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.
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!)
While Phil Spector’s 60s productions are always praised as groundbreaking and intricate, many wall of sound connaisseurs also tend to focus on his overlooked 70s output.
Limited as this output was, Spector’s projects from the era still underlined his role as the true auteur and sonic mastermind of each record. Yet, the former Tycoon of Teen was clearly at a creative crossroads, seemingly looking for a new direction for the wall of sound.
His approach had already seemed a bit passé by the end of the 60s. As he entered the new decade, Spector faced the fact that the record-buying teenagers of the early-to-mid 60s who had brought stardom to him and Philles had now grown up. Should his new music reflect this change or should he stay true to the old tried and tested formula? In the end, he chose, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, to do both – the productions became more delicate and often at a slower pace which lessened the expected impact from a new Spector production. On the other hand, the tracks were still cut at Gold Star studios with the regular team of brilliant session musicians, the iconic Wrecking Crew. Technology had changed – the mono that had propelled Spector’s bombast through speakers throughout the 60s had been surpassed by stereo, dreaded by Spector because it lessened the full impact of his productions.
A time of change, then. But luckily one that still brought us some great new Spector productions with the likes of John Lennon, George Harrison, Cher, Dion, Darlene Love and Leonard Cohen. And then there’s the puzzling one-off single by Jerri Bo Keno that came and went in 1975 on Spector’s short-lived label Phil Spector International. Who was this unknown singer giving it her all on a catchy song written by Jeff Barry and Phil Spector?
I decided to find out more and succesfully contacted Jerri who luckily was more than willing to sharing her memories of her short stint as Spector’s latest discovery. It’s a shame the project only lasted one single because the release was very promising and had the collaboration continued with similar singles, there might have been a chance of tapping into the surge in nostalgia that hit in the mid-to-late 70s; a topic I have blogged in depth about here: https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/that-70s-wall-of-sound/
Jerri is still in the music business and currently has a single out that Cue Castanets readers definately should check out. ‘Every Time You’re Near’ has a great melody and is beautifully sung by Jerri, – it is a lovely song that would have fit right in the Bacharach/David songbook.
Let’s turn to Jerri and learn what she remembers about her time recording for Spector…
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Jerri; please tell us a little about how you got your start in the music industry? Which projects had you worked on before recording with Phil Spector?
I came from a musical family growing up in a house full of music and dance. My Dad, Tony Bocchino, was a Jazz Musician and singer, and my sister, Chrissy Bocchino, was well known for her dancing and choreography on Broadway and TV.
Before I was signed to Phil, I was a singer/songwriter trying to establish myself in the LA scene. I spent a lot of time at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Blvd to get my name out there. I did a lot of session work and toured with a group called The Tootsie Rock Revue.
How did your path eventually cross with Spector’s? Did you sign with him right away or had you been acquainted with one another for some time?
I brought my singer/songwriter tape to Jeff Barry at A&M Records. He said he had a friend that might be interested in me but did not tell me who. One year later Jeff asked me if I would be interested in meeting Phil Spector, and I said of course! We arranged a meeting at Phil’s house. When I arrived, Phil took me over to the piano and asked me to sing “Be My Baby”. He signed me on the spot! I reminded him of Ronnie (Spector).
Once you got in Phil’s house, it was very difficult to leave. I would spend hours and hours there singing and talking! I began hanging out at his house regularly. There was always a good show going on and the cast of characters was fascinating, but I especially cherished my time alone with him because I saw a Phil Spector the rest of the world rarely witnessed. I also loved to sit with Phil and his mother, because they loved to disagree on all kinds of subjects!
Do you remember how you first heard ‘Here It Comes (and Here I Go)’? Was it in the form of a demo recording, and if so, sung by whom, or did Spector basically sit at the piano and play you the song?
Phil, Jeff and I were at Phil’s house, where I always rehearsed, and Phil played it on the piano and taught me the melody. I never had a demo to rehearse with. Phil didn’t do things in a traditional way which I got used to! I had no idea how this was going to sound until I got into the studio with the band. I would sit on the piano bench and sing with him for hours.
What do you remember from the ‘Here It Comes’ session? Were you present while the backing track was recorded or did you only come in afterward to record your lead vocal?
There were basic tracks, but Phil would go back and redo things regularly. You know what a perfectionist he was in the studio!
We recorded everything at A&M Studios, and at first, Phil had me in a booth, but he wasn’t happy with the sound. Then I sat on a stool in the middle of the studio, singing live with the musicians. What an amazing experience! I also sang on the backgrounds of my record and all the other records he was working on at that time.
Among collectors and Spector connoisseurs, ‘Here It Comes’ is widely regarded as the closest Spector ever came to jumping aboard the impending boom in disco music.
Did the two of you ever discuss the feel of the track? Its rhythmic, danceable beat seems tailor-made for the dance floor.
Phil never discussed how he came up with this beat but was adamant about his Wall of Sound. I think he was creating all the time and would attempt new things as they came to him.
However, I do remember in the 80’s when Phil came to NYC and called me to hang out for the evening. Paul Schaffer and I took him to a popular dance club where he threw a fit. He hated the dance beat and wanted to know where the lyrics were! Obviously wasn’t a fan of Disco!
The sparsely orchestrated ‘I Don’t Know Why’ ended up on the B-side. How do you feel about this song and its recording?
I get so many people that love that song! I actually think it was just a throwaway song for Phil. I enjoyed singing it, though! Would love to record this song again!
As we know, only one single was issued. But did you record other songs while with Spector? If so, I’d be very interested in whatever info you can share. Were they full-blown Wall of Sound productions or rough demos? Do you remember any song titles?
While my record was out, Phil got in the near fatal car accident which prevented him from recording for a very long time. We did not have anything else recorded, unfortunately.
What a shame. Following up on the previous question; did you participate on any other Spector sessions as a backup-singer?
Yes, I had the pleasure of working with LA’s best singers, like Maxine Willard and The Waters for all the Wall of Sound sessions. Most memorable were Dion’s and Cher’s songs.
How did your association with Phil Spector come to an end?
When Phil had his near-fatal accident, it put him out of commission. I actually got a phone call that he had died, and I panicked but soon after that initial shock, his assistant called asking me to come to the house to see him. He had suffered serious head and scalp injuries and was so concerned about the loss of his curly full head of hair which he was always so proud of.
Sadly because of this accident and his poor health, he didn’t record for a long time and we never worked together again.
What have you been up to since the mid-70s and ‘Here It Comes’?
I have done a lot of session work for all kinds of artists for all kinds music including singing with John Lennon when he and Phil were recording the Rock ‘n’ Roll album, certainly a highlight of my career.
I was in the group El Coco singing the hit “Let’s Get It Together” and was a featured singer on David Benoit’s Heavier Than Yesterday album singing “I Wish Right Now Would Never End”.
I was also a member of a group called The Downtown Girls in the 80’s and we had a European hit. I recently did backgrounds for Anita Ward’s new record “Another Bad Mistake” and The Village People’s Randy Jones’ current record, “Hard Times”.
I worked live with Toni Basil and The Lockers getting a chance to be a part of her astonishing choreography. She is one of the most creative performers I have worked with and best friends with my sister! I recently have done live shows with Joey Molland from Badfinger, Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Anita Ward and The Searchers. I always love performing live.
I had a single released a couple of years back called “My Love Is Yours” on Young Pals Music working with the very talented Ayhan Sahin and have a new single that just came out called “Everytime You’re Near”, written and produced by Peitor Angel for Buon-Art Music. Peitor and I will be recording a couple of new songs for an EP this year!
Jerri; thank you for shaing your thoughts with us. I’d like to end with a question I ask everyone I interview for Cue Castanets; could you please share with us your personal top 5 Spector-produced tracks?
I would have to start with my record –
“Here It Comes (And Here I Go)”. I love the track!
My all-time favorite – “Be My Baby” – The Ronettes
Leiber/Stoller,… Pomus/Schuman,… Goffin/King,… Mann/Weill,… Barry/Greenwich,… Bacharach/David,… even a cursory study of label credits on classic 60s US pop singles quickly reveals how the very best of the era’s songwriting came from a bunch of dynamic duos. Some of these songwriting partnerships or husband-and-wife teams almost became household names in themselves along with the acts they wrote for or produced… well, household names at least among music connoisseurs.
But dig deeper than the most well-known Brill Building names and you’ll find more duos worthy of praise and exploration of their work; one could mention Bonner/Gordon,… Wine/Levine,… Sloan/Barri,… Boyce/Hart and none the least Anders/Poncia.
The latter duo, consisting of childhood friends Pete Anders [Peter Andreoli] and Vini Poncia, is one of my all-time favorite songwriter partnerships. These guys could do it all! Sing, write, produce – everything. Despite doing all this at a frantic pace their work was no run of the mill operation.
Find a single with an Anders/Poncia label credit and you can be sure that there are something a bit unusual about it. The song might all of a sudden take an interesting turn or throw in an unusual chord – topped with hooks galore and killer vocals. No wonder Phil Spector took notice of these noble knights of quirky chord progressions and considered them worthy of stepping in when Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich’s work with Spector had run its course.
When I started this blog the very first person I reached out to for an interview was Pete Anders – besides being a big fan of his work with Vini, I also hadn’t seen him reminisce about his life in music in any interviews and I thought it could be interesting if he’d be willing to do so on Cue Castanets. Peter was up for it but sadly his health problems and passing prevented the interview to take place. When I heard about this I paid my respects to the memory of Peter here:
Luckily, Peter’s partner-in-crime Vini Poncia has recently followed up on Peter’s acceptance of an interview and answered the questions I had prepared,… which makes perfect sense seeing that Peter and Vini always did what they did best together, – recording perfect pop in any genre, be it doo wop, rock’n’roll, girl group, wall of sound, Beatles knock offs, surf pop, sunshine pop – you name it!
