||Posted 04-04-02 09:13 PM
Not that Ronnie... Ronnie Spector
Ronnie Spector has kept going, but she still does worry, baby
By GREG KOT
Ronnie Spector jumped at a recent opportunity to perform at Waltz IV, the annual benefit for homeless teen-agers in Chicago. Music always got Spector through tough times, and the early '70s were the toughest of all.
Her marriage to the famed producer Phil Spector had soured, and she was virtually a prisoner in their Los Angeles mansion, her life reduced to a daily routine of tears and alcohol. But she found solace in a record: Brian Wilson's Beach Boys classic "Don't Worry Baby."
Wilson had written it as a response to "Be My Baby," the Spector wall-of-sound hit sung by Ronnie with her quintessential '60s girl group, the Ronettes.
"Brian Wilson was there when I sang `Be My Baby,' " Ronnie Spector recalls in an interview from her Connecticut home. "They wouldn't let him in the studio, but he was peeking through one of the little windows. I never forgot that desperate look on his face."
Wilson has since referred to "Be My Baby" as the greatest song ever written. "Don't Worry Baby" had an equally profound impact on Ronnie Spector.
"I was so worried about my career: Would I ever sing again?" she says. "I was a nervous wreck, wondering what I was going to do with my life. When I got really depressed, I played that song over and over again. It said, `Don't worry, baby, everything will work out all right.' It was like a lifeline to me."
Since his divorce from Ronnie, Phil Spector has put the Ronettes' music in cold storage. He will not allow the Ronettes image to be used in movies or TV programs, and Ronnie Spector cannot be filmed or videotaped singing Ronettes songs.
"Her Ronettes video performances from shows like `Hullabaloo' and `Shin-Dig' are deleted. When she goes on a TV show, she's not allowed to perform her signature tunes because they could be rebroadcast," says Ronnie Spector's current husband, Jonathan Greenfield. "You wonder where she got the strength to hold on, why she wasn't destroyed."
In 2000, Ronnie Spector won a $2.9 million judgment against her ex-husband for unpaid royalties, primarily for licensing of Ronettes songs to TV commercials and movies such as "Dirty Dancing," "GoodFellas" and "Quadrophenia." Phil Spector is appealing the verdict. But Ronnie Spector says all she really cares about is being able to continue singing and performing.
The former Veronica Bennett was a teen-age sensation with her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley in the Ronettes. The trio recorded a string of hits for Phil Spector, including "Be My Baby," "Baby I Love You," "(The Best Part of) Breakin' Up" and "Walking in the Rain."
For admirers such as Keith Richards, George Harrison, Joey Ramone and the riot grrrls on the Kill Rock Stars label, for whom she recorded in 1999, Spector's appeal is timeless.
"My records used to say `Tomorrow's Sound Today,' and after all these years, it's still that way," she says. "I haven't had a hit record in a while, but I get different audiences, different ages, and each group knows my songs."
Three decades later, it was another acolyte, the Ramones' Joey Ramone, who produced her fine comeback EP, "She Talks to Rainbows." He was at work on new songs for a forthcoming Spector album when he died of cancer last year.
His death, like Harrison's, was a devastating blow.
"I feel sort of lost now," she says. "I couldn't wait to get to 2002 because it has to be better than 2001."
Richards is now helping her finish her album, and her husband says it will be out before year's end.
"Working with Keith isn't really work, because he's always been in love with me," Ronnie Spector says with a laugh. "He stayed at our house when the Rolling Stones first toured America and slept on our floor because he had no money. Between the Beatles and the Stones, there was the Ronettes. We were the girl group they both liked."