Historic Gold Star Recording Studio and the Audio Legacy
of Producer Phil Spector
C 2009 Harvey Kubernik
Phil Spector has been away
from his Alhambra, California-home and the recording studio since
spring of 2009, when a California jury convicted him of
second-degree murder in the 2003 death of actress and comedian Lana
At the moment Spector is serving 19 years to life for the fatal
shooting of Clarkson. Spector is actively preparing his appeal from
Corcoran State Prison in Central California.
There is saying in the game of American football. “Everyday is
like 4th and 1.”
legacy of Phil Spector’s recordings and songwriting achievements
as well as the ongoing impact and omnipresent influence of the Gold
Star recording studio in Hollywood, Ca. where he executed his
historic productions should never be forgotten, tarnished or even
tainted by the results of this legal decision.
catalogue is now controlled by EMI who administrates both his music
publishing and masters tapes.
Summer and fall 2009 is expected to bring licensing deals for his
potent sound copyrights and word has it, some unreleased work and
reissues of his classic endeavors, specifically “A Christmas Gift
Gold Star was an atmosphere and schmuck-free sound laboratory that
gave us the most-programmed record in history, Spector’s
"You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous
Brothers, (arranged by Gene Page) and over 100 Billboard Top 40 hit
Gold Star garnered more Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
"Songs of the Century" and Grammy Hall of Fame winners
than any other independent studio in America.
Gold Star also served as the recording “home” of ABC-TV's first
prime time Rock & Roll series, “Shindig!”
In 2008, Gold Star’s own history was displayed in a documentary,
“The Wrecking Crew’ by filmmaker Denny Tedesco, son of jazz
guitarist and session man, Tommy Tedesco. The movie chronicles
the1950-1983 world of Gold Star and the session players.
The Wrecking Crew membership began with the slow demise of the
studio system in Hollywood at the big movie companies in the 1950s.
Large orchestras started getting replaced by smaller session calls
for movie and television soundtracks in addition to rock ‘n’
roll dates that were now getting booked by record producers and
music supervision executives.
In 2008, The Wrecking Crew got honored with an induction into The
RockWalk of Fame in front of Guitar Center store in Hollywood, Ca.
every book and story about the life of Phil Spector, Gold Star’s
engineer/co-owner Stan Ross is mentioned. Ross, along with his
business partner, technical wizard Dave Gold, and engineer Larry
Levine toiling for years in Gold Star, made overt and subtle sound
design contributions to Phil Spector’s studio undertakings while
jointly constructing the ‘Wall of Sound.’
Gold Star and Spector were a special force. The alchemy of location,
Gold, Ross and Levine’s technical acumen combined with Spector’s
Star studio co-owner Dave Gold was born in the Boyle Heights section
of East Los Angeles and met Larry Levine in an East L.A. elementary
school. Levine’s cousin, Stan Ross grew up as a teenager in Los
Hailing from Brooklyn New York, Ross, after his birth in 1929 moved
with his parents to Los Angeles at age 15. Stan then enrolled at Los
Angeles’ Fairfax High in 1946. Ross wrote a music column in the
“Fairfax Colonial Gazette” called “Musical Downbeat.” Phil
Spector later attended the same institution. So did Wildman Fischer,
Warren Zevon, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slash, and myself.
he was a teenager, Stan Ross studied recording from a pioneer of
modern disc recording Bert B. Gottschalk. Stan worked at his
Electro-Vox studio for four years as an engineer and was responsible
for one hit record, “Deck Of Cards” by T. Texas Tyler.
Star used to be a dentist’s office,” Ross reminds me in 2001.
“We started pulling teeth a different way,” he jokes. Gold Star
was built in 1950 and lasted until 1983 at 6252 Santa Monica Blvd
until a fire destroyed the property in 1984.
of Ross’ first field -recording assignments was for then area
Congressman Richard M. Nixon and his infamous ‘Pink Lady’
campaign. Citizens who lived in the district were appalled by
Nixon’s smear tactics that insulted candidate Helen Gahagan
Douglas, wife of screen legend Melvyn Douglas.
Ross was present for Phil on his 1958 Teddy Bear’s record, “To
Know Him Is To
Him,” and a plethora of Spector bookings 1962-1966.
studio origins of Gold Star and the Ross and Gold client bookings
were not lost on teenage Phil Spector when he first knocked on the
door. “We used studio A. Eddie Cochran used our Studio B. down the
stairs by the parking lot,” remembers Stan. “I cut ‘Tequila’
there by The Champs. Phil followed in a studio tradition. I did a
whole lot of Eddie Cochran’s records including ‘Summertime
Blues,’ ‘20 Flight Rock,’ and ‘C'mon Everybody.’ The vocal
of Ritchie Valen’s “Oh Donna” was recorded at Gold Star. The
backing track was done up the street at Bob Keene’s studio who
owned Del-Fi Records.
Stan Ross introduced Spector to The Righteous Brothers at Gold Star.
The duo had been using the studio with the owner of Moonglow
Records, the label they were on at the time, and Ross engineered the
stomping “Little Latin Lupe Lu” smash hit single. Spector heard
them on a visit and swiftly questioned Ross about the singers.
Subsequently, it’s Ross and Spector teaming for “You’ve Lost
That Lovin’ Feelin’” for The Philles label. The San
Diego-based Zeros still include “Little Latin Lupe Lu” in the
stage repertoire, too.
“He was as concerned as they were about the song -- one of the
reasons Phil’s songs have durability and are copied. I thought
things we did with The Paris Sisters were terrific,” he recalls.
“I saw a lot of growth with Phil very early. The day he first
walked in I explained to him the studio policy of buying time by the
hour and a role of tape I had to be firm ‘cause I didn’t want 20
more Phil Spectors coming in,” Ross confesses.
David Gold created the sound effect that imbued and enhanced the
creation of "Alvin & The Chipmunks" memorable
recordings. The reason why the “father” character was named
“David.” Gold’s additional personal credits list Ronald
Reagan’s recorded promo spots with the television stars of each
weeks series for four seasons of the historic “General Electric”
TV broadcasts done at Reagan’s ranch, home or at Universal
Studios. Reagan’s G.E. Theater speaking engagements helped him
prepare for his first successful run for California governor and
then President of the United States.
Hendrix’s first recorded guitar solo was session work (with Arthur
Lee) at Gold Star on “My Diary” by Rosa Lee Brooks. Hugh
Masekela, “Grazin’ in the Grass” achieved the first American
hit single by an African group. Before he founded Jefferson
Airplane, Marty Balin with arranger Jimmie Haskell in the early
‘60s recorded “I Specialize In Love.” Revered music hero Scott
Walker also logged time doing menial tasks at Gold Star, recorded
there, and attended nearby Los Angeles High School. The Sonics in
1966 down from Washington also did some songs at the facility.
was captured on the sacred grounds: Oscar Moore, Gerry Mulligan,
Mundell Lowe, Chet Baker, Louis Bellson’s big swing band, and The
Hi-Los. Arranger Gene Page did the soundtrack “Blakula” on the
lot while even William Shatner delivered his spoken word narration
of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” at this dream factory house
Stan Ross was behind the console for Jewel Aikens’ “The Birds
and The Bees,” the first use of chorused guitar and was a favorite
45-rpm of Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, which provided the sound of
a guitar plugged through a Leslie speaker, giving it an organ-like
effect. Cream’s “Badge,” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be”
later fused the string-to-Leslie air-pumped speaker innovation. Kit
Lambert produced The Who’s “Call Me Lightning” at Gold Star
and mixed their “I Can See For Miles” in the facility as well.
Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band
cut “Express Yourself” in the location. Shelby Flint sung
“Angel On My Shoulder” as well. The famed room also delivered
Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and “Endless Sleep” by Jody
Reynolds, one of Bob Dylan’s all-time records. Gold Star was the
mid wife for the album version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr.
Hop” by Don & Dewey introduced the first electronically
production of “Zip A
Dee Do Dah” was the first distorted lead guitar on a hit record.
Gold Star also developed phasing, DT (Double-tracking) and flanging
Gold, Ross and engineer Larry Levine integrated the concept of
phase-shifting or “phasing” a sweeping effect that incorporated
electronic music on their hit record “The Big Hurt” by vocalist
Miss Toni Fisher. Larry cut the basic track and Stan the phasing.
