Tag Archives: John Lennon

Jerri Bo Keno Interview

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?

Jerri+Bo+Keno

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.

single

You can sample and buy the single here: http://apple.co/2jixOaP and http://bit.ly/JBKcdbaby

If you wan’t to learn more about Jerri’s current recording career, go here:

https://www.facebook.com/Jerri-Bo-Keno-340934519279717/

https://jerribokeno.com/

Let’s turn to Jerri and learn what she remembers about her time recording for Spector…

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jerri1
Jerri Bocchino / Jerri Bo Keno today.
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).

jeff
Jeff Barry during the 70s.
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.

jerr2
Photo used for the ‘Here It Comes’ single picture sleeve.
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.

philgate

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.

Dion-Born-to-Be-With-You

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

“Imagine” – John Lennon

“My Sweet Lord” – George Harrison

“Da Doo Ron Ron” – the Crystals

 

 

Splitsville – The Popular (2001)

I can’t believe I haven’t posted this one yet in my ongoing feature on modern Spector soundalikes. It’s one of the earliest modern faux Spector records to catch my ear as a fresh-faced Spector fan and send me off tracking down similar recent songs with a bombastic production.

US garage / power pop trio Splitsville was formed in the mid-90s and I discovered them by way of their great and highly melodic ‘Pet Soul’ album from 2001. As a major Beach Boys fan and fan of the fab four (come on,who isn’t?) I knew I had to check out an album with a title lampooning ‘Pet Sounds’ and ‘Rubber Soul’, two of the great pop platters ever made.

split

‘Pet Soul’ is indeed a delicious offering of pop perfection and although the emphasis is heavy on the Brian Wilson and Lennon/McCartney side of things, other sounds and influences pop up here and there. The driving ‘The Popular’ is no doubt envisioned by the band as the album’s Spector tribute – there’s just no way these guys didn’t have the Wall of Sound in mind with this soung’s pounding crescendo two-thirds in.

In fact, I was so mesmerized by this song that I once e-mailed the group’s manager suggesting that he and the band should contact Ronnie Spector so she could be offered the song. This was around the time when she was working on ‘Last of the Rock Stars’ and I still feel that this great track with her vocal could have been a highlight of the album. The Splitsville manager replied that it was a great idea but they probably never followed up on it.

Never mind, the Splitsville version is fine as it is and would be sure to be included on my playlist of favorite modern Spector soundalikes any time.

Domenic Priore Interview

The element of Cue Castanets I’m most proud of is the backlog of interviews I have steadily built up since starting the blog little more than a year ago. It’s always fascinating to gain some insights about Spector’s productions or likeminded music from those in the know and share it with fellow music fans – and it is a key element of my blogging that I feel makes Cue Castanets somewhat pick up the baton from the legendary Phil Spector Appreciation Society and their newsletters and fanzines.

Since my blog is a one-man operation with only a few occasional, and much-appreciated, guest posts, it’s been important for me to feature opinions from other people on here via interviews as much as possible. Why not check out the list of past interviews via this link to see if you’ve read them all?

https://cuecastanets.wordpress.com/category/interview/

I’m very pleased to be able to add yet another interview to the blog; this time with music historian Domenic Priore whose work I’ve enjoyed for many years.

Domenic
Domenic Priore

Domenic is truly a capacity when it comes to 60s Los Angeles / California music lore – he has written about the Beach Boys and dealt extensively with Brian Wilson’s fabled ‘Smile’ album in his fascinating fanzine publication Dumb Angel Gazette that came out in the late 80s. Further Gazettes were later issued before Domenic eventually branched out into books on the 60s California surf pop scene, the LA Sunset Strip and Pacific Ocean Park.

To this day, Domenic’s book ‘Pop Surf Culture’, written with fellow music aficionado Brian Chidester, remains one of my all-time favorite books and one that I find myself flicking through several times each year. If you haven’t checked out Domenic’s work yet, you should really do so.

pop surf culture

Since Domenic is also a big fan of the Wall of Sound, Sony Legacy hired him to write the liner notes for their 2011 ‘The Essential Phil Spector’ 2-CD compilation. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to feature some of his views in interview-form for Cue Castanets.

