Rolling Stone interviews producer, Phil Spector. - Rolling Stone
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Phil Spector: The Rolling Stone Interview

An untamed talk with the visionary producer about what makes great music and the characters he’s met along the way to become the “Tycoon of Teen”

Phil SpectorPhil Spector

Music producer Phil Spector conducts the band during rehearsals for the concert film The Big T.N.T. Show in Los Angeles, in 1966.

Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

Baron and I sat in a rented Mustang outside the Sunset Strip office of Phil Spector Productions for 40 minutes one April night, listening to the car radio and waiting for the man. A black Cadillac Limousine pulls up, and then away, circles the block and parks behind us. Out steps the chauffeur, who in reality is one of Spector’s several bodyguards. The whole Tom Wolfe legend is about to take place in front of our eyes. We change cars and the chauffeur pulls way with us in the back seat.

Phil Spector, the first “Tycoon of Teen,” is finally about to make good the promise for an interview, after two months of hassling over time and place. The interview is going to happen on the night of “Mission: Impossible.” Spector, it turns out, lives only ten blocks or so from his office.

The grounds are surrounded by electric fences and gates, and what’s more amazing is that after pulling into his driveway, you see electric fencing also covers the windows and front door of his house. Once inside the doors and gates it’s Phil Spectorland, with framed pictures and clippings, all the famous articles about Phil, pinball machines and jukeboxes with all his hits still on the playlist.

The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Phil Spector

The living room is around the corner: the house used to belong to one of the Hollywood starlets, and it’s a beauty: 20 foot gabled ceilings, sunken rooms, a grand piano, Irish wolfhounds and two Borzoi’s running around on the patio off the living room. Next to the living room is the game room, a huge pool table in the center, the walls covered with framed photos of Phil playing pool with Willie Moscone, Phil playing pool with Minnesota Fats, and dozens of others.

We waited in the living room another half hour, while Phil was “getting ready.” We were offered something to drink, something to eat: candy-filled dishes on the coffee tables (long with the books and magazines, with bookmarks in place, which carried more of the famous articles about Phil), slices of pizza and cokes. Baron and I sat, almost whispering, because the place must have been wired for sound as well as everything else. The chauffeur-bodyguard returns to check the last minute details, and he comes in without his coat on, displaying his shoulder holster and his gun.

We didn’t know whether to laugh or to faint. Like, they never checked for the stick of dynamite I had in my tape recorder and the .38 Baron was carrying in his camera kit.

In walks the man: Phil Spector, short little Phil, all dressed up for the interview in outrageous yellow plastic rimmed glasses, a tie-piece around his collar, sucking a candy cane. What a show tonight!

Do you see any black militancy in the record business? Let’s take Stax which is owned by . . .
Let’s take it, man. Like, you take $4 million, and I’ll take $3 million, and we all be very rich very quick. I’m rich already, what am I talking about? Go ahead, what about Stax-Volt?

Do you find any black resentment against the whites. You worked at Atlantic, another white-owned company, dealing primarily with black music. Was there any resentment from the artists?
Oh yeah, man, “We bought your home, goddamn, and don’t you forget it, boy. You livin’ in the house we paid for, you drivin’ a Cadillac we got, man. It’s ours. You stole it from us.”

You heard that from the beginning of time. All the Drifters were gettin’ was $150 a week and they never got any royalties. It wasn’t that Atlantic didn’t pay them; it was that everybody screwed everybody in those days. I mean I was in the Teddy Bears and what did we get – one penny a record royalties!

What has disappeared completely is the black groups, other than what you have comin’ out of Motown and your other few – and I don’t mean Stax-Volt because I don’t consider that what I’m talking about. The group on the corner has disappeared. It’s turned into a white psychedelic or a guitar group, there are thousands of them. There used to be hundreds and hundreds of black groups singin’ harmony and with a great lead singer and you’d go in an record them.

You used to go down to Jefferson High or 49th & Broadway and could get sixteen groups. Today you can’t find them; they’re either involved in the militant thing or they just passed, like it’s not their bag anymore, or like it’s just disappeared. It’s not the big thing to get together after school and harmonize. And it used to be a real big thing. It was very important. I guess they just got tired of knocking on record doors, and they saw that a whole new regime had taken over.

