Phil Spector, producer who transformed rock music, dies in prison at 81

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LOS ANGELES (AP) – Phil Spector, the eccentric and revolutionary music producer who transformed rock music with his “Wall of Sound” method and was later convicted of murder, has passed away. He was 81 years old.

California State Prison officials said he died of natural causes in a hospital on Saturday.

Spector was convicted of the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson at her castle-like mansion on the outskirts of Los Angeles. After a trial in 2009, he was sentenced to 19 years in life imprisonment.

While most sources give Spector’s date of birth as 1940, she was listed as 1939 in court documents after her arrest. His lawyer later confirmed the date to the Associated Press.

Clarkson, star of “Barbarian Queen” and other B-movies, was found shot dead in the lobby of Spector’s mansion in the hills above Alhambra, a modest suburban town on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Until the actress’s death, which Spector said was an “accidental suicide,” few locals even knew the mansion belonged to the lone producer, who spent his last years in a prison hospital in the is from Stockton.

Decades earlier, Spector had been hailed as a visionary for channeling Wagnerian ambition into the three-minute song, creating the “Wall of Sound” which fused lively vocal harmonies with lavish orchestral arrangements to produce pop landmarks such as “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be my baby” and “He’s a rebel”.

He was the rare self-aware artist in the early years of rock and cultivated an image of mystery and power with his dark undertones and unmoved expression.

Tom Wolfe has declared him the “first teen tycoon”. Bruce Springsteen and Brian Wilson have openly reproduced his awe-inspiring recording techniques and wide-eyed romanticism, and John Lennon has called him “the greatest record producer of all time.”

The secret of his sound: an invasion of instruments, vocals and sound effects that changed the way pop records were recorded. He called the result, “Little symphonies for children.”

By his mid-twenties, his “little symphonies” had produced nearly two dozen successful singles and made him a millionaire. “You’ve Lost That Lovin ‘Feeling”, the Righteous Brothers’ lyrical ballad that topped the charts in 1965, was ranked as the most played song on radio and television – counting numerous covers – in the 20th century.

But thanks in part to the arrival of The Beatles, its success in the charts would soon fade. When “River Deep-Mountain High,” an aptly named 1966 release that starred Tina Turner, failed to be heard, Spector closed his record company and retired from the business for three. year. He would continue to produce The Beatles and Lennon among others, but he was now in the service of artists, instead of the other way around.

In 1969, Spector was called in to save the Beatles’ album “Let It Be”, a troubled “back to basics” production marked by dissension within the group. Although Lennon praised Spector’s work, his bandmate Paul McCartney was furious, especially when Spector added strings and backing vocals to McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road.” Years later, McCartney would oversee a remastered “Let it Be”, removing Spector’s contributions.

A documentary on the making of Lennon’s “Imagine” album in 1971 clearly showed the ex-Beatle at the helm, pushing Spector onto a chorus, a line none of Spector’s early artists would have dared to cross.

Spector worked on George Harrison’s acclaimed triple album after The Beatles, “All Things Must Pass”, co-produced Lennon’s “Imagine” and the less successful “Some Time in New York City”, which featured Spector’s photo on a legend that said, “To know him is to love him.”

Spector also had a memorable film role, an appearance as a drug dealer in “Easy Rider”. The producer himself was played by Al Pacino in a 2013 HBO movie.

The volume and violence of Spector’s music reflected a dark side he could barely contain, even in his prime. He was imperious, temperamental and dangerous, which Darlene Love, Ronnie Spector and others who worked with him remember bitterly.

Years of stories from his guns to recording artists in the studio and menacing women would come back to haunt him after Clarkson’s death.

According to witnesses, she had agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to accompany him to his home from the Sunset Strip’s House of Blues in West Hollywood, where she worked. Shortly after their arrival at the Alhambra before dawn on February 3, 2003, a driver reported Spector came out of the house with a gun, blood on his hands, and told him: “I think that I killed someone.

He would later tell friends that Clarkson had killed herself. The case was shrouded in mystery and it took authorities a year to file a complaint. Meanwhile, Spector has been left free on million dollar bail.

When he was finally charged with murder, he lashed out at the authorities, angrily telling reporters: “The actions of the Hitler-style DA and its henchmen of the assault troops are reprehensible, inadmissible and despicable.” .

As the accused, his eccentricity took center stage. He arrived at court for preliminary hearings in theatrical outfits, usually including high-heeled boots, frock coats and wild-style wigs. He arrived at a hearing in a chauffeured Hummer stretch.

Once the 2007 trial began, however, he softened his dress. It ended in a 10-2 impasse tending to condemnation. His defense had argued that the actress, discouraged by the disappearance of her career, had shot herself in the mouth. A new trial began in October 2008.

