PUT the needle on the record and it begins. There’s a hiss and a jump and a crackle. The sound of anticipation.

Then the song starts. Hal Blaine's sticks beat out the rhythm. So familiar, still so fresh.

Boom … Boom, boom.

Boom … Boom, boom.

The band joins in and then the voice jumps up, cuts through. “The night we met I knew I needed you so …”

That voice, so tough, so tender.

“So, won't you, please, be my, be my baby/

Be my little baby, my one and only baby …”

This is pop. Then and now and forever

Ronnie Spector is in bed when I call. She’s not long back from doing a show and right now she’s having a coffee at home in Connecticut. “I’ll go back to sleep after I talk to you, Teddy.”

It sounds a spartan room. There’s a plant she loves and a picture of a Chinese woman in a red outfit. “And my TV of course.”

There’s also a calendar on the wall. One that marks all the gigs she’s played and all the gigs she’s due to play. There’s an X on there that means Glasgow. In a couple of weeks, she will leave her home to travel here to play at Celtic Connections where she will sing the old songs and tell us about the people she knew. Boom … boom, boom. It’s why we’re talking.

But, really, we’re talking because she’s Ronnie Spector. The voice of The Ronettes. The woman who gave voice to some of Phil Spector’s finest early recordings. The woman who would then marry her producer and go through all kinds of hell until she freed herself and started again.

The woman beloved by Springsteen and John Lennon and Martin Scorsese (think of that moment near the beginning of Mean Streets when Harvey Keitel lies back, and Hal Blaine’s drums kick in), the woman who was embraced by the American punk fraternity and then namechecked by Madonna. (“I want to look like Ronnie Spector sounds,” Ms Ciccone once said.)

Ronnie Spector. Pop’s original bad girl (good bad but not evil; save that for her first husband). “We weren’t afraid to look hot,” she once said of the Ronettes in their 1960s heyday. “That was our gimmick.”

Ronnie Spector, now 75, in her bed drinking coffee and talking to a journalist in Glasgow about the past and the present and finding nothing but good things to say about both.

“I was in Glasgow and Scotland a few times in the sixties. I remember the accent was harder than the London accent. I remember the pipers and how they would wear skirts and all that. I remember that well.”

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In our time together, she tells me the stories that she tells every journalist; about Lennon – that time in New York in the 1970s when he saw her in the street and shouted “Hey Ronnie Ronette." And about that time in the studio when she started singing Be My Baby for the first time and all the musicians just stopped.

“It was like we were in the Twilight Zone. The musicians in the place were going crazy. You remember that feeling; how they looked at you and said, ‘Wow, that’s a different voice.”

They’re good stories, ones we want to hear. But she’d rather not talk about her ex-husband (whose name she never says), thank you. It was 40 years ago, and she’s said enough about that. There’s a book if you really want to know, she reminds me.

What I’m interested in is the before and after of the story. The place where she comes from and the place she is in now, the place she had to fight to get to.

The before is easy. Spanish Harlem, Upper Manhattan, at the turn of the 1960s. She makes it sound like paradise.

“When I was growing up, Teddy, we had everybody in our neighbourhood, so I didn’t think about race or colour or anything like that.”

Spector comes from a mixed-race family. Her dad was Irish, her mum was “black and Cherokee.” Her skin was lighter as a result, but race or colour didn’t figure much, she says.

“I thought everybody had a neighbourhood like mine, with Jewish delis and Chinese restaurants and black barbecue places. I grew up in a wonderful time. There were no gangs or dope. It was just a wonderful regular childhood. It wasn’t crazy.”

In my mind, I tell her, back then there were doo wop groups singing on every corner in Spanish Harlem. “We didn’t see much of the doo wops on the street,” she admits. “We weren’t allowed to go out that much. But I love that because we had a huge family and we were protected. That’s why a lot of groups got messed up because they didn’t have anybody to trust. My mother travelled everywhere with us; England, Scotland, America, everywhere, so it was like coming home from school. We never got into drugs and alcohol and all that stuff because your mother was there.”

I imagine it must have been an eye-opener when she did then go on tour and find that America wasn’t really like Spanish Harlem. But Spector says not. “You didn’t think of race,” she says.

That said, she does recall being on tour as part of Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, a package put together by the American radio and TV presenter, and stopping who knows where, but definitely not Spanish Harlem, for food.

One black doo wop group wouldn’t get off the bus, she remembers. “They said, ‘Ronnie, would you bring us back a hamburger?’ I thought it was strange, but at 18 you didn’t pay that any attention. I didn’t know what I know now; that they were actually afraid to get off the bus.”

Spector always sang. She remembers at five getting up on the coffee table at home and singing silly songs to a family audience. “My family would applaud and that stuck in my mind forever.”

When she was eight Spector used to go her grandmother’s after school with her cousins and she’d stand in the lobby and sing. “It was the echo in that hallway that made me feel like, I can really sing. I’m like eight or nine years old and I’m singing Frankie Lymon songs and all my cousins are backing me up with all the doo wop stuff and that’s my first memory of saying ‘I can sing.’”