This is why you have the music business dominated in the black area by just two companies. Because there is just really no place for them to go. They’ve just sort of disbanded. Other than Motown you don’t see any groups, colored groups. The Dells happened for a while on that Cadet label from Chicago or whatever. That’s where black something has affected it. I don’t know if it’s black militancy or whatever, but something has definitely effected the complete destruction of the black groups that used to be dominating the record industry.

How has that changed the music?
It’s changed the music drastically. It’s given birth to English groups to come along and do it like Eric Burdon. It’s also given birth for the Stones and the Beatles to come along and do it – not that they wouldn’t have done it otherwise – but the first place the Beatles wanted to see when they came to America (cause I came over on the plane with them) was the Apollo Theatere.

As bad as a record as “Book of Love” by the Monotones is, you can hear a lot of “Book of Love” in the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It the Road.” I think you hear a lot of that dumb, great-yet-nonsensical stuff that makes it – even though it’s silly. It’s got the same nonsense.

I believe that the English kids have soul. Really soul. When I watch Walter Cronkite or Victory at Sea, or You Are There – any of those programs, I see bombs flying all over England and little kids running. Now that’s probably Paul McCartney running. You know, ’cause that’s where the bombs fell. They say soul comes through suffering. Slavery for the blacks. And gettin’ your ass bombed off is another way of gettin’ some soul, so I would say that these English cats have a lot of soul legitimately. You’re gonna have Dave Clark in there who don’t know too much about it, and just like you’re gonna have a Rosy and the Originals in America who don’t know too much about it.

What do you think of groups like Sly and the Family Stone or the Chambers Brothers who have such a large white audience, almost primarily white?
The Chambers Brothers have been around so long that they’re just like a group I think of as “having” to have made it – a must. In other words, if they hadn’t made it, it would be as much of a crime as Roy Orbison not being a star today or the Everly Brothers not making it today. It was criminal that they weren’t big before.

The fact that they appear for white audiences is, I think, only because black music – if there can be such a phrase – or music as interpreted by black people – is a lot more commercial than music interpreted by white people.

The biggest English records are really when they are imitating. It’s much more commercial when Eric Burdon sings a black copy. Just like Al Jolson was much more commercial when he did the black face than he ever was than when he went out and sang “My Yidishe Momme.” They love “mammy” with the black face – Stephen Foster, I mean. Which is probably why the black people resent so much of America. “We are the most commercially imitated people, we write and sing the most commercial music and yet we are the least talked about and the most oppressed.”

So the black man got to figure that may be the reason he’s passed from the musical scene to a large extent. Now when I say passed, I really mean passed. I mean it’s as good as Sam Cooke being dead. You don’t hear Ben E. King or any of the real soulful music anymore, and that was really commercial music, and it was good music.

I don’t remember where we were. You asked me something.

The Chambers Brothers.
I don’t know why they appeal to white people really. I would imagine that if you went into a black Baptist church, you’d dig it a whole lot because it’s groovy music. I don’t know why they are more commercial. I don’t know even if they do appeal to a larger white audience than the black audience.

Being on Columbia Records has a lot to do with it. White people hear them much more. You don’t see colored people going into a store sayin’, “Let me have the Columbia Master Works series number 129.” Or just like you wouldn’t see any of the young cats doing it. It’s just not their bag.

I think that Columbia doesn’t really get them played on R& B stations, because it doesn’t say “this is a new Chambers Brothers album.” It just comes in a Columbia package with Tony Bennett and Andy Williams and they sort of put it, you know, I mean you can’t hear Jocko or Rosco or any of them getting all excited about – “Oh, a new shipment from Columbia came in today, any free goods runnin’?” I mean there ain’t gonna be any free goods or money inside. So, I mean they ain’t gonna get too excited.

The Chambers Brothers play white audiences; they dig Melodyland. You don’t see them very often in the same parts of town that you see the Four Tops when they come. The Four Tops do the Coconut Grove, but they also do Joe Louie’s Club on 189th Street, keepin’ cool with him. Maybe the Chambers Brothers paid dues so long that they’re a little bit tired of payin’ dues. They just sort of want to make it, and if it means makin’ it before the white kids – then they’re gonna make it. I don’t really feel that the Chambers Brothers have really been recorded right yet; they haven’t really hit it yet for me. I mean they’re groovy, but their records havn’t hit it yet.

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.”

