Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Nov 10th 2009 5:30PM by Linda Laban
Even some of rock's young guard are invited along: Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner plays guitar on 'Hey Sah Lo Ney,' and the Raveonettes, whose name and sound are indebted to the Ronettes, back Ronnie on 'Ode to L.A.' But sitting center is Ronnie Spector herself, cooing and crooning and even adding her trademark "whoah-oh" to the songs. And Ronnie's dear friend, the late Joey Ramone, though terminally ill, produced several songs for the album.
Instructions are given before we chat that Ronnie's former husband, Phil Spector, whose legendary production vision gave the Ronettes their hit-making sound, is off limits. When her rhetoric gets a little too Phil-heavy, she reins herself in with a prickly "We don't wanna go there." But there's no need for her to go there. The two divorced contentiously in 1974, and Ronnie forged a new life with her husband and manager Jonathan Greenfield and their two sons. Even though Phil lurks in spirit and in her surname, with 'The Last of the Rock Stars' Ronnie takes another step toward establishing her legacy in her own right. It took 12 years for the woman born Veronica Yvette Bennett 66 years ago to bring the record home, but she spent a lifetime living it.
The cover of 'The Last of the Rock Stars' is a photo of you looking sultry and strong, like the iconic rock chick. The look continues, from Chrissie Hynde to Amy Winehouse. You invented the rock chick.
I did, and I give myself a lot of credit for it.
You're smoking a cigarette in the photo. Do you still smoke?
Yes, I smoke occasionally. But I did it for the picture -- because I'm not that little girl anymore. I was treated like a little kid all my life. From Phil to my mom. I've finally grown up.
Your last record, the 'She Talks to Rainbows' EP, came out in '99, but it's taken 12 years for 'The Last of the Rock Stars' to be released in North America.
It's quite hysterical that it's finally coming out. I'm pinching myself.
What delayed a domestic release?
Well, when my husband got sick I had to stop. We've been partners for 30 years. He had a liver transplant; it was a very big deal. But he's all healed now. I'm happy that's behind me -- really happy that's behind me.
There's no doubt about it: You've made a rock 'n' roll record.
Thank you. I live for it. I really, really live for it. That's all I've ever lived for. It's strange to me that I went from Frankie Lymon to Joey Ramone. Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were my inspiration when I was 10 years old. I loved his voice. My mom couldn't afford to send me for piano lessons, so I would come home from school and I'd throw my books down and have that record on right away. [Sings] "Why do birds sing so gay?" Then I'd take it off and put it on again and I'd learn each line. That's how I began to learn how to sing.
From a rock 'n' roll crooner like Lymon to the Ramones isn't such a huge skip. Joey's style was so suffused in '50s bobby-soxer balladry.
When you said that, it reminded me: It was 12 years ago that I started this CD, working with Joey Ramone. He said I was his favorite singer. I knew he was a little sick. We went over to his house and he'd put the headphones on and say, "No, go up higher on that part." He just knew my voice inside and out. He came to me when I was recording, and Keith Richards was there. He loved Keith's guitar playing, of course. So he had his favorite female singer and Keith Richards in the studio. He got there 45 minutes before me.
What year was that?
This was when we were starting to make the record, like, 12 years ago. Joey was still writing and working, even though he was only able to do it in his apartment, usually. All of this took time. That was when I did 'Ode to L.A.' and 'Hey Sah Lo Nay,' which is Spanish, because I'm from Spanish Harlem. Every song in this CD is something I've felt, I've lived, I've died, you know. Everything in my life is in this 'Last of the Rock Stars.'
There are certainly some big musical touchstones: 'Ode to L.A.' and 'All I Want' have the classic Ronettes sound and 'Never Gonna Be Your Baby' nods cheekily at your hits 'Be My Baby' and 'Baby, I Love You.'
Doesn't it, though. 'Never Gonna Be Your Baby,' Desmond Child wrote that; he's really a great writer. I picked people who knew my voice and knew my attitude up there onstage. That's how I really got into the album.
The US release is worth the wait for the bonus Christmas song, 'It's Christmas Once Again.' There's a nod to the iconic pop holiday album, 'A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector,' featuring the Ronettes.
Darlene Love, the Crystals -- what was great about that album was that [Phil] grabbed songs that only I could sing, that were good for me. 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus' ... [Chuckles] I love Christmas. You'll hear it in the new song.
You have said that your career has been up and down, especially with the legal wrangling with Phil.
The one thing I've never stopped doing is shows. I love that.
Even while you were raising a family?
Yes, and you know what? Both my kids were born at seven months. I didn't know I was pregnant. It's amazing that I have two kids, [husband] Jonny is all well again and my new CD is coming out. It's like Keith Richards and me: Everything is going to work out fine! That particular song I did with Keith ... It was just so natural. Every song on this CD has somebody special that wrote it or somebody special who wanted to work with me. It's like I'm still dreaming and stuff.
You and Keith grew up in the rock 'n' roll business together.
Not only that: Keith and the Rolling Stones were my opening act. Along with Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds. I was on my way. The Beatles, we had so much fun with those guys. People always talk about the drugs, but they were so nice and so not that. John Lennon took me shopping in London and showed me all the mod clothes and the boots. George Harrison was dating my sister. I have pictures.
This album is quite the musical photo album; it's full of memories.
You've got it, of course. I have to say, there are millions of folks making music today. I remember working with Jimi Hendrix and getting on stage with him at Ondine's. Jimi had a presence. When I saw Elvis during his comeback in the late '60s, you felt his presence. A rock star isn't about how many hits you have or how many millions you have. It's about who you are and what you are. There's a lot I can't do and wouldn't want to do. But there is one thing I can do, and that is rock. That, I know, I was born to do.