A FEW MINUTES WITH… Darlene Love
Interview and story by Don Wilcock
The cliché is that there are two sides to every story. Actually, there are as many sides to the story as there are people whose lives are changed by the events. And when those events involve pop song creativity, versions of the story are multiplied by a myriad of factors. Who invents a song? How much credit do you give the person who takes a song and produces it, markets it and helps make it a hit?
Darlene Love is one of the featured performers in Saturday’s Golden Oldies Spectacular at Proctors in Schenectady. Her name, at least until quite recently, was the least well known of the acts on a bill that also includes the Lettermen, the Duprees, the Marcels and Jay Siegel’s Tokens. And yet, if you put all of her credits together, she’s far and away the most accomplished of the bunch.
She’s a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and recent Oscar winner for her role in the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom.” She’s made 28 high-profile, annual appearances on “The Late Show With Letterman” singing “Christmas Baby Please Come Home.” Later this year, she will release an album featuring a song Miami Steve Van Zandt wrote for her called “Jesus Is The Rock that Keeps Me Rolling,” which she says is the new “River Deep, Mountain High.” And there is also an Oprah Winfrey-produced film planned on her life story.
But she’s appearing in the Golden Oldies Spectacular principally because she’s the lead singer on “He’s A Rebel,” the single biggest hit of the early ’60s girl group craze pioneered by producer Phil Spector. Spector is currently serving a 19-year sentence, convicted of killing Lana Clarkson in 2003. Darlene Love was his number one go-to vocalist who released six songs under her own name for Spector, but “He’s a Rebel” and “He’s the Boy I Love,” her biggest hits, were released under the name of the Crystals, another of the acts in the Spector cadre.
So, the question becomes just how much of a cad was Phil Spector, and how hard did Darlene Love have to work after getting out from under his thumb in the ’60s? Read the interview and decide for yourself:
Q: I’ve read so many quotes from you about Phil Spector. How were you able to get above all the negativity in terms of his holding you back name-wise and holding back your royalties? How were you able to see the goodness in him and what he did for you?
A: I never really saw the goodness in him. That had nothing to do with it. My thing with him was he did not give me this voice, and he can’t do anything with it except what I give and let him use, and so I determined in my heart to follow the contract I had with him. Then, after the contract was over and he kept abusing his authority on me, I just decided to stop recording. I said, “OK, if that’s what it is, if that’s the clout he has over me to hold me as a recording artist, I’ll stop recording. I’ll go back on the road and do background.” And that’s why I had such a hard time doing jobs.
Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers) is one of the artists that actually helped me put a show together, put my band together, sing together. And I started doing a show in Orange County, California, and I called Lou Adler and told him I wanted to do a show at the Roxy, which was his club, and he gave me the platform.
I just refused to let Phil Spector do anything but talk and use his power any way he could to stop me, but I figured in my heart God’s power is bigger than his, so I’m gonna keep on doing what I know I should be doing, and I wouldn’t let him stop me, and I wouldn’t get distracted by all the little things that he did because all his little things were just to make me mad and keep me upset.
Q: What kind of contract did you have with him?
A: I had a seven-year contract with Phil Spector. That was the contract they had back in those days.
Q: And what did it say?
A: Well, he had the right to record me.
A: Yeah! Except for background singing. He had no control over that, and then I even got away with some lead singing that he didn’t know anything about. He knew it was me, but he couldn’t prove it.
Q: On what?
A: On “Guitar Man” with Duane Eddy. (Sings) “Sing with the guitar man. Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I mean we did a lot of things like that, but he could not prove that was me because they (wanted) other girls singing in the group.
Q: What went through your mind when you heard yourself singing, “He’s The Boy I Love” attributed to the Crystals on the radio and realized that Phil had done it to you again?
A: Well, during that time I was trying to do everything he asked me to do. I was giving him another chance, and I was in a car driving when it came on the radio, and I stopped immediately and turned around and went back to Hollywood and went into his office, had a little argument/discussion with his secretary, and I told her, “I know one thing. You’d better get out of my way unless you want some of this what I’m ready to give him. Hey!” Connie just moved out of the way, and she didn’t even say, “Darlene’s here.” I just opened the door and went in.
Q: When you were recording “Christmas Baby Please Come Home,” did he say to you that you had a better voice than his wife, Ronnie Spector?
A: Oh, yeah, he said that a long time ago. Now, he always praised my voice. He did that every chance he got. I don’t know what he did outside the studio, but he always thought and said that I was the greatest singer he’d ever heard in his life, that I had one of the greatest instruments.
Q: My understanding is that he did multiple takes of everything. So you couldn’t have done five sessions in a day as you say you did with the Blossoms as a background singer with him, right?
A: No, he didn’t do that with me. He did that with some of his other artists. When I went with Phil, I was ready. This is it. This is what you’re getting. This is what you want me to do. That’s what I did. No more, no less.
Q: All in two takes?
A: Yes, five at the most. We had background sessions where we were putting background on. It took us a lot of takes to do these. Plus, he did a lot of overdubs, and he didn’t like that. “Let’s change this, and let’s do this.” You know what I’m saying? But all my sessions weren’t just with Phil Spector back in the ’50s and ’60s ’cause we (the Blossoms) still had other sessions when we were doing our sessions with Phil Spector, Plus we were doing a television show called ‘Shindig.’
In Spector’s defense he did record Darlene Love under her own name singing “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry,” “Wait Till My Bobby Gets Home,” “A Fine, Fine Boy” and “Christmas Baby Please Come Home.” But the one everyone remembers is “He’s A Rebel.” Like Chess Records’ founder Leonard Chess and Ike Turner – who are both now deceased – Phil is in prison and is in no position to defend himself against artists who feel their talent had been manipulated. The $64,000 question is where do you draw the line as to who gets how much credit for a song?
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Phil Spector in several capacities made Darlene Love stronger. And it’s she that we will hear Saturday night, not Phil Spector.
WHAT: Golden Oldies Spectacular featuring the Lettermen, Darlene Love, the Duprees, the Marcels and Jay Siegel’s Tokens
WHEN: 7pm Saturday (April 11)
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $39.75, $47.75 & $54.75