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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.

cher
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.

nilsson
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.

 

Binia Tymieniecka Interview

Considering the legacy of Spector’s Wall of Sound recording technique there have been remarkably few attempts at dissecting his sound and widespread influence on screen. Sure, due to the tragic events of the Lana Clarkson case, a large number of Court TV-like screen portrayals of Spector have come and gone, mainly using his musical legacy as a mere backdrop to his portrayal in light of the Clarkson case.

There was also the 2013 David Mamet-instructed Phil Spector TV movie that had Al Pacino don several wigs and proudly display ‘Back to Mono’ buttons in order to breathe life into a character that today sadly seems more widely known for his inner, sinister demons and love of guns than his past musical achievements. Personally, I was very disappointed by the Mamet TV movie which I had pretty high hopes for as something that would focus not only on the case itself, but also dwell on Spector’s past and the music we all love. The little attention that part of his story got in the movie was indeed disappointing. It was basically a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it type of moment.

In my book, Spector’s output with his Philles roster is every bit as groundbreaking as the iconic releases by, say, the Beatles, the Beach Boys or Elvis – musical giants whose fans have had a multitude of music documentaries and TV or theater movies to look into through the years. Not so for Spector fans – which is hardly surprising since the former Tycoon of Teen is known to be notoriously difficult to work with. Anyone wanting to do some sort of documentary or movie about him and his music should be determined to go through a lot of trouble and dead ends.

Which makes the 1983 Spector documentary ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ all the more remarkable. You may have seen it? If not, it was finally released officially on DVD in 2009, long after it’s 1983 screenings on British TV and an obscure afterlife as a grey-area bootleg among collectors. Here’s a link for the current version out there:

http://www.amazon.com/Phil-Spector-Doo-Ron-Story/dp/B002MR90BO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1442004970&sr=8-2&keywords=phil+spector+dvd

I have always wanted to know more about this interesting, but puzzling documentary which is about Spector, his music and influence but without his direct participation. Instead, the viewer is treated to short anecdotes and voiced opinions about Spector by a wide range of former collaborators, contemporary producers or artists he has worked with.

The cover of the DVD reissue
The cover of the DVD reissue

In all honesty, even though I’ve enjoyed watching and re-visiting this documentary through the years, I find the flow and choice of scenes at times both puzzling and fragmented. It also seems more aimed at the average viewer instead of a hardcore Spector geek which of course means that any Cue Castanets reader probably won’t learn anything new seeing it.

Then again, put on your ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ DVD reissue and you’ll see Leiber & Stoller, Stan Ross and Larry Levine as well as other important people within the Spector legacy share their thoughts and views on him, however brief. This alone makes the documentary interesting. And then just try to imagine how difficult it must have be to even undertake such a project, especially one about as notoriously reclusive and troubled an individual as Spector! It gives me a headache just to think about it.

Prior to the airing of ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ there was a bit of hype around the documentary in the old Philately fanzines, only to be replaced by a sense of disappointment after it’s run. I guess the hardcore Spector fanbase had hoped for more new info and perhaps even Spector’s direct participation after many years of silence. Alas, it was not to be – but it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the people behind the documentary. You will learn this by reading the following interview which I’m very pleased to publish here on Cue Castanets. I’ve managed to contact the director of the documentary, Binia Tymieniecka, in order to hear more about this obscure project. Luckily, Binia was all up for sharing her recollections about ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ and gladly answered my questions.

Enjoy – and don’t forget to search out the DVD reissue if you haven’t seen Binia’s documentary before.

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Binia, going back to the time before you undertook the task of making a Spector documentary, could you describe what your background in film was?

My adventures in film are quite unusual.  After graduating at the Royal College of Art (where I studied sculpture), a close friend encouraged me to apply for the position of head lecturer in film studies at Portsmouth Polytechnic.  Although lacking any formal training or experience in filmmaking, my interest in cinema, my background in Fine Art and a fair amount of blagging were enough to secure the post.

Weekends, evenings and any other spare time were spent in learning fundamental filmmaking techniques, studying film theory and improving my knowledge of the history of world cinema.  As a result, not only was I able to stay one step ahead of my students, I also fell in love with the film medium and after three years I decided that my ambition lay in making my own films rather than teaching others how to make theirs. 