Dobie Gray’s “The In Crowd,” Johnny Crawford’s “Cindy’s
Birthday,” and “Call Me,” courtesy of Chris Montez, were baked
in that building. As was Thee Midnighters’ AM radio anthem,
“Land of 1000 Dances.”
Stan Ross and Dave Gold’s studio clients included Herb Alpert
& The Tijuana Brass, Sonny & Cher, Buffalo Springfield,
Brian Wilson with The Beach Boys, The Cascades, Iron Butterfly,
Cher, the Cake, The Chipmunks, Bob
Dylan, Clydie King, Art Garfunkel, Dick Dale, Bobby Darin, Black Oak
Arkansas, Minnie Ripperton, Johnny Burnette, Ray Ruff, Thee
Midniters, Donna Loren, Josie & The Pussy Cats, David Briggs,
The Sunrays, Mark and the Escorts, Jon & The Nightriders,
Dillards, Tim Hardin, Beau Brummels, The Murmaids, Jackie De
Shannon, Led Zeppelin, Hoyt Axton, Mystic Moods Orchestra, Robin
Ward, George Carlin and Jack Burns, Donna Loren, The Misunderstood,
Duane Eddy, Margie Rayburn, Kim Fowley, Runaways, Marlon Brando, The
Band, Go-Gos, Ramones, The Seeds, The Monkees,
MFQ and the Turtles.
“Gold Star felt and sounded different than any other L.A.
studio,” explains the Turtles’ Howard Kaylan, who recorded
“The Story of Rock & Roll pop gem and other wonderful tunes
like “Eleanor” there in addition to their revolutionary L.P.
“The Battle of the Bands” produced by Chip Douglas.
could literally smell the tubes inside the mixing board as they
heated up. There was a richness to the sound that Western and
United, our usual studios, never had. Those two rooms sounded
‘clean’ while Gold Star felt fat and funky. Perhaps we were all
reading too much of the Spector legacy into the room, but I don't
think so. Our recordings from Gold Star always just sounded better
to me. I miss that room,” muses Kaylan, whose band the Turtles
sold 41 million records and had 9 Top Ten hits of their own.
“I went to Gold Star my first day in Hollywood when I was an
adult,” proclaims Kim Fowley,
“I was the campus correspondent for ‘Dig’ Magazine. I
went to the Champs’ ‘Tequila’ session.
They bought me lunch. I later mastered ‘Alley-Oop’ by the
Hollywood Argyles that I co-produced there. And I produced
‘Popsicles and Icicles” by The Murmaids there. I had two number
one records out of Gold Star. I liked the room. The echo chambers
and there were good vibes. It was a magical scenario on many levels.
There were five editions of The Runaways. As a trio the first one
made demos at Gold Star with Stan Ross engineering. At Gold Star one
day I asked Brian Wilson, ‘What is the basis of your
songwriting?’ And he said, ‘Well, school is nine months a year
and the summer holidays are three months and you write about that
and getting in trouble with your parents.’”
Star regulars Charlie Greene and Brian Stone were managers and
producers, real show biz operators, who represented Buffalo
Springfield, Iron Butterfly, The Poor, Bob Lind, The Cake, Dr. John,
Jackie De Shannon and Sonny & Cher.
I Really Want To Do” Cher's first solo hit came out of the room,
along the duo’s “The Beat Goes On” and Sony Bono’s solo
masterpiece, “Laugh At Me.” The soundtrack to Sonny &
Cher’s movie “Good Times” as well. De Shannon subsequently did
her “Laurel Canyon” LP there, and years later, the original demo
of her song “Betty Davis Eyes.”
Ross spoke to me in June 2001 from his home in Southern California.
Q: Tell me about Gold Star in the Fifties and
Gold Star was built for the songwriters. They were fun, wonderful
people to be around: Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Fain, Sonny Burke, Don
Robertson, Johnny Mercer, Jimmy McHugh, Frank Loesser, Dimitri
Tiomkin. We did song demos, voice-over work, radio and TV jingles.
“I loved music, and I was a record buyer, and I know what I liked.
If I’m going to buy a record, I want it to sound like this. So I
made everything I got involved with like something I would buy.
“Our studio echo chamber gave it the wall of sound feel. Dave
(Gold) built the equipment and echo chamber and personally
hand-crafted the acoustical wall coating. We had so much fun with
that echo chamber; it never sounded the same way twice. Gold Star
brought a feeling, an emotional feeling. Gold Star was not a dead
studio, but a live studio. The room was 30 X 40.”
the March 1984, the echo chamber physically survived the fire that
demolished Hollywood’s most influential studio at the corner of
Santa Monica Blvd. and Vine Street.
What was so special about the Gold Star soundboard?
A: It was all tubes. And when you have tubes, you have expansion and
it doesn’t distort so easy. We kept tubes on longer than anyone
else. Because we understood that when a kick drum kicks into a tube
it’s not gonna distort. A tube can expand. The microphones with
tubes were better than the ones with out the tubes because if you
don’t have a tube and you hit heavy, suddenly it breaks ups. But
when you have a tube it’s warm and emotional. It gets bigger and
it expands. It allows for the impulse.
“Gold Star brought a feeling, an emotional feeling. Gold Star was
not a dead studio, but a live studio. I’ve been in other studios
that were ‘too hot,’ ‘too lively.’ Some that sounded like
cardboard boxes. ‘Too dead.’ Gold Star had enough that if you
snapped your fingers, or clapped your hands, you could actually hear
it. So if that’s the way your hands clapped, then your drum sound
would be the same kind of feel.
Our echo chamber gave it the wall of sound feel. It was
smaller than most people knew.
Explain about recording in mono versus stereo?
A: Phil appreciated mono. But we did back up with multi-track. So,
if he wanted to go back to the four track, he would. He never did,
‘cause if he didn’t hear it then it wasn’t right. When it came
to multi-track you could put everything on mono. The bass drum, the
guitars and keep it. Once you have it on mono, it never changes. It
will be the same on Wednesday then the previous Tuesday, the same
sound. So when you do transfer from one track to four tracks, it’s
“And to that you can add voices, never losing the quality of the
bass drum track, because it’s been transferred, it hasn’t been
disturbed. You took the mono and transferred it to track one of a
four track, tracks two, three and four are for voices and guitar
fills. You follow? Everything is a fresh generation. It saves you
from having to overdub four generations. You have less highs and
less sibilance. And, we didn’t use pop filters and wind screens,
we got mouth noises. Isn’t that life?
was always opinionated in the studio with us. It was a cover up. By
the way, Phil always listened to what you told him. He listened to
me and Larry Levine. Phil was pretty proud of himself. He served the
song. He worked for the tape. He knew what he could get away with
and what he couldn’t and he appreciated whatever suggestions Larry
or myself would give him. He never closed his mind to anything. He
was always open-minded. He was very emotional about his records. He
felt that this was like his life. As much as I love children, he was
in love with his songs. They were his children,” Ross volunteers.
story on Gold Star or about Phil Spector would be complete without
acknowledging resident recording engineer, Larry Levine, who died in
2008 on his 80th birthday.
won a Grammy in 1965 for his work on Herb Alpert and the Tijuana
Brass’ "A Taste of Honey.” Alpert, another Fairfax High
alum, later recruited Levine to design and oversee the first
recording studio B at A&M Records modeled after Dave Gold’s
“compact” studio blueprints developed and first installed at
Levine engineered albums for Eddie Cochran, The Beach Boys, Sonny
and Cher, Wings, the Carpenters, Dr. John, and reunited with Spector
in the late 70s working on albums by Leonard Cohen and The Ramones.
Levine engineered The Ramones’ “End Of The Century” (with
Boris Menart and assisted by Bruce Gold) had his own memories about
the magical Gold Star and Spector pairing when we talked in 2002.
