Beyond the Beehive: An Interview with Ronnie Spector

Beyond the Beehive: An Interview with Ronnie Spector

beyond the beehive

From Be My Baby to Walking in the Rain, Ronnie Spector is the legendary voice behind those immortal hits produced by Phil Spector. Once married to Spector, Ronnie’s life was filled with triumph and tragedy, a career thwarted by the controlling machinations of her then husband.

The ultimate survivor, Ronnie’s life is the center of a terrific new show, Beyond the Beehive, a 90-minute multimedia presentation that unravels the ups and downs of her career through classic music and striking visuals.

Any time you get a chance to hear Ronnie sing her signature hits Be My Baby, Walking in the Rain, Baby I Love You and more make this show a must see.

 

 

You can catch Ronnie’s new show at the following venues:

  • October 28th & 29th – Los Angeles, CA – The El Rey Theater
  • October 30th – Phoenix, AZ – MIM Musical Theatre @ Musical Instrument Museum
  • November 1st – Chicago, IL – The City Winery

Enjoy a spirited Q&A with Ronnie below! 

Rock Cellar Magazine: Take us through what fans can expect from the “Beyond the Beehive” show, what went on beyond the beehive?

Ronnie Spector: You’re gonna see everything. I have a lot of videos with artists like The Rolling Stones. Also, there’s ton of pictures for people to look at of The Ronettes and so much more.  I tell my life story and how I can from a very humble beginning in Spanish Harlem. I met a great producer that wanted to sign The Ronettes. Phil (Spector) signed us and we had a great run of hit records. Then I got married and then I never sang again (laughs). I did but not onstage.

I made a couple of records with Apple Records and one with A&M and I was done.

Women are more powerful today than ever before so what better time to tell my story? It’s about a woman and how I survived all these obstacles. You’ll think, “My God, she went through all of that and she survived?”

Rock Cellar Magazine: Has it been cathartic for you to recount those triumphant and often turbulent times?

Ronnie Spector: Well that’s what I love about the show. I see people laughing and then I see people crying and I’m going, “Oh my God!” for me it’s such an emotional ride I’m on. I talk about good things and all the bad stuff with my ex, all the great stuff with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones being my opening act. I talk about everything, from my childhood; I talk about my cousins being downstairs and us singing harmonies together.

Rock Cellar Magazine: As a singer, who were your greatest influences?

Ronnie Spector: Frankie Lymon was my biggest inspiration. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to singing school so he was my homework. I’d come home from school and listen to Frankie’s records and that’s basically how I learned how to sing.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What made your vocal blend with The Ronettes so remarkable on Be My Baby?

Ronnie Spector: First of all, it was our looks. When I met with Ellie Greenwich, Jeff Barry and Phil, they were writing Be My Baby and it felt like they took it form me with their lyrics. I was so young and so innocent and I was hiding up in Phil’s penthouse in one of his guest rooms. I heard them singing Be My Baby and I was wondering, “Is that a hit record?” It all started from them watching what I was doing.

I remember Phil coming to my house and seeing the dolls in my room. Phil asked, “What do you do with them?” And I said, “I give them a kiss every night. I give them a kiss on the forehead and one on each side of their cheek before I go to sleep.” That wound up in Be My Baby,(recites lyrics) “…for every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three…” That song connects because it’s all about me. I was so young. “Won’t you be my baby?”

I was the first girl on record in the ‘60s to say to a guy, ‘Be My Baby’.

A girl didn’t ask that, a guy asked a girl. (laughs) Between the production and the girl group sound and then adding in my voice, that was the voice that Phil was looking for. And that’s how it happened. It was unstoppable. As for the sessions for Be My Baby, when Hal Blaine came in with his drum pattern (imitates drum beat), I knew it was gonna be a hit.

