By Harvey Kubernik
Former KFWB DJ and newspaper reporter Larry McCormick, in the July 5, 1965, issue of the “KFWB Hitline” once heralded Spector in the weekly Los Angeles music publication as “Success Of Phil Spector Shows Creative Genius.”
“Phil Spector is the man other record company executives wish they were,” McCormick explained. “Phil Spector is liked by few, disliked by many, misunderstood by most, and envied by practically everybody.His recent television appearances on panel shows have displayed to the world an honest, say it like it is, freak. I think he’s “out of sight” … “Fantastic” and remember…” the “Freak” will inherit the earth.”
Spector worked with Ike & Tina Turner, producing the scorching “River Deep, Mountain High” date, featuring the cosmic vocals of Tina. The record reached number 88 in the U.S. but a big Top Five hit in the U.K.
“Phil was the co-writer on the song,” Jack Nitzsche said in 1988. “Phil embellished the song and was the producer. I’ve talked to Gerry Goffin about that a lot; Phil co-writing songs that he would produce. Phil would always have the writers come over and write in the room with him, and I knew he directed it. They all say the same thing; that without Phil Spector in the room that song wouldn’t have been that way. He helped. He knew what he wanted it to be. I know Phil Spector helped write ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ When Phil played me ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ on the piano I knew it was a great song. We did the rhythm track in two different three-hour sessions. It was amazing to watch the session.”
As a teenager at the time of the legendary “River Deep, Mountain High” waxing, Rodney Bingenheimer, now a KROQ-FM DJ, was invited to the mammoth Gold Star session.
“I knew Phil from being at Gold Star with Sony and Cher," said Bingenheimer. "Sony used to work for Phil and he and Cher were on his earlier sessions. Brian Wilson and I never left the studio booth during the production of ‘River Deep, Mountain High.’ You don’t leave when you’re at something like this. We were transfixed. Jack (Nitzsche) and Phil (Spector) were very tight. They were like copilots on the Concorde from a flight from France…Brian didn’t say a word. He soaked it in and sat there stunned. Tina was loud and sexy. She was wearing a wig and Go-Go boots-very ‘60s. Tina’s vocals kept on soaring"
“Dennis Hopper was there," continued Bingenheimer. "He took photos in the studio and was later involved in the artwork for the ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ album. The first person I saw at Gold Star that day was Mick Jagger. He was wearing a mink fur coat. He kept leaving the booth to use the telephone and call a girl.”
In my October 11, 1975 interview with Tina Turner for “Melody Maker,” Tina commented on “River Deep, Mountain High” and how it helped Ike & Tina land on a Rolling Stones’ tour.
“We toured for years with all the English groups and I always liked what they were singing about. The biggest change started happening when we were working around L.A. in 1966 and ran into Phil Spector,” she remembered.
“He wanted to record me and when we cut 'River Deep, Mountain High.' Mick Jagger who was visiting Phil at the time was in Gold Star studio. After hearing the song he wanted us to tour England in 1966 with the Rolling Stones. The English weren't used to seeing girls with high-heeled shows and I think they were shocked a bit. Mick then came to the States in 1969 and asked us to tour America with him later in the year. That's when it happened.”
On March 5, 2011, Universal Music Enterprises re-released Ike & Tina Turner “River Deep-Mountain High” album on CD.
Spector once said in 1969 that he only made “River Deep, Mountain High” to “do something experimental.” He also revealed at the time that “for two years he was hidden and not making records, because that’s where you really state your case.”
In an unearthed interview I found on cassette, Spector, then in a self-imposed hiatus from the recording studio, explained to John Gilliand, the late great radio broadcaster for “The Pop Chronicles” radio series: “I enjoyed all the records very much. I made them all from the heart. I made them all with art in mind, and all to reveal a picture of where I was when I made them. Never to deceive or really to make people think I was putting them on or just to be commercial. I wanted the people to say, ‘Gee…you’ve really gone for a screwed up time during that period weren’t you?’ ‘Or…Jesus…You were really Wagner-crazy then and you must have been loaded that time.’ I enjoyed that. It doesn’t bother me at all. That’s probably the only way I do reveal myself was on my records through my art."