Tell us a bit about how the whole Spector documentary came about? Whose idea was it, – who commissioned it? And how did you become involved?

My first success as a director was in persuading LWT (London Weekend Television) to finance a 60 minute documentary film ‘Soviet Art’ for their weekly flagship programme ‘Southbank Show’ headed by Melvyn Bragg.  As an unknown director the film was given a shoestring budget and I acted as producer, researcher, writer and interviewer as well as being the director.

Nearing completion of the film, Tony Cash, my executive producer at LWT asked what my next project would be – without hesitation I replied that I wanted to make a film about Phil Spector. Tony was less than enthusiastic and said ‘no one is interested in that has-been’. Unknown to him, his throwaway comment gave me the determination to turn this idea into reality.  I cheekily replied – ‘It will be called Da Doo Ron Ron – so watch out for it’

newpics006_zps595ff0e8

On transmission, ‘Soviet Art’ was well received by the critics and established my credentials as an independent director. As a subject for a film, Phil Spector was about as far away from ‘Soviet Art’ as is possible to imagine, but I was only really interested in making films about subjects that I was passionate about.

From my teenage years onwards I had loved Phil Spector’s music (and still do) and became intrigued by his reputation for being a recluse, an eccentric, litigious and shy of media attention. Possibly, it was the obstacles that faced the project combined with my love of the music that made ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ an obvious choice for my next film – and certainly no one else had tried and succeeded before. So what could possibly go wrong?

How did you establish contact with Spector? Did you meet him directly or did you only have contact through his secretary? Do you know how he felt about the project and the final results?

Quite predictably, making contact with Spector was a torturous and time consuming exercise.  Months of requests and attempted negotiations with his aides and secretaries failed to make any progress and it was only after a meeting in London with Marty Machat, (his lawyer and close confidante) that Spector agreed to see me to discuss the proposed film.

That meeting is a whole other story but his response to seeing the completed film was to issue legal writs against myself, Rodney and several of the interviewees.  Spector’s capacity for litigation had already become part of music industry folklore and I would have been disappointed if he had reacted in any other way.

Even though he doesn’t feature in the documentary, upon seeing it the first time I gathered it must have somewhat met with his approval since you were able to use full-length versions of some of his iconic hits.

He’s been notorious for turning down usage of his music on screen and in cinema so that was some feat. Could you tell a bit more about the music licensing involved?

Marty Machat had homes in both LA and London and split his time between the two. This allowed a good working relationship to develop between us and resulted in favourable licencing terms for the use of music.

In spite of his apparent hostility to the project, I think that Spector realised that the film might generate additional record sales and more income for himself. Almost certainly, Marty would have obtained Spector’s approval of the proposed licencing terms before granting them to me.

That said, although the financial terms were favourable, other conditions restricted use of the music (and therefore the film as well) to one broadcast and one repeat broadcast only.  The survival of the film beyond those broadcasts is largely thanks to the unauthorised copies made by bootleggers and die hard Spector fans alike.

Did you in any way have access to the Spector tape archive or had the chance to listen to unreleased recordings? For decades Spector fans have obsessed about what may – or may not – be still lurking in the Spector tape vault.

No. And I doubt that Spector would have kept recordings of sessions that he didn’t consider worthy of commercial release.

I may be wrong but I think his extraordinary obsession with perfection would lead him to erase or destroy everything except for the final master tapes.  Possibly some tapes of unreleased recordings remain in the hands of studio engineers, session musicians and the like but I think that the notion of a central tape vault of unreleased recordings is a rather fanciful idea.

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

Aside from these thoughts, it should be remembered that in those days professional quality magnetic tape was not cheap and in many studios it was common practise to erase and reuse anything that was’nt considered worth keeping.

Having legendary LA scenester and KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer do the running commentary about Spector and the people interviewed was a great touch. How did Rodney get involved? Was he also helping your team establish contact to your interview subjects?

I first met Rodney after filming had already started, – I seem to remember that it was Nino Tempo who suggested I contact him.

Rodney lived, breathed and slept music and we struck up an immediate friendship and rapport.  His reputation as a DJ was already legendary and because his love of music was so genuine he was respected and well liked by many of the big shots in the music industry.