I would like to thank Peter and Vini’s friend Rick Bellaire for conducting this interview on behalf of Cue Castanets July 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. Rick is the archive director for the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame; www.RhodeIslandMusicHallofFame.com
So, please put on your favorite Anders/Poncia tune, sit back and enjoy Vini’s answers to my questions.
Vini, thank you for taking the time to do this interview for Cue Castanets.
You and Peter first met each other in the vocal group The Videls out of Providence, Rhode Island in the late ‘50s. Did the two of you “click” right away as creative partners or was it something that slowly evolved?
We actually first met before The Videls when we were in junior high school. I was on the touch football team from my middle school, Esek Hopkins, and we played against Nathanael Greene Middle School in 1956. Their quarterback was Peter Andreoli. After the game, we talked and hit it off right away. We had all the same interests – sports, girls and mainly music and guitars.
We started to hang around and tried to write songs. We weren’t that prolific. The Videls were started by our friend Bobby Calitri and Peter replaced the lead singer in that group in 1957. They had five singers and a guitarist. I formed a four-piece instrumental band called The Del Rinos with another friend of ours, Frank Spino, who played drums. in 1958, I replaced one of the singers AND the guitarist in The Videls and that became the classic five-piece lineup.
“Mr. Lonely” appears to be the first “Andreoli-Poncia” written song. Is that so?
It was the first released song. We had written a few things and sometimes made demos at our local TV and radio repair shop where the owner had a small recording studio in the backroom. But nothing happened with those songs.
How did the two of you work on songs together from then on? Did one of you, say, mainly write the words and the other the melody / chords? Or did it change from song to song?
We both wrote lyrics and melodies. We’d sit together and try to come up with stuff or we’d bring each other ideas – titles, a bit of melody – as a starter.
In general, we mainly wrote together. We also wrote some folk songs during the early days of The Videls and had a duo on the side we called The Royalty Brothers – like The Everly Brothers.
Even from the early Videls recordings I hear Peter as a very skilled singer with a distinctive vocal style. Who would you say were his biggest influences when you were starting out?
Jimmy Beaumont from The Skyliners, Johnny Maestro of The Crests, Jackie Wilson. Those were his role models and heroes, but Peter was so good that he got to join that club!
Let’s talk about your work while at Philles.
How did your writing relationship with Phil Spector come about? Was his interest piqued by one of your song demos (if so, which one?) or were you teamed up with him?
Paul Case who ran Hill & Range, the publishing company where we worked as songwriters, was Phil’s friend. Phil would test his masters on Paul’s shitty stereo – he figured if they sounded good on a bad record player, they’d sound good anywhere!
During one visit, Paul knowing that Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry were kind of on the way out with Phil, especially because of the arrangement between Phil’s publishing company, Mother Bertha, and Lieber and Stoller’s Company, Trio Music where Jeff and Ellie were signed, said, “Listen to my friends from Providence,” and played Phil some of the stuff we’d done for Snuff Garrett, Bobby Vee, Doc Pomus and one of our records, “Hand Clapping Time.” Phil liked what he heard and told Paul to have us bring him some song ideas.
“The Best Part of Breaking Up” is one of many great songs from that period.
There’s a story going around that you and Peter only had the title/catch phrase for the song (“The best part of breaking up is when you’re making up”) when you pitched the song to Spector and that he immediately sensed a hit from the title alone, asking you to write it. Is this true?
The magic really began in New York when we would bring him Ideas. Yes, we had started it, but we had more than the hook. Phil heard it and he went right to the piano. I had my guitar. Phil helped us finish the first verse. He also wrote the pre-chorus: “Tell me why…” Then he said go home and write the second verse.
We regrouped once all the lyrics were finished and then we started arranging it and getting ready to record it in California.
What was it like to work with him and seeing your songs get the Wall of Sound treatment in the studio?
Well, we played and sang on all the sessions so we were right in the middle of it. For “Best Part,” we were ready, then Phil came up with the bridge and Jack (Nietzsche, Spector’s arranger) worked it right into the song.
In general, we were involved in every aspect of the writing and production, but it really came down to Phil. But he had a LOT of help! He had Hal Blaine, Leon Russell, Steve Douglas…Peter and I were in awe of the process. We had front-row tickets at the “genius” record-making process. On the other hand, we expected nothing less because we came in after Phil had already established his genius at record-making. That blueprint had already been drawn up as far as Larry Levine and engineers and Jack and the charts and the musicians.
Are there any particular songs from that time you’re especially fond of?
The stuff with Darlene has a soft spot in my heart. We were trying to think outside the box: “Strange Love,” “Quiet Guy,” “Stumble and Fall.” They were three very different kinds of songs, not Crystals-esque. We were writing songs for HER which would be different than what she did with the group or on her other sessions for Phil. We wanted to show her growing as an artist.
Darlene Love has actually mentioned numerous times that “He’s a Quiet Guy” is her favorite Philles-era song. I tend to agree. It’s a fantastic piece of work. So it was written directly for her? Did you participate at the session?
Yes, it was written specifically for her and we were on the session.
I’d also like to ask you about “Hold Me Tight.” I absolutely love Peter’s vocal on this recording, credited to The Treasures.
Whose idea was it to rework, and in my opinion vastly improve, a Beatles song so radically? Did Spector record anything else with you on lead that has remained unreleased?
It was Phil’s idea. He said, let’s go make a big, bombastic version of a Beatles tune – cover a Beatles song and give it the “Phil Spector” treatment. Even though there’s no production credit, Phil produced the record and we were the artists instead of simply the composers or arrangers.
We went through the same process he used with every other record. The only difference was it came out on one of his subsidiaries, Shirley Records. And, no, there’s nothing unreleased.
One of your more obscure songs while with Spector is “You’re my Baby’”by Gene Toone & The Blazers, a fun throwback to your street corner doo wop background set to a marching beat. I really love this song.
The feel and beat of it reminds me of an unreleased Philles-era track called “Pretty Girl’”sung by Spector himself. Were you and Peter involved in that song? It has the same type of marching beat and funny lyrics that, among other things, goes: “My name’s Philip and incidentally I ain’t going steady. But you’ve got something that get’s me thinkin’ I may be ready.” There’s a prominent use of harmonica throughout and the chorus goes “You’re so fine. So fine. What’s your number? You’re so fine.” Do you remember this song/production?
I remember it, but we had no involvement.
“Do I Love You” – that bass riff in the intro is pure genius. Do I detect a bit of a Motown influence in that song?
Phil wrote the bass riff. I think I remember him playing that riff early – back in New York – on the left hand of piano when we were writing it. We were certainly aware of what was coming out of Motown and were incorporating certain ideas into what we were doing. They were doing the same thing with Phil’s stuff.
I’ve heard rumors of an unreleased Ronettes track wittten by you and Peter called “Someday (Baby).” Do you remember this one? Did Spector record more songs of yours than what was eventually released?
No recollection. We had an early song with Peer/Southern called “Someday Baby,” but we never brought it to Phil.
There’s of course also The Lovelites. You and Peter did some fantastic stuff with this group – “When I Get Scared” on the Phi-Dan label and the not officially released “Please be my Boyfriend” and “He’s My Eddie Baby.” All great productions!
What would you say you learned as producers from your association with Phil Spector?
The importance of the song and how to “record” arrange meaning thinking of how the RECORD would sound as opposed to just arranging for an orchestra or band. I have one adage from Phil I used to repeat all the time which is simplistic in nature, but he always used to say, “You have to write the best song you can write and you have to make the best record you can make with that song. You cannot have a great song and make an inferior record and can’t make a great record with an inferior song.” You have to be able to discern the difference.
The one other thing he told me that I always used to tell everybody was, “You may not like what you hear on the radio as a hit record or a #1 record – it may not be ‘your kind’ of record – but you better know WHY it was a hit.”
Following up on The Lovelites and “Please Be My Boyfriend” specifically – was that song written by you and Peter? It has never been disclosed who wrote it as an acetate label and sessions sheets don’t feature writing credits.
Also, there’s a version floating around credited to The Crystals. Many believe that the demo isn’t sung by the Crystals but by an unknown group. Do you recognize the voices? This version has puzzled collectors for decades!
I’m not sure, but I think it’s a song we wrote and recorded when we were back working in New York after we were done working with Phil.
We used to record at Broadway Recording Studios at 1697 Broadway in Manhattan. I think it’s a demo and that it’s not Darlene or The Crystals. It could have been any one of the young, black girl groups we used hire to sing our demos. We definitely produced it in the Phil Spector mode – but it was a bad imitation. We may have worked on it with The Lovelites, but not completed it.
You left Spector and Philles Records for Leiber and Stoller’s Red Bird label in 1965. Your first master there was the legendary “New York’s a Lonely Town” under The Tradewinds moniker. A sizeable hit.
How did you come up with this great idea for a song? Did you offer it to Spector before releasing it on Red Bird? Many of the Tradewinds songs have an obvious Beach Boys influence. How did you feel about what Brian Wilson was doing at the time? Did you ever meet him in LA?
Surf music was a huge market then. We heard a ton of it working in L.A. and loved what The Beach Boys were doing. We knew some of them. Brian used to stop in at the Spector sessions to hang out and check out what Phil was doing.
We started the song in L.A. and finished it when we returned to New York. We cut a demo looking to place it with another artist, but when we finished, we knew we had something big and that we should release it ourselves. We went back into the studio and turned the demo into a master. We offered it to Phil first as a courtesy and he knew it was a hit, but he passed on it because he had a bunch of stuff of his own ready to release. So, we brought it to Jerry and Mike and they picked it up.
On Kama Sutra and later Buddah you recorded fantastic stuff under quite a few names: The Tradewinds, The Innocence, The Good Times, etc. But you also released Peter’s first solo single, the majestic “Sunrise Highway” backed with “Baby Baby.” Why a solo single at this time?
Well, the obvious reason is that it features Peter’s incredible vocal. The other reason is that you don’t want to release too many things under the same name one after the other.
We just used the different names as a way to get more records out faster. It was just another “Anders & Poncia” record under a different name. And it also wasn’t the first solo record.
