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Legendary American music producer Phil Spector died on Saturday at age 81, the California Department of Corrections reported Sunday, as he was serving time for a homicide.
A producer who introduced innovative methods such as “the wall of sound”, he worked with a constellation of stars such as The Beatles on their album “Let it Be”.
He was in jail for the 2003 murder of comedian Lana Clarkson after an unclear night at her California mansion.
At his peak in the 1960s he was the undisputed king of pop and rock producers, whose work helped define the boundless optimism of a generation.
But his high-quality suits and dark glasses, which this short genius always wore, were swapped for convict attire after being convicted of Clarkson’s death.
His death was confirmed on Saturday and his “official cause of death will be determined by a coroner,” reads a statement from the California prison authority.
Born in New York in 1939 to a Jewish family of Russian origin, Spector was only eight years old when his father committed suicide, a tragedy that would mark him forever.
Her mother decided to move to Los Angeles for a new beginning and there she went with her sister.
It was not long before musical talent emerged in a teenager who displayed an enormous ability to write lyrics and play the guitar.
He formed his first group “The Teddy Bears” with three high school friends and met with success almost immediately with the 1958 song “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” the epitaph inscribed on his father’s tombstone.
The song reached number one on the Billboard rankings and sold five million copies.
The group was not able to repeat the success and disarmed the following year.
– The “wall of sound” –
Severely frightened by stage fright, Spector slowly drifted into production and songwriting, and assisted in the authorship of the Ben E. King hit “Spanish Harlem” in 1961.
Creating his own “Philles” label was the beginning of a golden age, when he almost alone changed the music industry with his “wall of sound” technique.
Appealing to a large number of musicians who played only their parts in each song and then layered them one on top of the other, the technique brought a unique orchestral quality to their productions.
He once described it as a “Wagnerian approach to rock n ‘roll, little symphonies for children.”
“I knew that Beethoven was more important than anyone who played his music,” he said. “It is what I wanted to be.”
– Hit Machine –
Thanks to his work with “The Crystals”, “The Ronettes” and “The Righteous Brothers”, Spector became a musical hit machine, with classic titles such as “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Then He Kissed Me”, ” Be My Baby “,” You’ve Lost That Lovin ‘Feelin “and” Unchained Melody “.
The last artists to sign to the Philles label were Ike and Tina Turner in 1966, but Spector was surprised when the song “River Deep – Mountain High” only reached number 88.
He married “Ronnie” Bennett, the lead vocalist for the Ronettes, and in 1968 he left public life as a billionaire.
He returned in the early 1970s with a successful collaboration with The Beatles and their “Let it Be” and then produced solo albums for John Lennon (“Imagine”) and George Harrison (“All Things Must Pass”).
As the 1970s progressed, he became increasingly sullen and that was when rumors about his eccentricities began to spread.
Testimony during his trial about his repeated scenes of fury displaying weapons served to confirm what the music world had known for years.
– The tortured soul –
“Ronnie”, who left him in 1974, related in his autobiography that he suffered years of abuse, including threats to kill her and to display her body in a gold-decorated casket that he kept in his basement.
His threats with weapons extended to the artists with whom he worked.
He allegedly fired a gun in a studio while producing “Rock ‘n’ Roll” for John Lennon and put another on Leonard Cohen’s head during sessions for “Death of a Ladies Man.”
In another incident, he took the punk band “The Ramones” hostage at gunpoint when they were recording their album “End of the Century.”
Some clues about Spector’s troubled personality came to light in a rare and extensive interview with the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, weeks before Lana Clarkson died at her mansion in February 2003.
“I am my own worst enemy. I have demons in me that challenge me,” he said.
“People idolize me, they want to be like me, but I tell them ‘believe me, you don’t want my life.’ Because it hasn’t been a very pleasant life.”
“I have been a very tortured soul. I have never been at peace with myself. I have not been happy.”
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