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So Domenic, what’s your earliest associated memory with the Wall of Sound & Phil Spector? Was there a specific song that made an impression on you and won you over, so to speak?

The Ronettes, when I was a little kid. I remember hearing “Be My Baby” during a summer vacation to New York City in 1963 (we drove there from Los Angeles, partially on Route 66), then “Baby I Love You” and later “Walking In The Rain,” … which I remember being in pre-school and running down the stairs in front of the big brick schoolhouse and doing some kind of Gene Kelly “Singing in the Rain”-type dance on the stairway, because I associated “Walking in the Rain” with “Singing in the Rain” when I was 4.

rain

You’re one of the leading experts on Los Angeles pop history having researched the city’s history extensively and written some fine books on the subject. How would you briefly characterize Spector’s significance and influence in Los Angeles music circles; both in terms of his ‘sound’ and the way he went about building up Philles Records?

Well, he really consolidated the idea of the Wrecking Crew, I mean, some of them had played together on other things but in 1963 you get them playing on “Be My Baby” (Ronettes) and “Surf City” (Jan & Dean) and pretty soon Brian Wilson starts to use them as well.

But it was more than the musicians, but the sound design concept; that was the key. Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound had romantic, ethereal elements to it, as well as direct things, like a strong beat, or a noisy atmosphere similar to Frank Gaudia’s party-room production on the Gary U.S. Bonds single “Quarter To Three”.

bonds

All those things got mixed into a big pot, and some of it actually had to do with Hollywood movie soundtrack production motifs. You got to figure Phil’s closeness to the Big Screen Spectaculars and the grandiose sound of that… there was a reductionist exercise Phil did taking that down to a 45 that also came on strong with the rock ‘n’ roll core not found then in movie soundtracks. Ultimately Jack Nitzsche, who arranged Phil’s records, becomes a soundtrack-maker later on, so this played well in context.

Nitzsche also did tremendous work outside of the Philles sides, including a session with Phil, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards at RCA Music Center of the World at 4 a.m. in the morning that became “Play With Fire”. Andrew Loog Oldham explained to me that this was the moment The Rolling Stones went from being a band who covered R&B styles to becoming the kind of group who could write expansive things like “Paint It Black,” “Ruby Tuesday” and “We Love You”.

jacknitzsche
Jack Nitszche to the left at a 60s session.

So it’s really hard to sum up Phil’s overall influence on not only the L.A. scene but on things like The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

During Spector’s heyday, LA was thriving with young, exciting bands playing the clubs at Sunset Strip, a scene you’ve devoted a whole book to, the brilliant “Riot on Sunset Strip – Rock’n’roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood.” What would have been some of Spector’s favorite haunts, if any?

We know that Phil worked with The Modern Folk Quartet on “This Could Be The Night” which was the theme to The Big T.N.T. Show. He also orchestrated things like that amazing live rendition of Petula Clark’s version of “Downtown” there at the Moulin Rouge. That is a most incredible piece of footage.

From what I hear, Phil also sang on stage with The Modern Folk Quartet at The Trip, and there was a legendary meeting written up in the L.A. Free Press about Phil meeting Bob Dylan at the Fred C. Dobbs coffeehouse across the street from The Trip. Some kid put “Let’s Go Get Stoned” by Ronnie Milsap on the jukebox and supposedly that led to Dylan’s writing “Rainy Day Women #12 and #35”.

So you can say Phil was definitely on the scene. He was also parodied in “The Cool Ones” and parodied himself on that episode of “I Dream of Jeanie”.

Brian Wilson has often referred to Spector’s records as a primary influence in expanding the sound and artistry of the Beach Boys. You’ve met both Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. What, in your opinion, are their biggest similarities and differences?

Well, I didn’t meet them in the ’60s and you have to remember they are tremendously different people now, compared to then, when they were making their best records, without question.

Brian Wilson seems to have been able to “let go” of what began as a competitive nature, whereas Phil seemed obsessed with competition.