Back in 1962, after The Videls and before The Tradewinds, we released two singles under two different names on two different labels at the same time. Peter’s was “I’m Your Slave” on Corvair and I was “Vince Parelle” on Elmor with “Walk Away.” Nothing ever happened with them which is probably why you didn’t know we’d released “solo” records before.
I’ve heard rumours of an unreleased album borne out of the sessions for the Anders & Poncia single “So It Goes” b/w “Virgin to the Night” on Kama-Sutra. Any truth to this? If so, why was it scrapped?
Yes, it’s true. We worked very closely with Artie Ripp who ran Kama Sutra and Buddah and the three of us decided we should take a crack at writing something for Broadway.
The idea was that instead of it being a standard musical having one long story with songs inserted into the narrative, we would write a song cycle about different aspects of American life and each song would have its own presentation on stage – little vignettes. We wrote, I believe, fifteen songs for the project which was called “Of Love And Life” and story-boarded all the ideas.
We rented costumes and built sets and did a series of photographs illustrating what each of the story-songs would look like on stage. We recorded demos for all the songs but not finished masters – mostly guitar and voice. The cast album would have been an Anders and Poncia album.
Artie shopped the idea around, but it was an expensive proposition and there were no takers. The idea was put on hold and we recorded two of the best songs, “So It Goes” and “Virgin,” and that became our next single. We left Buddah shortly after that to go to California to work with Richard Perry whom we had worked with at Kama Sutra/Buddah early on.
We worked on the Tiny TIm stuff and we gave another one of the songs from the project to Tim. It’s “Christopher Brady’s Ole Lady” which is on “Tiny Tim’s 2nd Album.” After that, we cut “The Anders & Poncia Album” with Richard for Warner Brothers and included “You Don’t Know What To Do” from the play and that was it. Just the four songs. We didn’t do any more work on the play or on the rest of the songs.
A final question; you and Peter were involved in so many one-off singles that some were bound to fall through the cracks.
A particular favorite of mine is “Thinkin’ ‘bout Me” by The Fairchilds from 1968. What a stunning song and great production – should have been a hit! You and Peter are listed as producers along with your old Videls buddy, Norman Marzano. What do you remember about this song? Was The Fairchilds an actual group or just you guys recording? I think I hear Peter singing background vocals?
The Fairchilds was the group name for The Tradewinds minus me and Pete – a side project. Peter and I go all the way back to The Videls with Norman Marzano and Bobby Calitri. Then they became The Tradewinds with me and Peter.
When we couldn’t go out on tour because we were needed in the studio, we formed a “road” version of the group which included Jim Calvert and Paul Naumann. So, when nothing was happening with our records, we tried to keep the guys busy and they helped us with different projects and we were all signed to Kama Sutra as writers.
We got an offer to produce a record for A&M. So, Norman, Jimmy and Paulie named themselves The Fairchilds and wrote a couple of songs. Peter and I helped them produce the single and, yes, that’s Peter singing with the group. Nothing happened with the record and it was back to business as usual.
Fascinating to learn the story about this great single.
Vini, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m sure Cue Castanets readers will find your recollections as interesting as I have.
I hope you enjoyed the recent interview with Wrecking Crew member Don Randi about his session work with Phil Spector and Brian Wilson. If you haven’t read the interview yet, just scroll down and enjoy his insights.
Hot on the heels of Don’s stories, I’m glad to be able to publish yet another interesting interview. This time with Jason Brewer who is the main songwriter and band leader of one of the coolest groups to emerge in recent years, the Explorers Club. If you’re enough of a music geek to spend your time reading my ultra-nerdy posts on Cue Castanets, my guess is that you already know these guys. If not, then oh boy, are you in for a pleasant surprise!
Anyone who follows the blog will know that I’m as much of a Beach Boys / Brian Wilson fan than I am a fan of Spector’s Wall of Sound approach. So I was simply blown away when I first came across songs by the Explorers Club at MySpace back in 2007. Who would have thought that a young group from Charleston could channel everything great about the Beach Boys and other iconic 60s pop in their own music?
To date, Jason Brewer and a revolving line up of Explorers Club members have issued two albums and some one-off singles,… and for anyone checking in here, all of their output is essential listening. Please support these guys! They are in the midst of wrapping up their third album; keeping the flame alive and really deserving all the success they can get.
Here, then, is an interview with Jason about his influences, insights about Explorers Club songs as well as some info on their upcoming album. Along the way, you’ll find embedded youtube videos with some of their stellar work to enjoy.
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First off Jason, I’d like to hear about how you started out playing music? Had you been in any other bands before you formed the Explorers Club?
I started playing guitar when I was 11 and then started writing my own songs when I was 14. I was in a few bands growing up but nothing too serious.
I had a band in college that was influenced by garage rock called 1984. But I didn’t feel professional enough to really go for it until Explorers Club started in 2005.
You’ve obviously been very influenced by Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys, but what other artists and genres have made an impression on you? Is there anyone in particular you’d like to single out?
I would say that there is a wide spectrum of music that has influenced me from the Beatles to Jimmy Webb to Burt Bacharach to Neil Young to Phil Spector to the Band to Nilsson and many others. Brian Wilson is far and away my biggest influence.
I do have a few modern inspirations – not in sound as much as just “these guys are brilliant and I want to do what they do” – like john Davis from Superdrag, Starflyer 59, Noel Gallagher, Rufus Wainwright and many others.
Back to the Beach Boys and that whole realm of 60s LA studio pop that Brian Wilson was in the center of along with people like Phil Spector, Jack Nitszche, Burt Bacharach, Curt Boettcher and others;
… as a musician of today, how does the music of that era resonate with you? Any specific thoughts about the difference between music then and now?
All of that music is the biggest influence on me.
The whole LA / Wrecking Crew sound is just magical. The brilliant records made then are the very pinnacle of rock and roll. Rock has not equaled that era. The LA music scene from the 1960s had such a creative and genre expanding sound that just resonates with me on many levels.
When I heard so many of those records as a kid it was like being transported to another planet. I still get that exciting feeling whenever I hear the Wall of Sound or the Beach Boys or a great dramatic Bacharach ballad.
How many instruments do you play by the way? When I listen to the Explorers Club albums I get the feeling that all of you guys combined are like the Charleston Wrecking Crew!
Well, I play guitar and some keyboards. The band is actually now based in Nashville, TN with a couple guys in Atlanta and Charleston as well.
The guys in the band are truly top notch and I feel so lucky and honored to work with them on our music.
Do you collectively work out the songs and arrangements or are the songs more or less fully formed when you get together to rehearse them?
I usually come in with the overall idea and then together we play the basic track based on the original idea – sometimes we add parts collectively and sometimes I already have musical arrangements finished.
I try to not bring in half baked ideas but you never know when you will have a magical creative moment collectively.
On this new album we are finishing up, our guitarist Mike took some basic ideas I had for our harmony vocals and came up with some brilliant arrangements. The songs themselves are usually done before we record but there is usually room to try different sounds in the studio.
Those vocal harmonies on both your albums are gorgeous! Must take some time perfecting them?
On everything we have done the vocals are the hardest part!
I have done some arrangements on my own and a lot of them with Mike Williamson who now plays guitar in the band.
I’d like to dwell a bit on the main theme of the blog, Phil Spector & the Wall of Sound. Do you remember when you first became aware of his music?
From a very young age I remember hearing Righteous Brothers and Ronettes records on the radio.
But it all really came together for me when I got the Back to Mono box set about 15 years ago. It just blew my mind! It made me understand how Brian Wilson was so influenced by that music.
Is there a particular Spector production that has made a profound impression on you?
I would say my two favorites are ‘Be my Baby’ and ‘You Baby’ by the Ronettes. Two amazing records!
Certainly can’t argue with that. I’ve always been really fond of ‘You Baby’ myself.
There were some cool tributes to the Wall of Sound on your first album, ‘Freedom Wind.’ Most notably on ‘Forever’ but also the opening seconds of what may be my favorite song of yours, ‘Don’t Forget the Sun.’
I remember the first time I heard it, I went “Why, that’s the opening seconds of ‘You Baby’ right there!” Could you tell a bit about how you went about faithfully recreating the Wall of Sound on those songs and others? Was it just a case of trial and error?
I tried to blend that intro with some other cool percussion instruments. We wanted to give a nod to that song and also create a really cool groove at the top. I had specific designs for that intro.
Listening to the two Explorers Club albums, every track reminds me of the 60s LA studio scene heyday. You guys 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 you’ve learned from studying the work of Brian Wilson, Spector or others?
The main thing is the combination of sounds. Finding unique blends of basic instruments to create a unique sound.
Brian was the master of voicing parts for just the right blend which he got from Spector but in my mind perfected. Brian took that Spector influence to a higher level.
You broadened up your sound a bit with your second album, ‘Grand Hotel.’ When I first heard it, it struck me as a very diverse and loving tribute to the late 60s & early 70s soft pop / A&M Records sound?
Totally! Those records of the soft pop A&M era were amazing. It is this perfect blend of reverb and dry sounds that is really hard to get sonically.
One of the continuing features on my blog is my obsession with Spector soundalikes. 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. Jack Nitszche. Brian Wilson, Sonny Bono. Nino Tempo – and later on, a lot of recent artists have built upon the sound like you have with your two albums.
Are there any Spector soundalike tracks old or recent that you’d like to single out for whatever reason? Maybe other modern acts that you feel would appeal to fans of classic 60s pop?
I haven’t heard too many modern acts like that except maybe Camera Obscura – I’m sure there are some others. But truly – a lot of modern acts are nowhere close to that amazing sound.
Check out my ongoing ‘Modern Spector Soundalike’ feature on here then. You might discover a few modern tributes to your liking.
Some time ago, I interviewed Andy Paley about his work with both Spector, Brian Wilson and others and we got to talk a bit about the fantastic one-off single you and Andy collaborated on, ‘Don’t Waste Her Time.’
That song is incredible and so well-produced! Could you tell a bit about the song’s genesis and working with Andy?