“I would guess ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ really captured something for me," Spector continued. "It said the most to me as far as a production was concerned at the time. It was made as an honest shocker and was made as an experiment. It was really not made to necessarily become number 1. That was not its goal. You see, the main force that I have that drives me is probably the same force of why Wagner wrote music. To make a forceful message, to have a forceful approach, to present his dynamic feelings through his music. This is the way I see a record. It takes me a few months to make a record and when I build a record.”
In a 1977 interview with me for “Melody Maker,” conducted jointly with music critic Robert Hilburn of "The Los Angeles Times," Spector in his home one afternoon told us about the world after he left the confines of Fairfax High School. “My graduating theme was ‘Daring To Be Different.’ The moment I dared to, they called me different. I always thought I knew what the kids wanted to hear. They were frustrated, uptight. I would day no different from me when I was in school. I had a rebellious attitude. I was for the underdog. I was concerned that they were as misunderstood as I was.”
That memorable day Phil also re-visited "Then He Kissed Me" with us. "That was an experimental record,” he explained over a meal of steak tartar dipped in jar of mayonnaise. “John (Lennon) told me the Beatles got the idea to use a 12-string guitar (like Barney Kessel played) from that record. But I thought it was too spaced out. I was against it coming out. I was gonna can it."
The Beach Boys also did a rendition of “Then He Kissed Me.” (“Then I Kissed Her.”) And Brian Wilson performed "Be My Baby" on his 2000 concert tour.“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," said Wilson. "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 a lot…”
“I’ve always been flattered that Brian continues to say nice things about me and keeps recording my songs,” Phil underscored to me in our 1977 dialogue inside his Beverly Hills digs. “Brian is a very sweet guy and a nice human being. I’m glad he’s coming out of his shell. I think he got caught in a trap with ‘Good Vibrations.’ I think he got condemned more than condoned. He became a prisoner instead of a poet. He had the plaudits, the accolades, and touched the masses. I know music is a very important thing to him, besides a vocation. It became cluttered the last few years. Your attitude is in the grooves, and it’s a very personal thing. But Brian thrived on competition. I remember when ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ came out. He wasn’t interested in the money, but a top ten record. He wanted to know how the song would do against the Beatles and if (AM radio station) KFWB would play it. But I never saw Brian as a competitor.”
"When you see a (Stanley) Kubrick movie," Spector mentioned in that chat with me for the now defunct "Melody Maker," "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."
Barney Kessel had produced albums on both Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. He would later play the Danelectro six string bass on Elvis Presley's "Return To Sender.” Kessel added guitar for Brian Wilson to the “Pet Sounds” LP. Kessel, who previously gigged with Charlie Parker, appeared in the Oscar winning “Jammin’ The Blues” short film, and jammed earlier with Charlie Christian, discovered Ricky Nelson and cut him on "I'm Walkin'" Barney Kessel also recorded with Elvis Presley, including the “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack, and jammed with Buffalo Springfield, once at a San Francisco area music store opening, all of them in the key of E. And, Kessel was a "Down Beat" and "Playboy" magazine jazz guitar poll winner who actually took the time to appear on teenage Phil's demos. Only in L.A.
In 1955, when Phil turned 15, and just after he had taken up the guitar, his mother and sister 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 Johnny Carson." But 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 family put the full court press on "BK" for career advice inside a booth at Dupars restaurant on Hollywood and Vine. 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 production.
I don't think "The Spector Three" knew the man they were pumping for information got an F in music in his high school class in Oklahoma.
Barney also invited Brian Wilson to a jazz club in Hollywood once night where he was gigging as a trio with a theramin player. Brian liked what he saw and the instrument was introduced on “Pet Sounds” on “I Wasn’t Made For These Times” and featured on “Good Vibrations” from “Smiley Smile.” Barney played on both of these albums.
Kessel, Spector's guru, was responsible for one more choice contribution to the advancement of pop music: Listen to Kessel's Danelectro bass opening, played with a pick, moving like a seeing eye dog on "The Beat Goes On," a Sonny and Cher duet. The Danelectro was tuned an octave lower than the guitar. Mr. And Mrs. Bono used to refer to Barney as "The Professor," because he wore a coat and tie to their sessions.