“I used to have a theory, and I don’t know if it’s right or
wrong, but part of the reason we took so long in actually recording
the songs was that Phil needed to tire out the musicians, or they
got to the point where they were tired enough so they weren’t
playing as individuals. But they would meld into the sound more that
Phil had in his head.
musicians start out and play as individuals and strive to play what
Phil wants. As far as the room sound and the drum sound went,
because the rooms were small, with low ceilings, the drum sound,
unlike other studios with isolation, your drums sounded the way you
wanted them to sound. They would change accordingly to whatever
leakage was involved.
“As a matter of fact,” Levine continues, “Phil once said to me
the bane of his recording existence was the drum sound.
A lot of people attribute to echo to what Phil was doing. The
echo enhanced the melding of ‘the wall of sound,’ but it
didn’t create it. Within the room itself, all of this was
happening and the echo was glue that kept it together.”
Spector, was born in New York, moved to Los Angeles at age 9. His
life completely changed and became unhinged when he heard songs on
the radio like "60 Minute Man" and "Treasure Of
Love" courtesy of DJ Hunter Hancock on the influential R&B
L.A. R&B station KGFJ.
had first taken up guitar around 1953 at John Burroughs Junior High
in L.A. in the Wilshire District after finishing Laurel Elementary
School. From 1954-57 at Fairfax High School he hung around the music
room, was a star history student in Mr. Goetze's history course, and
learned French. Phil’s mother Bertha was born in Paris, France
In 1955, when was 15, and deeply into the guitar, his mother Bertha
and sister Shirley took him to see Ella Fitzgerald at an area
nightclub, with Barney Kessel in the backing group. Later, in 1965,
Spector was a guest with Fitzgerald on "The Tonight Show With
In 1956, an angry young Phil had a letter published in "Down
Beat" complaining that Kessel was not included in an article.
Shortly afterwards, Spector's sister Shirley tracked down Barney in
a studio, who had seen the letter in "Down Beat," and
eventually the Spector gals put the full court press on "BK"
for career advice inside a booth at Dupars restaurant on Hollywood
In the July 2009 issue of “Down Beat” the magazine re-printed
Kessel had produced albums on both Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.
He ran A&R for Verve Records 1956-1960. Barney would later play
the Danelectro six string bass on Elvis Presley's "Return To
Sender.” Kessel, who previously gigged with Charlie Parker,
appeared in the Oscar winning “Jamming The Blues” short film,
and traded licks with Charlie Christian, discovered Ricky Nelson and
cut him on "I'm Walkin'" as well as arranging, playing and
supervising Julie London's "Cry Me A River" hit single.
Barney Kessel was a "Down Beat" and "Playboy"
magazine jazz Guitar Poll winner who then actually took the time to
appear on young Phil's demos. Kessel once gave Phil guitar lessons
in the '50s and encouraged young Phillip to stop playing guitar,
move away from jazz as an occupation, and go towards pop record
In 1957, Phil and future Teddy Bears member Marshall Leib got on the
local KTTV-television program "Rocket to Stardom,"
sponsored by salesman Bob Yeakel, hosted by wife Betty Yeakel. They
used to hawk Oldsmobiles during the broadcast from his showroom.
Spector and Leib duo sang "In The Still Of The Night” from
the Sunset Blvd. location. Lenny Bruce, Jack Sheldon, Dennis Hopper
and Jim Keltner also appeared on other "Rocket To Stardom"
Spector and The Teddy Bears
performed on "American Bandstand" when it really counted.
The group were on episodes of NBC’s “Pik A Platter,” that
Buddy Bregman hosted in 1958. The trio got booked in 1959 on the
"Kraft Music Hall with Perry Como."
The Phil Harvey Band a 1959 outfit, following his Teddy Bears stint
were together for only 75 days, but had a repertoire which launched
an up tempo rendition of “It’s Wonderful” and selections like
instrumentals “Bumpershoot” and Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock
“Phil played some serious jazz guitar when I first knew him in the
late ‘50s,” reinforced Elliot Ingber, an original guitarist with
The Mothers Of Invention, later a member of The Fraternity Of Man of
“Don’t Bogart That Joint” fame, in November 2001 inside the
Highland Grounds music club. “He was a jazz cat. A ‘bad boy’
Most of the time The Phil Harvey Group would integrate sax player
Steve Douglas, guitarist Elliot Ingber, bassist Larry Taylor, now
with Tom Waits, and for years a founding member of Canned Heat, and
his brother Mel Taylor, on drums. Taylor was a fixture with The
Ventures and the drummer on Herb Alpert's "The Lonely
Bull" with The Tijuana Brass.
Spector briefly attended Los Angeles City College, and dropped out
of UCLA. Spector then worked on his French, and eventually planned
to become a U.N. interpreter in French when he moved to New York in
It was in New York that 19 year old Spector actually did some
translation work for Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who wanted the talented
teen to go to work for him after some meetings at a local hotel.
Spector declined and followed the music. This was a period just
before Phil "studied" the influential songwriters and
producers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, choosing to work for them
in an apprenticing stint in addition to ingratiating himself with
Atlantic Records’ executive Ahmet Ertegun.
producer Kim Fowley was at The Trip club on Sunset Blvd. in 1965
when Phil Spector emerged out of the audience one evening to join
the Modern Folk Quartet playing 12-string guitar. Fowley told me
over the phone in 2009 from his Fairfax area digs, "Phil
sounded like he would have been a really good lead singer. Great
mike technique and powerful delivery." MFQ band member Henry
Diltz in 2009 confirmed the "really fantastic" jam to me
in a conversation.
the May 31, 1975 issue of “Melody Maker” I published an
interview with Spector, culled from a series of conversations, in
Hollywood at the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College, his own Beverly
Hills mansion, and some studio visits where he was producing Dion at
Gold Star studios and a new singer, Jerri Bo Keno. .
At the action-packed question and answer seminar, Spector responds
to an inquiry on how he got started. “I was a young aspiring
guitar player. I played on some of Big Mama Thorton’s records. I
always wanted to be a producer. There’s an old story I’ve told
before. ‘OK. Let’s play baseball. You be the pitcher, you’re
the catcher, and you’re the batter. Spector, you be the
producer.’ I was always into that.
“Dave Bartholomew, Sam Phillips-I wanted to know about the people
behind the scenes. The guy who played the solo n ‘Rock Around The
Clock.’ The tape echo sound. These things interested me. They were
“I played on records before I made ‘em. I worked with Leiber and
Stoller. Anyway, the only way you get into the record business is to
make a record. I believed in individual distribution which nobody
did at the time. You can’t do that today. The big companies will
eat you up and spit you out.
“We made a lot of records, played on sessions by the Drifters, the
guitar on ‘On Broadway,’ ‘Lavender Blue,’ ‘To Know Him Is
To Love Him,’ the first one. That was the one I was gonna kick ass
with. I was part of the group the Teddy Bears.”
Spector was an adult in the '60s, he was a welcome television guest
on a variety of national network TV programs: "David
Susskind," "Les Crane," and "Merv Griffin,"
even a cameo as, what else, a record producer on "I Dream Of
Phil did the theme and worked with The Dave Clark Five on "Lucy
In London." The previous decade in the Fifties Spector had been
employed briefly as a page on the “I Love Lucy” television
series done in Hollywood.
our “Melody Maker” interview on Hollywood Blvd. and his college
lecture, Spector outlined his philosophy on recording and producing
“I like to have all the musicians there at once. I get everything
on one track that I need. I put everything on 24 tracks just to see
if it’s plugged in. The finished track never ends up on more than
one. I hire the best. I have the creativity. I know what I want. I
don’t wear a ‘Back To Mono’ button for no reason at all. I
believe in it. I can make quad. It’s easy.
“I record in a strange way. I haven’t changed. I go from the
basic track and put it onto 24. Then I have one track and 23 open.
That’s the difference between having 24 filled or 19 filled. Which
means, I can get 23 string players and overdub them 10 times and
have 200 strings then I put them on one track I record basic tracks
and then put it all onto one track or maybe two. Then I condense. I
put my voices on.
musicians I have never outdo me. I’m not in competition with them.
