Born on December 26, 1940, in Bronx, NY; mother's name, Bertha; married Veronica Bennett (a singer), 1968 (divorced, 1974); children: Gary and Louis (twins); Donte; Nicole and Phillip (twins). Education: Attended University of California at Los Angeles. Addresses: Office--Phil Spector Records International, P.O. Box 69529, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Considered a rock-and-roll legend, Phil Spector is credited with revolutionizing the recording industry. From 1962 to 1965 he produced a number of rock classics and made stars of such groups as the Crystals, the Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers. His influence declined, however, with the "British invasion" of the mid-1960s. Ironically, the vanguard of that invasion---the Beatles---later helped to revive his career. Spector's later life, even as he was venerated as a music legend, became the stuff of Hollywood headlines.
Born Harvey Phillip Spector on December 26, 1940, in the Bronx, New York, Spector suffered the death of his father, an ironworker, by suicide when he was nine years old. He moved to Los Angeles with his family three years later. Spector became interested in music (particularly rhythm and blues) while in high school, and was influenced by the work of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had produced a number of hits for Elvis Presley, the Coasters, and other performers. Spector eventually met the producers and became something of a regular at their studio. He wrote his first song, "To Know Him is to Love Him," in 1958. The title of the song was taken from the inscription on his father's gravestone. Spector recruited a local high school student to sing the female lead, sang the background harmonies himself, and named the duet the Teddy Bears. "To Know Him," which sold over one million records, was the Teddy Bears' only hit. In 1959 Spector recorded two singles under the name Spectors Three. Both records, however, failed to make the charts.
Three years later Spector founded Philles Records and began producing what Time's Jay Cocks called "some of rock's greatest records." Spector-produced hits include "He's a Rebel," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Then He Kissed Me," "Be My Baby," "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," and "River Deep-Mountain High." During this time he perfected his trademark "wall of sound," which was described by Cocks as "vaulting arrangements and majestic delirium." He wrote orchestral arrangements that had the intensity of rock and roll. In the book Out of His Head: The Sound of Phil Spector, Richard Williams noted that the producer used his singers "as tools, manipulating their every musical move with infinite care." According to Williams, the result was "'spontaneous' excitement through precise preplanning." Spector virtually created the "girl group" sound of the early 1960s, and his production techniques marked some of the decade's best-known pop hits. The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," which Spector had a hand in composing as well, was a good example of the wall of sound at its height.
As British rock came into prominence in the mid-1960s, the Spector era drew to a close. However, in 1970 he produced several tracks on the Beatles' Let It Be album, and worked with John Lennon on Imagine and with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass. He also produced A Concert for Bangladesh, as well as records by Cher, Dion, Leonard Cohen, Nilsson, and the Ramones.
Spector has been variously described as a mad genius, an eccentric, and a recluse. "In a recording studio, he throws tantrums as easily as other producers turn dials," wrote Cocks. "His excesses of style and manner are legend, and some call him mad." In a review of a documentary on Spector, the New Statesman's Mary Harron commented: "He had one perfect moment in the early 60s, and never recovered. And maybe that was all he could have because, as Sonny Bono said, 'everything he did was perfect, but it was always that one wall of sound.' But what a sound."
Spector's later years were marked by periodic attempts to regain the spotlight. When punk rock first gained popularity in the late 1970s, Spector convinced members of the leading American punk band the Ramones that he could lead them to a commercial breakthrough. He produced the group's End of the Century album in 1980, but the sessions were marred, according to bassist Dee Dee Ramone, when Spector pulled a gun during an in-studio dispute.
Later, Spector's ex-wife Ronnie (of the Ronettes) would allege that the producer was quick to reach for a gun when his temper flared. "I can only say that when I left him in the early '70s, I knew that if I didn't leave at the time, I was going to die there," she said in an interview quoted by Newsweek.
Living in a $14 million estate in Alhambra, California, Spector continued to generate tales of wild behavior. Sometimes he tried to pull his life together. Known for his heavy drinking, he gave up alcohol altogether for a period of several years beginning in the late 1990s. But performers were still drawn to the Spector mystique. In 1995 he signed on to produce the Falling into You album by pop megastar Celine Dion. The partnership dissolved for unspecified reasons, and Spector, while praising Dion, publicly attacked the work of the producers who replaced him. He claimed to have tapes of Dion tracks he had produced, and announced plans to release them at a future date. In the early 2000s he began to work with a British band called Starsailor and was romantically linked to singer Nancy Sinatra.
After these promising developments, Spector's world fell apart. In the early morning hours of February 3, 2003, police were called (by a chauffeur, according to People) to Spector's Alhambra estate, where they found the body of actress Lana Clarkson, dead of a gunshot wound. Jailed briefly, Spector posted a $1 million bond and retained former O.J. Simpson attorney Robert Shapiro as his legal counsel.
Publicly proclaiming his innocence, Spector stated that some police officers believed Clarkson might have killed herself. He entered a not-guilty plea on November 20, 2003, after which the case became ensnarled in a series of preliminary hearings. At one proceeding in September of 2005, Spector showed up in court wearing high heels, with his hair styled in an enormous white Afro. Spector's murder trial, with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler presiding, began n in January of 2006.
by Denise Wiloch and James M. Manheim
Phil Spector's Career
Member of musical groups the Teddy Bears, 1958-59, and Spectors Three; producer with Atlantic Records, 1960-61; founder, Philles Records, 1962; produced records and albums for numerous artists, including Gene Pitney, Connie Francis, the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon, George Harrison, Yoko Ono, Cher, and the Ramones; composer of songs, including "To Know Him Is to Love Him," "Oh Why," and "I Really Do"; also composed, with others, "Spanish Harlem," "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Then He Kissed Me," "Be My Baby," "Chapel of Love," "You've Lost That Loving Feeling," "River Deep--Mountain High," and numerous other songs; producer of television documentary "A Giant Stands 5 Ft. 7 In." and movie The Big T.N.T. Show; appeared in films The T.A.M.I. Show and Easy Rider; produced album End of the Century by the Ramones, 1980; worked briefly with Celine Dion, 1995, and Starsailor, early 2000s.
- Selected discography
- "To Know Him Is to Love Him" (single), Dore, 1958.
- The Teddy Bears Sing! Imperial, c. 1958.
- "I Really Do" (single), Trey, c. 1959.
- "My Heart Stood Still" (single), Trey, c. 1959.
- Williams, Richard, Out of His Head: The Sound of Phil Spector, Outerbridge & Lazard, Inc., 1972.
- Billboard, December 6, 2003, p. 6.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 3, 2004, p. 42.
- High Fidelity, June 1977.
- Interview, March 1980.
- Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1983; November 4, 1983.
- New Statesman, August 19, 1983.
- Newsweek, April 22, 1985; February 17, 2003, p. 64; March 24, 2003, p. 41; June 6, 2005, p. 69.
- New York, July 18, 1977.
- New York Times, March 15, 1984.
- People, February 17, 2003, p. 57.
- Time, March 10, 1980; June 6, 2005, p. 95.