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Authors: Mark Ribowsky

He's a Rebel

BOOK: He's a Rebel
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Phil Spector

Rock and Roll's Legendary Producer

Copyright © 1989 by Mark Ribowsky

First Cooper Square Press edition 2000

This Cooper Square Press paperback edition of
He's a Rebel
is an unabridged republication of the edition first published in New York in 1989, with the addition of 29 textual emendations. It is reprinted by arrangement with the author.

Grateful acknowledgment is given for permission to quote excerpts from the following:

“The Rolling Stone Interview: Phil Spector” by Jann Wenner from
Rolling Stone,
Nov. 1, 1969, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc
. ©
1988. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission

“Black Pearl” lyrics and music by Phil Spector, Toni Wine, Irwin Levine
1969 Irving Music, Inc. & Mother Bertha Music & Jillbern Music, Inc. (BMI)

“He's a Rebel”
1962 Unichappell Music, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission

Excerpts from “The First Tycoon of Teen” from
The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby
by Tom Wolfe
. ©
1963, 1964, 1965 by Thomas K. Wolfe, Jr
., ©
1963, 1964, 1965 by New York Herald Tribune, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc

All rights reserved.

Published by Cooper Square Press,
An Imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
150 Fifth Avenue, Suite 911
New York, New York 10011

Distributed by National Book Network

The E, P. Dutton edition was cataloged by the Library of Congress as follows:

Ribowsky, Mark.

He's a rebel / Mark Ribowsky. —1st ed.

p. cm.

Discography. Includes index.

1. Spector, Phil, 1940-. 2. Sound recording executives and producers—United States—Biography. I. Title.

ML429.S64R5 1989

784.5'4'00924—dc 19 [B]


ISBN: 978-0-8154-1044-7

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48–1992.

Manufactured in the United States of America.

For my mother

The sources that made this book come alive number over one hundred. Of these, almost all spoke on the record freely and thoughtfully, and their contributions are self-evident in the pages of history that follow. My deepest thanks to all of them, as well as to those few sources who chose anonymity rather than risk Phil Spector's wrath but still kindly provided crucial information.

I would like to especially acknowledge the aid of Annette Merar Spector and Marshall Lieb. There simply could not have been a definitive Phil Spector book without the vivid memories of both of these wonderful people. Though Annette had to relive the pain and anxiety of a crumbled marriage, she repaid my constant intrusions with grace, understanding, and complete cooperation. A busy man in Hollywood movie circles these days, Marshall knew how important it was for me to speak with one who had traveled with Spector from childhood to manhood. With the patience of a schoolteacher conducting a history lesson, he acted both as tour guide of their old West Hollywood neighborhood and chief interpreter of Spector's psyche.

I would like to single out a number of others who offered invaluable
recollections in long, sometimes tedious interviews. My sincere appreciation goes to Carol Connors, Donna Kass, Michael Spencer, Steve Douglas, Harvey Goldstein, Stan Ross, Don Kartoon, Lew Bedell, Lester Sill, Elliott Ingber, Russ Titelman, Beverly Ross, Doc Pomus, Terry Phillips, Ray Peterson, Gene Pitney, Gerry Goffin, Snuff Garrett, Bobby Sheen, Fanita James, Arnold Goland, Larry Levine, Sonny Bono, La La Brooks, Mary Thomas, Nedra Talley, Vinnie Poncia, Danny Davis, Irwin Levine, Dan and David Kessel, and Joey Ramone.

One can't begin to describe the feeling a rock-and-roll devotee and scholar gets by spending time with the legendary studio musicians of rock's age of romance. For the thrill of a lifetime and for enriching my music education, I particularly want to thank Howard Roberts, Barney Kessel, Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Ray Pohlman, Gary Chester, Artie Kaplan, Artie Butler, and Charlie Macey.

I would also like to acknowledge with gratitude the hardy souls who dutifully culled archives for precious details of the early rock terrain now covered by two decades of dust and neglect. Buried deep in file cabinets and basement catacombs, the recording contracts, ledgers of fabled studio sessions, and long out-of-print record labels were reclaimed through the time and efforts of Bob Rafkin of the American Federation of Musicians Local 47, the House of Oldies in Greenwich Village, and Bob Merlis and Meryl Zukowsky of Warner Brothers Records.