Decades before vocalist Susan Boyle received worldwide attention in 2009 by singing “Cry Me A River” on a U.K. -based talent show, Barney Kessel played multiple roles in creating the first recording of this now classic recording by Julie London, subsequently covered by Joe Cocker and singer Lulu with Jeff Beck.
"Cry Me A River", sung by Julie London, was initially recorded in 1955 and is attributed to launching the Torch Singer genre. It was cut during the session for the "Julie Is Her Name" album produced and arranged by Barney Kessel, who also played the guitar. Ray Leatherwood supplied bass. The tune was penned by a high school friend of Julie, and the song was the last one recorded for the album. The session cats thought they had finished the LP, but there was fifteen minutes of studio time left.
“So Barney says to Julie ‘We've got some time left so let's do that new song (‘Cry Me A River’) we've been working on.’ The rest is musical history. It became her biggest hit,” offered son David Kessel. "We also used to go to his recording sessions at Contemporary Records where he'd cut 'Downbeat Poll Winners' albums in 3 hours with drummer Shelly Manne and Bassist Ray Brown. We grew up with Shelly, Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson. It was not uncommon for them come to our house and jam. We'd go to Shelly’s Mannhole, Shelly’s Jazz club, even when Barney wasn't gigging there. We grew up around a lot of different Jazz & Rock musicians and Producers.”
Other son Dan Kessel, who now helms Dan Kessel Productions, also has many memories and anecdotes about his multiple decades as a Spector confidant and family member since childhood.
In early, 2004, and then in 2011, Dan communicated at length about his life with Phil in and out of the recording studio. "My step mother, B.J. (Betty Jane) Baker, was not only ‘mom’ to my step brothers, Mickey Rooney, Jr, Tim Rooney and my brother, David and me but she was also the queen of the Hollywood session singers for several decades. There were other top girl singers, such as Vangie Carmichael, Jackie Ward and Sally Stevens. But, B.J. was the one who contracted for Elvis and Sinatra and the one Hal Blaine called, Diamond Lil." As such, she sang in movies and on countless hit records with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Cochran, Lloyd Price, Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, Ray Charles, and so many others. Phil Spector always wanted her too for his recordings where she many times sang with the other background singers such as Cher, the Blossoms (Darlene Love, Fanita James, Jean King), Clydie King and Jack Nitzsche's wife, Gracia.
“They had a blast joking around together and catching up on the latest about who was doing what, and with whom, and all that sort of thing. One time they were kidding around about the bathroom at Gold Star because some people were getting crabs and other weird things in there. Sometimes, they'd have a contest to see who could wait the longest before breaking down and actually using the rest room there which could be pretty tough during a double or triple session with many visits to the coffee machine."
From Timi Yuro’s "What’s A Matter Baby" (mixed by Spector) in 1962, through Spector’s later recordings, B.J. Baker would clear her always-full schedule to make herself available for Phil, who expressed his appreciation to her often, with gifts and personal notes of thanks.
"I began playing instruments when I was a little kid," said Dan, "starting on piano, then drums, then bass and finally guitar. I used to accompany my dad , or my step mom, (vocalist B.J. Baker), when either of them had a recording session with Elvis, Duane Eddy, Sam Cooke, Ricky Nelson, or people like that. I mean, I was also very much into the stuff with Oscar Peterson, Dinah Washington, Frank Sinatra, and enjoyed going to those sessions, too. So, I was still a young kid, but very hip to the studio, when my younger brother and I first joined up with “Phil Spector in the studio. That happened when we tagged along with our dad to Gold Star for a session where he played guitar on ‘He’s A Rebel’ with the Crystals. Phil had them put some microphones inside the bathroom. The natural reverb and echo in there was phenomenal. I told Phil I saw Mitch Miller do similar things at Columbia . He looked at me funny but then he had us go over there and perform handclaps. We continued to do percussion things like that on his other records.