I’m in complete accord with them. You need the ability so you hire
the best. I have the creativity. I know what I want.
used Barney Kessel all the time for the last ten years. Terry Gibbs
on vibes…everybody. The better the talent is around you, the
better the people you have working with you, the more concerned.,
the better you’re gonna come off as a producer, like a teacher in
during one spiel compared himself to a movie director. “When you
see a Kubrick movie, you tell me how many names you immediately
remember in the cast. One? Two? It's the same with Fellini, and
that's what I wanted to do when I directed a recording. Singers are
instruments. They are tools to be worked with.
"My engineer was scared to death to work with me. While I
record I put everything on tape, echo, everything. My engineer said
'You're out of your mind.' Do you know Ray Conniff uses more tape
echo than I ever used in my life? That's a fact.”
One late night at his home, Phil played a bunch of “Let It Be”
mono acetates he had produced for an invited audience after a late
night session of Dion’s “Born To Be with You” at Gold Star.
ran down the first time he met Fats Domino at Imperial Records in
1958. "He was up at the label to pick up royalties, and wanted
to be paid in cash, not check, put in a paper bag," he howled.
"I was perplexed. I didn't know if I should say 'Hi Fats' or
'Mr. Domino' at that time."
evening I quizzed Phil about The Beatles and John Lennon.
“It was very easy to work with John Lennon. There was no
problem working with him. I think he is one of the greatest singers
in music. I honestly believe that. I feel the same way about Paul
(McCartney) as a singer. They are in a league with few others. I
don’t feel the same way about George (Harrison) or Ringo (Starr).
John and Paul are great rock and roll singers.”
The Beach Boys also did a rendition of
“Then He Kissed Me.”
(“Then I Kissed Her.”) Brian Wilson performed "Be My
Baby" on his 2000 concert tour and “Then I Kissed Her” at a
summer 2004 Hollywood Bowl concert.
“The man is my hero,” Brian Wilson told me in a published
interview in 1977. “He gave rock ‘n’ roll just what it needed
at the time and obviously influenced us a lot. His
productions…they’re so large and emotional…Powerful…the
Christmas album is still one of my favorites. We’ve done a lot of
Phil’s songs: ‘I Can Hear Music,’ ‘Just Once In My Life,’
‘There’s No Other Like My Baby,’ ‘Chapel Of Love’…
I used to go to his sessions and watch him record. I learned
Randi was born February 25, 1937 in New York City and moved to Los
Angeles in 1954. Randi played Piano, Keyboards, Organ and
Harpsichord on the just about every Spector date at Gold Star
since 1962. He’s featured on “A Christmas Gift For You,” the
inspiring Phil Spector Christmas album.
session credits and solo albums the last 50 years in town document
Planet Hollywood. He can be heard on the Beach Boys’ album
“Pet Sounds,” “Buffalo Springfield Again,” Love’s
“Forever Changes” and “The 1968 Elvis Presley Comeback
Special.” Randi’s resume also includes “The Birds, The Bees
& The Monkees” and Tim Buckley’s “Goodbye &
Hello.” Randi recorded with Spector on his Leonard Cohen
“Death of a Ladies’ Man” LP and has been on wax with both
Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
close to 40 years, Don Randi has been the proprietor of the Baked
Potato jazz club in North Hollywood while also leading his popular
jazz-fusion cross over group Quest. The idolized musician and
comic Randi is working on his autobiography with writer Lynne
Tell me about Gold Star?
Gold Star was an incredible place since the first time I ever worked
there. It was friendly. And they always had a good staff there that
was friendly. Between Dave Gold, Stan Ross and Larry Levine, and Doc
Siegel, it was great and fun. Stan and Larry I worked with a lot.
Doc got destined to do the “B” sides for Phil Spector.
playing parts and a lot of time duplication. Like on the pianos, you
would have one guy doing a thing on the high end of the piano,
somebody in the middle, and Phil would want the different sounds of
a concert grand, and an upright, electric or a Wurlitzer. So he
liked to have the spread of the different tonality. That was Phil.
He understood tonality very well. And at Gold Star it was magic
because of all those harmonics rising were part of the wall of
“The playbacks didn’t blow my mind because it was already
exciting. It was so exciting and you knew you would eventually have
a million-selling record. You absolutely knew that because Phil was
so dominant. I worked for other people there. I did my own albums
there and even wrote all the Radio Shack commercials.
“Most of the times when we did those studio jobs we were asked to
be somebody else. We were cloned. You know, if somebody wanted Floyd
Cramer you had to come out. If somebody wanted a more Ray Charles’
sound you had to come up with it. If somebody wanted more of a Phil
Spector sound then I knew exactly what they wanted. I had a bond
with bassist Chuck Berghoffer on the Elvis Presley ’68 sessions.
We both came out of West Coast jazz scene and were on Nancy
Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” He’s one of
the great jazz bassists in the world but no matter where he goes he
has to play the line from ‘Boots.’ (laughs). I’m on that
Does the studio make a real big difference in the sound of a record?
A: Well, at Gold Star it was the echo chamber. Like, when someone
talks about a guy being a ‘natural baseball player.’ Gold Star
was a natural studio. It just blended and worked. When you went to
Gold Star you just knew you were making a hit record.
Q: Why does the music recorded and documented
in Gold Star have longevity and durability?
A: Because musically and lyrically and the composition and note part
was brilliant. There were always great songs. The songs always told
a story. The songs in themselves were films. And, especially in
Phil’s case, he knew how to write them and how to produce them.
And in Brian Wilson’s case, Brian always knew where he was going
with it. He may have not known at the beginning, but after a while
he had an idea and he developed it. We were there to help him
Phil Spector ‘Christmas’ album is probably the best Christmas
album of all time and you can’t just repeat things like that. For
me all those years there I don’t recall anything or equipment
breaking down. I’m sure it did but very rarely, but fixed quickly.
Randi along with his fellow Wrecking Crew members always gigged
around town for additional TV shows, movie soundtracks, record dates
and club appearances. Randi was the musical director for “The Big
T.N.T. show” taped in 1965 in Hollywood that Phil Spector
"The Big T.N.T. Show," hosted by actor David McCallum of
"Man From U.N.C.L.E." fame, stars Ray Charles, Bo Diddley,
The Ronettes, Donovan, Joan Baez, The Lovin' Spoonful, Petula Clark,
The Byrds, The Ike & Tina Revue. The MFQ provided live between
segments songs at the taping, recorded “This Could Be The Night”
produced by Spector is “The Big T.N.T. Show” theme song.
event was filmed at the landmark Moulin Rouge in Hollywood, where
portions of the Ross Hunter-produced and Douglas Sirk directed
“Imitation Of Life” motion picture starring Lana Turner, Sandra
Dee and Susan Kohner were lensed.
Frank Zappa, Sky Saxon, Mary Hughes, Rodney Bingenheimer, Johnny
Legend and Ron and Russell Mael (future Sparks principals) are shown
on screen in “The Big T.N.T. Show” audience. Jack Nitzsche and
Denny Bruce, the early Mothers of Invention drummer before they
could get a record deal, were seated in a balcony watching Bo
Diddley and his band.
resulting “Big T.N.T. Show” celluloid document is the definitive
teen music flick from the coast with the most. For this
Hollywood-based teenager, the chicks in the audience used Clearasil
as base foundation makeup, had more bangs, tighter sweaters, shorter
skirts, wore Yardley, and were way cuter than the girls later shown
on screen in the movies “Monterey Pop” and
that '65 "T.N.T" event, Randi’s head stagehand was
Robert Marchese, a record producer, who later won a Grammy for
producing the first live Richard Pryor comedy album from The
Troubadour. Marchese also engineered some local sessions for Spector
and Jimi Hendrix.
best 2007 party piece on "Phil with the Cuban heels," as
he likes to refer to him, was born after observing a conversation
between Spector and Brother Ray Charles.
"(Pianist) Don Randi got me the gig as his assistant. I was
setting up the stage and working with the orchestra in the
pit," Marchese recounts from his crib in Pittsburgh, PA.
"(Arranger/Producer) Arif Mardin was there and gave me a copy
of the Otis Redding album, 'Otis Blue.' I saw Joe Adams, who was a
well-known radio DJ in L.A. (The Mayor Of Melody) and an actor
("Carmen Jones," among other credits). He was also Ray's
right hand man. I told Joe I wanted to shake hands with Ray Charles.