There was a great vibe at those sessions. All of the great Wrecking Crew musicians were there—Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Earl Palmer, we had the best musicians to contribute plus add my voice to the mix and people said, “That’s the topping on the cake.” Back then you had to sing live on sessions; it wasn’t like it is today. Phil and I were sort of seeing each other at the time and I had a big crush on him (laughs) so that helped too. That made sing my heart out for him and I did on Be My Baby. And Phil was right there so it was kind of easy to do. (laughs) We loved each other. When love is involved when you’re doing a record it only makes a record better.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Whenever I interview Brian Wilson he always brings up Be My Baby as his favorite and still listens to it all the time.

Ronnie Spector: I know that he loves the song so much. Don’t Worry Baby, which The Beach Boys would record, was supposed to be the follow-up to Be My Baby but Phil wouldn’t let me record it because he didn’t own a piece of the song and that’s true (laughs). I talk about Brian Wilson in my new show and I sing Don’t Worry Baby.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What made Phil a great producer?

Ronnie Spector: He was funny and had a lot of humor. Everybody always talks now about how he looks but he was cute.  He was an amazing producer.

You have to give credit where credit is due; the guy was a genius at his work. Look at a great songwriters like Billy Joel, nobody has hit records forever. Phil made great great records; he was so good.

What made him such a good producer is he could hear it all in his head—he also said to me, “That’s the voice I’ve been looking for”—he could hear every instruments and know if someone was off key a slight bit.

The guitar player would say, “How did you know that I was off a bit there?” But Phil could tell every note and that amazed me. That’s when I first started to get a crush on him.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Walking in the Rain by The Ronettes is another classic of yours.

Ronnie Spector: It was the first song I ever sang once in the studio and that was it. I did one take on Walking in the Rain and I loved it so much. The lights were down and I sang it with my heart. You know why I love Walking in the Rain? It was slow, you could hear my voice. That’s the song I come out singing on my new “Beyond the Beehive” show. I come out singing “Walking in the Rain” and the audience goes nuts. Although I love Be My Baby, Walking in the Rain is my favorite Ronettes song. Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil wrote it and they were right there in the studio with Phil while I was singing it.

It was the most amazing song I ever recorded. It was a magic night. I remember after I did the first take I said, “Now I can do it perfect” and Phil said, “That was perfect” and It was one take and I never did one take of anything. (laughs)

Rock Cellar Magazine: At age 15, you were working in the studio with a taskmaster like Phil, how were you able to handle that pressure?

Ronnie Spector: Well, it was just natural. All the session players loved my voice. I had to go into the studio to get the musician’s spirits up, “We have to have Ronnie’s voice.” They wanted to hear my voice because that’s would lift their spirits. When I would come in and get into the vocal booth and they heard my voice, that’s when the musicians would go, “Wow, now we got it.” Phil had produced them before I had even gotten into the studio. When I came in to put on the lead vocals, the musicians went crazy; they loved my voice. My voice was like a cannon to the musicians, like “Boom!” I had confidence in myself that I could do it. I’d been singing since I was five-year’s old. I had such a passion for it and knew what I wanted to do.

From Ronnie's Facebook: "A little bored waiting around to go on stage. Cassius Clay (he was not Ali yet) never stopped talking.... That's Dionne Warwicke between Stevie Wonder and Cassius!"
From Ronnie’s Facebook: “A little bored waiting around to go on stage. Cassius Clay (he was not Ali yet) never stopped talking…. That’s Dionne Warwicke between Stevie Wonder and Cassius!”

I had a huge family that I sang in front of and they applauded me. My parents were getting down on me about not doing my homework. The teachers were calling my parents and telling them my homework was not getting done. My parents said, “You come home and throw your book on the side and you get right with your music. Your homework is Frankie Lymon and the school boys.” You can’t do that, you have to do your homework.” So that’s when my parents took me at age eleven to the Apollo Theater for amateur night. They said, “If you can go over at the Apollo on amateur night we’ll think about your singing”. But I was great and the audience loved me and then my parents couldn’t say no.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Looking back, what were the contributions of Wrecking Crew players to the Ronettes hits?