Andy is the greatest. He is one of the best collaborators I have had. We truly just sat down one afternoon and knocked that song out at his house in LA.
I imagined Ronnie Spector singing it with Brian Wilson producing. Explorers Club just recorded a new version for our new album. The original version I recorded with the great Mitch Easter.
Yeah, about that much anticipated third album… What can we expect from it? How would you describe the sound and feel you’ve gone for this time around? Is there a release date yet?
No release date yet. I’d say that this record is closer to our first album but has its own very unique sound.
You can expect a lot of harmonies and some new sounds from us. It is sort of a mix of Sunflower-era Beach Boys along with a ton of surprises arrangement-wise. It is by far our best record.
Wow! Sunflower is my favourite Beach Boys album so I can’t wait to hear what you guys have come up with.
Finally, I hope you’ll be up for listing your personal top 5 of Phil Spector productions.
The Ronettes – ‘Be my Baby’
The Ronettes – ‘You Baby’
Modern Folk Quartet – ‘This Could be the Night’
The Righteous Brothers – ‘Just Once in my Life’
The Ronettes – ‘I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine’
Jason, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.
I’m pleased to be able to share with you yet another interview, – this time with my old Spector buddy, US-based collector David A. Young.
David and I go back at least 12-13 years and have discussed the music in depth ever since establishing contact through the old Spectropop forum. Along the way, David has introduced me to some great tunes, like the two albums issued by Pete Anders and Vini Poncia under their Tradewinds and the Innocence guises.
David’s a hardcore fan and without a doubt one of the top Spector experts and collectors in his country – when a guy has ‘spectorcollector’ as a part of his e-mail address you know he’s serious about his Wall of Sound collection!
Suffice to say, David’s collection of all things Spector and related is extremely impressive and includes acetates, demos and assorted rarities. Although he has downsized it somewhat in recent years, there’s still a wealth of interesting collectibles to make the hearts of Spector fans worldwide race with the ‘Be my Baby’ beat.
Let’s hear what David has to say about his infatuation with the Wall of Sound.
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David, let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember when you became aware of Phil Spector’s music? Was there a specific song that won you over and turned you into a full-blown fan of the Wall of Sound?
My first reaction to that question is that I know for sure it was because of Phil Spector that I became a record collector as opposed to merely a record buyer.
When I was young, department stores sold records, and after 45s that hadn’t sold were returned to the distributor and turned into cutouts, they were bundled in plastic in packages of like ten singles for 39 cents or so and then sent back to the stores for sale as mystery value packs; you could only see the two labels that faced the outside of the package, so you were gambling on whether or not you’d like what was inside.
Through some combination of buying records on purpose and buying them blindly in this way, I noticed that many of my favorites were on the same label — Philles, of course — and had Phil Spector’s name on them.
As a result, I started buying any record I found that said ‘Phil Spector’ on it somewhere. I’m afraid I can’t honestly recall any particular song that put me over the top as you describe, though, whether before or after that realization.
I know that you’ve been active in the fan community through the decades. I remember you telling me about hosting a Spector-themed party at one point. And you of course also were a member of the Phil Spector Appreciation Society – in some of the old PSAS newsletters I’ve noticed that you offered custom t-shirts for sale?
Could you tell a bit about all of this? I’d love to hear about that party and similar fan activity. In our day and age where fans worldwide are just clicks away from the latest news, forums and contact with each other, I find this early sense of a tight-knit fan community very interesting.
I had ‘Phil Spector’s birthday’ parties two years in a row, 1975 and ’76 (cohosted by my roommate[s] at the time). I invited him both times, and once — the first time — his personal assistant, Devra Robitaille, whom you’ve also interviewed for your blog, sent me a note with his regrets.
I also called him every December 26 from about that time to just a few years ago, when the number was disconnected, to wish him a happy birthday. The parties were fun, well-attended events; to bypass having to entertain requests (and to better focus on my partying), I pre-recorded four hours of music, 100% Spector-produced or co-produced, on reel-to-reel tape each time. That way I only had to play DJ once during the festivities, when it was time to turn the tape over two hours in. The trick worked so well that I did it for all my parties for many years, putting together a different program each and every time.
Funny that you mention the t-shirts. If only I still fit into mine; I’ve grown from a size small to a large since then! I gave it to a Spector-obsessed friend years ago when he visited me. It has the famous picture of Phil holding his sunglasses in front of his mouth.
I don’t think I ever actually sold one of them, but something much better happened: people wrote from all over asking if I wanted to trade tapes of rare and unreleased Spector and girl-group recordings instead, and of course the answer was a mutually rewarding yes in each case. I wish I still had all the handwritten letters, track notes, and the reel-to-reel tapes (and, later, cassettes) from those days, but at least I still have the memories.
The Internet sure has streamlined networking, musical and otherwise! Back then, besides people I met in real life – working at record stores helped -, it was those shirts, and the Phil Spector Appreciation Society, that led to my most significant connections.
You’re known as a hardcore collector and even though you’ve sold of parts of your collection by now, I’ll bet it must still be incredibly impressive. Do you have any anecdotes about record hunting? Turning up rare records in unlikely places or at ridiculously cheap prices?
Limiting my answer to Spector records, my two favorite anecdotes are these:
Almost all my original Philles albums, including the fake-stereo ‘Twist Uptown’ by The Crystals and the real-stereo ‘Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica’ were purchased in mint-minus condition from Village Oldies in New York for $100 apiece, reserved through a lucky phone call.
I sent them a payment once or twice a month until everything was paid for, and then the whole package arrived at once. What a day! The Ronettes album has subsequently been autographed by Ronnie Spector and Hal Blaine.
Also, I got unplayed copies of both the Jay and the Americans and the Supremes versions of ‘Things Are Changing’ in their mint title sleeves at a record show from the same guy, who worked at a record wholesale company, for $4 each!
Obviously, he had no idea what he had there, and I wasn’t about to tell him! By then, I already had the Blossoms version, which I got from Jack Fitzpatrick, who later co-wrote the ‘Collecting Phil Spector’ book and whom I’d met through the t-shirt ad.
What are some of your most prized Spector-related items in your personal collection?
I’ve sold lots of the most valuable things over the years, so that’s another conversation, but a number of pieces come to mind that I can’t imagine ever letting go of because of my personal attachment to them.
Along with the aforementioned Ronettes album, there’s the white-label DJ copy of ‘A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records’ with a promotional letter, the copy of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ on the rare X-125 pressing that Darlene Love autographed to me, and especially the 1987 reissue on Rhino of the Christmas album that Phil signed for me.
By that time I’d placed my ‘happy birthday’ calls so many years in a row that Devra Robitaille called to ask for my address, saying that Phil wanted to thank me for my steadfast devotion. A few days later, the LP arrived in the mail.
Where has your Spector collecting led you beyond acquiring all the different records he produced?
Of course it started with looking at the Spector discographies that existed at the time and, one by one, checking off each release as I obtained it — and over time, the discographies became more and more complete.
Before long, let’s say the first available copy of a record was a DJ copy instead of a stock copy, so I’d have that and then think, “Cool, I’ll get the promo and issue copies of every Spector record.” Then it turns out there are all kinds of label variations: You can have a white, blue, orange, or yellow-and-red label, and the typesetting can be different from one to the next, the logo changes and now may have a thick line or a thin line under it. And that’s just the variations on Philles!
Then there’s having the same release from as many different countries as possible, maybe with a variety of picture sleeves, different B-sides, the EPs, the spelling errors (like the pressing of Phil Spector 2 by Veronica listing ‘Why Can’t They Let Us Fall in Love’ instead of ‘Why Don’t They…’), the reversed labels (as on my stock copy of Philles 123, where the side labeled ‘Stumble and Fall’ plays ‘[He’s a] Quiet Guy’ and vice versa), and on and on.
From there, it spun out of control. My thirst for the Wall of Sound proved unquenchable, so I started seeking out and buying what we now call soundalikes, and as you know, there are both credible and laughable examples of attempts to replicate the Spector sound dating from the ’60s on up through the present.
Before I knew it, I had to have anybody’s cover version of any Spector-related song, whether he had composer credit on it or not (as is the case with, say, ‘He’s a Rebel’ or ‘I Love How You Love Me’). It was bad enough when I’d learn about such covers one way or another and then seek them out, but then eBay came along and I could search by title, discovering literally hundreds of them that I doubt I’d ever have known about otherwise.
Lastly, I started seeking out other releases by artists, especially the more obscure ones,that Phil had produced. You wouldn’t believe how many 45s Kell Osborne or Obrey Wilson, to name just two examples, put out!
Beyond that, like most Spector fans, I’m also wild for the girl group sound in general and have an extensive collection in that genre as well.
Do you only collect records or do you also have old Spector-related fanclub newsletters, posters and similar collectibles? I’ve often wondered how much of this stuff was out there when Philles was active?
I have three boxes full of paper stuff such as you describe. I’ll send along scans of some of the things we’re talking about here in case you want to use them for illustrations.
There’s a bit of everything, though: newsletters, magazines, fanzines, full-page ads from Billboard and Cashbox, sheet music, publicity photos, random articles and pictures … even a typewritten letter from Phil’s sister Shirley to The Teddy Bears and bearing her signature, from when she was managing the group. I have quite a collection of pinback buttons, too, or badges, as our British friends call them.
As far as when Philles was active, there’s not much I can think of besides the promotional materials and ads that came along with new releases, other than that ‘Thanks for Giving Me the Right Time’ clock, which I don’t have, nor do I particularly care about having, given how much it sells for when it does show up.
The two ‘Rare Masters’ compilations that came out in the mid-70s contained a wealth of fully-realised, but up-until-then unreleased Spector productions. Do you think there are more recordings like these left in the Spector tape vault? Have you heard some that other fans have undoubtedly yet to hear?
Well, we’ve yet to see release of ‘Someday (Baby)’ or ‘Padre’ by The Ronettes, and I read a post on Cue Castanets! speculating that they may have recorded ‘I’ll Never Need More than This’ as well.
