Remembering Phil Spector
By Bob Davis

The recent passing of legendary record producer Phil Spector was widely covered in the media.  There were comments by his ex-wife Veronica and the singer who provided vocals for many of his records, Darlene Love.  Both of them made remarks that reminded me of the old admonition, “Speak not ill of the dead.”

My recorded music collection includes the ABKCO boxed CD set Back to Mono, which has just about everything he produced from 1958 to 1969.  His influence can be heard in the music of ABBA, in “We Belong to the Night” by Ellen Foley, and even in some of Evie Sands’ songs.

Although Phil Spector is usually thought of as a record producer, back in 1965 he produced a video-recorded concert featuring a diverse assortment of artists from that period.  It was called “The Big TNT Show” and parts of it were made into a theatrical film which also included parts of  the TAMI show from 1964.  For years the TNT show was unavailable on VHS or DVD, but apparently enough time has gone by (or licensing rights have changed) to allow DVDs of both TNT and TAMI to be available to turn our TV sets into time machines.

Back in September 2019 (seems like it was back in the last century), I was planning to drive up to San Francisco for Muni Heritage Weekend, when the Municipal Railway runs preserved streetcars and buses to the delight of vintage transportation fans.  From The City, I would have gone to the Western Railway Museum east of Fairfield, visited my daughter in Davis and ridden the extension of the light rail line in Sacramento.  On the way back home, I might have done some train watching in Stockton, with a side trip past the California Health Care Facility to see Phil Spector’s abode for the last several years. But that mission was annulled when my car started acting up, and when I got up from my overnight stay in San Luis Obispo, I really didn’t feel like going further.  Now, of course, just going to San Luis is out of the question for a while.

LA Weekly writer and local music impresario Jonny Whiteside had a more negative look at Phil, ranking him as #1 in his “Bottom Ten” article about nasty people in the LA music scene.  Among the other bad guys were Art Rupe of Specialty Records, Bob Keene of Del-Fi Records and Kim Fowley (who had a varied career in the music business). 

Over the years, I’ve served on about half a dozen juries in LA County, both civil and criminal.  Back in March and April 2014, I did a two part Old Curiosity Shop commentary on this element of the legal system.  When the Spector trials were announced, I wondered if I might be on a panel for one of these.  It didn’t happen, but I envisioned being questioned on the “voir dire”.  “Do you know the defendant personally?” “No” “Have you heard of the defendant?” “Yes” “From what sources?” “I have a copy of the autobiography by his ex-wife, a copy of an unauthorized biography, and I’ve read about him in musical history books. I have the “Back to Mono” CD set.  Shall I continue?”  “The defense would like to thank and excuse Juror D3751.”

But wait—there’s more!

Back in the mid-1980s, I corresponded with James E. Fogerty, who was a major collector of records and other items related to Phil Spector.  Through him I learned of the Phil Spector Appreciation Society in England.  I have quite a pile of material from this period and can delve into it if requested. 

Then there’s the book He’s a Rebel by Mark Ribowsky—an unauthorized biography published in 1989.  I haven’t read it for many years—should I go back and see what he wrote back before Phil really went off the deep end?

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