Phil Spector In The Studio
Brian Wilson at a Spector session in 1965 – others present are Mike Love from the Beach Boys, Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield and in the background with Shades, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitzsche.

In the end, the ’60s were not about that old “me vs. you” thing, it became about cross-pollination, getting together, and making changes for the better. Brian Wilson clearly reached for this, whereas Phil Spector may have wanted those things to happen, but personally was more wound up within the old-fashioned competitive mode.

Besides Brian Wilson, numerous LA-based producers took notice of the Wall of Sound and tried to go for a similar feel on their own 60s output. Are there any specific producers or releases of the time that you’d like to highlight for whatever reason?

In the Revised Edition of “Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood” I have a section where I boil it down to four record producers who stood above all the rest in L.A., and they would be Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Brian Wilson and Lee Hazelwood.

revi
Domenic’s revised edition of “Riot on Sunset Strip” contains a whole section  about Phil Spector and similar Wall of Sound records.

Nitzsche and Hazelwood actually worked together a bit on brilliant things like The Wildcats “What Are We Gonna Do in ’64” but you have to look at things like Lee Hazelwood’s production on “Some Velvet Morning” (Nancy Sinatra) and Jack Nitzsche’s “Expecting to Fly” (Buffalo Springfield) to really get the big picture there.

Darian Sahanaja, later of the Brian Wilson band and The Wondermints, did a pretty thorough article in the first issue of Dumb Angel Gazette back in 1987 that is still the best guidebook to Nitzsche’s coolest records.

The odd thing with Nitzsche is that he is not always credited as producer but you know those records have his stamp. Brian Wilson, it’s pretty obvious things like “Beach Boys Today!” and “Pet Sounds” have that Phil Spector tone, though with “Pet Sounds” it really becomes a Brian Wilson sound on that one. I think Nitzsche, Wilson and Hazelwood took out some of the noise and brought more clarity into the so-called Wall of Sound.

brian pet sounds
Brian during the sessions for Pet Sounds.

Speaking of Wall of Sound influenced music, if you have some personal Spector soundalikes from any era you’d like to recommend Cue Castanets readers to check out, by all means, please do!

I always think of “My One and Only Jimmy Boy” by The Girlfriends and “Ooh Chang A Lang” by The Orchids for some reason, and then “Dream Baby” by Cherilyn (Cher)… the 45 version, the one on the LP doesn’t have the right mix, remember that. There are a ton of Phil Spector influenced records and I might be forgetting about a few favorites of course, but those three are the ones I think about first.

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Later reissue of ‘Dream Baby’, Cher’s first recording issued under her own name.

I’d like to dwell a bit on Spector’s output again. How do you feel about the stereo versions of the 60s productions that have crept out? I dig them myself but I know other fans really dislike them because of their simple stereo separation.

The only thing I remember hearing in stereo is The Ronettes album which is okay but inferior to the mono pressing. I think people who prefer stereo most likely don’t know how to dance, or, you know, don’t get out much.

Ouch! Take that, you stereo-philes! ;-)

There’s also the question of the Spector tape vault, – whether or not there is more stuff tucked away on those fabled tapes. Do you think there are more unreleased 60s recordings than what has eventually came out on the wonderful Rare Masters vol. 1 and vol. 2 collections? According to rumors at the time of their issue, there was at least enough material for a third volume?

I’m not too sure of what does exist, I mean, in the ’70s they did a pretty good job of getting things out there like “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine” and most likely the best things are already out there.

There is a Harry Nilsson vocal that Phil produced during the mid-’60s, a demo for “Let Me Go,” which is a Righteous Brothers-type thing that was later released by Pat & Andre.

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Harry Nilsson

What is really interesting is just listening to the Phil Spector sessions which have to be considered historical. You’ll never get sessions like that again, and hearing him in the studio direct things like “Be My Baby” or sessions from the Christmas album is an education.

I recall hearing some MFQ sessions that were pretty interesting and I think there was more than “This Could Be The Night” though I don’t think the MFQ sang … those would be incomplete but fascinating.

How do you feel about Spector’s 70s productions? As with the 60s stereo versions, these productions tend to divide the waters with some really loving them and others finding them un-imaginative and tired. How do you feel about this phase of his career?

