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Phil Spector

music producer known for his "Wall of Sound"

Phil Spector

Harvey Phillip Spector was born in the Bronx, New York, on December 25, 1940. His parents, Benjamin and Bertha Spector, were second-generation Jewish immigrants. Severe debt led to his father committing suicide in 1949. In 1953, Phillip's mother took him and his older sister to Los Angeles, where she got a job as a seamstress. Drawn to music while attending Fairfax High School, Spector excelled on the guitar, piano, drums, bass and French horn. After graduating in 1958, Spector briefly considered studying court reporting, but decided he wanted to pursue a career in music instead.

The Teddy Bears

In the Spring of 1958, Spector booked a two-hour session at Gold Star Studios, but had to come up with $40 before he could record anything. The first $10 came from his mother, the remaining $30 came from Marshall Lieb (a friend from Burroughs Junior High), Harvey Goldstein (a student at Los Angeles City College who put up $10 in exchange for singing bass), and Annette Kleinhard (a Fairfax High student who insisted on singing soprano on the record). Having raised the necessary fee, the four recorded "Don't You Worry My Little Pet," written by Spector; Spector acted as producer, and also played all the instruments. The Teddy Bears, a name taken from the Elvis Presley song, sent the single to Dore Records, which signed them to a four-record deal.

The Teddy Bears next recorded "Wonderful, Lovable You," another Spector-written song, but that song went nowhere. "To Know Him is to Love Him," which features the beginnings of Spector's "Wall of Sound" trademark, was the next single to be recorded, and it became the B-side of "Don't You Worry My Little Pet." Dore sent 500 copies of the record to radio stations in August 1958, but none appeared interested. Deciding that music wasn't the best career path, Goldstein and Leib decided to go back to college. Then, in September, a deejay in Fargo, North Dakota, played the B-side. Soon after, a distributor in Minneapolis ordered 18,000 copies of the single. The Teddy Bears came back together to appear on American Bandstand on October 29th, and by Christmas "To Know Him is to Love Him" was a million-selling #1 hit.

The Teddy Bears released their second record in late 1959, and on January 3, 1960, they sang "To Know Him is to Love Him" and "It's Only a Paper Moon" on The Perry Como Show. Soon after, however, disagreements over royalties led the group to leave Dore and sign with Imperial. "I Don't Need You Anymore" was released in mid-January, but enjoyed little commercial success. The group left Imperial after recording two singles and one album. Legal issues forced them to change their name to The Spectors Three upon signing with Trey Records, but neither the name change nor label change produced success. The group disbanded, and Spector decided to give up being a musician in favor of being a music producer.

Music Producer

"The Wall of Sound" for which Spector is best known used large groups of musicians (some of whom played instruments not normally used in ensembles) playing orchestrated parts. All of the instruments would play the same thing at the same time, and the entire group of instruments would be recorded at the same time. He would then overdub again and again, adding more and more layers, finishing off with echos and other effects and the vocals.

Spector and Lester Sill formed Philles Records in late 1961, and signed their first group, The Crystals, soon after. Spector had obtained full ownership of Philles by 1963, and by 1965 he had produced over 25 Top 40 hits. Artists who hit the charts thanks to Spector's "Wall of Sound" production technique included The Crystals, The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers, Ike and Tina Turner, Curtis Lee, The Paris Sisters, Ray Peterson, Darlene Love, Ben E. King, and Bobb B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. By the end of the 1960's, however, Spector's unique sound had pretty much run its course and Philles Records had ceased to exist. Although he produced two singles for A&M Records in 1969 and spent a year as Director of A&R for Apple Records, Spector spent most of the 1970's and 1980's free-lancing with a variety of artists. In 1971 he won an Academy Award for producing the soundtrack of the Beatles' movie Let It Be (1970). That same year he also produced the first-ever three-album boxed-set, Concert for Bangladesh, for which he a Grammy. On March 31, 1974, Spector suffered a serious head injury in a Los Angeles car accident, but recuperated fully. He formed the Phil Spector International label in 1975, but by 1980 he was a virtual recluse and his direct involvement in the music business lessened greatly.

Where He Is Now

In 2003, actress Lana Clarkson was found shot to death in Spector's Alhambra, California, home. Despite his claims of her having committed suicide, Spector was ultimately arrested and charged with second degree murder. A mistrial was declared in 2007, but Spector was found guilty in 2009; he is currently serving a sentence of 19 years to life.

Marriages and Children

Phil Spector married Veronica Bennett, lead singer of the Ronettes, in 1963; they were married until 1974. During their marriage they adopted three children: Louis Phillip and Gary Phillip (born May 12, 1966), twins, were adopted at age 5; Donté Phillip (born March 23, 1969) was adopted at age 8 months.

Spector's second marriage was to Janis Savala (date of marriage is unknown). Twins Nicole Audrey and Phillip Jr. were born in 1982. Phillip Jr. died of leukemia on December 25, 1991.

On September 1, 2006, Spector married Rachelle Short. The couple have no children.

Awards and Honors

Academy Award for the Let It Be soundtrack, in 1971.

Grammy for The Concert for Bangla Desh, in 1972.

BMI Country Song of the Year Award in 1989 for "To Know Him is to Love Him," which was recorded by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt under the group name Trio.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 as a non-performer.

Inducted into the City of Philadelphia Hall of Fame and received the Philadelphia Award in 1993.

Inducted into TEC Hall of Fame and received its Lifetime Achievement Award (sponsored by Mix Magazine) in 1995.


The History of Rock 'N' Roll

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The Robinson Library >> Music >> Biography: Other

This page was last updated on 12/25/2018.