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Phil Spector: The Rolling Stone Interview

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What artist do you really feel has not been recorded right that you'd like to record?
Bob Dylan.

How would you record him?
I'd do a Dylan opera with him. I'd produce him. You see he's never been produced. He's always gone into the studio on the strength of his lyrics, and they have sold enough records to cover up everything – all the honesty of his records. But he's never really made a production. He doesn't really have to.

His favorite song is "Like a Rolling Stone," and it stands to reason because that's his grooviest song, as far as songs go. It may not be his grooviest message. It may not be the greatest thing he ever wrote, but I can see why he gets the most satisfaction out of it, because rewriting "La Bamba" chord changes is always a lot of fun and any time you can make a Number One record and rewrite those kind of changes, it is very satisfying.

I would like him to just say something that could live recording-wise forever. I would have enjoyed recording John Wesley Harding in its own way. He doesn't really have the time nor do any of his producers necessarily have the ambition or talent to really overrule him or debate with him. I would imagine with Albert Grossman there is a situation of business control just like it would be with Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker. Assume that there is no control, then somebody should be much more forceful. Maybe nobody has the guts, balls or the ambition to get in there, but there is no reason unless Dylan didn't want it. But there is a way he could have been made to want it.

There is no reason why Dylan can't be recorded in a very certain way and a very beautiful way where you can just sit back and say "wow" about everything – not just him and the song – just everything.

How would you have done John Wesley Harding?
There is a way to do it. He's so great on it and he is so honest that it's just like going into the studio with twelve of Steven Foster's songs. There's so much you can do. There is so much you can do with Dylan; he gives you so much to work with. That's probably why he sells so many records without trying so very had in the studio.

It's also probably why the Beatles . . . well it's obvious that Paul McCartney and John Lennon may be the greatest rock and roll singers that we've ever had. They may be the greatest singers of the last ten years – they really may be! I mean there is a reason for the Beatles other than the fact that they're like Rogers & Hart and Hammerstein, Gershwin and all of 'em. They are great, great singers. They can do anything with their voices.

So to pat them on the back doesn't mean anything. It's really from the great background they had – of digging so much all their lives – that not only did they get that great gift of writing, but they have the great talent of singing; which is really where it's at. When you can get in and sing "Rocky Raccoon" that way, you know that he knows how to sing better than anybody else around, because he can switch right into "Yesterday." They've got a great gift, and for me it's much more than just sayin', "the Beatles, the Beatles, the Beatles."

I would like to record them a certain way because, again, other than what they do themselves – there's nobody. I don't know how influential their producer is, and I am sure they have a great deal of respect for him and he's the fifth Beatle and all that, but I don't think he thinks the way I would think. Their ideas are so overpowering that you just sort of just go along with them and you're gonna end up with somethin' groovy. I don't think it was necessarily his idea to put "King Lear" on the end of that one record. Which did or did not have to be in the record.

I think Mick Jagger could be a lot of fun to record. It's not just the big artists; I think Janis Joplin leaves a lot to be desired recording-wise. How well she can sing when she's way up front – I don't know. How well she would sing under different circumstances I don't know.

But the one that really would be the most satisfying probably would be Dylan because I could communicate with him and justify what he really wants to say – no matter what it is – musically, which is something that you don't see very often happening today.

Many of the artists today just sing, they don't really interpret anything. I mean the Doors don't interpret. They're not interpreters of music. They sing ideas. The Beach Boys have always sung ideas – they've never been interpreters. The Beatles interpret; "Yesterday" meant something. Whereas "Good Vibrations" was a nice idea on which everybody sort of grooved. That's what I feel is missing in the Chambers Brothers – the interpretation.

Four or five years ago . . . Sam Cooke interpreted, I have a feeling that a lot of it is the producers' fault, and a lot of it is the . . . the fact that everybody is runnin' a little too scared today. Nobody really knows, nobody really knows what Janis Joplin can do except Janis Joplin, and I don't necessarily think she puts her faith in anyone or would have anyone direct her.

What did you think of Beggar's Banquet?
Well, they're just makin' hit records now. There was a time when the Stones were really writing contributions. See that's a big word to me – "contributions."

What were the songs at the time.
"Satisfaction" was a contribution. They've had a few contributions. See there's a difference: other than one or two numbers, Johnny Rivers is not a contribution to music, he never will be, he never can be. I don't care if all the Johnny Rivers fans say "boo." Just like Murray Roman will never be a comedian. There's just certain people that just don't have it. Moby Grape will never be a contribution. There are a lot of groups that will never be a contribution. 'Cause if you listen to just one Muddy Waters record you've heard everything Moby Grape's gonna ever do. Or if you listen to one Jimmy Reed record you've heard everything they may want to do.

The big word is "contribution," and the Stones lately have not been – although they have been writing groovy hit things – contributing anymore. You have a time when they were contributing all of it. Everything was contribution. They'll go down as a contribution. They'll be listed as a contributing force in music. An important influence. It's not a put down on them, because nobody can keep up that pace.