Something in the ’70s, unimaginative and tired? Nahhhhh…. not the ’70s!

I’m being facetious, of course. The ’70s were notorious for not having the kick the ’60s did, for being bombastic, self-absorbed, bland, all those things that led to punk rock becoming the most important movement to emerge since The Beatles came out.

Phil’s work with The Ramones on “Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio” can be considered AS GOOD as the things he did during the ’60s… the message in the lyrics of that song summed up so much, and were similar to those in Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio”. Phil, I think, and The Ramones, probably felt those lyrics deep down in their souls, this was really a song they could get behind the meaning of, when they say ‘we need change and we need it fast’… how horrible did broadcast music become after, say, 1971?

bruddas

You’ve got to figure “(Do You Remember) Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio” is a statement, and that’s what made the best records of the ’50s or ’60s stand out, whether it was “Rock ‘n’ Roll is Here To Stay,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” or “Give Peace A Chance”.

When you listen to the Nilsson tracks, the Cher tracks, yeah, they lack life, but in another sense I find them interesting to listen to. Maybe it’s a good thing Phil didn’t do much during that period. The Jeri Bo Keno record was probably the best mid-’70s thing, in fact, but that only harks back to his early stuff, without matching it. It is appealing… for that depressed musical era.

Jerri+Bo+Keno

His work on “Imagine” and “All Things Must Pass” is still unquestionably great, prime-era style, as we saw with “Black Pearl”. “Instant Karma” is my favorite John Lennon solo record, but also keep in mind those were all prior to 1972, when navel-gazing material such as Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally” was the order of the day. It was a mediocre time for music, and tough for Spector to really fit in to that with the Cher or Nilsson tracks cut during that period.

It’s tough also to comment on the Leonard Cohen and Dion albums because they come out of that more flaccid frame of mind, prior to one final return to greatness for Phil with The Ramones. In fact, few of the rockers from the ’50s or ’60s really understood why punk rock was necessary, so the fact that Phil made a great record with The Ramones, easily the most influential band since The Beatles, is to his credit.

Thank you for your insights, Domenic. I’d like to ask you one final question; one I end all my interviews with. Could you please share with us your personal top 5 Spector productions? I know it’s a grueling task but it would be interesting to see which songs are among your favorites.

“River Deep, Mountain High” is up there, “This Could Be The Night” is up there, “Baby I Love You,” “He’s A Rebel” without question… does “Home of the Brave” by Bonnie & the Treasures count?

Sure, I’ll let that one slip under the radar even though we have Jerry Riopelle to thank for that gem. But it remains perhaps the most convincing, high quality Spector soundalike ever.

Again, thank you for taking your time to talk with Cue Castanets.

 

That 70s Wall of Sound

Some time ago I posted photos of two Phil Spector International (PSI) press kits from 1975. Along with the Warner-Spector label, PSI was Spector’s planned outlet for a triumphant return to the charts, – back to reclaim the studio crown on his own terms as opposed to the work he had done with John Lennon and George Harrison. As successful as those projects were, Spector somewhat had to take a back-seat and subdue his approach. Both ex-Beatles did record great Wall of Sound tracks under his auspices but the former Tycoon of Teen wasn’t calling the shots as much as he would have liked and felt entitled to.

Was he a has-been? Could he still intuitively spot a hit song and dress it up so elaborately that everyone who heard it flowing through speakers would succumb to its otherworldly splendor? Spector probably feared the answers to those questions but nevertheless couldn’t resist making attempts at getting back on the scene, as half-hearted as they may have been. Setting up the PSI and Warner-Spector labels gave him the old freedom of the Philles days, only issuing material he felt was strong enough to live up to his legendary status. The question of course is this is how it actually played out or if his standards became lowered somewhat?

Insecurity behind the swagger? Phil Spector with the Kessel Brothers during the 70s.
Insecurity behind the swagger? Phil Spector with the Kessel Brothers during the 70s.