He said ‘sure.’ I said hello to Ray, and then he motioned to Joe
and me to take him to ‘meet’ Phil Spector, who was overseeing
the whole ball game. The Byrds were setting up. Ray says to Phil,
‘Are you Mr. Phil Spector?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you the Boy
Genius?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you the inventor of the Wall Of
Sound?’’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you the guy who had over 20 hit
singles in a row?’ ‘Yes’" ‘Then Mr. Spector, how come
there's no toilet paper in the bathroom?’"
yourself and the Wrecking Crew could gig in the studios and at
nights hold TV orchestra and band jobs as well as perform original
music at a local venue.
A: My guys in the studio
could play live anywhere. They were capable musicians.
‘Big T.N.T. Show’ was fantastic because of Phil. And he gave me
the opportunity, ‘cause otherwise I could have taken another date.
But when Phil calls, he was ‘first call’ for me. If I were going
to do something else many times I would move things around to
got to remember that most of the guys that were in ‘Phil’s
band’ especially were all jazz players and rock ‘n’ roll was a
living for them. And a lot of them didn’t like it as much as I
did. I have to be very frank about it. I always liked the rock
’n’ roll part of it. I thought it was great fun and sometimes
very musically interesting. Not all the time. 80 per cent of the
time. We got to do some things on rock ‘n’ roll dates we could
not do in jazz and studio settings. Absolutely.
Q: Do you think steering some of the Spector
musicians and the Gold Star session cats to “The Big T.N.T.
Show” in 1965 informs the music you and the others would create
later that year and well into 1966? Like ‘Pet Sounds?”
Well that’s true. We brought that into ‘Pet Sounds.’ It’s an
interesting concept but those guys were very capable. They were the
best musicians and still are the best musicians. Like, at ‘The Big
T.N.T. Show’ and on all our dates, we all could read, except maybe
a few of the guys who were brought in as players. As specialists.
Like (guitarist) Mike Deasy when he came in. All the guys could
always read chord charts. That’s for sure. I had Barney Kessel on
the ‘Big T.N.T. Show.’ Whether it was television, film, rock
‘n’ roll or a live performance. I enjoyed every moment of it. I
think I played on ‘The T.A.M.I. Show,’ too. Whenever Jack
Nitzsche was the arranger or the music director I was playing music
You spent many years recording with Jack Nitzsche.
Yes. Jack Nitzsche was a good translator for Phil.
Q: When you hear a Nitzsche chart on Phil’s
recordings or Jack’s own records or arrangements, what happens? Do
you have a favorite track or music cue?
A: You know what kills me, every time I hear Jack’s ‘The Lonely
Surfer.’ I’m on it. It still gives me chills because it’s a
great song. Jack wrote a great song. I didn’t hear it until the
day we went in. You know, we never rehearsed. (laughs).
The composition. He went to Westlake School of Music. I’ll
tell you what gripped me was his brilliance. You gotta remember,
there was brilliance without Phil. There was Phil and there was
stuff you did on your own. And people forget about that. And, as
great as it was, we were making up parts half the time. With Jack,
Phil was able to go to Jack and he would translate what Phil wanted.
There was camaraderie. You got to remember we all were
together. Jack Nitzsche, Phil Spector, myself and Sonny Bono, who
Jack knew from the late ‘50s at Specialty.
Q: You’ve heard and watched the Spector
catalogue, the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson-birthed Gold Star
sessions originate on analog tape and then travel into digital
world. In addition to your own solo albums with Quest. Plus those
countless hit records with Nancy and Frank Sinatra and Elvis
Presley. You came out of two-track world and monaural recording.
A: I like mono but not quite a ‘Back To Mono’ guy. I still like
the old LP’s and I still play them. For the simple reason that
unfortunately when they do these things they have a tendency to
digitize everything where they clean it up so much that you lose the
character of the song itself. You lose the room ambience. My God, if
a guitar player squeaks on a note leave it! But they can get it out
today so they choose to do that. If a singer took a breathe before
he or she sang a note, I used to love to hear that. It was part of
the record. And they don’t do that anymore.
I wrote the liner notes for the 2008 2 CD set of “The ’68 Elvis
Presley Comeback Special” and you were on those local sessions in
Hollywood. Yourself and many session players have benefited
particularly from album reissues and CD re-releases of Presley,
Spector, Wilson and Nitzsche sessions from over 40 years ago.
A: Look, we all like to hear how our music is
being used after we cut it. ‘A Little Less Conversation’ with
Elvis. I might have made initially $160.00. Local 47 union contract.
Over the years, with all the scales changing, and everything being
re-done and re-mixed I’ve made close to ten grand in residuals.
“Let me tell you why. It’s a very simple reason and most people
don’t have any clue. There were a number of people. It started
with Phil Spector, then Brian Wilson, and caught on with everybody
else, that when you hired us, there was a union contract. So, there
was a Local 47 on a contract. And if that contract is there they can
trace it back to who was on the original track. And because of that
we get our residuals. Phil, Brian, Jack, and Billy Goldenberg on our
work with Elvis made it possible, Because, if they could avoid it,
they would. But these guys insisted on having these contracts. And
because of this we all have residuals and I’m talking to you.
“It’s nice at age 72 to get paid and hear these things again.
Kim Fowley calls it ‘mailbox money.’ It’s wonderful. There’s
a guy that’s been logging everything and getting everything in
order for years, ‘cause it’s an unthankful job. Russ Wapensky.
You might never hear his name except from me or Hal (Blaine). But he
logged everything so nobody can fuck with us,” boasts Randi.
Little Less Conversation’ has turned out to be a miracle for all
of us. The musicians that were on it originally ‘cause it was from
a film, you know. (laughs). Every time it’s been re-made or
they’ve used it we’ve all been paid a residual on it and a very
nice one. So Elvis has been paying us even though he’s gone on
that record. We even got paid on the re-mix. Billy Strange, the
guitarist, co-wrote the tune with Mac Davis, and they also co-wrote
‘Memories.’ Billy was an excellent guitarist and did a lot of
movie and TV themes.
“Who would have thought a few years back a re-mix of ‘A Little
Less Conversation’ would
be a big hit in England? (laughs). Nancy Sinatra does a great
version of it in her show. I toured with her and Clem Burke from
Blondie a while ago and we fuckin’ burned it,” Don howls.
Phil Spector is incarcerated in prison miles away from our
conversation. Phil is still a very good friend of yours for close to
a half a century. What goes through your mind when you now hear his
records? What is it like? Is it different? Do you tune it out?
First of all, it’s impossible to tune it out unless you’re
living on Mars. You know, to watch the whole transition and how
everything has changed. And it’s always made me wonder about Phil
not taking care of himself. He has a bad side and he abuses it and
he has for a number of years and you can’t do that. And what
happens when you have imbalance like that you tend to do strange
things. Unfortunately under those conditions what went down was part
of the reason. But I personally knowing Phil, and I’ve always said
this to anybody, his bark is louder than his bite. And he can be
very tough, very this and that, but a very, kind gentle sweetheart.
do you feel about the media coverage of what went down during the
Phil Spector trial?
I was on that ‘Court TV’ when the first trial was going on. I
was on a number of times. I was asked to do it. I had no qualms. I
knew that he was innocent. And, I still think that he is innocent.
I went to court. I went down there. And listening to his
attorney, this last one, who I thought was brilliant, and then what
is the jury hearing that I didn’t hear? Because if they heard what
I heard there is no way they could have a conviction. But the judge
gave them an out, an open door. Not only that, they didn’t have to
bring in first degree murder. All they had to bring in was second
degree murder. Which is a lesser crime but still puts you in jail.
The first time they had to bring in first and they couldn’t.
“You got to remember I go all the way back. ‘He’s A Rebel.’
I didn’t do his Teddy Bears’ ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’
‘cause that is before me. But I did go to court for him.”
Kessel is currently President and CEO of Cave Hollywood Media , a
multimedia consultancy firm that is involved in cyberspace
entertainment activities and e-commerce. www.cavehollywood.com.
The website launched in August 2009.
