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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Phil Spector remembered

From left: Darlene Love, Phil Spector, Joey Ramone, Andy Paley and Jonathan Paley (photo: Bob Merlis)

His initial fame came with the 1958 chart-topping “To Know Him is to Love Him,” which he wrote and performed with the Teddy Bears, that was inspired by the words on his father’s tombstone.

But few people knew Phil Spector—though everyone knew who he was—and it’s not unlikely, in light of his 2009 murder conviction and 19-years-to-life sentence, that fewer loved him.

Still, it isn’t hard to find prominent voices in music who were inspired by his immortal “Wall of Sound” record productions for artists ranging from Darlene Love to The Ramones, and found much in the troubled genius that was lovable indeed.

“Phil was my mentor when I was a kid,” says Russ Titelman, himself a top pop music producer, major credits including huge hits with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

Titelman was close to Spector very early in both their careers in Los Angeles, having played guitar on the Spector-produced and co-written “Be My Boy” by the Paris Sisters, whose 1961 hit “I Love How You Love Me” was Spector’s first big production success.

“I wanted to be him,” adds Titelman, who also sang in Spector’s post Teddy Bears project the Spectors Three Vocal Trio. “He taught me how to listen to music--and how to dream."

Legendary music publicist Bob Merlis worked with Spector in the 1970s when he headed Warner Bros. Records’ publicity office in Burbank, and Spector owned a label, Warner-Spector, in conjunction with Warner Bros. He later worked on Spector productions released directly through Warner Bros., notably including Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man.

Echoing Titelman, Merlis says, “Getting to first meet and then to know Phil Spector and think of him as a friend was a dream come true. It’s said you shouldn’t meet your idols, that you run the risk of being disappointed. But the opposite was true of Phil, and I feel truly privileged to have known him: Every time I visited him at his home--or he visited me at mine--was a special occasion by dint of his mere presence.”

Merlis specifically cites Spector’s kindness: “He was a man of good nature, and truly generous. In 2001, after a tenure at Warner Bros. Records of 29 years, I found myself cast out from the company I had served for so long and in which my identity was inexorably bound. I had reached a low ebb in terms of self-esteem on my last day in the office but, despite all, there was something that I actually could look forward to: Phil had invited me to join him to see the L.A. Lakers that same evening. After cleaning out the office and packing up my stuff, I left work for the last time. Shortly thereafter, I drove over to Phil’s house and from there we were driven in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III--similar to the one in which his character in [the 1969 counterculture film classic] Easy Rider is seen--to the Staples Center. There, with Phil and among some Hollywood notables, my spirits began to pick up.”

“At half time,” Merlis continues, “we hobnobbed with the hoi polloi--including record business legend Joe Smith, who kibitzed with us. My spirits further lifted appreciably, and then it dawned on me that the rest of my professional life lay before me, and that despite my removal from Warner Bros., here I was, a guest of Phil Spector, the greatest record producer of all time and the man behind my favorite records of all time. Things were looking up, and I thought, ‘I’m with Phil! Nothing can top this.’ And nothing ever will.”

Since Warner Bros., Merlis has helmed his Merlis for Hire indie PR firm, generating publicity for the likes of rock ‘n’ roll great Dion, another former Warner Bros. artist whose 1975 album Born to Be with You was produced by Spector and released in 1975 by Warner-Spector.

“He had a mighty influence on my generation--and every generation afterward,” says Dion. “We take so many of the techniques of recording for granted, and we forget who invented them. Phil did, and I can testify to that. I was blessed to work with him. When he arrived at Warner Bros., he requested specifically to work with me, and I’m grateful for the records he made with me.”

Speaking of those records, Andy Paley, half of The Paley Brothers duo that recorded a single with Spector in the ’70s, says, “Phil’s gone--but he’s not really gone because he left behind an amazing body of work. Just listen to his records: ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him,’ ‘Pretty Little Angel Eye,’ ‘There’s No Other Like My Baby,’ ‘Spanish Harlem,’ ‘Be My Baby,’ ‘He’s A Rebel,’ ‘Da Doo Ron Ron,’ etc., etc. He created a fantastic, powerful mono sound that we all got swept up in! The records were irresistible!”

And, Paley affirmed, “They’re going to be around forever.”




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