Ronnie Spector: What the Wrecking Crew musicians added was a spirit and an energy. Phil would tell them what to do. You had to have a leader and Phil was the leader in the studio. There was something about Phil and The Wrecking Crew where they developed this deep connection. I was amazed because most of those guys were grown men with kids (laughs). Phil was in his early twenties and I was still a teenager but these great players would listen to him and that turned me on; that older guys were listening to some guy that was twenty three, twenty four years old made me think, “Wow, he really is a genius!”

Photo: Debra Greenfield
Photo: Debra Greenfield

They connected with him and he connected with them. It was like a miracle that happened in that studio with Be My Baby and Walking in the Rain, all of my hits. They were done with all those same musicians–Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Glen Campbell, Leon Russell. And they all wanted to be there. Everybody wanted to play on Phil Spector records.

Rock Cellar Magazine: You recorded all the Ronettes’ hits at Gold Star Studios, was it a special place to record? 

Ronnie Spector: I think it was magic because it was grungy and lived in. It was tiny and it was personal. I was behind the glass in this tiny studio and could see all the Wrecking Crew musicians playing and that inspired me. Their playing and my singing was like magic, from Be My Baby to Walking in the Rain to Baby I Love You and Do I Love You, I loved all those songs and loved every minute in the studio in Gold Star.

You walked into that studio and you knew you could make magic there.

Rock Cellar Magazine:The Phil Spector Christmas record is a classic, uniting all of the artists on the Philles record label. What are your memories of those sessions?

Ronnie Spector: That record wasn’t a hit for a few years because JFK got killed the day it came out. It was called A Christmas Gift for You. When I recorded my songs for that album, I only sang lead and then I was out of there.

Phil wouldn’t let me sing backgrounds on any of the songs by the other artists.

There’s a picture of all of us that we took in the studio with all the groups in the boxes, we were all together for that but in the studio I never even saw them.

Cher and I would hang out because Sonny was working for Phil at that time but for anybody else I wasn’t able to contribute background vocals or any of that. I loved my Christmas songs, Sleigh Ride, Frosty the Snowman.

I sing those songs every year and the places go crazy. I do Christmas shows all the time. I’ve done Christmas shows at been at BB King’s and Mohegan Sun for more than ten years and now other places too.

Rock Cellar Magazine: You have friends in high places, John Lennon and George Harrison with Tandoori Chicken  (George also wrote the song You specifically for you to sing) and Bruce Springsteen/Billy Joel connection with Say Goodbye to Hollywood.

Ronnie Spector: When I was in California—I lived there for seven years—and I never did shows or anything. I never knew who the latest star was or who had ht records until seven years later. So when I came back onto the scene with the Billy Joel song Say Goodbye to Hollywood, Bruce Springsteen and his band backed me on that and were saying things like, “Oh Ronnie, I love the way you do the uh oh’s with your voice.” I was like, “Who, me?” I didn’t do any shows for seven years and was so isolated. So when I came back I was so shocked that anyone cared. When I went to play at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey in the ‘70s there’s Bruce up onstage and Billy Joel sitting next to me. These people idolized me and I was saying, “Me?” (laughs) They were all fans of mine and that’s what really blew my mind.

Rock Cellar Magazine: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians/singers?

Ronnie Spector: I’d say if you don’t love it don’t get in this business. With American Idol and The Voice, how many of those people do you see, especially the ones who win, who stay stars?

It’s the worst business to get in. I let kids know this is a business I’ve loved since I was five but you need to be passionate about it.

With someone like Taylor Swift, at least she loves it from an early age. If you don’t love it, stay out of the business (laughs) and go to college and get a good job because this business can break your heart too. My heart was broken and I was taken from the stage and didn’t know if I’d ever be able to perform again. I’ve never stopped working in the past 33 years. I always work and I loved what I do and I love my records. I love singing them onstage and I love my “beehive” show because it tells my story from the beginning to the end about my whole life all the way down to getting into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Phil not wanting me to even have that (laughs).

All of that is in the new show. It’s a wonderful show and the audiences love it.

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For more information, visit Ronnie Spector’s website.

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