Kessel is the son of legendary and influential guitarist and
producer, the late Barney Kessel, who can be heard on hundreds of
jazz and rock ’n’ roll recording sessions, including The Beach
Boys’ "Good Vibrations," and as a member of the powerful
Phil Spector "Wall-of-Sound" studio ensemble. "I knew
my dad as a record producer (Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Ricky
Nelson), not just a guitarist," Kessel remembers.
David Kessel’s stepmother was also a pivotal architect of classic
seminal pop and rock records from the late 1950s through the 1980s.
The late B.J. Baker was considered one of the top background
vocalists and vocal contractors of her era, and her contributions
are rubber-stamped on important wax from Elvis Presley, Frank
Sinatra, Jackie Wilson, Lloyd Price, Bobby Vee, Timi Yuro, and Sam
Cooke. She’s heard on Sinatra’s "That’s Life."
"She taught me a lot about how vocals should be recorded,"
Kessel suggests. As a teenager growing up in Southern California,
David, along with older brother Dan, attended a lot of recording
dates of The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Quincy Jones, and Sonny &
Cher. "Phil’s recording sessions then, and even today, taught
me how to take charge of my vision, and how to take responsibility
for achieving that vision."
In July 2009, Kessel offered a lifetime of his thoughts and
first-hand observations on Phil Spector.
"Phil has been a family friend for over 50 years. He is an
American pop musical genius of the highest order with almost
extraterrestrial insight and vision. Phil's (or Spector's)
contributions to recorded music revolutionized the modern record
making process. My brother Dan and I have played guitar (In addition
to various other instruments & vocals) on every Spector
recording session since 1973, and from 1962-1969 often attended his
sessions as kids & teenagers.
"Most current ‘Plug In’ recording effects can be attributed
originally to the sounds Phil (Spector) created, developed and
experimented with in the making of his classic recordings. The
current generation of recordists who use these ‘Plug Ins’ don't
realize, when adding these technology effects to their music,
they're actually accessing Phil Spector with the touch of a button,
and that they owe those sounds to him."
Q: What are your observations about the 2009
guilty verdict on Phil Spector.
I’d like to say Phil Spector is innocent. He’s absolutely 1,000
per cent innocent. All the forensic evidence says he is innocent.
Absolutely zero proof that he did anything. As a matter of fact,
there is total proof that he didn’t do anything. The science tells
us that. If there had been a problem caused by him it would be
obvious. He had no incriminating scientific evidence on his person,
which would have been abundantly present had he been involved with
Q: Did you think the local and global media,
print and electronic helped shape the climate around his trials?
A: The media takes his brilliance and tries to turn it into some
kind of insanity. It’s a circus, so people can eat popcorn. I was
at the trial on several occasions. I felt it was a total railroad
job. They played on emotion. They played on the fact that Phil for
some reason is a real, real weirdo, which he isn't. I’ll tell you
what. It is weird to be a genius. When you take genius to a
pedestrian level the pedestrian can not understand it. So in order
to justify its own ignorance it has to discredit the genius. If
he’s guilty of anything, it’s going out with the wrong women. If
you’d like to convict him of eccentric behavior, well that’s not
a crime. But that has nothing to do with the unfortunate tragedy
that occurred in his house. He did not do it. I am hoping he wins on
Q: Is it hard for you to hear Phil’s music
and countless Gold Star recordings?
It’s amazing, ‘cause I was at the post office and they were
playing ‘Imagine.’ Then later our 50s' burger joint were playing
‘The Best Part of Breaking Up.’ Walking into the store I hear
‘Lovin’ Feelin.’ You just can’t escape it and the horror of
Phil’s predicament. It goes through your veins.
Q: And you are also reminded of your father,
Barney Kessel, and your step-mom, B.J. Baker, ‘cause you hear
their recording work constantly. What are these emotions like?
A: It’s a perplexing thing and makes me sick to my soul about
Phil. The parent thing is good ‘cause since they're no longer on
the planet, I feel like they are kind of watching over me. With
Phil, it’s like taking a Brillo pad to my skin.
Q: Why does the music of Phil Spector hold up
so well and the sound of Gold Star?
A: I’ll tell you why. ‘Cause it’s that great and that deep in
our social consciousness. The topics of the songs are timeless.
Love, me and you, cool things. It vibes for people. He captured that
vibe with sound and song in a way that nobody has or will again.
Q: How much did the setting of Gold Star
impact the actual sound of these recordings? Could they have been
done in another room?
A: Not like that. Because the total acoustics of the room for a Wall
of Sound experience were just perfect. And the way that Stan Ross
and Dave Gold designed the studio, they knew what they were doing.
It’s not like they said, ‘Let’s roll a wall up here.’ They
really had their acoustics down very early in the game. Of course
the echo chambers and of course the board. It was a heavy metal
board, and I don’t mean like in heavy metal music.
Q: Why was the board so important and
A: Because of the
quality of the metal inside the board and the wiring. It was very
thick and very powerful. Not like today where you have all the
digital stuff and then you have to bring in all the boxes and try to
beef it up. You know what I mean" where at Gold Star that was
the real deal. The metals made after World War 2 were sufficiently
degraded from the metal before World War 2. Much weaker metal
because they had to use so much during the war. It became thinner,
got into aluminum, transistors. Stuff like that. When they have the
real deal metal, the real deal magnets, and the real deal wiring,
that really enhances the sound. And when you bring in brilliant
acoustics with a powerful board and then you have Phil and his
genius working the musicians and hearing those sounds in his head
and being able to articulate it with the help of Larry Levine, Stan
Ross and Dave Gold who were outstanding.
“They were called engineers, and didn’t have aspirations of
being record producers and running record labels. They were sound
engineers and business owners of a studio. Hey, a lot of Eddie
Cochran stuff was done at Gold Star with Stan Ross engineering. Gold
Star was a special unique studio and so were the guys who ran it
Q: What is the sonic advantage of mono?
A: Well, first of all, it’s all powerful and coming out of both
speakers the same. OK? That means you are getting the full signal
right at you. With the ‘Wall of Sound’ in mono you are now
having to worry about stereo placement. OK? Originally, you were or
are making these records for a transistor radio. And ultimately you
want it to sound really great out of that small transistor radio
speaker. You’re also thinking in terms of when the needles goes
down on the record. It’s going to go out through the needles as a
whole signal. Whereas when you start dividing the instruments,
‘part of this on the left side, part of this on the right side,
you can hear that on that on some of the Beatles’ mid career
records, trying to get a stereo thing going, but you lose the full
impact of the solid centered power. With mono you get a thicker
piece of music on tape.
“What’s interesting I think is that the records are classic and
timeless because they have a classic and timeless sound that came
out of Gold Star. To me, the one group, and they didn’t record at
Gold Star, mostly Sunset Sound, their early stuff, whose records are
classic and timeless to me are the Doors. They were recorded so well
and they hold up and don’t sound dated.
Q: What was so great about the echo chamber at
A: The depth. It was really deep. I’m going to make it really
clear. Just adding that echo to a record with a bunch of musicians
in that room is not going to give you a ‘Wall of Sound.’ Might
give you a mess of mud if you don’t know what you are doing.
Q: Tell me the advantage of having all the
musicians record at once in the room.
A: Let’s take it back to an aspect of Phil that a lot of people do
not discuss. Which is part of his overall brilliance that disturbs
people so much. Because he knows what he is doing musically on all
levels. His choices of date mates are however of dubious
distinction. The thing is, consider this, his brain is thinking
symphonically As a symphony orchestra. A lot of violins, cellos,
basses. You don’t just have one of each. OK? Flute section, etc,
the whole nine yards, so that becomes symphonic orchestration. So
the musicians are divided into sections.
“For example, the acoustic guitar section and the electric guitar
section have to put their trip together independently. Four electric
guitar players working out electric parts. Four acoustic guitar
players working out their parts. But when you hear all the various
sections at the same time, the jigsaw puzzle comes together. It’s
pretty over whelming thick and musical. And powerful.
“Jack Nitzsche is an unsung hero. He was a total educated
musician. Excellent orchestration, he knew where Phil was going. A
real good backbone, man. What Jack did for Phil is what Charlie
Watts does for the Rolling Stones.
Q: Spector employed jazz people like your
father Barney. And Phil issued some albums of Barney, including
"Slow Burn." Phil wrote the liner notes.