What about Jerry Wexler?
I don’t know. It’s funny ’cause Jerry Wexler and I never got along, and we only really started to communicate when Lenny died, because he suddenly realized that he loved Lenny very much, and if Lenny and I were that close, it was time to break the ice between him and myself. So in the last few years we’ve communicated a great deal and talked. Jerry has a good time and jives a little bit, but his contribution really is the early music – all those records he did – like “A Lover’s Question,” “Shaboom.” That’s the Jerry Wexler that for me really changed and set the standards for the recording industry.

I don’t know how much he’s a part of Aretha. I don’t really get into it or care. I enjoyed Dusty Springfield‘s record, and I don’t listen to music too much today ’cause I’m not inspired by a lot of it. A lot of it is a lot of crap. There is so much coming out on Atlantic, they got, so many hits that I don’t know what Jerry does and what he doesn’t do.

I know that he is a brilliant businessman, and what he’s done with Aretha is sparkling – what can you say? She was dumped from company to company, and he did make it happen. In many ways he’s like Ahmet in another area. He just gets in that studio and if it’s right. . . . To sum up Jerry Wexler: As a producer he knows when something is right, and he can wrap some of these young punk producers around his little finger.

But to show you how sophisticated the kids are today, Jerry goes down South and cuts something and comes back up. Everybody listens to it. Ahmet says, “Too many highs in that record. It’s shrill.” Jerry says, “You’re crazy, man. It’s a groovy record – a smash.” Ahmet says, “I don’t know man. It’s awfully shrill. Somethin’ the matter with the mikes down there.” He says, “You’re crazy, Ahmet. Man, you can go ask anybody.”

And nobody knew what to say. It was like a standoff.

“What about the song?” Jerry asked. Ahmet said, “Well, the song’s good, but it’s just too piercing. There’s something wrong with that record.” So he says, “Let’s go downstairs and find some kids on the street.” So they go downstairs and find three long-haired kids with boots on, comin’ home from school.

And Ahmet says, “Say, man, I work for Atlantic Records and we want you to hear a record.” So the guy says, “Okay.” He says, “Man, we’ll buy you some hamburgers and stuff.” They say good, so they go upstairs and sit down – the kids thought we were gonna give them some joints, and we give ’em hamburgers.

They come upstairs and they go in the room and Jerry Wexler played this record for them. And these kids were sittin’ there diggin’ it, diggin’ it, you know.’ And Wexler says, “What do you think of it?” One guy says, “It’s a groovy song man, and great performance.” And they all said, “Yeah man, it’s a hell of a song and a great performance.”

So Wexler looks at Ahmet and winks at him ’cause he knows he’s won. Ahmet says, “You like the record?” And the kid says, “Yeah, but too many highs on it, it’s piercing, really shrill. You gotta change the mixing – the EQ’s wrong.”

Jerry Wexler said, “The EQ’s wrong? What you know about EQ?” Jerry got real hot. He just didn’t realize that the kids today like they’ve all made records and they’re very sophisticated and you can’t jive ’em like that. And the kid said, “I don’t dig the EQ on the record. Now where’s my hamburger? I gave you my opinion and I don’t dig the EQ on your record.” That’s outta sight. I loved it.

So Wexler’s a brilliant businessman; I mean he’s really a groovy cat. I mean it’s a great combination but if you really think of it – a Jewish cat and two Turks becomes the biggest R&B label – it’s kinda weird. With no Mafia in there either.

What do you know about the Mafia in the record business?
I wouldn’t say anything I knew anyways. I just try to hire ’em all, that’s all. No, I wouldn’t say a word about them. “What Mafia?” “What record business?” Why must we do the interview on the night of Mission Impossible, man? That’s a helluva good program. That’s a great show man. I don’t know what day it comes on because I don’t watch television that much. I’m one of those phonies that says he doesn’t watch it, but watches it every night. No, I really don’t know.

What was your involvement with Lenny?
Other than that he recorded for me, I would say he was at the time my closest friend. He was like a teacher or a philosopher. He was like a living Socrates. Nobody will ever really know what Lenny was, and who he was, because nobody saw him in those last few years.

The people who really didn’t see him are the people who said they did see him. I mean the Mort Sahls, Bill Cosbys, Buddy Hacketts–those are the people that really let Lenny down. They’re the ones who all said, when Lenny died, that they wanted to bury him – only they wanted to bury him when he was living, not afterwards, because none of them were there.

I guess it was hard for them to look at Lenny, because Lenny was obviously the very best. He was the epitome of comic brilliance, he was the greatest standup comedian of his time, he had the ingenious mind that they all wished that they had. To see the best like that would probably be too hard. They probably wouldn’t have been able to stomach it.