Without doubt, Rodney’s endorsement of my project helped to open many doors.  Right from the outset I wanted to avoid the usual scripted commentary style of documentary but as filming progressed it became obvious that the various different interviews and elements needed a narrative to create a cohesive whole.

The idea of using Rodneys voice and DJ persona as a device to link everything together was one of those flashes of imagination type of moment.  He quickly agreed and towards the end of the filming schedule we spent several hours together recording the clips of voice over that are used in the film.

Rodney Bingenheimer left, Phil Spector right.
Rodney Bingenheimer left, Phil Spector right.

Do you remember if there were anyone you unsuccessfully tried to interview for the documentary? As is, the list of people involved is rather impressive! How much time did you actually spend in the US filming?

Right up until the last day of filming I never gave up hope that Spector might agree to be interviewed.  But apart from him, most of the interviewees on my ‘must have’ list were happy to participate – some with great enthusiasm.

Tina Turner agreed to be interviewed but did not appear simply because she was ‘out of town’ at the time.  Tom Wolfe and Andrew Loog Oldham were also on my list but were not available during the three week filming schedule.

I was very keen to interview Jack Nitzsche and he agreed, but only on the basis that Spector himself had to be present at the interview.  The reason for this condition was never explained but I doubt that he feared Spector and more likely he wanted to use the interview as a means to settle a few old scores – but only if he could do so on a ‘face to face’ basis.  Needless to say, Spector declined the invitation and the interview never happened.

Aside from the above, I think I fulfilled my original wish list of interviewees and added a few more in the process.

In the documentary there’s a short clip of 60s Spector rehearsing a song along with the Darlene Love-led Blossoms, ‘Every Evening when the Sun Goes Down.’

According to the ‘Philately’ fanzine at the time, the song was supposedly made up for the occasion and the clip from a mid-60s Spector documentary. Do you remember this clip and where you got it from? I’ve seen it used several times various places after its use in your documentary but I suspect those usages stem from yours?

I’m reluctant to explain the source of the clip you mention but you are right to say that it has been reused (without permission) by other documentary makers.  The same applies to at least two other clips of B&W footage included in the film.

I have to say, that scene with the Ramones is priceless! I find Dee Dee’s description of how Spector would only let him play his pinball machine for a few minutes hilarious! Now, that’s rock’n’roll excess! Looking back, is there a particular part of the film you’re especially pleased with?

The Ramones interview is my favourite part of the film too!

It was also pivotal to the project – Unable to provide any firm guarantee that Spector would participate in the film, raising finance was always going to be difficult.  Channel Four TV were enthusiastic but they too wanted to see Spector’s signature on a contract or agreement.

Phil Spector & Joey Ramone
Phil Spector & Joey Ramone

I heard that the Ramones were planning a UK tour and by pulling a few strings and calling in favours I managed to arrange crew, equipment and film stock to interview the band before their London gig in Hammersmith.

I showed the unedited footage to my contacts at Channel Four TV and on seeing it they agreed to finance the project – with or without any guarantee of Spector’s participation.  As to the interview itself, well, it was agreed that the band would give me 30 minutes of their time before they started the sound check.

Late afternoon and as promised, they shuffled into the venue, bleary eyed, half asleep and looking for coffee or maybe something stronger. Being aware of the minutes ticking by, I said ‘Okay boys, stand up straight, hands by your sides and look at me’ and I went straight into the first question. Needless to say, they were great.

Other parts that I am fond of (for differing reasons), are Darlene Love singing on the beach, interviews with Albert Goldman and also Leiber & Stoller. The biplane aerobatics sequence set to music is also something that I think worked out well.

I’ve read in the old ‘Philately’ Spector fanzines from 1983 that you edited the film down from 17 hours worth of footage to the 90 minute version that was aired. Do you remember what kind of footage was left out? Did you for instance interview people whose perspectives didn’t make it to the final version?

The film was made on a shooting ratio of 10:1 – i.e. We shot 900 minutes of film and edited it down to 90 minutes – or thereabouts.  I’m fairly sure that the film included a part of each and every interview we filmed.