Spector’s erratic 70s output has been much discussed. Was it a dirge of sound? Plodding? Going nowhere? The old master finally revealed to be nothing more than an unimaginative one-trick pony? Or was it rather a more delicate, tasteful Wall of Sound? The Wall 2.0, to use a modern computer-age term? An impressive refinement of the golden formula, – and this time with clear stereo sound to boot, enabling listeners to enjoy the incredible nuances in the grooves?

Personally, I understand both viewpoints though I tend to lean towards the latter, more positive view of Spector’s 70s productions. Less cluttered and more introspective they may be but the very best of them never cease to amaze me in all their soul bearing earnestness. In hindsight, to me, they seem like the logical next step for an artist searching for a new direction and maturation, yet within the safe confines of the Wall of Sound approach.

Jerri+Bo+Keno
‘Here It Comes (And Here I Go)’ was one of the more lively 70s Spector productions. As close as he ever came to issuing a Disco beat.

It’s a shame these 70s productions met with indifference from the public. Some of the songs were indeed lackluster or remakes of past glories but had Spector been able to score a sizeable hit, one could have hoped he’d felt comfortable and vindicated enough to issue more product. For a producer of Spector’s stature and talent his output from the 70s and beyond is just ridiculously limited. Ultimately though, we only have himself to blame – his insecurities, his lack of ambition, his fear of being deemed a has-been.

It’s even more a shame when you think about how perfect a time the 70s would have been for a triumphant comeback hot on the heels of his more understated work with John Lennon and George Harrison. Think the whole retro-music phenomenon is of a fairly recent origin? Think again. It was already everywhere in the 70s, a decade ripe with nostalgia.

There was the group Sha-Na-Na who visually and musically mined the not-to-distant rock’n’roll past Spector helped develop – and even got their own TV show! On radio the Golden Oldies & Oldies but Goodies format grew strong, practically being turned into a hit record by the Carpenters in the form of ‘Yesterday Once More’. Not to mention the TV and cinema successes of Happy Days, American Graffiti and Grease, – all hailing the mid-50s to early 60s music, style and carefree teen lifestyle. Even rock’s mega-stars issued whole albums borne out of this particular surge of nostalgia, – i.e. the Beach Boys (’15 Big Ones’), Bruce Springsteen (‘Born to Run’) or John Lennon (‘Rock’n’Roll’ – aptly with Spector involvement.) Heck, in 1977 you even had a Phil Spector tribute album in the form of Bionic Gold featuring various re-workings of his classic hits!

American Grafitti movie poster. 'Where were you in 1962?' Well, Spector was in Gold Star inventing the Wall of Sound with the Wrecking Crew.
American Grafitti movie poster. ‘Where were you in 1962?’ Well, Spector was in Gold Star inventing the Wall of Sound with the Wrecking Crew.

Basically, Spector couldn’t have asked for a better time for a comeback with his sound – or at least, the sound of carefree teen energy and pumping hormones in the ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ or ‘Be my Baby’ vein he was remembered for. Instead, he chose to offer a darker but often also a more delicate serving of his Wall of Sound. Sadly, it didn’t register with the record-buying public.

Perhaps they had their attention elsewhere, enjoying the wealth of songs coming out during the 70s that borrowed liberally and lovingly from the Spector bag of tricks. You had the ‘Be my Baby’ beat alright. You had the swirling strings, the no-holds-barred ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ backing tracks. For every Spector 70s production, you have literally 5 from the same decade by other producers doing their darned best to emulate his Philles sound. Here are but some examples of the myriad Spector soundalikes from the 70s. Some you’ll definitely know, others may be new to you.

ABBA – Ring Ring (1973)

Benny & Björn of Swedish pop sensation ABBA really had the Spector sound down from the very beginning. The pair also produced some very credible, warm-sounding oldies but goodies material for Swedish duo Svenne & Lotta, including remakes of ‘Be my Baby’, ‘Chapel of Love’ and ‘When You Walk in the Room’. Even on some of the ABBA songs that obviously aren’t meant as a sort of tribute to his sound you can sometimes pick up small details or piano flourishes that wouldn’t have been out of place on a typical Spector session at Gold Star. I guess it just comes down to perfect pop craftsmanship.

