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Phil Spector

Harvey Phillip "Phil" Spector (born December 26, 1940) is the producer of some of the best-known popular music of the 1960s and 1970s. Born into a lower-middle class Jewish family in Bronx, New York, his father committed suicide because of family indebtedness in 1949, and Spector and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1953. Despite his shyness, he quickly became heavily involved in the local music scene. His first band was the Teddy Bears[?] in which he had songwriting and guitar playing duties. They had one major hit; 'To Know Him is to Love Him' which sold over 1 million copies when released in 1958 and whose title comes from Phil's father's epitaph.

His major claim to fame, however, is undoubtedly his production of other artists, including the Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, The Beatles, George Harrison amongst many others. Blessed with perfect pitch, he quickly learnt how to use a studio, first as an apprentice to Lester Sill[?] and Lee Hazelwood[?] in Arizona and, from 1960, with Leiber and Stoller[?] in New York. By 1961 he was back in LA, and working again for Sill, where he began to produce an unprecedented string of hits. He worked at first with established artists such as Johnny Nash[?] and Gene Pitney, but soon found his vision easier to fulfill through Girl Groups[?] of his own devising. The groups -- including The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans[?] and The Ronettes-- were often a wholly interchangeable, with lineups based on who was available and whoever's voice he felt would fit the material (with Darlene Love[?] a particular favourite). Although predominantly singles based, Spector's groups did record at least one classic album: A Christmas Gift for You From Phil Spector (1963).

His trademark during that era was the Wall of Sound, in which he gathered large orchestras of musicians (even for instruments not generally used for ensemble playing such as the electric guitar) playing orchestrated parts for a fuller sound. Not so well known is that at the heart of the Wall of Sound was a basement room fitted with microphones and speakers. The echo from the hard walls of the room gave his productions their distinctive quality and made it have a full sound when played on AM radio. Songwriter Jeff Barry[?], who worked extensively with Spector described the Wall of Sound as

"...basically a formula. You're going to have four or five guitars lined up, gut-string guitars, and they're going to follow the chords ... two basses in fifths, with the same type of line, and strings ... six or seven horns, adding the little punches, ... formula percussion instruments - the little bells, the shakers, the tambourines. Phil used his own formula for echo, and some overtone effects with the strings. But by and large there was a formula arrangement"

After a string of hits through the 1960s, he produced "River Deep, Mountain High" for Ike and Tina Turner in 1966, which he considered his finest work. Unfortunately, record company wrangles (he was by then running Philles records with Sill) meant it received little air play in the US until its re-release 3 years later. Already something of a recluse Spector withdrew almost entirely from the public eye, emerging only for a cameo as a drug dealer in the film Easy Rider (1969). He had a major comeback when he resurrected the poor-quality recordings of what became The Beatles' last release, Let It Be.

Spector is widely regarded as more than a little eccentric, descending into many conflicts with the artists, songwriters, and promoters that he worked with, and has shunned publicity for some years. Stories of his eccentricities abound, and include discharging a firearm while in the studio with John Lennon and chasing Leonard Cohen with a loaded crossbow during the ill fated sessions for Cohen's Death Of A Ladies Man album.

He married Ronnie of the Ronettes in 1968, her real name was Veronica Bennet. They divorced in 1974. In 2000 Ronnie Spector successfully sued him for over $2 million for breach of contract over unpaided royalties to the Ronettes.

On February 3, 2003, Spector was arrested for investigation of homicide after the body of 40-year-old actress Lana Clarkson of Los Angeles was found at his home in Alhambra, California. Police responded to the 911 phone call from one of Spector's neighbors and discovered Clarkson, who had been shot and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Further Reading:

"The First Tycoon Of Teen", Tom Wolfe (magazine article reprinted in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby)
"Out Of His Head", Richard Williams. Biography

Recommended Listening

A Christmas Gift To You (1963)
Back To Mono (1958-1969) a 4-CD box set encompassing all of Spectors important work of the period.



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