While my kids are running around the house playing or riding in the car, I sneak in some classics. I know they love the songs I play because I hear them singing along after a few plays. Exposure to great artistic expression is as essential to me as great food
Ronnie Spector: ‘When I hear applause, it’s like I’m having an orgasm’
Hi Ronnie! Does anyone ever call you Veronica?
Nobody calls me Veronica unless I go to California. A few people there only knew me as Veronica, such as my ex-husband’s secretary – I was out there [recently] and she left me a card saying: “Hello, Veronica!” But my relatives called me Ronnie. I used to read the Betty and Veronica comics, and Veronica was called Ronnie, so I wanted to be Ronnie too. It’s a cute name.
You’re the original bad girl of rock’n’roll (2). How bad are you feeling today?
The “bad girl” came from when the Ronettes would walk out onstage and we didn’t have a hit record yet and all the other groups did – Marvin Gaye, the Crystals. We didn’t have a hit record, but we had attitude. When the three Ronettes walked onstage, people went nuts because we were different. We wore tight dresses when everyone else wore those flared dresses, we had long hair when people had short hair; it was like the Beatles and the Stones wearing suits – that’s what made them different. The Stones got the long-hair idea from us, when they supported us on tour in the UK in 1964. I love having attitude onstage, and the “bad girl” thing still runs through my entire show .
Half your show is a 1960s-themed singalong and the other half is stories about how horrible Phil was during your marriage. You seem to enjoy the latter part quite a bit.
I enjoy both sides. I talk about Phil, but I say good things about him, too. I did love him. I just tell the truth. It’s the difference between ripping someone’s head off and telling the damn truth, and I tell the damn truth. Before Phil got involved, we were already going over better than some of the other acts, and I had my style way before Phil came along. He did one thing – he gave us hit records .
Did he really have a glass coffin in the basement? (5)
You’d have to ask Phil. He told my mother he had it, but I never went down to the basement. Do you think I’d go down there and look at my own coffin?
Do you ever wish you’d run off with John Lennon? (6)
In a way. He loved my voice and the way I performed and Phil was the opposite – he didn’t like guys in the audience screaming at me. Maybe I would’ve been better off marrying John Lennon or Keith Richards. I always fantasise about that. I would cry myself to sleep at night because Phil wouldn’t let me perform. My [second] husband and I have been married for 31 years and together for 34. He helped me reclaim my life.
Did you make any money from the Ronettes? Lots of 60s groups were royally ripped off.
Yes, when we were performing live. As a matter of fact, we got paid more than any other act for our show. We did the Brooklyn Paramount, the Apollo for a week … We made money from personal appearances, not record royalties. We were the most popular girl group ever for bar mitzvahs – people wanted the Ronettes.
Did you ever look at Amy Winehouse’s beehive and think: “Let me show you how to do a proper beehive”?
Of course! I used to wish I could get my hands on her. She came to one of my shows. I was singing Back to Black and there was a tear in her eye.
Did you meet her afterward?
She was too shy to meet me, but she was so sweet to me. I read articles where she said: “I love girl groups, especially the Ronettes.” I think she liked us because we were different. I had a black and Cherokee mom and a white father, and that was different. And we were pretty. We didn’t have wigs like the other girl groups, it was our real hair. We gave Dusty Springfield a beehive – she’d come in and say: “Can I have a blast of Aquanet [hairspray]?” All that hair is mine today. As you get older your hair thins a little, so you get extensions in the back.
Your show includes a new song called Girl from the Ghetto …
It’s about me; I’m the girl from the ghetto. It was originally Girl from the Gutter, and I thought: “I’m not from the gutter. I may have been from the ghetto, but not the gutter,” so I changed it. Elvis sang “ghetto” and that was OK. But I stick to my hits, mostly, in the show. When I go to see old shows where people don’t play their hits, I’m so disappointed. You have to please your audience. When I hear that applause, it’s like I’m having an orgasm.
Joey Ramone was a big fan, so you could claim to be the godmother of punk (9) …
I think I was. In the 70s it started, and I’d go to [Manhattan music venue] CBGB and see Blondie and the Ramones, and they were calling me up onstage. I didn’t know punk, but they knew me. Everybody knew me, but I didn’t know anybody – Patti Smith and all those people who were punkers. I didn’t get it. It was like Amy Winehouse, they wanted to be like me.
(1) Phil Spector, currently serving life imprisonment in California.
(2) Her website and Twitter both say so.
(3) Ronnie Spector’s Beyond the Beehive, which she’s been touring since 2012.
(4) Including Be My Baby, Walking in the Rain and Baby I Love You.
(5) Phil threatened to kill Ronnie if she left him.
(6) They had a flirtation on the Ronettes’ first British tour.
(7) Her manager, Jonathan Greenfield.
(8) Ronnie is 70.
(9) He produced her 1999 EP She Talks to Rainbows.