Maybe I should check my own archives but I don’t think there were any true gems of footage that I left out from the final cut.

… and judging from the inside information in ‘Philately’, it would seem that you and the producer Patrick Lacy had your hands full dealing with Spector and his eccentricities. Care to share any anecdotes?

Yes, it’s true that Spector gave us the ‘run around’ for many months.  Meetings would be set up – and then cancelled at the last moment, and this continued until Marty Machat got involved.

Patrick Lacy (producer) received news that Spector had agreed to see us so we immediately flew to LA before he changed his mind.  On arriving at Spector’s mansion, the door was opened by George – his butler come bodyguard, a slab like faced man rather like a character from ‘The Munsters’.

Phil Spector & George Brand
Phil Spector & George Brand

In the hallway stood a rather tatty looking Christmas tree (this was July), and the whole place was dark. We were shown into a drawing room and told to wait. On one of two long tables, an assortment of children’s toys had been arranged in several neat rows complete with a sign, ‘Do Not Touch’.  On the second table stood a large fish tank – the water too murky to see through but enough movement to suggest that something was lurking inside. Neither of us were too keen to find out what type of creature it might be.

We waited… and waited… then George reappeared to tell us that ‘Mister Spector will see you now’. We stood up and in walked a small figure of a man. He wore a black ‘Beatle cut’ style wig that somehow didn’t seem to move with the rest of his head – It was a comic sight and I had difficulty in keeping a straight face.

The game was up when he asked us which BBC programme we worked for. We explained that the film would be financed by Channel Four TV – a new British TV company… Spector lost it, and said he had been duped and started shouting at us to get out.

Having travelled from London for this meeting I wasn’t about to leave easily, I asked him what difference it made whether the film was financed by BBC or Channel Four but he wasn’t willing to explain – instead he told us that unless we left immediately he would ask George to bring a gun and ‘I will have you both for trespassing’. At that point, George politely suggested that he would show us ‘off the premises’. And that was the end of my first and only meeting with the legendary Phil Spector.

Finally, something I always ask for in any interview. Could you list your personal top 5 Spector productions?

My Top Five Spector productions – difficult to answer because I love so many but…

The Ronettes – ‘Do I love you’

The Ronettes – ‘When I saw you’

Darlene Love – ‘White Christmas’

John Lennon – ‘Be my Baby’

The Ramones – ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’

But ask me the same question next week and I will probably give you a totally different answer!

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions, Binia.

Andy Paley Interview – part I

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.

andy2

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.

The Paley Brothers on stage.
The Paley Brothers on stage.

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 Paley Brothers album. Note the sticker about the 8' x 10' photo enclosed inside!
The Paley Brothers album. Note the sticker about the 8′ x 10′ photo enclosed inside!

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. compre 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.

sidewinders

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.

The Paley Brothers EP containing 'Rendezvous.'
The Paley Brothers EP containing ‘Rendezvous.’

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!

Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, a great believer in the Paley Brothers. Notice their EP at the very front in the low part of the Photo.
Sire Records boss Seymour Stein, a great believer in the Paley Brothers. Notice their EP at the very front in the low part of the photo.

‘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.]

In 1977 you briefly worked with the Shangri-Las, a project which has been documented in Ugly Things magazine and later re-printed by Spectropop: http://www.spectropop.com/Shangri-Las/

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.

Andy rehearses songs with the Shangri-Las, 1977.
Andy rehearses songs with legendary girl group the Shangri-Las, 1977.

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.

Andy Paley, Phil Spector & Jonathan Paley.
Andy Paley, Phil Spector & Jonathan Paley during the session.

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.

Darlene Love, Phil Spector, Joy Ramone and the Paley Brothers.
Darlene Love, Phil Spector, Joy Ramone and the Paley Brothers.

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.

Dion baby lets stick

[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.

A few collections have come out gathering the few outside productions Brian Wilson worked on during the 60s.
Some compilations have come out gathering the few outside productions Brian Wilson worked on during the 60s.

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.

Brian (L) and Andy (R) in the studio.
Brian (L) and Andy (R) in the studio.

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)’

5. The Crystals – He’s Sure the Boy I Love

Beautiful UK Darlene Love EP cover.
Beautiful UK Darlene Love EP cover.