as well as two more recent books dealing with the same subject, Ken Hartman’s The Wrecking Crew and Ken Sharp’s Sound Explosion. I have Hal’s book and enjoyed it even though it’s a quick read and a bit of a fast-forward account – the two others I’ve yet to get my hands on. But they’re definately on my list.

Cover for Don's upcoming book. A must-read for fans of the Wall of Sound.
Cover for Don’s upcoming book. A must-read for fans of the Wall of Sound.

Don’s book is going straight on that list as well. I’m sure he has some fascinating stories to tell. And he was no slouch either when it came to recording note-perfect Wall of Sound instrumentals – I’ve always been fond of this one, ‘Baby, You Don’t Understand Nothin’, arranged by – who else? – Jack Nitszche. It’s from 1965 and to quote Frank Sinatra, in Wall of Sound terms “it was a very good year.

Aw man, check this one out if you haven’t heard it before – this is as good as it gets!

I’ll end this post with links for the books mentioned so you can order those you don’t have asap.

Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew – The Inside Story of Rock’n’Roll’s Best-Kept Secret

Sound Explosion! – Inside LAs Studio Factory with the Wrecking Crew

You’ve Heard These Hands: From the Wall of Sound to the Wrecking Crew and Other Incredible Stories

Brent Cash Interview

Here’s another interesting interview for you; this time with the Athens, Georgia-based musician Brent Cash who I used to correspond with about music in the early 00s.

Back then, Brent kindly hipped me to some very interesting sunshine pop just as I was about to dip my toes into the genre while I on my part introduced him to some of the more obscure Spector productions.

Brent Cash
Brent Cash

I remember Brent casually mentioning that he was working on a solo album. Little did I know though that his music would blow me away when I unsuspectingly came across his debut album ‘How Will I Know If I’m Awake’ a few years later and realized this was the Brent Cash I’d been in contact with. I had just supposed that the solo album in progress back then was some sort of home-cooked, low-key affair.

Instead, what was flowing out of my speakers was beautiful, elaborate and highly sophisticated panorama pop that obviously reflected a mastering of all the best elements of the 60s pop both Brent and I cherish. And extremely well-produced to boot, with backing tracks sounding like they had been laid down by Hal & the rest of the crew at a LA studio session.

How Will I Know If I'm Awake (2008) - Brent's debut album
How Will I Know If I’m Awake (2008) – Brent’s debut album

If you haven’t heard Brent’s two albums, ‘How Will I Know if I’m Awake’ (2008) or ‘How Strange It Seems’ (2011), both out on Marina Records, I would highly recommend that you check them out.

Since I’ve been listening quite a lot to both albums with the coming summer I thought it would be interesting to ask Brent a few questions about his music and how he feels about Spector’s work and the 60s LA scene.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Brent; could you tell us briefly about your musical background? How did you start out playing music and how did you eventually end up recording two solo albums?

I have been “one-dimensional” towards music surely before my concrete memory started. There were always a handful of records at my home, then some at my aunt’s house, my other aunt’s house etc which got played/stared at/and in many cases…”borrowed”. This fascination never ended as I got older and when the opportunity to join band class came in the 6th grade, I took it. I auditioned for drums and got it.

My mother bought me my first real instrument – a set of drums which are still the only ones I’ve ever owned and are the ones used on my two albums. I continued band until my brief time at college ended. This taught me how to read rhythms. My band director in 12th grade, Mr. Cordell, decided to teach a small side class for classical guitar. This is where I began to associate the correct names for pitches.

I had always made up songs since at a young age, but around age 20 or so, I began to borrow my good friend David Layman’s Tascam Porta One 4-track machine and started making little productions of my songs on there and gradually I bought the machine from him. I’d never had the money to go into a real studio to do my own material (despite having done it many times with various bands) until my Aunt Sue passed away and she left me a little gift. Then I started thinking about making a real record.