I took Lenny to The Trip one night when it was open on Sunset, and Cosby was in there, the Smothers Brothers were in there. They all sort of tried not to say hello to Lenny and then they all sort of disappeared because not only did they steal so much from Lenny, take so much material from him, but they didn’t know how to confront him. I don’t think they knew what to say to Lenny or how to express themselves.

In the last year or six months Lenny had a nail tied to his foot and was going around in circles. He obviously was not guilty of anything he was charged with because the New York courts even let him go after his death. Posthumous vindication doesn’t really mean anything, but he was right is what they meant, because the court said he was right. He just had a Kafkaesque life in that he was never allowed to do what he was charged with in front of a courtroom, and that was be obscene or not be obscene.

The film he made was him with the words and everything – ’cause he never used a dirty word to use it. He would shuck with you, and if he dug you he would talk like I’ve been talkin’ to you now. I don’t use a dirty word or say “fuck this” just to say it or to get you horny, I say it because I’m talkin’ with you and that’s it. And that’s how he was with an audience.

None of the comics came to his defense. If anything, after he died, Mort Sahl said some real bad things about Lenny, much more harmful than they were good. He might as well have hated Lenny all his life for what he said, because he’s a liar. It’s that simple. He said Lenny was being used by the establishment to prove a point. That’s a lot of shit.

I have the exact quotes from the New York Times. I even have the paper – I kept it. Sahl said Lenny never thought of anything so astounding – or something similar to that – because there was nothing Lenny ever thought of that Mort had not thought of at one time also.

Well, that’s like saying “Einstein never did anything that I couldn’t have done because I was thinkin’ all them things too, but I just didn’t say ’em – I’ kept ’em to myself, but now I’m gonna let you in on it. See, here’s the theory of relativity.”

He wouldn’t have dared say that when Lenny was alive. You see after Lenny died they all said all kinds of crap, because he ain’t here. And even when he was alive he hardly defended himself. You know, he didn’t care. He was like full of compassion for everybody. He saw people stealing his material left and right.

They asked me to do a Les Crane show on Lenny with Murray Roman – it was a joke, and I wouldn’t go on the show because I wouldn’t give any credence or give any kind of authority to Murray Roman, ’cause he’s a joke. I mean he is a joke. He just has to stand up there and I’ll laugh at him. He’s just a joke. He’s indicative of the whole recording industry. Cosby (whom Roman records for) can’t make up his mind whether he’s a black militant or a white millionaire.

Now Lenny was not obscene, he was not dirty, he never posed in the nude (or an album) and he never did anything on any of his albums that should not have been heard. Yet they wouldn’t touch him. We don’t see anybody raising a fuss when this company comes and puts out John Lennon, you know with his schlong hanging out there and, “hey, you know, it’s a big thing,” when it’s really not. Now the times may be changing, which is okay and there’s nothin’ wrong with John Lennon doin’ whatever he wants to do.

But you have to get upset when the music industry defends that, but doesn’t defend it on a general basis; it just sort of picks out certain things. It’s like Marshall on the Supreme Court: he is not really a black man – he will never defend a black man because he’s black, but you’ll find a lot of white southerners defend white people just because they’re white. I mean in the North they don’t care that way; the music industry doesn’t stick with anyone.

What about John Lennon?
I haven’t spoken to Lennon in some time so I don’t know where he’s at now. But I have a feeling that Yoko may not be the greatest influence on him. I mean, I don’t know, but I have a feeling that he’s a far greater talent than she is.

You know, a multi-millionaire in his position just doesn’t get caught in an English apartment house by the cops on a dope charge unless you’re just blowing your mind or somebody is just really giving you a fucking. I mean you have dogs, you have bodyguards, you got something to protect you. Everybody knows the Beatles were immune. Everybody knows that George Harrison was at the Stones’ party the night they got busted, and they let Harrison leave and then they went in and made the bust. I mean it was like the Queen said, “Leave them alone.”

So Lennon must really have been causing a disturbance or somebody must have been setting him up to get busted, ’cause it ain’t no medal of honor. Like it’s no medal of honor to get the clap. Being busted for marijuana don’t mean nothin’ – it’s just a waste of time, if anything. It wasted his time. It may have even caused . . . miscarriages.

It’s almost like a weird thing to see just how bizarre he can get before he really blows it or he just teaches everybody something.