I haven’t heard ‘Padre’ but its existence has been confirmed by a very reliable source. It’s the same song made famous by Toni Arden and, later, Valerie Carr, and it’s fun to imagine it as a Philles-era Ronettes track.
Then there’s the very odd case of a Gold Star acetate dated 1967, supposedly after both Philles and The Ronettes had disbanded: a commercial for Rheingold Beer with vocals on one side credited to The Ronettes and on the other by Phil Spector.
From the late-Philles era, we also haven’t seen release of Phil’s ‘Pretty Girl’, ‘Lucy in London’ or ‘Down at TJ’s.’
I was thrilled when The Crystals’ version of ‘Woman in Love (with You)’ was finally released a few years back, but we still haven’t heard — officially, anyway — their ‘Chico’s Girl’ or ‘Mary Ann’ or Darlene Love’s ‘It’s My Party’ or ‘You Can’t Sit Still’ (the backing track for which became ‘Dr. Kaplan’s Office.’)
That’s probably not a complete list, but it’s what comes to mind as we chat. Then there’s all Phil’s unreleased Apple-era stuff, and at least one finished production from the 70s PSI period: Tina Turner doing the Irving Berlin song ‘Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor.’
Add to that all the miscellaneous stuff through the years, the fabled Molly Ringwald and Celine Dion sessions, and the many, many demos, and there’s plenty left to be unearthed.
Mono or stereo? Or both? How do you feel about stereo mixes of Spector’s recordings?
Both, please! In some ways, it’s like listening to two different records, though this is more or less true depending on the particular cut. The background vocals are even different between the mono and stereo versions of The Ronettes’ ‘How Does It Feel’ for goodness’ sake!
I guess what I like is ‘dissecting’ mono recordings by listening to them in stereo to better make out all the individual components of the massed sound I hear in mono. To hear something more clearly may or may not mean to hear it ‘better’, but it helps put the puzzle together.
That said, I love the Christmas album in stereo. That blew my mind when it first came out in 1975, and it still does; I wish it would be released that way again. There’s an unbelievable amount of detail to discover there; the clattering percussion in ‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’, for example, just doesn’t work as well in mono as far as I’m concerned.
I would imagine a fan and collector like you have been to LA several times, almost on a sort of pilgrimage. Did you ever get to visit Gold Star Studios?
Nope, never made it to Gold Star.
Actually, the only time I’ve ever been to Los Angeles was in 2013 to see Ronnie Spector’s ‘Beyond the Beehive’ show. I’d lusted after a Gold Star jacket for many years, so I was excited to score one as a premium for my Kickstarter support of the ‘Wrecking Crew’ documentary last year. Yes, it’s a replica, not an original, but it’ll do for now.
Spector’s last production job was Starsailor’s ‘Silence is Easy’ and ‘White Dove’ if you don’t take Hargo’s ‘Crying for John Lennon’ and Rachelle Spector’s solo album into consideration. I suspect he was involved only in name on those two projects.
But the Starsailor cuts,… how did you feel about those when they came out? Personally, I love ‘Silence is Easy’ but I understand those who had hoped for more of a trademark Wall of Sound on it?
Gee, it’s been a while since I listened to the Starsailor cuts, but I remember thinking that it didn’t seem to me that anyone had produced ‘White Dove’, as opposed to merely recording it.
Now, ‘Silence Is Easy’ … that song is produced, and damn well. I’m not sure I would have guessed it to be a Spector production had you just played it for me cold, so in that sense I suppose I was mildly disappointed, but the brooding feel starts as a simmer and builds effectively to a boil, as befits the song, so Phil did right by it.
There’s been some much-deserved hype concerning Denny Tedesco’s documentary on the Wrecking Crew. Hal Blaine’s book has seen a reprint, Don Randi has a book coming out, there’s said to be a Jack Nitszche documentary in the works and we have also recently had two new books on the Wrecking Crew.
Is there anyone out there from that whole recording scene that you hope will feel inspired to share their stories like for instance Hal and Don has done?
I’d love to hear from David and Dan Kessel; in fact, I keep hoping that you’ll interview them (or at least Dan, who seems to be the more talkative of the twins). Have you asked them?
Between their Gold Star/Spector and showbiz connections, including having had their own Martian Records label, it would seem like there would be a book’s worth of material there. Besides being interesting, it’d bridge the gap between the original Wrecking Crew and the later sessions when, admittedly, plenty of the old gang was still around, but lots of new players and singers were used as well.
That’s certainly a good idea for an interview. I’ll look into that!
Finally, to round off, please share with us your all-time top 5 Spector productions?
I’m glad you asked that, because I know you’ve asked others the same thing, so I started thinking about it when you asked to interview me and I’m as ready as I can possibly be, though numbers three through five might change if you ask me next year:
‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’ – Darlene Love
‘Is This What I Get for Loving You’ – The Ronettes
‘Little Boy’ – The Crystals
‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ – Ike and Tina Turner
‘Memories’ – Leonard Cohen
Wow, a Cohen track on your top 5? I’ve never paid that much attention to ‘Death of a Ladies Man.’ Your listing of ‘Memories’ will definitely prompt me to re-listen to the album again with open ears.
David, thank you so much for sharing your insights with us. Much appreciated!
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a while since this blog was really active but I hope you still check in from time to time to look for new posts. If you haven’t done so already, you could sign up for e-mail alerts whenever I post anything.
The reason why it’s been so quiet around here is that I’ve been extremely busy at work. Springtime and summer also generally means that I tend to listen more to the Beach Boys and harmony & sunshine pop than the Wall of Sound. For some reason I’m always more in the mood for the latter type of sound during fall and winter. And to top all this off – and here’s some blatant self-promotion – my band has been hard at work finishing our second album which you can check out here: https://surfschooldropouts.bandcamp.com/album/second-nature
So there you have it. I’ve been too busy to keep up the pace of the first couple of months blogging. Rest assured, I have lots of ideas for future posts that I’m sure will end up here over time. So please, stop by once in a while.
With that, I’m happy to publish a newly conducted interview with Kingsley Abbott, UK-based music journalist, reviewer, collector etc. I’ve been a fan of Kingsley’s work for many years and cherish his various books on, among other things, the Beach Boys, Motown and also Phil Spector. Besides issuing his own quality books, Kingsley also writes articles and reviews for music magazines like Record Collector, Uncut or Mojo. A very knowledgeable music fan -and expert I’m very glad to be able to publish his thoughts on various Spector topics.
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Kingsley, let’s start at the beginning. Do you remember when you became aware of Phil Spector’s music and his specific approach to production? Was there a particular song that won you over? And why?
I think it was something of a cumulative effect rather than one particular moment. I had really enjoyed both sides of the He’s A Rebel 45. He’s a Rebel for its ‘rolling along’ sound with the pianos, and I Love You Eddie for its ethereal and cavernous sound.
Then along came Da Doo Ron Ron which was joyous and infectious and one everyone loved, and then Be My Baby with the fully formed Wall Of Sound. My enjoyment of this one was begun with Penny Valentine’s great review of it in Disc & Music Echo – a lead review alongside The Jaynettes’ Sally Go Round The Roses, which she also loved.
After these I began to track back a little and pick up on ones I had missed like The Crystals Rebel follow-up. From then on I was 100 % sold on the Wall Of Sound, even though at that stage I had no idea of how it was done or what made the ‘big rumble’. It just excited me in a deep and gutsy way.
As someone growing up during the 60s how did you experience the UK reception of Spector’s recording approach and his Philles roster?
As with the Beach Boys, the Four Tops and others, Spector’s music seemed to demand more praise and respect on UK soil than in the US, at least during the latter part of the 60s? A notable Spector example could be the chart success of River Deep in the UK in contrast to its relative failure in the US. What are your thoughts on the cause of this difference?
In the UK, even then, I think we were interested in who and what was making the sounds. So we read the small print credits much more than they appear to have ever done in the States. This led us to thinking about writers, producers and later to musicians even though they did not get the credit early on. Spector albums would start to add some of the key players on them – Tedesco, Blaine et al – so this took us a bit deeper.
There were also fan groups for not just artists, but genres of sound – Tamla Motown Appreciation Society being the best example. I joined TMAS and eventually ended up running Stevie Wonder’s fan club for some years. By contrast, the Beach Boys Club was very poor then.
UK fans were intelligent in their musical appreciation. We had good ears, and picked up on a wide variety of fine music: West Coast harmony, Spector, Motown, Four Seasons, other club soul, Southern Soul, girl groups etc. Some fans specialised, while others like me loved the whole variety – I still do.
We could hear that River Deep was an amazing record, so quite rightly it sold in our market. In the States it failed by comparison as some radio people wanted to take Phil down a peg or two. Many potential US buyers never got to hear it at the time.
Were you a member yourself? And if so, how would you describe the world of Spector fandom as you have experienced it?
I think I was a member for a short time, but I’m not totally sure. I tended then to go my own way with a small group of friends. Being part of TMAS was the exception. Some years later I did get very excited by Mick Patrick’s Philately magazine, which I thought was fabulous with its illumination of rare records and its articles.
I’m delighted to say that Mick is still a pal. We have just finished up a new CD for Ace Records where he now works, and where I am involved in a small way too. Since the sixties, I have met some of the hardcore group of fans you speak of – great people who love the music!
You’re a record collector yourself. Could you tell a bit about your most treasured items in the ‘Wall of Sound’ section of your personal collection?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to Spector productions. It could also be sound-alikes. If there are interesting anecdotes attached to some of your finds, please do tell.
This is hard! I treasure them all, but not for value. I’m just happy to have the great sounds in a variety of formats.
I was very happy to find Home Of The Brave – Bonnie & The Treasures – on Phi-Dan and the two Veronica singles, and I have enjoyed owning several original copies of the more obscure songs. But it is also fun to have things like the bootleg of Let’s Dance the Screw and Please Be My Boyfriend, hence the piece about the latter in my Spector book.