'How Strange It Seems' (2011) - Brent's second album so far
‘How Strange It Seems’ (2011) – Brent’s second album so far

I’m really fond of your two albums. To these ears they’re like delicate, open love letters to all the best parts of the innovative 60s LA scene that Spector, Brian Wilson, Bacharach, Boettcher etc were a part of. Why does the music of that era resonate with you?

Thanks very much! That is a good way to describe both of them – love letters. I don’t know exactly why other than I am partial to a good marriage of interesting melodies over just the right chords and if a sneaky key change can be worked in – even better! And that era seems to have went wild with those characteristics – especially with the songwriters that worked at 1619 and 1650 Broadway, The Beatles, Jobim and others exploding onto the scene.

How many instruments do you play by the way? Starting out as a drummer, I would imagine you have some thoughts on Hal Blaine and his role in the monophonic impact that is the Wall of Sound? (or other Wrecking Crew sessions for that matter.)

I really only consider myself to be proficient on drums with bass maybe the next best instrument. As far as guitar and piano, I dabble with brief flashes of conviction.

Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer and all of those drummers I rate highly of course. The funny thing to me about those two and all the other session musicians of that era is how they just about all came out of jazz/big band (and some country) playing and the music we know and love them for is really dumbed-down in light of their full abilities. It’s great to have Barney Kessel on “Pet Sounds” but it’s a real kick listening to him on “The Poll Winners” series on Contemporary in the late 50s shredding with Ray Brown and Shelly Manne too.

How would you describe the influence of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound on you? Do you remember when you first became aware of his music?

Phil Spector was a visionary artist and his work influences me mainly in keeping the standards as high as I can when making my own records. You know, I don’t recall when I first became aware of his work. I don’t think it was being played too much on the AM radio during my early years – maybe they slipped in an oldie now and then.

Spector just kind of faded into my awareness at some point, like the way I probably would’ve known who President Nixon was if you’d asked me at age 4. The time-tested “icon-fade-in”.

brent how will i
Brent – hopefully considering recording a third album…

Is there a particular Spector production that has made a profound impression on you? If so, please do elaborate. I remember that you used to be very fond of Ronnie Spector’s obscure ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ single on Apple Records.

Yes. I have you to thank for turning me onto Ronnie’s “Try Some,Buy Some”! That record blew me away. I don’t know how a record could be better. The production, the chord changes and melody, the lead vocal – it all sounds so majestic and evocative of something, but I don’t know what.

I have often thought that if Beethoven would’ve heard it, he might have uttered…”hmmm, that’s pretty good.” With all due respect to the beloved & talented composer Mr. Harrison – Ronnie’s version is the one for the time capsule.

As I said earlier, listening to your two solo albums, every track reminds me of the 60s LA studio scene heyday. You seem to spend a lot of attention to detail as well as work out arrangements worthy of full-blown Wrecking Crew sessions.

In terms of your arrangement or production philosophies what would you say are the similarities or differences between you and Spector? – or those in his inner-circle like Jack Nitszche?

Well, the differences between Mr. Spector and me – and thanks for putting my work at least in the same sentence as his! – is that I am probably closer to Bones Howe in sound.

Bones Howe (middle, at the console) hangs out with the 5th Dimension and Jimmy Webb.
Bones Howe (middle, at the console) hangs out with the 5th Dimension and Jimmy Webb.

Thankfully, the engineers who do the great work – Andy Baker and Joel Hatstat – and I usually agree on those points. I tend more towards definition of all the instruments because they are usually playing interweaving parts against each other – contrasting lines. I think Phil’s work has many instruments playing similar pulses together in unison and the big reverb makes it sound like the revolution is coming, folks… and it will be in mono!

The similar part would have to be: obsession over every moment of the record. I try to make every second of it as good as “Citizen Kane”, haha. During mixing, it’s not uncommon for me to play a 2-3 second section over and over trying to get a particular set of harmonies or instruments to match the sound I heard in my head. I just do it until everything feels right.