But I think without question he is leader of that group, and he makes the decisions. I’d like to know how the Beatles feel about him and what he’s going through. I almost get the feeling that they want to help him but I don’t think they really can because he’s always way ahead of them.

I just hope that he doesn’t hurt himself. Lenny really hurt himself. I tried to tell him, “you’re going to hurt yourself, you’re going to hurt yourself,” and when they get going that’s it, once they really get going. ‘Cause Lenny would have died for any reason that day–a tooth pulled, anything. When you get going in that direction there’s nothin’ can stop you, no amount of talk.

Lenny should have been out working at all the colleges, and influencing all the young people of the country. That’s what he should have been doing, but instead he sat up in his room all night.

He wrote Supreme Court things, you know . . . “Dear Justice Marshall: You don’t seem to understand.” He was brilliant; he knew more than anybody but he didn’t know there was doors to go through and ladders to climb. He thought it was just 1, 2, 3. I just hope Lennon doesn’t blow it. It’s his life, but he’s too great a contribution.

You came over with the Beatles when they first came over to the States. What was that like?
It was a lot of fun. It was probably the only time I flew that I wasn’t afraid, because I knew that they weren’t goin’ to get killed in a plane. That plane was really an awful trip. I mean there were 28 or 30 minutes where that plane dropped thousands of feet over the ocean. It scared the shit out of me, but there were 149 people on board who were all Press and Beatles’ right-hand men, and left-hand men, and we just sat up there and talked about the Apollo and all that jive. Lennon was with his first wife, and he was very quiet. Paul asked a lot of questions, George was wonderful. It was a nice trip.

I’d just been in England for a couple of weeks and I went by their apartment, and they were leaving and said why don’t you come back with us. It’s really funny, but they were terribly frightened to get off the plane.

They were terribly frightened of America. They even said, “You go first.” ‘Cause the whole thing about Kennedy scared them very, very much. They really thought it would be possible for somebody to be there and want to kill them, because they were just very shocked. The assassination really dented them tremendously – their image of America. Just like it dented everybody’s image of the Secret Service.

You were associated with the Stones when they first started. Was there any talk of you becoming their producer?
Um, yeah, but Andrew was involved at that time and he was sort of . . . they told me he tried to be like me in England. And he sort of . . . I would say in all honesty that he was my publicity agent in England at that time. In other words, he called me, and said he could do publicity, and I said, well, do publicity because I don’t know what it involves. He sort of had a nice affection for me as a record producer and he supposedly held me in high esteem.

The group was thinking of breaking up at the time. They were really disorganized. It wasn’t so much breaking up; shit, they couldn’t get . . . nobody believed in them. They were like a dirty, funky group. They were like second-class citizens and even at my hotel they couldn’t get in. They wanted ’em thrown out.

What did you do with them?
I went to see Sir Edward uh, what was his name? The owner of London Records, an old English cat. Didn’t understand anything he said for half an hour. I wanted the Stones on an American label, my label, and he didn’t. He offered me a percentage, anyhow, it involved things and money changed hands, and I never really was anything more than just close friends with them.

I knew there would eventually be problems between Andrew and them because . . . I don’t know. I just had a feeling. Then there was another guy involved too, another Eric somebody. He was involved. I saw them in America a few times. The first time they came, they did awful; their tours were bombing. They got hung up in hotel rooms, and nobody knew what was going on.

The funniest call of all was when Mick Jagger called. Andrew used to sleep in my office in New York, when he stayed there. We used to get these phone bills to London, all kinds of nonsense. Didn’t know who was doing them or who was calling. One day we got a phone call, you know, and it was Mick Jagger. I happened to pick up the phone and he said, “What you say there?” And I said, “Who’s this?” He said, “This is Mick Jagger – wha’ happening?” I said “Nothing.” I said, “Where are you?” He said “In Hershey, Pennsylvania. Everything is fuckin’ brown here. The phones are brown, the rooms are brown, the street is brown, every fucking thing is brown. I hate it in this fuckin city, Hershey, Pennsylvania.” He didn’t know that Hershey, Pennsylvania, is where Hershey’s chocolate company is located.

Did you negotiate their contract?
Well, this was an involved thing. I made a lot of bread real fast and that’s about all. But I never wanted to get anything else except to see them happen, because they were really discouraged.

I mean London Records didn’t know whether to believe in them or not – their record company. It was just a thing that I felt that if another group was going to make it after the Beatles, they would make it. They were tremendously popular in London. The girls screamed for them everywhere and yet they hadn’t had a hit. I figured somethin’s here, you know and they tried to get in hotels and people kept them out, and they said they were dirty and they smelled.