A: Here’s the thing. The Jazz guys can do these parts in their
sleep. It’s not a challenge so it makes it easier to make the
record in one or two takes, or three takes. Phil might have taken
six hours to get the sound right. The jazz guys read charts and can
think on their toes. They don’t yell about how their hands hurt.
You are getting the best of the best to play some of the simplest of
the simple and it comes out great.
“Here’s a Barney quote about Gold Star and Phil. Before the
classic Gold Star Wall Of Sound sessions, Phil had gone to New York
earlier to work for Atlantic Records and to learn from Mike Stoller
and Jerry Leiber, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler. Then he came back
to town, called up my dad and said ‘Hey Barney, we’re doing some
records. Come down.’
“Barney shows up to the gig and they played the tune and it came
out pretty well from his perspective. He put his instrument down, I
think he had to check with his answering service about another
session date. He came back into the booth and he said, that he was
hearing sounds that he wasn’t quite sure of. And he said to Phil,
‘Is that us?’ ‘And Phil said, ‘Yeah.’ And Barney said,
‘I don’t get it because that’s certainly not what we did in
the other room. I played on it and I heard it. It did not sound like
that in there. It sounds completely different in here.’ ‘Yep,’
said Phil. And that was at Gold Star.
Q: Tell me about the Phil Spector-produced
Christmas album. I’ve heard it is being reissued this season.
A: The ‘Christmas’ album is really scary. Because it’s so
perfect, it’s impeccable. It’s just flawless. I would say
honestly that it's the prototype of ‘Sgt. Pepper.’ Because
it’s right there. I’m not saying John Lennon is Ronnie Spector,
or Darlene Love is Paul McCartney, Bobby Sheen is George Harrison,
and Sonny Bono and the other voices are Ringo Starr. It’s a
concept album. You can say Christmas already is the concept. No. How
’bout the concept about how you deal with the concept? That’s
the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ part. ‘Cause we all know Christmas as a
given. But how you attack it.
On May 1, 1979 The Ramones entered Gold Star to begin their Phil
Spector produced album, “End Of The Century.” I was there,
covering the action for London’s “Melody Maker.” On a session
I hand clapped again on “Do You Remember Rock ’N’ Roll
Radio?” along with Rodney Bingenheimer, Maria Montoya, Phast
Preddie and Jeff Morrison. I
went to most of the recording sessions and eventually penned the
liner notes to the 2002 CD re-release of the product.
Dave Gold and Stan Ross, the owners, used to have Tab in their
Coca-Cola machine that we all drank. I have fond memories of running
for food, and working the coffee machine for Joey Ramone,
specifically when he did the lead vocal on "Baby, I Love
You" one early morning.
Joey Ramone (Jeff Hyman) really liked Los Angeles, and especially
the music of The Beach Boys and Doors. His band before had done a
version of "Needles And Pins," that Jack Nitzsche and
Sonny Bono co-wrote, made famous by Jackie DeShannon.
One night I told Joey Chris Montez recorded “Let’s Dance” in
the room we were standing in. He was stunned, took off his glasses
and just shook his head in amazement. Joey also dug The Jefferson
Airplane and was a big Rolling Stones and Who fan. I later learn
that Phil and Joey were a lot tighter than I even realized.
I remember Joey Ramone recording his vocals with a setup unique to a
studio. Boris Menart, an engineer on the album, notes, “[One]
thing Phil did was when they recorded Joey’s vocals, because he
was so used to standing onstage holding his microphone, he would
sing with one microphone on the stand and another microphone right
above him that would record as well. He was so used to standing
holding a mike in front of his face when he was singing, he was
sorta comfortable like when he was onstage. In the mix we would
bring his vocal back so he wasn’t right on top of it.”
I visited Spector at his Alhambra castle for a couple of luncheons
and a small dinner party in 2002. I requested some data and quotes
from Phil about the “End Of the Century.”
A gracious Spector responded quickly, “The boys loved Gold
Star, especially Joey. He was very prepared. He had all of his songs
written and ready to go. And the boys were well rehearsed…No
problems in recording them. They were open to any and everything.”
Barry Goldberg and Steve Douglas were enlisted for some tracks.
“We used Barry Goldberg on the piano and organ on practically all
the sides. And he was wonderful. The boys really liked him too.
Everything Steve Douglas played was immediately rock and roll
musical history. It was that good; and there was absolutely nobody
called me up in 1979,” recalls Barry Goldberg, “and said,
‘I’ve got something really important for some sessions.’ But
he didn’t tell me what it was. I didn’t know until I walked into
Gold Star. I found out when I walked in and saw all the Ramones,
right. I loved the Ramones. They were rock ’n’ roll. And I
started talking to them, and they found out I played keyboard on the
Mitch Ryder stuff, and they loved ‘Devil With A Blue Dress On.’
They accepted me.”
Phil also commented on the inclusion of “Baby, I Love You” on
brief story behind the recording of 'Baby, I Love You' with Joey was
I was against re-recording anything I had done previously but Joey
as did Seymour Stein, and Brian Wilson who all said it was one of
songs and would I please do it with Joey. So I consented. Jim
played drums on the date and I overdubbed the strings. All done at
Larry Levine had a heart attack during the middle of the session so
Menart finished the date, and the album.
'Baby, I Love You' was recently used by the telephone Yellow
Pages in England for a commercial. It was a huge success.
“All the Ramones could play very well. Ed Stasium from the east
coast also did some lead guitar playing on the album. I gave the
boys the album title which they seemed to like. The drummer drank a
little bit much but overall they were all nice kids.
was always with his girlfriend. They stayed at that crazy motel on
Santa Monica Blvd. The album still sells to this day. Did you know
that Sean Donahue the DJ voice on 'Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll
Radio?' was killed in an automobile accident a while back?
for their LP and make a guest appearance but I declined. He wanted
“Joey asked me to come down to the Whiskey when they were filming
a 'Hitchcock' type thing. ‘Alien' (the movie) had just come out at
the time the boys LP was being made,
and the boys went to see it every evening and day they had off!
everyone except Joey that is. They
were, especially Joey, originals. They were punk rock. No ifs ands
or buts. Everyone else copied them....Including The Strokes.”
Dee Ramone was intrigued by the entire record, especially in
“And Phil didn’t really pay much attention to me. I had a low
concentration span. I think if you put me in some place I would be
trying to get out of it. But I know I told Phil a joke, were trapped
together by the coffee machine and he was with (actor) Al Lewis,
from ‘The Munsters.’ I knew The Beach Boys recorded in this
studio. Eddie Cochran. Mark was freaked out by it too, so was John.
You felt you were treading on history. Anybody would from my era.
The Phil Spector sound was too powerful of a situation.”
“I like romantic lush things,” offered the bassist. “I wish
for ‘End Of The Century’ we would have done more things like
with strings. We should have stopped touring and done another album
with him. I wish I could turn back the hands of time to Gold Star
and Phil and Joey would be there, ya know. Having that album is a
good thing is all I got to remember those days, they were really
“Now I realize more and more,” stresses Dee Dee, “with time
Joey’s voice had a real deep, deep part of the Ramones’ sound.
And really that started with ‘End Of The Century.’ I think Phil
Spector and Joey were a
great combination. Phil brought out the romanticism in Joey. He was
like a romantic guy, and some of the songs and productions on ‘End
Of The Century’ pushed that… And ‘Baby, I Love You’ on
‘End Of The Century’-I never thought there would be a string
section on a Ramones record, but I like it.”
Concerning the cover of “Baby, I Love You,” Johnny Ramone
countered with a different point of view: “Yeah, I wanted to do a
Phil Spector song. . . . I realized that it was a mistake, and to me
it was the worst thing we’ve ever done in our career.
“But on ballads like ‘Danny Says’,” Johnny admits, “the
production work is tremendous. On ‘Do You Remember Rock ’N’
Roll Radio?’ the production works. On some of the things it works,
some of the things it doesn’t work. Because of the echo and
reverb, I can’t separate; I like to distinguish the guitar from
the bass guitar from the drums. I can’t distinguish the
separation, because it’s muddy. That’s the sound.
