As lead singer of The Ronettes, one of the most influential girl groups of the 1960s, Ronnie Spector has long had a place in rock and roll history. Drawing on hits like "Baby, I Love You," "Be My Baby," "Frosty The Snowman" and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," she has transformed her story into a unique one-woman show, Beyond the Beehive, which is coming to L.A. We spoke to the music icon about the challenges of bringing her life story to the stage.
How did the "Beyond The Beehive" tour come out?
The first one was in 2001. I performed at this college, I had two girls with me (a piano player and a guitar player), and I just started telling the story of my life. The audience loved it, so we started really working on it, my husband and I. We had videos playing during the show of The Ronettes and I would tell the story of my very humble beginnings in Spanish Harlem and meeting Phil Spector and how I fell in love and making all these hit records and how it all went downhill for me. It’s a great story that not only has the audience laughing, they cry too. It takes you through my whole life, but while I’m up I also sing through my hit records as they coincide to my life.
When you started out with The Ronettes, your black eyeliner and short skirts were pretty envelope pushing. What are your thoughts on what is considered envelope-pushing by today’s standards, like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus?
Well the question is "Where are they going to be in five years?" I always think about that because everything is so public now. You have artists who came out in the '60s and they are still out there doing shows. Back then, there was no competition. I see how it is today with the different artists competing with each other with what kind of crazy antics they can come up with to outdo each other. Back then no one was competing with one another; we were all just trying to make it and be somebody. Now it's like "I'm gonna have a bigger outfit than you" or "I'm gonna wear no clothes." It's crazy now. I don’t mind girls looking sexy—you got to have some sex appeal—but let's not get ridiculous. When you stand up and your rear is showing, I would just feel so uncomfortable. I get guys whistling at me to this day at my shows, and I wear clothes!
There has been a revival of the type of music you were making in the '60s, which brings me to Amy Winehouse who considered you a major. You put out a cover of "Back to Black" as a benefit for the Daytop Village substance abuse center. Did you ever get to meet her?
I did, I met her in London. She came to one of my shows. I do a cover of "Back to Black" in my show and as I performed it, I saw her standing there. The crowd was packed but I saw her little head there and she was crying. It made me cry! This was a few years ago. When she passed, I was undone; it took me a week to even come to grips that she was gone. A week later I headlined a big girl group show at Lincoln Center in New York City, and I dedicated the whole show to her, because she loved girl groups, especially The Ronettes. I just looked up and said "This is for you, Amy," and I broke down again. It was just overwhelming that she had died at 27 years old, and I’m still around? It’s just heartbreaking. In the '60s we had all that too with the drug use. Of course, I never participated because I was locked up in a mansion. Thank goodness, in a way.
You also covered Billy Stewart’s "I Do Love You." How did that come about?You know why? I would rehearse to that back in the day—we had no money for singing lessons and those type of things—so I always wanted to do it. Around Valentine's Day last year, I released it. I plan on doing it every February.
When you do come to Los Angeles what are some of the essential places you visit?
I love to go to Canter’s Deli, I loved Ah Fongs up on Sunset if it’s still there. I lived there so long when I was married to Phil, but I never went out much in six years.
What about music today? Are there any artists that have sparked your interest?
I love Bruno Mars, I love his voice. And I like that latest song called "Stay" by Rihanna. I’m not completely in the dark, so I get in my car and listen. I even like Miley’s song "Wrecking Ball" because I like her voice in that. I’d rather talk about their voices than their style of dress, because that’s going to be nonsense later on down the line. You have to have a good singing voice, because if you lose that you’ve lost everything. For myself, that's all I care about—as long as I have my voice and my hair, my little look.
Do you have any plans to put out a new album of material?
No, I’m going to stick with Beyond The Beehive and release a recording of that when I'm back in New York and able to present this in a theater after a couple of years. I don’t have a desire to do new records; I love my records that I made with Phil.
Do any of your holiday staples make it into the show?
I had "Frosty The Snowman" but my director had me take it out because he thought we should save it for my Christmas show, "Ronnie Spector’s Christmas Party."
Have you ever performed that in Los Angeles?
Not yet but I’m heading that way. I would love to do that; that’s where I made all those records. I really want it to go over good in Los Angeles because when I left there, I was sort of down and out. But women have more power than ever before and what better time to tell my story? I had to overcome so many obstacles and constant interference, but I wouldn’t give up, I keep doing my shows. The more people tried to stop me, the stronger I got. I won't let people erase me from the public eye. I dared them to give my life away and I just stuck in there. That’s why this show is so important to me, from the time I was born in Spanish Harlem to the time of Phil’s murder case… and beyond. That’s why I call it Beyond the Beehive, because I’ve grown up and I’m ready for everything that comes my way. It’s my story of triumph.
➲ Ronnie Spector’s Beyond The Beehive will be happening Oct. 28th & 29th at the El Rey Theatre. 5515 Wilshire Blvd., 90036. Tix: $50