Legendary Music Producer Phil Spector:
Along with the recognition he received for his talents, rumors about a darker side of Spector began to emerge. By 1966, the self-made millionaire left the public eye after a less than spectacular reception to his newest artists, Ike and Tina Turner. It was not until 2003 that Spector would once again make headlines.
The Early Years:
Harvey Philip Spector was born in Bronx, New York, on December 26, 1940. His father, Benjamin Spector, struggled to keep his lower middle class family financially afloat, but in 1949, distraught and in debt, he committed suicide. Four years later his mother moved Phil and his sister to Los Angeles. Awkward and small, Phil struggled socially and turned his attention from the social life of high school, to a more reclusive life of learning to play music.
To Know Me Is To Love Me:
Ultimately, Spector mastered the guitar, piano, drums, bass, French horn and song writing. In 1958, after being moved by the words on his father's grave, "To Know Me Is To Love Me," Spector formed a group called the Teddy Bears, made up of high school friends, Marshall Lieb, Harvey Goldstein and Annette Kleinbard. The group pooled their money to buy two hours of recording time at Gold Star Studios.
The Teddy Bears:
Spector, acting as producer for the Teddy Bears, recorded "Don't You Worry My Little Pet," which landed them a record deal with Era Records. Their next song, "To Know Him Is to Love Him," was released on Dore Records, a subsidiary of Era Records. This song went on to become number one on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart with sales topping five million. However, success for the group was short lived and by 1959 the group disbanded.
Stage Fright Puts Spector Behind the Scene:
Plagued with stage fright but impassioned by music, Spector adjusted his goals off stage and began working for independent producers, Lee Hazelwood and Lester Sill. Behind the scenes, Spector learned the production side of the business and contributed to the 1961 number 10 hit, "Spanish Harlem" and "Young Boy Blues" for Ben E. King and later co-wrote King's "Spanish Harlem."
In the fall of 1961 Spector started Phillies Records with Sill and signed the Crystals to his new label. Their first single "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" was a success, hitting number 20 on the charts. Their next release, "Uptown," was even more successful, making it to number 13. It was during this time that Spector developed his own unique style mixed with his ability to spot a hit, which would eventually launch him into the forefront of the record industry.
Wall of Sound:
In the early 1960s Spector developed the "Wall of Sound" technique, which later became his signature. The sound, highly appealing to radio listeners, launched 20 hits in three years and made the 21-year-old Spector a millionaire. However, in the mid-60s, the Beatles hit the scene and Spector's signature sound began losing in popularity.
What Goes Up Must Come Down:
Over the next few years he managed to produce big hits including the Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," but when Ike and Tina Turner's song, "River Deep, Mountain Wide," failed to produce the same winning results, Spector became discouraged. He moved away from the public eye, married Veronica "Ronnie" Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes and retired to a more reclusive lifestyle.
Rumors of Spector's Dark Side Circulate:
Rumors of his behavior taking on a dark side began to circulate as well as his fascination with guns. In the early 1970s, coming out of his self-imposed seclusion, Spector began working on projects for the Beatles who, at this point, barely spoke to one another. He produced John Lennon's solo single "Instant Karma," which went to number 3, and later produced the Beatles album, "Let it Be." Author Mark Ribowsky describes in his book He's a Rebel, that Spector continued working on Lennon's projects until one day, frustrated with the way the production was going, fired shots into the studio ceiling.
The Gun-Toting Mad Genius:
Over the next decade Spector worked periodically on projects including an album for Leonard Cohen. During the production of the album "Death of a Ladies' Man," reports circulated about an incident between Spector and violinist, Bobby Bruce. Bruce told journalists that Spector pulled a gun on him and banned him from the studio after he imitated Spector's lisp.
Spector's Wife Escapes
In an interview with writer Kurt Loder (VH1), Veronica spoke about fearing for her life and described Phil Spector as controlling and threatening. In 1974, she described "escaping" the home at which time she filed for divorce. Over the years the media had named Spector the "mad genius" and according to Loder, Veronica felt Spector had began acting out the part.
The Conflicts Continue
More rumors circulated about the many conflicts Spector had with those he worked. Much like the Lennon incident, Leonard Cohen described an incident when Spector placed a loaded pistol at his head. Dee Dee Ramone also reported that Spector threatened band members during their recording sessions and made Dee Dee play bass at gunpoint. In 2003, long time friend to Spector, Larry Levine, told CNN during an interview that he could confirm many of the rumors and felt Spector's progressive drinking during that time contributed to the incidents.
Arrested for Murder
During the 1980s Spector's involvement in the music industry was almost null and void. Embroiled in a few lawsuits, including one with his ex-wife for breach of contract over unpaid royalties to the Ronettes, there was little in the news about Spector.
He had a brief moment of stardom, when in 1989 he was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. But on February 3, 2003, news reports about Spector were not about his music career or his rocky relationships with his industry peers. The news was far darker. Spector was arrested for murder.