“I’m glad I worked with Phil. I worked with a legend of rock
’n’ roll. The last things I know of that he’s done are the
Ramones and The Beatles….I’m proud to be part of his
discography…At the time I did it, it was very difficult, it was
very stressful. But I’m still happy I did it.”
Drummer Jim Keltner played on “Baby, I Love You.” Jim had known
Phil for years and worked with him many times, including sessions
for Leonard Cohen and John Lennon in both the U.K. and in Hollywood.
“The Ramones played great together. Their drummer Marky was
remarkable,” Keltner enthuses. “They had lots of power and
energy. It made sense that Phil would produce a record for them. I
mean, he’s always been punk.”
Earlier this decade I talked to Ramones’ drummer Marky Ramone
about their East
Hollywood aural adventure.
What are your memories about Gold Star, working with Phil Spector?
A: Gold Star had a great room. I was facing Phil and Larry Levine
while doing the LP. Phil and I would put a towel on the snare drum
on certain songs and old trick, especially on ‘I Can’t Make It
On Time.’ I could see Phil grooving along with my tempo and I knew
when he did that he was liking it. Me, Dee Dee and Johnny would play
together, then Ed Stasium would overdub some leads. We knew our vibe
and Phil would collaborate on the phrasing of the songs and where to
go in the range of vocals, whether up or down. Johnny and Dee Dee
had a hard time enjoying themselves because Phil was such a
perfectionist that he would get artistically emotional with them
about certain tones that he wanted to hear which they weren’t
producing. So, Phil would stop a take many times, and continue to do
so until Johnny and Dee Dee came through with what he wanted. With
Phil and Joey, it was like ‘I think you should extend a word
towards the end of the verse or chorus to make it sound better,
instead of cutting it short.’ Or, ‘at this part, ya know,
instead of going down in an octave. Raise it an octave.’ Things
like that. Joey guided him. Joey was basically an untrained singer,
which was great, because he had a certain style. Phil was trying to
bring out in Joey certain qualities that he knew he had that he
tapped into which was evident on the album. ‘Baby, I Love You,’
and ‘I’m Affected.’ Phil told him to use his vibrato more on
Q: Describe the collaboration?
A: Like the lost weekend with John Lennon and Phil, after each
session we would party at the clubs on Sunset Blvd. The Roxy, The
Whisky and The Troubadour. We would share a bottle of wine and get
into his chauffeur driven Cadillac Saville with his bodyguards and
enter clubs and drink more. People would want to hang out with us
and want us to sign autographs. And we would socialize with the
local musicians. We would then go back to The Tropicana, and
continue partying. Seven hours later we would have to be in the
studio again. The wine was still there in case me and him needed a
glass to even ourselves out. But it was all fun and we did our jobs.
For John and Dee Dee it was a nightmare. They were used to working
fast, and Phil worked at his own pace which really frustrated John
and Dee Dee because of how things were working. Personally, Phil was
the producer and I went along with what he wanted ‘cause I knew of
“I like ‘Danny Says’ because it was your typical ‘Phil the
great build up,’ the master at work. And of course ‘Rock ‘N’
Roll Radio’ with all the different and wonderful instruments that
wove in and out of the songs. And of course, ‘I’m Affected.’
The roto toms sounded
great from the echo chamber.
combination of the walls of sounds were like two 50 foot tidal waves
hitting each other and how Phil’s influence made us sound like a
Sixties band with the Marshalls, and all the later, heavier
equipment, and of course, The Ramones’ sound. We did a bunch of
the songs on stage later. Including ‘Baby, I Love You’ once in a
“I still listen to the record and try to understand what Phil did
which can baffle a lot of people. He’s like a conductor. I was
amazed how a certain sax can jump in, then a certain guitar tone
would pop up, ya know. The way the roto toms bounded off the walls
to create that low hum after the end of the hit, which bounced right
back on to the recording. I think he manipulated the dial, then
turned it back to the regular volume that it was at when it was
How about the final results of “End Of The Century?”
A: The mix sounds like one album. One instrument didn’t sound
louder than the other. The cymbals were lower, except for the
high-hat, but that was Phil’s style. A lot of what Phil did before
The Ramones, especially with The Ronettes, The Crystals and The
Righteous Brothers he used tambourines, castanets, bells, maracas to
produce the treble. But to me it all worked. The songs sounded like
one and that the way I feel all songs should sound. Not one thing
should stand out louder than the other.
“When I tour with The Misfits now, people want to talk about
‘End Of The Century,’ and when I do my spoken word multi-media
shows. They always want to hear and discuss ‘Do You Remember
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio,’ ‘Danny Says,’ ‘Let’s Go,’
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School,’ and
‘I Can’t Make It On Time.’ It’s turned out to be one
of their favorites.”
“Phil Spector, practically single-in-handily, transformed Rock 'n'
Roll from a novelette to a Shakespearean drama, from a Saturday
morning cartoon show into a wide-screen Technicolor epic and, most
obviously of all, from a four-in-the-bar toe-tapper to a sweeping
Wagnerian opus and all the while ringing it in at well under the
four-minute mark to boot,” suggests musician and writer Gary Pig
Gold “The formidable, otherworldly threads he lay down during the
Sixties have yet to be even fully understood, let alone picked up on
and carried forward. Such was the impelling, all-engrossing
awe and mystery of pop music's one and only five-foot giant.
And despite all his trials, lord, Phillip's Walls of Sound remain as
tall, sturdy, impenetrable and majestic today as they ever were.”
record label M’Lou Music issued “He’s A Rebel: The Gene Pitney
Story Retold” that features a Mark Johnston’s take on “He’s
A Rebel” and Barry Holdship’s version of “Every Breath I
Take,” both penned by songwriter Pitney. Gold is the Executive
Producer of this tribute that also contains the final released
recordings of Billy Cowsill and Gordon Waller. http://www.tomlou.com/
On September 22, 2009, Rhino Records (Rhino Entertainment) will make
available a 4 CD-box set, “Where The Action Is! Los Angeles
Nuggets 1965-1968” excavating more than 100 Los Angeles music
scene spotlighting Sunset Strip gems and Psychedelic classics from:
The Doors, The Byrds, Love, Kaleidoscope, The Leaves, The Premiers,
Thee Midniters, The Beach Boys, Captain Beefheart, The Mamas &
The Papas, Lowell George & The Factory, The Monkees, The
Association, Spirit, Del Shannon, October Country, The Bush, The
Standells, The Bobby Fuller Four, Jan & Dean, The Moon, Lee
Hazelwood, Kim Fowley, The Rising Sons, The Peanut Butter
Conspiracy, The Seeds, The Common Cold, Van Dyke Parks, Danny
Hutton, Peter Fonda, Dino, Desi & Billy, Gary Lewis & The
Playboys, The Yellow Balloon, The Knickerbockers, Keith Allison, P.F.
Sloan, Hearts And flowers, Harry Nilsson and Limey & The Yanks
and Jackie De Shannon with The Byrds.
Warren Zevon and producer Bones Howe perform “(You Used To) Ride
So High” as The Motorcycle Abeline. The collection incorporates an
alternate take of The Beach Boys’ “Heroes And Villains” and a
previously unreleased track “Once Upon A Time,” a collaboration
between Tim Buckley and lyricist Larry Beckett. There’s even a
demo of “Words” by the fabled songwriting team of Tommy Boyce
and Bobby Hart.
Sandoval, one of the compilation producers, explains the set’s
concept in its liner notes: “…the Nuggets series is something of
the alternative musical history of the 1960s. Not so much a survey
of what happened, but more what could have happened had music
charted on merit alone.”
handful of the selections were originally recorded at the famed Gold
Star temple of sound: “Go and Say Goodbye” Buffalo Springfield,
the previously unreleased “Sit Down I Think I Love You” from
Stephen Stills & Richie Furay, “Night Time Girl” by Modern
Folk Quintet, Iron Butterfly’s “Gentle As It May Seem,” The
Common Cold’s “Come Down.” The Association’s “One Too Many
Mornings,” parts of the Beach Boys’ “Heroes & Villains,”
Here’s Today” by The Rose Garden, and “It’s Gonna Rain”
courtesy of Sonny & Cher.
The beat goes further on…