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Ronnie Redux

by CREEM STAFF on January 14, 2022

via Wiki Commons

 

“Nowadays, I feel more sure of myself than I did five or six years ago. When I came back on the scene, everything was shocking. I thought I was going crazy for a moment there. I said ‘Are these real people or did Phil Spector hire them?’”

It has taken Veronica Bennett Spector the better part of a decade to re-establish her identity as a rock artist—an identity she says she lost when she married producer/ boy genius Phil Spector and assumed the role in a classic rock ’n’ roll fantasy. Now, with a new solo album, Siren, and plans for live performances, she seems determined to carve out a new image for herself and reclaim her place in the rock hierarchy. Ronnie’s past is perfect soap opera material. She is in the process of writing an autobiography; I think she should skip the book and get a made-for-TV miniseries into production. Picture this:

 

Part One—“Be My Baby”

Ronnie has been performing as long as she can remember. She formed the Ronettes with sister Estelle and cousin Nedra, and by the time they were barely pubescent they were singing and dancing their way around New York City’s go-go scene. They met Phil Spector in 1963, and rapidly went from singing back-up on his productions to creating some of the most memorable songs of the Girl Group Era. Somewhere along the line, Ronnie and Phil fell in love. During a European road trip, the Ronettes were invited to join the Beatles on their American tour. Ronnie dated John Lennon briefly— until Phil found out and delivered an ultimatum: “He said ‘Either you go on the tour and we don’t get married, or you don’t go and we get married.’ I had no choice, and I was in love, so...” (Fade Out on Part One).

 

Part Two—“Chapel of Love”/“Nowhere to Run” 

Ronnie married Phil; for a wedding present he bought her a 23-room mansion in Beverly Hills with five servants. Sounds like a decent set-up, except that Ronnie and Phil never left it. In the beginning they went out to dinner on Thursdays (“Cook’s night out”); eventually Ronnie would get a peek at the outside annually, usually New Year’s Eve. “It wasn’t me. It was too dark, like a Dracula’s castle. I got lost...when I got married, it was as if I didn’t sing anymore. I wasn’t called Ronnie; I was called Veronica, and the servants called me Mrs. Spector—there was no Ronnie, no rock ’n’ roll, no nothin’.”

By the end of 1972, Ronnie Jiad had enough. “I said, ‘I’m going to the store,’ and I got on an airplane. (Fade Out on Part Two).

 

Part Three—“The Best of Breaking Up”

For those of us into unresolved endings, since her Madison Square Garden comeback Ronnie has had to fight the battle of overcoming the suds of her past and establishing her place in the present. “I think it’s horrible, the name ‘Oldies but Goodies’ ...I mean, give me a break I didn’t feel like an oldie but goodie...I was young.”

Through old pal John Lennon, Ronnie met producer Jimmy Iovine, who invited her to a recording session for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, ‘I had nothing to do, so I went down there. And I freaked! You see, once I see music and lights there’s this urge; I can’t help it. They were singing and I started singing. 

Also present at the session was Jukes tag-along Bruce Springsteen; they recorded it on the spot. Ronnie toured with the Jukes as special guest star, and Steve Van Zandt produced an E Street Band backed single for Ronnie (appropriately , Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”). It’s currently available at your local record shop—if you’re willing to pay an exorbitant price or sign away your first-born son in exchange.

Although the Asbury Park association didn’t hurt in introducing Ronnie Spector to a contemporary audience, she was still faced with the task of verifying herself as a solo performer. Enter producer/vocalist Genya Ravan. “She just called me up one day and said ‘I’m going to be your next producer.’ She sounded so positive.” Ronnie seems to attract the right people who want to take care of her. This time it just might work out. Siren was two years, in the making primarily because of a problem in finding appropriate material. “If the song didn’t sound like ‘Be My Baby’ it sounded like ‘Walking in the Rain. If it didn’t sound like ‘Walking in the Rain’ it sounded like ‘Baby I Love You.” Eventually, Ronnie and Genya pulled together an album of completely contemporary songs and released it through Polish Records, Genya’s newly formed independent label. Siren’s music runs the gamut from rockabilly to reggae to Ramones:

Attempts to recreate the nostalgic sounds of the Girl Group Era are studiously avoided; if anything Ronnie seems to have a little trouble sounding as tough as her material. But nothing can cover up that voice—a distinctive blend of passiori and innocence that is as intriguing today as it was in 1964.                   

These days Ronnie spends her time catching up on the music scene via the Top 40 (“I grew up listening to AM radio,” she explains without a hirit of apology), pushing Siren while working on a new album, and preparing for her first solo tour ever. She seems satisfied with her re-entry into the industry:

“Rock ’n’ Roll—that’s my identity. When I was married I was living someone else’s. Genya says ‘Ronnie, hold on to your shoes honey, because this is it.’ For me, it’s such a challenge. If it fails, it fails—but at least I met that challenge.”  

 

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Written by Terri A. Huggins and originally published in the January 1981 issue of CREEM Magazine.

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