I do recall driving back through South East London and stopping off at a Deptford junk shop where I bought a huge box of 1000 US singles for just £10 I think. The best find there was Josephine Sunday’s You Don’t Even Know her Name on Tower, which I loved. Many of my best finds come from Charity shops of junk boxes. I’m still finding goodies to this day.
Your eagerly awaited ‘Little symphonies – a Phil Spector reader’ finally came out in 2011, – a very enjoyable collection of essays and interviews with insiders all revolving around Phil Spector’s music.
Why did you set out to compile this interesting collection of texts? Did you feel there was a specific void within the realm of Spector books that you wanted to cover?
Thank you for the kind words – I think it is quite a decent little book.
I saw doing it very much as completing my trilogy of books about the best of US sixties music – Back to the Beach (Beach Boys), Calling Out Around the World (Motown) and Spector. Ideally, it would have been the same size as the other two, but there were good reasons why it needed to be smaller. I took the same approach: a mix of old key articles and newly written perspectives and interviews that had worked well for the other two books, and that people told me they really liked.
With the Spector book I saw the Mark Wirtz and Phil Chapman interviews as taking readers deeper and wider into the technical understanding of how Phil worked. I was asking them questions that I genuinely wanted to know the answers to myself. I also added my appendices – I like lists, reference points etc at the back of books – I guess it is a bit nerdy. But hey, they were my books!
The UK had its fair share of Spector worshippers testing the meters behind recording consoles, some of whom gave Spector a run for his money. Anyone in particular you’d like to comment on? Or perhaps some overlooked figure who more celebrated UK would-be-Spectors like Andrew Loog Oldham or Mark Wirtz have overshadowed?
Many tried, but few really achieved. In my book 500 Lost Gems there is the story about Spector himself probably being in the control room when Adrienne Posta cut Shang a Doo Lang.
As I say in the Spector book, I think Phil Chapman was probably the best at replicating not just the sound, but the feel. Many of his recordings are fabulous, and even better are some that have never been released, like a cover of Paradise and a version of Here It Comes. They sound wonderful through his studio speakers!
I also somewhere have a great cut produced by Biddu – I don’t know if this was ever released, so I need to check that one out with Mick P. one day. As a brief aside comment, it is wonderful to listen to the bootleg CDs of Spector in the studio, and just how positive and good humoured it was between him and the musicians – there was obvious mutual respect between them all – great to hear, and of course fascinating to hear the tracks take shape. Spector had very, very good ears!
… and speaking of Spector sound-alikes in general; could you mention a couple of your favorites? I imagine some have ended up on Ace’s fab Phil’s Spectre compilations but others may still only be found on dusty old vinyl singles?
I think I tend more towards the Spector-influenced rather that the soundalikes, so I would want to talk about some of the great Goffin – Titelman songs like What Am I Gonna Do With You (Hey Baby) which is fab in any one of several versions; Chiffons, Lesley Gore or the Inspirations. – also Tammy Grimes, and I do like Jack Nitzsche’s production on Michelle Phillips’s album Victim Of Romance – why has there never been a Jack Nitzsche book? And please don’t tell me that there is, and I’ve missed it!
With any of these though, It is first and foremost the quality of the song that counts above everything, before any production job. Ace’s Phil’s Spectre series is wonderful, and I would recommend them to anyone. You should have them all, and the Jack Nitzsche series, especially the final one ….and the first…and the second of course!
How do you feel about the stereo versions of Spector’s 60s productions that have crept out? Personally, I really like to hear them but they tend to divide fans due to the simple stereo separation.
I’m happy either way. I’ve never been fussed about mono/stereo debates and the way some hardcore fans or some people get so hung up on that sort of minute detail. First the song, vocal performance, track and production are way way ahead for me. Having said though, if I wanted to play the Crystals’ I Wonder, one of my biggest faves, I would play the London 45 very very loud!
Spector’s 70s productions is another topic that can cause heated debate. Some really love most of them; others find his work like that on the Dion album prodding and dirge-like. How do you feel about this phase of his career?
It was always at least interesting. He was trying new feels to my ears. The Dion album was Ok in parts, a bit less so in others, but always interesting. I did interview Dion and speak to him about it, and it was obviously not one of his best experiences, and probably that affected the album as much as anything.
I think the reason that many fans don’t like it so much is that it wasn’t overtly poppy. We had become used to Spector making POP records, and loving them, and this was different. Perhaps that’s why the Ramones did get a hit with Baby I Love You. Although it had a different feel, it was still a pop song when many others weren’t. But for me I’ll take ’em all for the interest.
Is there any particular artist or album from the last 20-30 years or so you’d like to recommend for any Spector fan urging for a bombast fix?
We live in a time of retromania, as music journalist Simon Reynolds has titled an interesting book of his, but when new acts today harken back to the 60s in their approach they usually go the garage, Motown or psych route. Do you know of any recent artists with a sound that would warrant an approving nod from Spector or Jack Nitzsche?
Why not recommend that people go back to the original hits? No one has ever bettered them. Many of the so-called Spector influenced recent or less recent recordings have none of the feels that we would love. People think that if they add castanets and echo they are making a Spector record – NOT SO! This is much like many of the cod-Motown records that have always been around – nobody cut them like the guys in the Snakepit.
Having said that, there are some sounds that capture some of the feels – once again I differentiate between feels and production – and create nice pieces. I have a new snippet of a local retro-influenced group here in Norwich called Rope Store with Never Too Late to Love. It’s only a ten second snippet, but it made me prick up my ears. I think you can find it on the net. I’ll look forward to hearing the full and finished version.
What would always get an approving nod from Phil or Jack would be quality in all departments!
Finally, a question I always conclude my interviews with; please share with us your all-time five Spector productions.
So difficult, but in no particular order: He’s A Rebel, I Wonder, Lovin’ Feelin’, Baby I Love You and Little Boy – with the latter I love the sheer excess and murkiness. Tomorrow, I will probably look at this and pick different ones.
Kingsley, it’s been very interesting to read your take on the Spector sound. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.
I’m pleased to be able to publish an interesting interview once again, – this time with non other than the incredibly versatile musician, songwriter, performer and producer Andy Paley.
Through the years, Andy’s been involved in countless projects, too many to mention really. Suffice to say, as a major fan of power pop, the Beach Boys & Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, I’m grateful that Andy would answer some questions.
Not only has he been in the studio with both of my musical heroes, on his own he’s also recorded some truly amazing music that will appeal to any fan of hook-laden pop. And who isn’t, really?
After issuing one album with up-and-coming band the Sidewinders in 1972, Andy teamed up with his brother Jonathan and really made an impression a few years later when the Paley Brothers album came out in 1978. It has since been much revered by power pop fans worldwide.
Power pop of course is a later term for the flux of highly melodic, catchy pop-rock that sprang forward during the 70s, – made by young, energetic bands whose songs were bolstered with riffs that drew comparisons to the best British and American pop classics of the previous decade. Often, these hook-spewin’ bands were heavily inspired by that holy trinity of 60s pop-rock, ‘the three B’s’ – the Beach Boys, the Beatles and the Byrds.
Although Andy and Jonathan issued their debut on the red-hot Sire Records label right when power pop was about to hit its commercial peak by the late 70s, the Paley Brothers album didn’t do much in sales.
The brothers’ good looks caused quite a bit of gushing in teenybopper magazines but these guys were no mere ‘poster boys of power pop’. They were the real deal, playing with people like Lenny Kaye, Patti Smith and the Ramones and a part of the CBGB scene in New York. Songs were recorded for a follow-up but sadly, nothing materialized.
If you don’t know the Paley Brothers lone album already, be sure to check it out. It’s a great collection of extremely well-performed and sparkling songs. The ridiculously catchy ‘Come Out and Play’ is worth the price of admission alone. It’s basically a text-book example of perfectly crafted pop. Prior to the album, the brothers issued an EP which also contains killer material.
Normally, I would sprinkle a blog post like this with choice cuts off Youtube. But out of respect for Andy and Jonathan I won’t do so here, as they both really dislike the mixes on the 70s EP and album – and those mixes are the ones found on Youtube today! For anyone wanting to hear the songs the way the Paley Brothers envisioned them, refer to ‘The Complete Recordings’, a compilation issued by Real Gone Music in 2013.
Andy and Jonathan dusted off their preferred mixes for this release as well as numerous scrapped songs recorded for a potential second album. And with that, here are Andy’s responses to some questions I sent him.
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Andy, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for Cue Castanets. First off, do you remember when you first became aware of Phil Spector’s music?
When I was a little kid listening to AM radio in Halfmoon, upstate New York. Stations like WPTR and WTRY played great records. Early Phil Spector hits like ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’, ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ and ‘Spanish Harlem’ were on the radio all the time. Later ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’, ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and so on.
Any particular song of his that made an impression on you early on?
‘Be My Baby!’
What was it specifically that attracted you to his music?
The sound was exciting.
I’ve always been particular fond of your song ‘Rendezvous.’ Could you tell a bit about the story behind it?
It seems tailor-made for the Spector-like production on the Paley Brothers version. But when you recorded it early on with the Sidewinders it was more sparsely arranged?
I wrote ‘Rendezvous’ when I was 17 years old. I recorded it with my band the Sidewinders when I was 18. The record was produced by Lenny Kaye and released on RCA. I had nothing to do with the production or arrangement.
After the Sidewinders broke up I started working with my brother Jonathan. The Paley Brothers cut a version of Rendezvous produced by Jimmy Iovine. I was involved with the arrangement. The record ended up sounding more the way I had pictured it when I wrote the song.
You must be aware of the version by fellow power poppers the Rubinoos? A great version for sure and it sports a riff that seems inspired by ‘Then He Kissed Me’. Were you somehow involved in their recording of it?
I’ve heard it. They are friends of mine. I had nothing to do with it though.
As an aside: oddly enough, around this time Bruce Springsteen also recorded a song called ‘Rendezvous’ with a heavy Spector sound. Cut during sessions for ‘Darkness Around the Edge of the Town’, It came out some years ago on his ‘The Promise’ album collecting unreleased tracks from the 70s. Have you heard this song?