Harvey Phillip Spector, in his sixties when he was charged with murder, was born on December 26, 1939 in the Bronx neighborhood of New York. Bernard Spector, his father, was an ironworker. Her mother, Bertha, was a seamstress. In 1947, Spector’s father committed suicide over family debt, an event that would shape his son’s life in many ways.

Four years later, Spector’s mother moved the family to Los Angeles, where Phil attended Fairfax High School, located in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood on the outskirts of Hollywood. For decades, the school has been a source of future musical talent. In Fairfax, Spector performed in talent shows and formed a group called the Teddy Bears with friends.

He was reserved and insecure, but his musical abilities were evident. He had a perfect tone and easily learned to play several instruments. He was only 17 years old when his band recorded their first hit single, a romantic ballad written and produced by Spector that would become a pop classic: “To know him is to love him” was inspired. by the inscription on the gravestone of his father.

A small, skinny child with big dreams and growing demons, Spector continued his education at the University of California, Los Angeles for a year before dropping out to return to New York. He briefly considered becoming a French performer at the United Nations before falling with the musicians of New York’s famous Brill Building. The Broadway building was then at the heart of popular music’s Tin Pan Alley, where writers, composers, singers and musicians produced hit songs.

He began working with star composers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who had met at Fairfax High a few years before Spector’s arrival. Ultimately, it found its niche in production. During this time he also co-wrote the hit song “Spanish Harlem” with Ben E. King and played lead guitar on The Drifters’ “On Broadway”.

“I had come back to New York City from California where there were all these green lawns and trees, and there was just this poverty and this decadence in Harlem,” he later recalled. “The song was an expression of hope and faith in the youth of Harlem … that there would be better times to come.”

For a while he had his own production company, Philles Records, with his partner Lester Silles, where he developed his signature sound. It brought together such respected studio musicians as arranger Jack Nitzsche, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, pianist Leon Russell and drummer Hal Blaine, and gave early breaks to Glen Campbell, Sonny Bono and Bono’s future wife, Expensive.

In the early 1960s, he had hit back and forth and a notable flop: the album “A Christmas Gift to You”, tragically released on November 22, 1963, the day of President Kennedy’s assassination, the worst possible time for such a cheerful recording. “A Christmas Gift,” featuring the Ronettes singing “Frosty the Snowman” and Love’s version of “White Christmas,” is now considered a classic and perennial radio favorite during the holiday season.

Spector’s domestic life, as well as his career, ultimately fell apart. After his first marriage to Annette Merar broke up, Ronettes front singer Ronnie Bennett became his girlfriend and muse. He married her in 1968 and they adopted three children. But she divorced after six years, claiming in a memoir that he was holding her prisoner in their mansion, where she said he kept a golden coffin in the basement and told him he would kill her and her. would put in if she ever tried to leave. him.

When the Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, Spector sent his congratulations. But in an acceptance speech from his ex-wife, she never mentioned it while thanking many other people.

Darlene Love had an argument with him as well, accusing Spector of not crediting her for her vocals on “He’s a Rebel” and other songs, but she praised him when she was inducted into the Hall.

Spector himself joined Hall in 1989. As his marriages deteriorated, record artists also began to stop working with Spector and musical styles overtook him.

He preferred singles to albums, calling the latter “Two hits and 10 pieces of junk.” He initially refused to record his music in multi-channel stereo, claiming the process damaged the sound. A retrospective of the Spector box set was called “Back to Mono”.

By the mid-1970s, Spector had largely withdrawn from the world of music. He would occasionally emerge to work on special projects, including Leonard Cohen’s album, “Death of a Ladies’ Man” and “End of the Century” by the Ramones. Both have been marred by reports of Spector’s instability.

In 1973, Lennon worked on an oldies rock ‘n roll album with Spector, only for Spector to disappear with the bands. The finished work, “Rock ‘n’ Roll”, was not released until 1975.

In 1982, Spector married Janis Lynn Zavala and the couple had twins, Nicole and Phillip Jr. The boy died at the age of 10 from leukemia.

Six months before the start of his first murder trial, Spector married Rachelle Short, a 26-year-old singer and actress who accompanied him to court every day. He filed for divorce in 2016.

In a 2005 court statement, he testified that he had been taking medication for manic depression for eight years.

“No sleep, depression, mood swings, mood swings, hard to live with, hard to concentrate, just hard – a hard time to go through life,” he said. “I was called a genius and I think a genius is not around all the time and is bordering on insanity.”

By Christopher Weber and Linda Deutsch

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