"The sessions for ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ were monumental but the sessions for ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ were even beyond that. The lobby at Gold Star was jammed full of celebrities and other Hollywood types. I didn't do handclaps or play percussion on that one, preferring instead to hover in the rarified atmosphere of being near Phil in the control booth. While my step mom, B.J. Baker, soared like a flaming Valkyrie in the heart of the vocal section; and my dad, Barney Kessel blasted away on his 1959 Danelectro within the massive depths of the three piece bass section of this incredible Spector Philharmonic and with Tina exploding like a cosmic super nova, Phil nudged me and asked, "Can Mitch Miller do this?"
"Later, by the time we'd grown up, Phil asked both my brother and me to play guitar on the ‘Rock 'n' Roll’ album that he was doing with John Lennon. So, we worked on that with them. After playing on those recordings we were part of the Wrecking Crew so we joined the Musicians Union in Hollywood and continued recording on a lot of top sessions, while at the same time getting very involved with the beginnings of the early punk scene in L.A.
"My brother and I had already met John Lennon on a couple of occasions back in late ’66 and early ’67 in London with Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and people like that," said Dan. "We ran into John again, as well as George Harrison and the Byrds at Music World, next to the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. Throughout the ‘Rock 'n' Roll’ recording sessions, I’d talk to John whenever feasible, during breaks and between takes. He fell in love with my customized Gibson Everly Brothers guitar when we recorded ‘Angel Baby’ so, I let him use it during the session. In fact, I told him after the session that I’d be honored for him to keep my guitar. He accepted on the condition that I accept his, which I gladly did. John and I were easily able to agree that ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie and the Originals, was one of the greatest records of all time, for many different reasons, which we discussed at great length. And, after drinking quite a bit, we got all excited and emotional, even crying tears about it and the genius of the b-side, ‘Give Me Love too, and about how we wished we could have been in the Originals. John was eager to hear anything I had to say about Ritchie Valens and groups like Little Caesar and the Romans and listened with serious, rapt attention when I shared stories with him about the El Monte Legion Stadium.
“I can even remember John smiling," continued Dan, "and talking with my friend, Blake Xolton, (a solid musician, who was helping as my equipment tech), as they discussed the L.A. T-Birds roller derby team, and some of the key players like Ralphie Valladares, Danny Reilly, Judy Sowinski, Toni Tagg and others that John said he remembered from watching TV in L.A. as a Beatle, in the mid ‘60s.
"But then, after an especially intense take…John, my brother and I and guys like Hal Blaine, Nino Tempo and Blake Xolton were summoned by Phil over the talk-back speaker to come into the control booth. With dimmed lights, Phil plays back a rough mix of ‘Angel Baby’ at full volume. It’s like being at a seance, with ghosts, aural, and otherwise, swirling out of the speakers, surrounding the booth and encircling throughout the studio. Dumbstruck, in awe, we shudder at this truly unearthly magnificence. Suddenly John, Phil and all of us are trembling, crying, hugging, laughing and screaming about how Rock and Roll will never die. As a kid, I had already witnessed a whole lot of important recording sessions with most of the top artists and producers. But, being there with Phil, I could see he was creating magic and creating history. This was to experience rock and roll recording in its highest form and was in its own way, probably like apprenticing with Michelangelo. To quote Johnny Cash, ''I kept my eyes wide open all the time', and my ears too. And, my brain stayed on hyperactive overdrive. Everything I learned with Phil is true, classic and timeless, and of course forever applicable, even within the face of the continuing evolution of radically new technologies.
"From day one, I appreciated Phil’s talent," Dan said, "yes, but also his intelligence, hipness and personality including his edginess and unique capacity for fun and shall we say, mischief. I felt then, that he was a genius and I’ve never wavered on that. When I first met him as a young kid, at the He's a Rebel session, it was obvious he was not only brilliant but had all the extreme personal charisma of an early Elvis or early Beatles. Some people were confused by him. Nothing about the way he approached music or the making records ever confused me. And, nothing at all about any of his behavior, in or out of the studio, was ever confusing to me. In fact, everything he ever said or did always made more sense to me than whatever other people were saying or doing. Some producers approach things clinically, or with a pseudo-experimental yet ultimately antiseptic approach. But, it was entirely reasonable, to my way of thinking, that Phil would ask us to thrash away on our guitars for hours on end, till the sun came up, till our hands were raw. That was never an issue with me."