In 1958 Frankie Lymon – a Harlem boy, a boy destined for self-destruction, a boy who would OD on heroin at the age of 25 – released an album entitled At the London Palladium. She loved it, loved Frankie’s voice. A few years later The Ronettes would be at the Palladium themselves.

When Spector was 11 years old The Ronettes played the Apollo amateur night. “My mother would say to me, ‘If they like you you’ve got it made, if they don’t, finish your schoolwork.’

“They loved me, so I knew that I would be a somebody in the business. I didn’t know how or when or who.”

The when was 1963, the who Phil Spector, the how was singing Be My Baby.

Other hits would follow. Baby I Love You, Walking in the Rain, most notably. The sixties had started, pop music in all its immediacy and innocence was in full bloom and The Ronettes were part of that. “We looked different from everybody else. We had our own hair when most groups wore wigs.”

Success meant access. Spector met the Beatles, toured with the Stones. These days she lives just 15 minutes away from Keith Richards. She met him a month ago when she was going into her dentist and he was coming out.

“His daughter was with him. He’s a changed man from that seventies era and whatever they were going through. He’s a great dad.”

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Ronnie, I say, who was your favourite Beatle? “John. As simple as that. He was so nice, and his mind was really intact. He knew what he wanted to do, knew what he wanted to write. We were friends. He took me to Carnaby Street and showed me where to get the T-shirts and the boots. I’d come back to America looking all English.

“He was really my favourite one. We dated a couple of times. He took me to a couple of clubs and I remember him leaning over to me and saying, ‘Ronnie, sing a little bit of Be My Baby in my ear.’ And I sang, ‘The night we met I needed you so …’ I looked over and he had passed out.”

Good memories. There are bad memories too. The fairy-tale life she was leading took a grim turn when she married Phil Spector. She met the producer, the “first tycoon of teen” (© Tom Wolfe) when she was 20. He made her a star and then he took it all away from her.

The day after their wedding, she wrote in her 1989 memoir Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness, she woke up to see men erecting barbed wire and gates around the Spector mansion in Beverley Hills.

In the years that followed she found herself trapped at home by a controlling, abusive, paranoid man. He robbed her of performing, robbed her of her voice (she didn’t sing during those years. Eventually, she later revealed, she became mute).

The story has the odd black comic edge. When she did get permission to leave the house she had to drive in a car with a blow-up Phil Spector doll in the back. But her account of those years when published is mostly pure horror show. In the end she had to sneak out of the house and flee with the help of her mother.

If anything, her memoir might have downplayed things. In 1998 in an ultimately unsuccessful bid for unpaid royalties, Spector would claim in court that her husband pulled a gun on her during their marriage. In 2009 Spector was found guilty of the murder of Lana Clarkson in Spector’s home.

Perhaps, given everything, we shouldn’t be surprised that she doesn’t want to talk about any of this now.

“Everybody knows that story. It wasn’t a relationship. I wrote a book about it. It’s been well over 40 years since I left. I prefer the music we made together to speak rather than dwell on the negative,” she says when I tentatively broach the subject.

“As a matter of fact, that made me more positive today. All the hell I went through made me the woman I am today. I dusted myself off and went on with it. When I was there I wasn’t singing and that was my passion and without my singing it wasn’t even a world I was living in. It was hell.

“That’s why I love the #MeToo movement now. I wish they had it in the sixties. Because it was a man’s world back then. Men were producers. Men were writers. We were like employees rather than artists.

“So now my life is great. I have no regrets about the past because it made me the woman I am today. Period, Teddy.”

Indeed. So, let’s celebrate that. Because this is the story of a woman who is a survivor, a woman who put the past behind her, who married again (she has been with her husband Jonathan Greenfield since the early 1980s) and who still gets up on stage at the age of 75 and sings those old songs and takes as much pleasure from doing so as she did 50 years ago. More maybe.

“I feel grown up when I’m singing now. I don’t feel like a little girl,” she says.

“I’ll tell you something Teddy, if I thought 50something years ago that the crowd would be going crazy over me more now than they did then I would think you were crazy Ronnie, but they really are.

“I get crowds who are young, middle and old. It’s so amazing to me to look out in the audience and see all these young girls with the beehive hairstyle and the eyeliner just like me. It’s amazing.”

It’s an idea she returns to again and again. “I’ve never stopped loving it. It’s my passion. It’s what I do. It’s what I wake up in the morning for.”

Boom … boom, boom.

Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes play the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow on Wednesday as part of Celtic Connections.


“It’s amazing now women are writing for themselves. Now it’s Taylor Swift, people like that, who write for themselves now. Back then, men made all the money.

“You couldn’t even write for yourself and if you did you didn’t get any credit back then. If you put certain words in a song you didn’t get any credit. So, now women are really making their own money and not depending on the producers or the record companies to make them millions. And that to me is so great, I can’t tell you.”