Special thanks to Bob Shannon, Arnie Kay, Marsha Vance, Kenny Vance, Jack Jackson, Barry Goldberg, and Rodney Bingenheimer for vital contacts and telephone numbers; and to Harvey Kubernik for the use of his interview material with Jack Nitzsche. My personal thanks to Patti Stren and Robin Page for their unending tap of good cheer during a grueling thirteen months.

Finally, heartfelt thanks to my agent, Geri Thoma, for believing and caring; and to my editor, Meg Blacks tone, who shared my vision and injected it with love, laughter, and enlightenment. This book is as much their achievement as it is mine.


Phil Spector, a little man with a Napoleon complex, faced his Waterloo in early 1966. Spector—the now-fabled record producer who was then the Boy King of rock and roll—was desperate to remain unmoved at a time when the sands of pop music were shifting beneath his feet. For the first time in half a decade, Spector had no dependable rock act under his domain. His name—once as renowned as his records, and in some high rock councils as notorious as Dillinger—was becoming an afterthought. Though Phil Spector was only twenty-five years old—the “first tycoon of teen,” as he was dubbed in 1965 by Tom Wolfe—in Spector's manic and messianic vision this slight was the same as damnation.

To his credit, Spector did not shrink from his audacious genius in order to shift with the sands of rock. Instead, he sought to chart a new territory—an avant-garde idiom somewhere between Motown/Memphis black and L.A. off-white. This always had been Spector's calling, as he saw it, and he succeeded in the sense that, although his arrangements were undeniably white, his vocalists sang
blacker than Motown allowed its vocalists, and many of his musicians came out of a jazz era that was Spector's first musical love. Indeed, Spector's leading lady, eternally on records, for a tempestuous half-decade in marriage, was the remarkable Veronica Yvette Bennett—Ronnie Spector—whose heart-palpitating vibrato made rock and roll tremble with Billie Holiday overtones.

Now, in 1966, it was the time for cataclysm, and Phil Spector chose as his vanguard a human Molotov cocktail named Tina Turner, a mostly unknown rhythm-and-blues singer capable of paroxysm in front of a microphone. The vehicle for her passion and soul was a song that Spector co-wrote with the tunesmiths who had given him the fodder for his climb to the top of rock and roll, Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. It was a strange and extraordinary torch song that sounded like it was written on a psychiatrist's couch—a carousel ride of fleeting images and admissions of a woman's love so strong and heartfelt that it was rivaled only by the love of her childhood rag doll. It was called “River Deep—Mountain High.”

The session at which Spector cut this paean to the pain of love was the last of the grand-scale studio dates of the sixties. Spector amassed almost two dozen musicians at Gold Star Sound Studios in Hollywood. The session cost more than $20,000, an enormous figure then. The musicians—
, many once wore on their shirts, signifying their debt to him in becoming the core of the West Coast rock scene—played long and loud and hard, everybody boiling over all at once, ignoring the piecemeal overdubbing that was coming into vogue as rock technology evolved. Spector did overdub background vocals on his records, to create a swirl of voices that aped his instrumental tracks, but his love was
music, a rhythm section blaring and wailing its brains out the way the great jazz combos did. At Gold Star, a titanic rhythm section of the kind Spector had become famous for—four guitars, three basses, three pianos, two drums, and a small army of percussion—became one, as only it could, in a live, massed monolith. The room, Gold Star's Studio A, was saturated in sine waves; they bounced off the walls and the low ceiling and came tumbling out of two echo chambers before being sucked into a tape machine. When mixed down, the sound was not of this earth, and it wasn't a melody as we know it. It was a mood, a feel, aural poetry, and sheer rock-and-roll heaven. And when that was done, Tina Turner grabbed at her crotch in pain as she sang the
lead vocal. Turner screeched and cooed and pleaded, in alternating moods of victory, defeat, bravado, and hopelessness. As each wave fell and rose again with a chorus of “Do I love you my oh my / River Deep—Mountain High,” it was clear that the song wasn't a fugue; it was Spector's cry for redemption. “River Deep—Mountain High” was a bacchanalian feast for the ears, an orgy of Phil Spector's ego and instinct. Most of all, it was LOUD.

BOOK: He's a Rebel
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