"People can try, but people can’t make records like Phil Spector. When I went into the booth, with my left hand dripping blood, to listen with Phil after a take, the playbacks were so staggering, it was almost impossible to believe," marveled Dan Kessel.
David Kessel owns a G&L vintage guitar signed inside the neck by Leo Fender, and has had the time to reflect on knowing, hanging and working with Phil Spector, and to realize Barney Kessel's impact on the guitar world.
"My brother Dan and I were amazed at the reaction we got from the guitar gods we met at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in New York when we went as Phil's guests," David volunteered. "I mean, I introduce myself to Keith Richards and mention I'm Barney Kessel's son, and the first thing out of his mouth is 'Can I rub your palm?' After I do the mojo with Keith, Dan asks to rub his palm, they do the mojo. We have a big laugh and then he gives us each a hug. Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page are sitting next to us. We introduce ourselves, and Jeff says, 'wow, your dad is one of our idols.' He whispers something in Jimmy's ear and he turns around with a huge smile and gives a big thumbs up. John Fogerty later at a party comes up to Phil, Dan and I and he blows our mind talking about the B side of Ricky Nelson's 'I'm Walkin'' that our dad produced.
“Phil also took us to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony in Los Angeles. We watch the incredible Cream reunion with Phil and Ahmet Ertegun, and all posed for a picture.
In July 2009, David Kessel provided 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 extraterestial insight and vision. Phil Spector's contributions to recorded music revolutionized the modern record making process.
“Let’s take it back to an aspect of Phil that a lot of people do not discuss," said David Kessel. "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.
“And 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,” he states. Spector employed jazz people like Dan and David’s father Barney. And Phil issued some albums of Barney, including "Slow Burn." Phil wrote the liner notes.
“Here’s the thing,” David reinforced. “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.
"Having rock and rolled with Phil for over 30 years, and still standing," David Kessel explained, "I can only tell you that Phil can be a very caring and sharing friend. We have had some truly unique moments together."
I attended numerous Spector produced recording sessions on Leonard Cohen in 1977 that resulted in their album “Death Of A Ladies; Man.” I had done an interview with Cohen for "Melody Maker" previously, and Phil's office invited me to one particular scheduled Gold Star marathon. I had taken Cohen to see Allen Ginsberg read his poetry at The Troubadour music club, and had been talking to Allen at the time, and later did a couple of published interviews with him.
It was a year of unlikely artist/producer combinations – Helen Reddy/Kim Fowley, Roberta Flack/Bob Ezrin, Grand Funk/Frank Zappa, etc. – this is perhaps the most unlikely: Phil Spector, demon genius of the rock-and-roll production number, producing Leonard Cohen, ascetic prophet of acoustic disaffectedness, with the final product to be known as “Death of a Ladies' Man.”
The two men got on well at the post-Troubadour reception, and kept in some sort of loose touch thereafter. Late in 1976, when Cohen visited Los Angeles again, Spector invited him to be his houseguest. The first night, the two worked out a new version of Patti Page's 'I Went to Your Wedding'; by breakfast, they'd co-written two new songs – Cohen the lyrics, Spector the music (picked out on the piano). The seed was sown for what ultimately became “Death Of A Ladies’ Man.”
Spector and Cohen, despite their obvious surface differences both in personal style and in musical direction, share one, all-powerful element of musical taste – a love for rock-and-roll. It is deeply rooted in them, and it pervades the work they do together. It is their shared medium, their common ground. A mutual affection for rock's basic greatness has bound the two men together, and made some their collaboration work.
I chronicled this endeavor in an article published in the now defunct periodical “Phonograph Record Magazine” in 1978, “Working with Phil," said Cohen nonetheless, "I've found that some of his musical treatments are very...er...foreign to me. I mean, I've rarely worked in a live room that contains 25 musicians – including two drummers, three bassists, and six guitars.”
Cohen likes Los Angeles. A native of Montreal, who has spent much of his time in recent years in the South of France and in other European hideaways, he has now moved to Southern California himself. "I like it," he said. "It's so desperate here that it's really not bad at all. And, besides, this is the only city in the world where I've ever written a song while sitting in a driveway in a parked car.
