Girl group diva Ronnie Spector wants you to the have the ‘Best Christmas Ever’
The bad girl of rock and roll talks about her relationship with John Lennon and why "the key ingredient to being a Ronette is attitude."
Ronnie Spector all but created the soul-soaked, East Coast, vocal girl group sound of the 1960s as the leader of the Ronettes, with pounding pop-R&B hits such as “Be My Baby” and rocking holiday covers from 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You. She began a winning career in 1980, sang a duet with Eddie Money on the 1986 smash “Take Me Home Tonight,” and in 2007 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her Ronettes. In 2010, she released the Best Christmas Ever EP before taking a break from recording. In 2016, she released English Heart, an album of British rock classics, and began a new series of Ronettes singles with “Love Power.” Her “Best Christmas Ever” tour hits Phoenixville’s Colonial Theater on Thursday, Dec. 13.
You are here and touring for the holidays. You have your Ronettes Christmas singles and your own Best Christmas Ever EP. How do you make a Christmas song your own?
I think a big part of it is the song you pick. Christmas always brings me back to my childhood, so I love a childlike lyric. I like simplicity, too. You make it your own by doing it just a little different, letting yourself into the song.
After all this time being a solo act, you have a new Ronettes and a new song. Why did you want a group of women around you on stage after being out there alone for so long?
It just happened, it wasn’t planned. I got the idea when we were performing at the Glastonbury Festival in the U.K. We had girls with us, and I was shaking it up with them, doing our routines — it was so much fun — and I just thought, ‘This is the right time.’ You know, at this point in my life, I have to have fun on stage or why do it?
What were your criteria for new Ronettes? What did you want them to be, or look and sound like?
The key ingredient to being a Ronette is attitude. That’s No. 1. Then being able to move a certain way, a coolness, then sing, then shake. I don’t get crazy about having to be perfect with a beehive up to the sky. I already did that. It’s not 1963 anymore, and never will be again.
Your sister Estelle Bennett and your cousin Nedra Talley were your initial co-Ronettes. Was it warm and happy having family on stage? Was there contention and sibling rivalry?
The good part was, we really were that close. We were family and loved each other. If you go back and look at old pictures of the Ronettes, you’ll see a bunch of them where we were holding hands. That was real. The downside is they’re family, so when things aren’t working out like you want, it’s difficult to deal with because we were that close. On the road, we would all sleep in the same bed. I love the stage. The other two didn’t love it like me.
Outside of family, the only woman who was part of your world during Ronettes recording sessions was bassist Carol Kaye. How were women treated apart from the men?
Carol and I would wave at each other, that was it. The only person I hung out with at Goldstar Studio where we recorded was Cher. It was much harder for a woman then, but you didn’t really even think about it. That’s just the way it was.
You and Phil Spector had a relationship with Philadelphia via his Philles Records, which was distributed by the local Jamie/Guyden label. What is your recollection of our town?
My dad had family in Philly, the McIvers, and occasionally we’d visit.
Was there anything great or pleasant about Spector?
He was a very good producer.
In this #MeToo era, what can you tell women about abusive relationships?
I would tell any woman in an abusive relationship to reach out to someone you trust, you have to find that person. I know it’s hard. I was isolated and locked up — but try to find that person. For me, it was my mother who saved me. You have to get away. It only gets worse. And you can. I did, and if I didn’t, I would have died there. Don’t wait. Make a plan and go.
You grew up in Spanish Harlem with a Caucasian father and a mother who was black and Indian. Did you feel any racism?
I don’t remember anything racist in New York. I did get picked on, but that was in school by the girls who thought I was too light-skinned. I caught hell. All of us biracial girls would hang out together on the corner. Back then, it was tough if you were different. I love seeing the acceptance today. I grew up in a neighborhood that had all different kinds of people, all colors, all mixed and living together. It was a beautiful place to grow up in, and I’m so lucky I was there. After we left New York to tour, we came in contact with all different types of prejudice. Down South, of course, and I do remember one time in South Dakota, the Ronettes got chased by a bunch of guys in a pickup truck because they thought we were Indians. Well, actually we are. The next day, the mayor of the town apologized before we performed, which was really weird.
You’ve been upfront about your relationships with John Lennon and Davie Bowie. You have a whole “bad girl of rock” image: Are you always cool with that?
I am cool with the image. That’s who I am on stage. Just like the Ronettes, we were all sweet and innocent, but on stage, everything was big — the hair, the makeup, and that’s really where it came from. Lennon and I were very good friends. We met at a special time for both of us. The Beatles hadn’t broken yet in America, and I was over in London enjoying the love from the U.K. audience. They loved us over there. But it really was just a friendship, although John wanted more. I am still a very quiet and shy person.
I can’t imagine retirement is in the picture. Is there anything you would still like to get done before you move on?
Yes. I always wanted to be a character actress. Who knows, maybe that dream will come true one of these days. It’s never too late.
8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville. Tickets: $47.50-$29.50, thecolonialtheatre.com