As far as Jack ‘Specks’ Nitzsche – one of the absolute greats. His high string line in The Ronettes’ “Born To Be Together” just makes me melt. It’s in the middle of the song where they sing “We were born to be together…”.It may actually be the bridge, or a secondary chorus. I always shoot for the “goose bump” factor when I write for the orchestral instruments like ‘Specks’ did so well.

the-ronettes-45-born-to-be-together-philles-soul-pic-slv-phil-spector-bb742_3398468

When I first heard your second album, ‘How Strange It Seems’, I immediately noticed the Be my Baby like beat on the title track. Besides this are there any other details in your songs that were intended as a sort of tip of the hat to the Spector sound?

Yes, that is the “Be my Baby” beat! But, that whole song you mentioned came about from an obscure record I heard once – maybe twice on my hometown’s AM station (WGAA in Cedartown, Ga) when I was 4 or 5. I was in the car with my mom and it was even before I started school – we were dropping my older sisters off at school. I never knew the title or artist and I never heard it again until late 2013 (2 years after “How Strange It Seems” was released).

Somehow, I stumbled upon a song by Bobbi Martin probably on youtube and it slowly dawned on me that – holy moly – *this* is that song I heard – once or twice – 41 years ago. I had thought it was maybe Anne Murray all these years, but no. And shortly afterwards, I found another version – and *BOOM* this was the actual one I heard back on that Volkswagen Beetle car radio!

It was Karen Wyman “Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight). 1972. I bet the station probably put it in rotation for a week or two and the record then died soon afterwards. It was such a great relief to have solved this mystery which haunted me all my life up until that point.

Anyway, her drummer used the “Be My Baby” beat and I sort of made my own version of the memory of that elusive mystery record. My ability to mentally retain music was so surprisingly good at that age, it was shocking to hear it in my 40s and the key signature, tempo and drumbeat and arrangement style was just as I recalled it. And it *does* sound like Anne Murray!

In the 60s there were so many talented people hanging around Gold Star during those iconic Spector sessions, many of whom emulated the Wall of Sound themselves often to great results. Nitszche. Brian Wilson, Sonny Bono. Nino Tempo etc – you may know Ace Records three-part Phil’s Spectre comps of Spector sound-alikes?

Are there any Spector Soundalikes old or recent that you’d like to single out for whatever reason. I’ve written about quite a few on the blog as I think it’s always interesting to see how a musical imprint like that sort of spreads like wildfire.

There are many great ones – I love “Hang On” by The Wall Of Sound which you played for me, but my dearest fave Spector soundalikes are “New York’s A Lonely Town” by The Tradewinds (whose Anders-Poncia certainly learned firsthand how to do it well).

There’s also a single by The Oracle on Verve/Forecast produced by Curt Boettcher/Keith Olsen called “The Night We Fell In Love”. I’d put it at 1968. Not a lot of echo, but very Spectorish in feel. It’s a record like “Be My Baby” or “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” – you could just play it over and over and over and It’s not enough!

Finally, a great single on Imperial from about 1966 by Joel Christie called “Since I Found You”. Sounds L.A. to me and there’s a bit of reverb on this one. Killer vocalist – like a B. J. Thomas, but a little higher. And… produced by Marshall Leib!

Finally, a painful task I torture all my interview subjects with; please do share with us your personal top 5 list of Spector productions.

Not painful, other than narrowing them down! I had to leave out “He’s A Quiet Guy” by Darlene Love!

OK, in reverse order…

#5:”Born To Be With You” – Dion (I love the tambourine that sounds like it fell on the floor at the beginning)

#4: “Do I Love You” – The Ronettes

#3: “Instant Karma” – John Lennon

#2: “You Baby” – The Ronettes

#1: “Try Some,Buy Some” – Ronnie Spector

Brent, thank you for taking the time for this interview.

Thank you for asking me these questions. It’s been a pleasure.