No, I’ve never heard it. But his piano player Roy Bittan actually played on the Paley Brothers version of ‘Rendezvous.’
Back to the Paley Brothers. Another song of yours, ‘Ecstasy’ off the Paley Brothers EP, just oozes the Wall of Sound! Any thoughts on this one? Was the Spector-type arrangement something you had in mind from the very beginning when the song was written?
‘Ecstasy’ was mostly written by my friend Billy Connors. I only helped a little bit. The record was produced by Jimmy Iovine.
Your lone album is a real classic! Apparently, Spector chums like Jack Nitzsche and Steve Douglas were considered as potential producers. Eventually Earl Mankey got the job.
Any thoughts on this process of choosing a producer for your debut album? Were the guys considered choices that you suggested to Seymour Stein [president of Sire Records] or the other way around?
I can’t remember exactly what happened. We met with all of these guys. We talked to Billy Hinsche and Carl Wilson too. I love all of these guys. We worked with Jack Nitzsche for a few days at his house. It was no fun. So we decided not to make a record with him. Earle Mankey did a great job!
‘Turn the Tide’ off the album has always struck me as a sort of ‘power pop meets the full-on Spector sound’?
I see what you mean. Leigh Foxx wrote more of that song than I did. It was his hook. Leigh’s a very talented guy.
[Cue Castanets: Leigh has been involved in a ton of projects and plays bass as a full-time member of the current Blondie line-up.]
That must have been an exciting project, none the least the chance to follow in the footsteps of a producer as legendary and mysterious as George ‘Shadow’ Morton! It’s such a shame that those recordings seem to be lost. Are you sure you don’t have any dusty tapes stored away somewhere you’ve overlooked?
No, sorry. Seymour Stein might know more.
I think I’m not alone in wanting to know more about how you came to record with Phil Spector.
In the liner notes to the recent ‘Complete Recordings’ Paley Brothers retrospective, it says that Spector called you up at 3 AM, wanting to work with you. Do you know if he just came across your album on his own or were you basically brought together by Seymour Stein?
I don’t really know. He had our records in his house though.
I can certainly see why Phil Spector would be attracted to the classic pop sound of the Paley Brothers. Did he explain to you why it was he wanted to record you?
Yes. He said he liked our vocal blend.
You spent some days rehearsing at Spector’s place before entering the legendary Gold Star studios for the session. Do you remember if you rehearsed more songs than ‘Baby, Let’s Stick Together’?
We did one called ‘Tonight, Tomorrow and Everyday’. It was very pretty. I don’t think he ever finished the verse lyrics. The hook was very strong though.
It must have been incredible to record in that hallowed place of rock’n’roll history with that producer behind the console. And with members of the soon-to-be labeled Wrecking Crew playing with you.
Could you describe the session?
Sure. My brother Jonathan and I arrived at Gold Star on time. We watched all of the guys arrive and set up.
Hal Blaine’s drums arrived in one road case. Two guys wheeled it in and opened it up and there was his blue sparkle Ludwig kit….all set up. All they did was attach the cymbals and it was ready to go.
Phil had my brother play acoustic guitar along with the Kessel brothers.
Don Randi was on a grand piano next to Barry Goldberg who was playing a baby grand. Phil put me near them on an upright tack-piano. He’d been listening to me play at his house ’cause we rehearsed up there in the days leading up to the session. I’m not in the same league as Don Randi or Barry Goldberg. I write songs on the piano and I can fake my way through a gig or a session but this was different.
Also he had me playing this rolling shuffle which I played in kind of a messy non-traditional way. Don Randi or Barry Goldberg could’ve done the part perfectly but Phil liked the way I did it. Randi played a bunch of classic riffs ….right hand…up high….octaves….he’d done the same sort of licks on Spector’s records many times before….Barry Goldberg was playing a chord every two bars…..B-flat….G-minor…..E flat…..F. I had the busy part. I remember asking Phil if he really wanted me doing it. He said “It sounds great! Wait’ll you hear it!” And he was right. The combination of the three pianos was very cool.
Julius Wechter, Ray Pohlman, Tommy Tedesco, Jim Keltner, Phil Seymour, Rodney Bingenheimer, Steve Douglas, Jay Migliori and Harvey Kubernick were all on it. (Harvey, Rodney, Phil Seymour and Spector clapping on one mic.)
Larry Levine engineered the session.
It wasn’t a very long session. The last few takes it seemed like Phil was just doing them for kicks. I don’t know for sure but I think the take he used was one of the early takes. He could’ve edited a take or two together but my guess is that he didn’t. The band sounded really great.
We cut the vocals really quick. Just a couple of takes. Joey Ramone and Darlene Love both dropped by.
A month or so later Phil went into the studio with the Ramones. The Paley Brothers session was the last session Phil did with all of those guys at Gold Star. He did sessions with them after that but not at Gold Star.
When ‘Baby Let’s Stick Together’ finally came out on the 2013 Paley Brothers retrospective, I was surprised by its rather different feel to the Dion version.
Were you familiar with the Dion take when you cut your version with Spector? Did you work out the new arrangement collectively? It’s a great recording. Reminds me a bit of Spector’s old Bobby Soxx & the Blue Jeans recordings…
I had never heard the Dion version. The arrangement we did was developed through lots of rehearsal at Phil’s house on La Collina.
[Cue Castanets: The Paley Brothers take is not on youtube but seek out the stellar 2013 Paley Brothers retrospective to hear it in all its glory. Here’s the earlier Spector-produced version by Dion.]
Did you only record this one song? Or were others put to tape with Spector producing? If so, do you remember which ones?
No, I don’t think we recorded anything else.
Later on, you’ve worked extensively with Brian Wilson. As someone who has been in the studio with both of these musical innovators, speaking from a producer’s point-of-view, how would you describe their similarities and differences?
They are similar in that they are both masters of what they do.
They are also similar in that they both work incredibly hard to achieve particular sounds no matter how elusive they may be. Whatever sounds they are imagining in their heads they will spend hours, days, weeks trying to achieve. This can be frustrating to co-workers who are trying to give the producer what he wants.
They are also both real fans of rock n’ roll.
The biggest difference is that Phil Spector worked with more artists than Brian. Phil Spector had hits with many different artists from the Teddy Bears to the Beatles. Brian Wilson produced records by Glen Campbell, Sharon Marie , The Honeys etc. but Brian really worked with one big hit making machine; the Beach Boys. That is a major difference between these two producers.
There is a cliché that Phil’s records are soaked in echo and reverb. That is certainly true with some of the records – especially the later ones – but the early ones are really pretty dry.
Brian and Phil both made records that could be described as ‘dry’ and records that could be described as ‘wet’.
In terms of the focus of the blog, I’d like to ask you about all the unreleased songs you cut with Brian in the 90s. Known as ‘the Andy Paley Sessions’, low-fi versions have been floating around among Beach Boys collectors for years.
Those songs are highly regarded by fans and I detect a Spector / Wall of Sound influence on many of them; for instance ‘Some Sweet Day’, ‘My Mary Anne’ or ‘Chain Reaction of Love’ as well as others. Was that a conscious effort or just something that sort of happened? Overall, the songs have a really classic 60s pop sound to them, production-wise.
Brian and I produced a bunch of stuff starting in the 1980’s. We co-produced almost everything. The stuff you’re asking about has been widely bootlegged. Fans ask me about it all the time. There are many other recordings that haven’t seen the light of day as far as I know.
I will tell you that Brian knows how good the stuff is. We were having lots of fun writing and recording back then. We may’ve written a hundred songs. It was a real creative explosion.
We worked together every day for months and months. The recordings sound the way they sound because the two people making the music were having a really good time. We never did final mixes of anything because we were doing it for our own amusement ….,not handing it over to a label for release.
Brian likes old records and I like old records so if the stuff sounds a little old that’s because we wanted it that way.
I wrote and produced a song called ‘In My Moondreams’ which Brian and I did a bunch of ‘ooooohs’ and ‘aaaahhhhs’ on. I played a 6-string bass solo line on it. That song was released so I did a final mix of it. But in general, the stuff we wrote has never been mixed and released. Maybe someday it will all come out. I hope so.
Andy, thank you for all your interesting insights.
On a final note, if push comes to shove, what are your five all-time favorite Spector productions?
1. The Ronettes – ‘When I Saw You’
2. Darlene Love – ‘Wait Til My Bobby Gets Home’
3. The Ronettes – ‘Do I Love You?’
4. The Crystals – ‘There’s No Other (Like my Baby)’
Time for another interview and I’m pleased to announce that former Spector employee Devra Robitaille has agreed to answer some questions for Cue Castanets.
For a short time during the mid 70s, Devra worked as ‘Administrative Director’ for Phil Spector’s short-lived Warner-Spector label after getting to know him while she worked for Warner Brothers records. As we shall learn, her new job was far from a walk in the park – something she has described before in Mick Brown’s seminal book on Spector, ‘Tearing Down the Wall of Sound.’
Overall, the 70s proved to be both enjoyable and frustrating for Spector fans. On the one hand, they were served with a smorgasbord of fantastic productions, both newly recorded and unreleased gems that had languished in the vaults since the 60s. On the other hand, many planned projects failed to materialize or if they did, did not receive proper promotion.
In a decade where Spector soundalikes by ABBA, Bruce Springsteen, Meat Loaf and others were riding high in the charts, the stars seemed aligned for a triumphant comeback. It was not to be. And it didn’t help that the release schedule was both erratic and often limited to select countries, no doubt due to Spector’s increasingly difficult personality. In the midst of all this was Devra, trying to nurture both the music and business side of things.
Devra, thank you very much for taking your time to answer some questions about this often overlooked phase of Spector’s career.
First off, according to Mick Brown’s book you began working for Spector in 1975. He appointed you ‘Administrative Director’ of the Warner-Spector label. Looking back, how do you feel about that label?
