"Just Like Ronnie Said..."
Legendary Rock Icon Ronnie Spector Parties in the Christmas Present
The incredible career of Ronnie Spector pre-dates the British Invasion of the early '60s and includes hits from the '70s and '80s. This holiday season, for the first time in over 40 years, Spector leads a new edition of her group The Ronettes on tour and on a new single - featuring the same thick, wall-of-sound-style production she helped pioneer in the early '60s with Svengali producer (and eventual husband) Phil Spector.
Every year since its release in 1963, A Christmas Gift For You, Phil's all-star holiday LP, has attracted new fans for both Ronnie and album co-star Darlene Love. The infectious tracks became inescapable staples of radio, television, film and even internet outlets. Due to the demand, Ronnie occasionally revisits some of those jingle-jangle favorites as well as many of her own successful songs - including her greatest hit, "Be My Baby."
Currently on the road with the new Ronettes on their "Best Christmas Party Ever" tour, the Rock Hall of Fame inductee took a break and spoke with INsite about her considerable past - andĀ present.
It's exciting that you're reviving the Ronettes. How and why did you decide to form the new edition of the group?
Well it happened last summer at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK. Everyone was on that show, from Adele on down. I'm on stage and there are tons of kids out there going crazy and I glance over at my girls - they smile back and they were doing the Ronettes dance thing. It's a smooth move but you have to shake it up a bit with lots of attitude! That moment brought me right back to what it used to be like in the '60s, that it was all about having fun on stage!
Tell us about the new members. The original line-up was your sister and cousin; is this a family band as well? Another "Ronnie and the Relatives" [the Ronettes' original band name] in retrospect?
The new Ronettes are Gnomi Gre and Zhana Saunders and I love having them on stage with me. We go out and rock! We aren't relatives in this line-up but my cousin Cindy Mizelle who has worked with everyone from Springsteen to The Stones does record with us so that keeps it in the family. The original group was my sister Estelle and cousin Nedra and The Ronettes were definitely a family. I think that connection gave us a blood sound and a real closeness. There are plenty of pictures of us from the 60's where we're all holding hands because that's how close we were. My mom would travel with us to keep the boys away.
Your sister Estelle is sadly no longer with us, but did you approach Nedra or any of the '70s line-up about reviving the act?
No, I wouldn't do that. I like to keep moving forward. Relaunching The Ronettes really was something I did for me and for the audience. Nedra is a born-again Christian and she doesn't want to sing rock and roll anymore. That's her choice. I do it 'cause I love it and I need it.
And now there's "Love Power," a brand new Ronettes song for 2017 - and it sounds great. How did it feel to record as a group again?
It felt amazing to record as Ronnie and the Ronettes! We really kept the right message too with "Love Power" because that's so needed today.
Will there ever be another Ronettes album? There's still only one so far, from 1964.
I would love to tell you there will be a new Ronettes album on the way but it's such a different world today. You just have to hope there is an opportunity to record more music.
You've been active in the music industry since 1961. What are the biggest changes - good and bad - you've experienced?
Well the production is much better. There are much better venues, too. I mean, back in the day sometimes we'd play gymnasiums! The thing I don't like about today is no one sings live anymore. I sang live on most of the TV shows in the 60's like Shindig and Hullbaloo. On some shows you couldn't - like American Bandstand or Hollywood Palace. I just don't quite get why they don't sing live today. Some artists say it's 'cause they're dancing. But I remember at the Brooklyn Fox Theatre watching the Temptations perform. I loved peeking through the curtain and watching their legs move. Those guys sang and danced live. It was all live.
Let's talk about some of the legendary people you've worked with, beginning with your single on Apple which was produced with most of the Beatles' involvement in '71. Was it planned as an LP and if so what became of the other tracks?
Yes it was actually planned as an album and there were some wonderful moments at Abbey Road Studios. But there was also a very negative presence there that wouldn't allow The Beatles and I to work in peace and just have fun. We were having a blast for a while with George and John and me hanging out with the musicians, eating Tandori chicken and drinking wine but it just ended too soon. There are a few tracks left over from those sessions and George used some of my vocals on a single.
Having been inside your former husband's Wall of Sound productions, what was the secret to that instantly recognizable sound and what was he like in the studio as a producer?
Jack Nitzsche was the secret weapon that made lots of magic with those arrangements which you can hear all over the Christmas album. As a producer [Phil Spector] was very focused. He knew exactly what he wanted and he knew how to get it.
On many of your early recordings, a very young Cher was among the backing vocalists. Did you know her back then?
Of course I knew her! We were best girlfriends and we hung out all the time. The very first recording she sang on was "Be My Baby." She would drive me all around L.A. in her MG. We'd go to the drive-ins to eat, which I loved. I remember when I came back from our first UK tour she freaked over all the clothes I got on Carnaby Street.
You worked with the Bruce Springsteen's E-Street Band on a project [including "Say Goodbye To Hollywood," a single reissued for Record Store Day 2014]. What do you remember most about that collaboration?
It came about through John Lennon, who was a friend. I bumped into John on the street in New York, and he introduced me to his engineer, Jimmy Iovine who was with him. He invited me down to the Record Plant. On the spot, Bruce re-wrote a song ["You Mean So Much To Me"] for Southside Johnny and me to record as a duet. It was a crazy time for me but Bruce and the band allowed me to get back to what I loved, which was making music and touring. They also had great respect for me as an artist. I so needed that kind of support in theĀ '70s.
Fast forward to a decade later. Your duet with Eddie Money brought you to a whole new generation in the '80s. How did that come about?
Eddie was working on his comeback album and he had that song. The hook, of course, was 'just like Ronnie sang, be my little baby.' And I'm Ronnie! Eddie thought, 'Hey how 'bout we get Ronnie?' Once we got together in the studio it really was magic. Before I knew it, we had a Top 5 song!
Tell us about the Christmas Party tour. What can we expect to hear?
All the Christmas hits you hear every year like "Sleigh Ride" and "Frosty," lots of rock'n'roll, classic Ronettes recordings, a little Doo Wop, and lots and lots of shaking! We have a great video that we project that no one has ever seen before. And I think there'll be a surprise or two.
Obviously "Be My Baby" is the showstopper and it has an incredible legacy. Do you ever get tired of it?
You know, I never get tired of singing it! Before every show, I still get nervous and I'll start pacing.
Do you remember the first time you heard it as a demo and then the first time you heard the record?
I first heard it when Ellie Greenwich was playing the piano and they were writing it. First time I heard it after its release was on American Bandstand when The Ronettes were on tour in Wildwood, New Jersey. Dick Clark said, 'This next song is going to be the song of the century.' Then we heard the drum intro and we freaked and started screaming and hugging each other!
One single year of your career is impressive but you've achieved what most artists only dream about for a lifetime. Is there anything you've wanted to do but haven't yet?
I've always wanted to be a character actress and I still dream of being one. But if I've learned anything in my life it's that you never give up on your dreams - no matter what!
Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes play December 6 at City Winery. For more information, please visit citywinery.com/atlanta.