Ronnie reveals all
By Ralph Gowling
Ronnie Spector presents a special concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday, March 9 chronicling her 50-year career that began when she led The Ronettes to international stardom with hits like ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Walking In The Rain’.
“Fifty years ago, The Ronettes and I landed at Heathrow airport and got off the plane – that was the exact moment I knew we had made it!” said Ronnie, famed for her beehive hair image, fronting one of the world’s most quintessential girl groups, and being part of producer Phil Spector’s ‘Wall Of Sound’.
“The magical times touring the UK: walking in the rain in London! For a girl from humble beginnings, this was it. I am so excited to debut my ‘Beyond The Beehive’ show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the South Bank Centre at the WOW Festival.
“It’s a dream come true for me, and I can’t stop crying – sniffle – sniffle!
“Fifty years ago – that’s when I was over in the UK having the time of my life – doing what I love to do, rock, with my group The Ronettes, and The Rolling Stones.”
Ronnie will perform Ronettes and other classic tracks with her band, and reveal previously unseen photographs and home videos, and share personal stories from every stage of her career – from her early days with The Ronettes to her years of touring the world with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones.
Inevitably her relationship with former husband Phil Spector and her role in the creation of the ‘Wall Of Sound’ form a big part of her life’s story. By her account, Phil Spector kept Ronnie a near-prisoner during their 1968-74 marriage, and also curtailed her musical career. In her autobiography, she said he would force her to watch the film “Citizen Kane” to remind her she would be nothing without him.
‘Beyond The Beehive’ tells her story in words, pictures, video and song, and tracks her personal journey from victim to the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll survivor, before finally taking her place in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
“It’s what I’ve been waiting for. There are so many rumours and my show sets the record straight. Whether I’m talking about girl groups, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, you will hear the truth.”
Ronnie, born Veronica Yvette Bennett in New York in 1963, formed the Ronettes while in her teens, with sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talle.
The Ronettes, who were professional singers and dancers at New York’s Peppermint Lounge, were discovered by leading disc jockey “Murray The K” (Murray Kaufman).
They became dancers for his Brooklyn Fox Theater rock ‘n’ roll revues and began recording in 1961 on the Colpix label. Their earliest tracks included ‘I Want A Boy’, ‘What’s So Sweet About Sweet Sixteen’, ‘I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead’ and ‘My Guiding Angel’.
Phil Spector spotted their talent at the Brooklyn Fox and signed them to his Phillies Records label in March 1963. At the audition, Phil sat a piano while The Ronettes sang ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’. He suddenly jumped up from his seat and shouted: “That’s it! That’s it! That’s the voice I’ve been looking for!”
The Ronettes burst on to the world stage with their long string of classic Phil Spector-produced hits. Often described as the ultimate ‘Wall Of Sound’ number, ‘Be My Baby’ topped the charts in the US and other parts of the word. It reached No.4 in the UK.
Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys has said ‘Be My Baby’ – written by Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich – is the greatest record ever made. Brian wrote an answer song to The Ronettes hit called ‘Don’tWorry Baby’.
‘Be My Baby’ – on which a then session singer called Cher made her debut on record – set the tone for the box office smash film ‘Dirty Dancing’ as the opening number.
‘Walking In The Rain’ won a Grammy Award in 1965, and ‘Be My Baby’ was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
The Ronettes were also a major part of Phil Spector’s most enduring album through the decades, “A Christmas Gift For You”. They recorded three songs for the album – ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’, ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and ‘Sleigh Ride’.
Ronnie with her powerful trademark vocals, gutsy attitude and sexy beautiful image was in the main spotlight.
“For three years – 1963 to 1966 – we had the best times getting ready to go on stage – our dresses slit up the side, our beehives sprayed with Aquanet, the excitement from the crowd when we would walk out on stage. I always said we weren’t better, just different.”
But behind the hit records and the glamour of show-business, all was not well at home for Ronnie. As she has documented in her book “Be My Baby – How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness, Or My Life As A Fabulous Ronette”, Ronnie found herself cut off from the world behind electric gates and guard dogs because of Phil Spector’s obsessive and abusive behaviour.
This led to so many missed opportunities for Ronnie and The Ronettes to capitalise on their early success. For instance, in early 1964 The Ronettes were the first to record ‘Chapel Of Love’ – another Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich song – but the producer refused to release it.
Among other incidents, The Beatles personally requested that The Ronettes join them on their August 1966 tour of the US, but Phil Spector kept Ronniein California and sent Estelle and Nedra on stage with their cousin Elaine Mayes. Nedra took over lead vocals.
After a tour to Germany in early 1967, the group decided to break up and go their separate ways. The frustrations with Phil Spector’s strange handling of the group were too much. The Ronettes were never to reunite until their 2007 induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
The Beatles had always been big admirers of The Ronettes and the girl group sound, so it came as no surprise in 1971 when Ronnie made her debut on Apple Records with ‘Try Some, Buy Some’, which was written and produced by George Harrison.
The backing band for the single included George, John Lennon and Ringo Starr.
In 1976, Billy Joel wrote ‘Say Goodbye To Hollywood’ as a tribute to Ronnie. The next year, she recorded the song with backing by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
In 1986, Ronnie’s duet with Eddie Money – ‘Take Me Home Tonight’ – reached No.4 in the US. In 2004 she was recognised for her contribution to American popular music when she was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame.
Today, Ronnie lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two sons.