If some of these groups, and some of the people in the business would dig athletics they would see more the reasons for themselves than they do now. Like Sonny Bono will never know what happened when it's all over. He'll never know why it happened, because he didn't know what happened to make it happen. So he won't know what happened to make it fail. But if you go out and you watch athletics and you watch a winning team lose, you watch them accept the failure. You see why they didn't win, and it makes sense. You sort of put things in perspective to yourself.

The people in today's business really don't do that. They don't know why they're making it – they just dig it, but athletes never do that. You never see athletes go crazy. They know tomorrow it's all over; one bad tackle, one bad jump and it's all over, and you're dead and nobody cares about you anymore.

In the record business they just try, try forever and ever and ever. They don't plan nothin'. Motown, as marvelous as their recording company is . . . I mean, I've said it before: they have invented the Mustang body or the Volkswagen body and there isn't very little they can do wrong with it. They're gonna keep groovin', but I wouldn't be surprised if they release one percent of what they record. If they release twenty things a month, you can see how much they're recording and how much they don't release. Their studios are goin' 24 hours a day. Because they know that's what their strategy has to be.

The other people in the industry, like Ahmet . . . I love Ahmet. When I first went to New York, he took care of me, and I love him. I mean he has no strategy. He calls up his office and says, "How many records we sell today?" I mean he can't know everything that's out there.

We had dinner with him one night and somebody said, "Ahmet, I'd really like to get the Bee Gees," and Ahmet said, "Well man, you know, I can't, you know, do anything man cause they've got this Stigwood somebody and anyhow man, he's a very difficult man to deal with. Anyhow the Bee Gees ain't gonna be nothin'. Man, the Cream, you know, got two records in the top ten albums and you know that I'd never even heard of the group. But the very best group, the best that gonna be the biggest group in the world is the Vanilla Fudge." He didn't even know, man. Because what's he care if it's Vanilla Fudge or Cream.

Like the Cream are breakin' up, and he said, "like man you have to do a final album for me." They said, "Why man, we hate each other," or somethin' like that. Ahmet said, "Oh no man, you have to do one more album for me. Jerry Wexler has cancer, and he's dyin' and he wants to hear one more album from you." So they go in, make the album and he says, "Like man, Jerry Wexler isn't dyin', he's much better, he's improved."

He's just jivin' like that 'cause it's a lot of fun and he's a great business man.

Like when I met Otis Redding the first time. Otis says, "Hey Phil" – man, I loved Otis – we were just gettin' along famously talking, having dinner and he says, "How long you been knowin' Omelet?" I just sort of laughed 'cause he said "Omelet," and I know his name is Ahmet not "Omelet." And I said, "About seven years."

And he said, "Omelet is just too much, he's too much."

I said, "Yeah he sho' is." Afterwards, I went over to Ahmet and said, "Ahmet, how long you been knowin' Otis?"

He said, "Oh, about three years." I said, "And you mean he calls you 'Omelet'?"

So he says, "That's right man. You know he calls the office all the time and he asks for Omelet, and they don't want to hurt his feelings by telling him my name is Ahmet."

Otis was not a dumb colored cat. You know he was a smart cat and knew what was happening. If he ever knew that Ahmet's name was not Omelet, he would have been real upset, you know. And none of the stecretaries told him 'cause they thought, "Oh, man, maybe a dumb spade." And also they loved him and didn't want to put him down, but he'd get on the phone with Jerry Wexler and he'd say, "How's Omelet do-doin'?" Wexler would say, "Oh, Omelet's fine Otis, Omelet's doin' real good, Otis." The poor guy called him Omelet all his life.

{Note: Phil Walden, Otis' close friend and personal manager, says Otis knew Ahmet's real name, but thought it was a laugh to call him "Omelet."}

But they love Ahmet for that, because he looks like Lenin, he has his beard and he's sophisticated and he come on and he jives all these cats and he goes to Harlem and he cooks and he smokes the shit and everybody digs him.

Several years back we were all sitting around with some colored group, and one of them said, "Shit man, your contract ain't worth shit." We were in a restaurant, and Ahmet looks around to make sure nobody'd hear us. The guy said, "Mercury gonna give me seven percent, you only give me five percent. That's like jive-ass." Ahmet said, "Not so loud." And he said, "Yeah man, I can't sign your contract for five percent when I can get me seven percent over at Mercury."

And I was just sittin' back waitin' for what Ahmet was gonna say to this cat. The guy has the Mercury contract with him, and it does say seven percent. And he's got Atlantic's cockamamie contract for five percent. Now, he's got Ahmet up a wall, he's trapped, and Ahmet knows he's trapped, and we're all sittin' around, and Ahmet hit him with a line: Ahmet said, "Man, listen man, you know what. I gonna give you 15 percent, but I ain't gonna pay you." The guy said, "What?" Ahmet said, "That's what they gonna do. They gonna give you seven percent but they not gonna pay you, and I gonna give you five precent and pay you. Now that's a big difference isn't it?" They guy said, "That's right – never thought of it that way. That makes a lot of sense. I'm gonna sign with you Ahmet, I gonna sign with you Ahmet."

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