Wizzard – See my Baby Jive (1973)

Roy Wood and his band knew how to clutter a track. Listen to that opening drum roll! This song actually made it to no. 1 in the UK charts and stayed there for a few weeks, – and no wonder. In the 60s the British record-buying public had always been very appreciative of the Wall of Sound and obviously recognized a good thing when they heard it. Wizzard recorded a string of other songs that I could just as well have featured, such as ‘Angel Finger’ or ‘Rock’n’Roll Winther.’

Beano – Candy Baby (1974)

Failing to register in their native UK with this obscure Spector-wannabe track, Beano had a sizeable hit with it in Italy in 1975. Too bad Hal Blaine didn’t trademark the ‘Be my Baby’ drum beat. As much as it’s been copied since 1963 he’d be a billionaire by now! In 1974 it was also featured prominently on ‘Foxy Foxy’ by Mott the Hoople.

Bay City Rollers – Angel Baby (1975)

The Scottish teen heart-throbs also tried their hand at the Spector-sound during their peak years, proving that the sound registered just as well among those who hadn’t even been born, or at least had been very young, when Spector and his Philles roster were on a roll in the early 60s. On the album issued after the one ‘Angel Baby’ was featured on, the tartan teen sensations even covered ‘Be my Baby’.

The Tubes – Don’t Touch me There (1976)

The smell of burning leather as we hold each other tight.’ Great isn’t it? Sleazy and with an over-the-top arrangement courtesy of Spector’s old chum and master arranger, Jack ‘Specs’ Nitszche. This is definitely one of my all-time favorite Spector soundalikes!

Meat Loaf – You Took the Words Right Out of my Mouth (1977)

No Wall of Sound? Probably no career for Meat Loaf! His successful 1977 album ‘Bat Out of Hell’ took Spector’s approach and milked it for every melodramatic drop. The songs were produced by Spector-aficionado Jim Steinman in a dramatic, opulent style that fit Meat Loaf’s vocal style perfectly. This great production is pure gold!

The Paranoids – Stupid Guy (1979)

As the 70s was about to give way to the 80s UK group the Paranoids issued this great single with a stomping beat, strings throughout and even a poor man’s Steve Douglas saxophone solo! Power pop meets the Wall of Sound!

I may post some more examples from the 70s at a later time. In this post I’ve stayed clear of some of the more obvious ones like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’, Billy Joel’s ‘Until the Night’ or Ronnie Spector’s ‘Say Goodbye to Hollywood.’ Suffice to say, there is a lot to choose from from this decade.

I’m all ears if you’d like to chime in with some thoughts about the 70s and the Wall of Sound and some of your own favorites from the era, by Spector or others. If so, please leave a comment below.

Guest Post – ‘Waiting in the Vault? Part II. Ronnie at Apple’

A while back, one of my good friends, who amazingly may be even more of a Wall of Sound nut than myself, graced the blog with an interesting guest post about a possible unreleased Ronettes track.

Spectorlector, as my friend suitably calls himself in the blog-o-sphere, is back again with yet another interesting entry about possible unreleased Spector productions.

Enjoy!

In January 1969, the Beatles abandoned the recording of their upcoming ‘Get Back’ album. The British group was sick of the business and fed up with each other. An endless stream of unfinished tape reels were left behind and even George Martin seemingly gave up on saving the unfinished project from all the leftovers.

Around this time, John Lennon wanted to go solo and convinced Phil Spector to crawl out from the ruins of ‘River Deep’ and A&M Records. Spector produced Lennon’s ‘Instant Karma’ and it was suggested that Spector should try to look into the ‘Get Back’ tapes to determine if they could be transformed into a finished LP.

Spector spent endless hours doctoring the tapes, adding back-up instrumentation and strings. The resulting ‘Let It Be’ album, as it was renamed before release, was a huge success, though not all of the Fab Four were happy with the result.

Paul McCartney lets it be known that he's NOT into the  Spectorised 'Long and Winding Road.'
Paul McCartney lets it be known that he’s NOT into the Spectorised ‘Long and Winding Road.’