"Phil is not a great songwriter, but he's a bold one,” Cohen mentioned at the time. “He's bold enough to employ the most pedestrian melodies, and yet somehow make them absolutely successful. That is why his compositions are brilliant." Cohen is especially impressed by Spector's early work – 'To Know Him Is To Love Him', 'Lovin' Feeling', etc. "In those songs, the story line was as clear as clear could ever be. The images were very expressive – they spoke to us all. Spector's real greatness is his ability to induce those incredible little moments of poignant longing in us."
Cohen's own images are expressive, too, of course. On ‘Death Of A Ladies' Man,’ they seem particularly direct. "This is the most autobiographical album of my career," he admitted. "The words are in a tender, rather than a harsh setting, but there's still a lot of bitterness, negativity, and disappointment in them. I wish at times there was a little more space for the personality of the story-teller to emerge, but, in general, the tone of the album is very overt, totally open."
The track Cohen and Spector most impressed with was “Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On,” the album's all-out stomper, with hosts of loud horns and pulsating beat that's hammered all the way home by dual drummers playing in perfect synch. Above it all, comes Cohen's menacing, gritty vocal work, which holds center stage in a most unexpected but effective way. "I can really belt 'em out, you know," he said at the time as he took a swig of Jose Cuervo from the bottle.
Cohen also revealed, “I was a little off-balance this year." Songs like 'Iodine', 'True Love Leaves No Traces', and the album's title track mirror his situation. All the usual Cohen concerns lost love, personal chaos, doubt, romantic dilemma, alienation, lust, etc. are present in strong force. "And don't forget humor," Cohen adds. He also offers, "I worship women," and suspects that, with the release of this album, "Everybody will now know that within this serene Buddistic interior, there beats an adolescent heart."
Best Phil Spector Action Performance: It is 6:00 a.m. in the morning well over 30 years ago. I was staying over at Phil’s house one night while he was working with vocalist Darlene Love on the song "Lord, If You're A Woman," slated to be cut the following week at Gold Star. David and Dan Kessel were also on the scene, hanging for the entire weekend. The Spector-produced Leonard Cohen album had already been completed.
In his former Beverly Hills residence, Spector, a Los Angeles Lakers supporter and fan, in the greeting room, had a photograph of himself with the legendary hoopster, Boston Celtics' center Bill Russell. Phil played the Beatles, John Lennon, and "Let It Be" mono mixes all evening.
Phil then told us about the first time he met Fats Domino at Imperial Records on Sunset Blvd. in 1958 or ‘59. "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."
At this moment Phil was doing the majority of his own administrative work on recording and music license clearances for TV and movie projects. Proposals kept arriving on his fax machine all evening for immediate review. The Kessel boys were in the room for a short period and we were all startled by the stream of activity requesting his durable catalogue.
One of the many business phone lines rings and Phil puts the caller on the speaker phone. A determined record company Business Affairs person who supervised music for the company had worked real hard to get Spector's direct number, and inquires about one of his songs being utilized in a movie. She was upset that Phil hadn't returned her message from the day before, probably due to the low figures she presented to him for initial inspection.
"Boys, her phone call was an insult, not an offer," fumed Spector. This girl is right out of law school. This lawyer-turned-recent music lover introduces herself for the second time, and Phil, always the gracious host, tries to explain that at the moment he is noshing with some musicians hearing material in pre-production. Yet, this gal keeps spieling full speed, and is perplexed that if the Motown Records and Jobete Publishing Company didn't balk at her $10,000 fee for one of their recorded tunes being used in a big, important film, why isn't Spector jumping at her presentation?
David Kessel cited musician Lester Young, who played with his dad Barney, to inquire, "How do the bread smell?"
Phil already detailed his advance money requirements to the employee but his figure suggested didn't register. "Mr. Spector, the Motown master owner and Jobete copyright administrator immediately accepted the monies offered. How come you aren't?" the attorney demanded, "The difference is, young lady," Phil loudly screamed at the bank of telephone lines, " WE AREN'T MOTOWN AND I"M NOT RUNNING A GOD DAMN FIRE SALE AROUND HERE!!!"
The last part of this four-part series will be continued next week.