Warner Spector started out so great. It was a brain-child of Joe Smith and Marty Machat I think, and intended to be an outlet for Phil’s music and a celebration of his production talents after some rough criticism. I remember there being high expectations. It was supposed to be a wonderful homage and great collaboration between Warner Brothers and Phil…. but unfortunately, it spiraled down for oh so many reasons.
Do you think Spector achieved what he’d set out to do when he established the deal with Warner Brothers?
Absolutely not. He was deeply disappointed and offended. He never really spelled it out to me exactly what happened, but his expression when the subject was brought up even years later spoke volumes. I am sure it was mutual, Phil was very difficult to deal with on every level.
In his book ‘Magical Mystery Tours’, Tony Bramwell who oversaw Warner-Spector from the UK, claims that Spector wanted to set up the label to release everything. According to the book, Bramwell went to LA to crate Spector’s tapes up personally in his mansion and later ran them through tests in London, preparing a reissue campaign.
I hung out with Tony a lot during this and other visits. I also spent a lot of time on the phone with him once he was back in England on Phil’s behalf setting all this up. Tony was a really great guy. I feel privileged to have known him. There was another guy too, Malcolm. I don’t remember his last name. They were both gentlemen and the real deal. I hope they remember me kindly.
Those tapes have been the cause of much speculation among Spector fans as to what they contain. Do you remember if there were more unreleased, fully realized 60s recordings than what eventually came out on the wonderful Rare Masters vol. 1 and vol. 2 collections? According to rumors there was at least enough material for a third volume.
You are asking me to cast back a lot of years in my memory, and because of all the more recent ugliness, a lot of it has been suppressed. But I do remember there being controversy about the tapes. I never knew exactly what was on them. Phil tended to hold things hostage so he could get his own way, to try to ransom his music for deals or circumstances as a manipulation ploy and it caused a great deal of turmoil.
This may well be why Warner-Spector ended after only three years. The stealing and hiding of masters was very common at that time. I remember a lot of wrangling about this with both Leonard Cohen and Dion, and also heard rumours about the John Lennon tapes, although possibly it was John in that case. Anyway, I am sure he did hide them at Collina Drive, although I can’t prove it as I never saw them. But I doubt he would trust anyone else, even a professional tape archive.
Do you recall which state Spector’s tapes were in generally? It would seem odd for him to keep them in his mansion instead of a professional tape archive? Do you know if what Tony Bramwell brought to the UK was the entire cache of tapes or just specific master tapes sorted beforehand by Spector? I wonder if tape copies still exist in the Warner archives?
That’s a very good question and I’m afraid I can’t throw any light on it for you. What I do know is that I myself personally recorded one of my own original songs at Phil’s request one night in the studio for use as a “b” side. He later named it “Roy Carr and Devra Robitaille” or some such – don’t ask me why, because that wasn’t the name of the song and I had forgotten about it until Tony Bramwell brought it up on Facebook. I have never been able to find out where the tape ended up. So one could conjecture that if there’s one that went missing there of course must be others?
You were present during the sessions with Cher in Gold Star Studios in 1975. I personally love the three songs cut; ‘A Woman’s Story’, the super slow take of ‘Baby I Love You’ and the duet with Harry Nilsson, ‘A Love Like Yours.’ ‘A Woman’s Story’ is a particular favorite of mine. Are you in the haunting backing chorus on this majestic production? Any anecdotes from the sessions you’d like to share? Were those three songs the only ones worked on?
Yes. I am singing backgrounds on the Cher and the Jerri Bo Keno tracks. I did some back-up vocals on the John Lennon album too, Stand by Me and Be Bop a Lula, I think. And of course on the Leonard Cohen as well as Dion album. I had the honor of sharing a mic with many interesting people, not the least of which was Bob Dylan. [Cue Castanets: on the Leonard Cohen album.]
I also played some keyboards, can’t remember which tracks, and my ex-husband, Bob Robitaille, who was an engineer with Motown and who owned a whole slew of lovely analog synths and would rent them out to studios, was also called in various times with his synths.
I remember Cher well. I had no idea who she was at first. Phil had a habit of just inviting people to the sessions so I didn’t realize at first she was the artist. it was a bit of a rabble usually, chaos. She just showed up, and I was on the microphone singing with this really tall girl with long straight black hair, and she kept “flipping” it and it kept hitting me in the face. I didn’t like her. Then of course it didn’t take long to realize that it was Cher! I also remember Harry Nilsson. I found out much later that an English engineer friend of mine was his engineer.
There are so many anecdotes and stories. I will save them for another time. Maybe my book? :-D
You were in charge of organizing the sessions for Dion’s ‘Born to Be with You’ album. I think it’s a masterpiece that stands up favorably to almost anything Spector did in the 60s.
Agreed! I just think some of the tracks need to be a little smidge faster in tempo, but that’s just my personal opinion. They feel to me like the sparkle is trying to come through but being dragged down – just an impression, take it for what it is.
Did Spector ever explain to you why, of all Warner Brothers artists available to him, he chose to work with Dion DeMucci?
Yes. He told me he really respected artists like Dion. He thought Dion was the real deal, really authentic. He admired that whole New York street cred kind of music and he felt a kinship with that.
I remember going to Las Vegas with Phil to see Dion perform, and when we went backstage being struck by a kind of reverence that Phil had for Dion which I had never seen in him before or even since. This was before the recordings began.
How would you describe the sessions? And do you know why the epic ‘Baby, Let’s Stick Together’ was left off the album?
Describing the sessions might have to be for another time. There is a lot to say and I don’t think you have the space! Suffice it to say that the phrase “barely controlled mayhem” usually applied, peppered with spells of sheer magic and genius. Actually, I didn’t know Baby Lets Stick Together was left off. I really liked that song.
Bruce Springsteen and Steven van Zandt paid a visit during the Dion sessions, hot on the heels of ‘Born to Run.’ How would you describe the atmosphere around their visit, seeing that they’d had a monster hit with the Spector sound?
I remember it well. I was priviledged to sing on a mic with them. Absolutely no idea what song it was as I was completely in awe of Springsteen, my own personal favourite type of music being Rock; I remember The Kessel brothers being there at the session and several others in the control room milling about. There was no gun play that night, at least none that I saw, so perhaps that is a huge compliment to Springsteen from Phil! Then again, one could say that it might have been a bigger compliment had there been…. One can only wonder.
After the Warner-Spector deal fell through, Spector launched the Phil Spector International deal with Polydor. Like with Warner-Spector, Tony Bramwell claims that Spector initially wanted to release everything. Why do you think he was keen set on that during the 70s?
To answer that one would have to have a deep insight into the complicated maze of personality that is Phil Spector, and I don’t claim to be able to unravel it all.
What I can say is what I experienced personally, and that is that Phil always very much needed validation for not only his musical creations but for himself as a person. He was too easily wounded by criticism and desperately craved approbation.
Some people are not cut out for fame, even while being addicted to it. Phil is a “perfect storm”; the perfect coming together of conditions and circumstances to create who he is and what he creates. You can’t pull the “Phil” out of Phil Spector music, it is his Soul expression. Maybe somewhere in here is the reason he always wanted to keep releasing everything.
The old Phil Spector Appreciation Society newsletters report rumors of enough material for a whole Darlene Love album. Only ‘Lord If You’re a Woman’ and ‘I Love Him Like I Love my Very Life’ came out of course but allegedly 10 tracks in total where recorded.
What do you remember about this project? Did you ever hear any other tracks? If so, do you remember anything specific about them? Were they release-worthy or were they just rough recordings?
I don’t remember there being any other tracks and didn’t hear any. I was at the sessions for ‘Lord If you’re a Woman’, particularly the mixing. A great track! There was some wrangling about the tempo as I recall. Of course Phil always won.
Another rumoured project in the Phil Spector Appreciation Society newsletters was a Manhattan Transfer-styled vocal group called the Brewers that Spector was supposed to have signed. What do you remember about this project? Do you think they ever got to record with him?
I don’t know anything about this group, never heard of them and don’t remember there being any sessions in that name – at least during my times.
I went back to work for Phil again in the mid eighties after I came back from England. My second tour of duty was quite tame compared to the first and only lasted a mere six months.
The Leonard Cohen album really divides Spector fans. Some like it, others hate it. Including, seemingly, Leonard Cohen himself! Looking back, how do you feel about it and the sessions that took place?
What a fantastic adventure in my life to have been involved in that project. I booked all the sessions and attended every excruciating moment! That is said with a smile though.
So many adventures, too much really to report here. I even received an album credit, the wording of which I have forgotten now, but it was a thank you from Phil for somehow keeping order in the face of all the chaos. I have the utmost respect for Leonard who was always a perfect gentleman and has so much class.
Were there any other steps taken towards recordings projects that either didn’t materialize or were left in the can?
Not that I can remember.
Did Spector for instance, to your knowledge, record more songs with Jerri Bo Keno than ‘Here It Comes (and Here I Go)’? Was there other acts he signed and worked with that the fans probably don’t know about?
I don’t know of any others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist.
He recorded a version of ‘Baby, Let’s Stick Together’ with the Paley Brothers that finally came out on a retrospective of theirs in 2013. Do you know if he recorded more stuff with them?
Also at this time, rare stereo versions of some of the 60s recordings became more widely available as part of reissues, for instance the songs off the lone Ronettes album. Do you think this was a decision of Spector himself or rather a case of someone involved in the reissue projects chancing it and releasing the much sought-after stereo versions behind his back?
I don’t really know, but if I had to make a guess I would say that no-one really wanted to “chance it” with Phil. His wrath was legendary, and I think he would always want to maintain control.
And finally, what are your personal top-five favorite Spector-produced recordings?
I am going to have to do some listening to rehabilitate my ears to this music. Off the top of my head though, I can say that I really liked ‘Lord If You’re a Woman’!
Debra, thank you very much for sharing your insights. I’m crossing my fingers that you’ll write a book about your adventures in the music business someday.
Musings on Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and similar music…