Ever since the Beatles came to the US, the group had been fans of Spector’s girl group the Ronettes (and it’s lead singer, Spector’s current wife, Ronnie), who were also opening act for the Beatles on two UK tours.

Accordingly, George Harrison wanted Spector to sign Ronnie to the Apple lable. Singles and an album were planned. The first single was ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ – a strange, odd piece of music, which made it clear that both Harrison and Spector knew that the 60s wide-eyed pop sound was over.

try2

The pair desperately tried to aim for a new sound, which, judging by the lukewarm response to the ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ single, wasn’t that easy. As much as Ronnie wanted to have a comeback (the second, of many to date) she didn’t like the song. The B-side was the even weirder ‘Tandoori Chicken’ – a quickie knocked out in an impromptu way and celebrating the tasty Indian dish.

try1

The Ronnie Spector single was released in an unrealistic large numbers and pressed in as far away places as Denmark, France and Australia. Unfortunately, the single sold poorly and Ronnie’s comeback was over before it begun.

try3

‘Try Some, Buy Some’ has grown in status over the years. Ronnie performs it in her live shows these days and Dawid Bowie even did a cover on his ‘Reality’ album in 2003.

Unbeknownst to the public more tracks were laid down before the single died.

Spector recorded Ronnie on a very nice sounding cover of Carla Thomas’ ‘I Love Him like I Love my Very Life.’ This song was also later recorded by Darlene Love, when Spector had returned to the US. The Darlene Love version saw release on the Spector 74/79 compilation album.

Another weird Harrsion song, ‘Love Me Laddy Day’, was also recorded. Just like ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ it was a mumble jumble of words, probably not sitting well with Ronnie. Neither ‘I Love Him Like I Love my Very Life’ or ‘Love Me Laddy Day’ saw a release

George even had two more songs planned for Ronnie. A song called ‘You’ which he tried to write as a bouncy girl group song in the old Ronettes fashion. Eventually though, George ended up recording his own version, released on the ‘Extra Texture’ album. So, did Ronnie ever get to record this song? Yes, indeed! Actually, you can hear her on the George Harrison version!

At 1.30 to the fade there is a second vocal on the recording, sounding suspiciously like Ronnie, and at 2.05 and at the very fade you can clearly hear Ronnie alone without George Harrison’s vocal. It seems clear that George Harrison double-tracked his voice onto Ronnie’s already finished version.

Rumor has it that Ronnie also recorded a version of ‘When Every Song is Sung – I’ll Still Love You.’ Perhaps the most soothing and fitting song for Ronnie compared with the above songs.

George Harrison mentions the song in his biography and refers to versions by Ronnie Spector, Cilla Black and Shirley Bassey. Eventually Ringo Starr released the song, but Cilla Black’s version did see release in the early 2000s. It may even very likely have been recorded over the basic track intended for or sung on by Ronnie…. Just take a listen to Cilla Black’s version and imagine what could have been.

George Harrison demo of ‘When Every Song is Sung – I’ll Still Love You’:

Ringo Starr version:

Cilla Black version:

Devra Robitaille Interview

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.’

Devra Robitaile today
Devra Robitaille today

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.

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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.

Rare Masters vol. 1. A second volume gathering rare and unreleased 60s recordings also came out.
Rare Masters vol. 1. A second volume gathering more unreleased and rare 60s recordings also came out.

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.

A lot of the output on Warner-Spector was made up of reissues of 60s material.
A lot of the output on Warner-Spector was made up of reissues of 60s material.

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

chernilsson

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.

Dion-Born-to-Be-With-You

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.

Dion baby lets stick

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.

Insecurity behind the swagger? Phil Spector with the Kessel Brothers during the 70s.
Insecurity behind the swagger? Phil Spector with the Kessel Brothers during the 70s.

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.

Darlene Love, Phil Spector, Joy Ramone and the Paley Brothers, 70s
Darlene Love, Phil Spector, Joey Ramone and the Paley Brothers, 70s

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.

cohen

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?

No idea.

The Paley Brothers
The Paley Brothers. They recorded quite a few great Spectoresque power pop songs on their own.

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.