So I went to see Sir Edward Lewis. We talked and we worked out some kind of deal, and then they got a hit – “Not Fade Away” became a big hit in England – and then they came here and slowly they happened. But it wasn’t until like a year later, when they exploded, that the contract really meant anything, as far as I was concerned. But financially, it didn’t mean anything until much later on. Of course there were so many people involved in the background scene before they ever went to Allen Klein. And I don’t think Allen Klein ever knew what was going on, and he’s not a very good cat.

What do you think about music now? Rock and roll music obviously has this tremendous thing with young people.
What tires me in this business today is that I’m tired really of hearing somebody’s dreams and somebody’s experiences. I would like to hear a little bit more of . . . I mean the Beatles combined it; and they do it well – their experiences, their love and their feelings. I don’t know if they lived “Yesterday,” but I know they wrote it.

Now I’m getting a little tired of hearing about, you know, everybody’s emotional problems. I mean it’s too wavy. Like watching a three or four hour movie. I’m getting so fed up with it. No concept of melody–just goes on and on with the lyric, and on and on with the lyric. They’re making it a fad. If it had more music it would last, but it can’t last this way.

I mean country and western is evident of that, because it’s lived so long by being so obvious. The old tunes have lived so long because they’re obvious. I mean “all the things you are” and all the great songs you’ve heard were obvious in their way. Everybody went to a minor seventh in the bridge. I mean it was standard. You started out in a major seventh chord and you went to the minor seventh of the fourth and that was it, and you wrote a great song. So they had their formula and we have ours today, but they are ruining the formula.

They are going to really kill the music if they keep it up, because they’re not writing songs anymore. They are only writing ideas. They don’t really care about repetition. They don’t care about a hook or melody. And I know the Beatles do. I mean “Lady Madonna” was a hit song. They didn’t write that for an emotional experience and you don’t have to put things into those songs – they’re right there – blah. That “ooh bla dee, ooh bla da . . .” I mean that’s a hit song. Ten years ago that was a smash. I mean “life goes on.” We must have more songs.

The Beatles have a fantastic feel for the market in addition to everthing else.
That’s commercialism; that’s what is not existing in today’s music. That’s the shuck that I think is going on whereby everybody is susceptible to being fooled so much that, and they jive so much that . . . you see these people in music don’t realize that they are really forming the tastes of the young people of America. If they keep going in that direction they’re going to bore themselves out of existence. It’s going to get boring.

What are you gonna do with the stuff you’re workin’ on now? How does that differ from the last work you did with Ike and Tina Turner?
Don’t know. I will go in many directions – some experimental – some not. Today “River Deep – Mountain High” could be a number one record. I think when it came out, it was just like my farewell. I was just sayin’ goodbye, and I just wanted to go crazy, you know, for a few minutes – four minutes on wax, that’s all it was. I loved it, and I enjoyed making it, but I didn’t really think there was anything for the public . . . nobody had really gotten into it enough yet; it really hadn’t exploded the way it’s exploding today with all the sounds and they’re really freaking out with the electronical stuff. Today “River Deep” would probably be a very important sales record. When I made it, it couldn’t be – so, I don’t know. I got what I wanted out of it.

You see, I don’t have a sound, a Phil Spector sound – I have a style, and my style is just a particular way of making records – as opposed to Lou Adler or any of the other record producers who follow the artist’s style. I create a style and call it a sound or a style; I call it a style because it’s a way of doing it.

My style is that I know things about recording that other people just don’t know. It’s simple and clear, and it’s easy for me to make hits. I think the River Deep LP would be a nice way to start off because it’s a record that Tina deserves to be heard on – she was sensational on that record. A record that was number one in England deserves to be number one in America. If so many people are doing the song today, it means it’s ready.

How did your association with Ike and Tina first come about?
They were introduced to me. Somebody told me to see them, and their in-person act just killed me. I mean, they were just sensational.

Have you seen it lately?
Yeah, I saw them at the Factory, of all places. They were . . . well, I always loved Tina. I never knew how great she was. She real-ly is as great as Aretha is. I mean, in her own bag she is sensational, and Joplin and all that, but I couldn’t figure how to get her on record, and then the Righteous Brothers pulled that nonsense, walked out, which cost them. (MGM had to give me a ridiculous sum of money to get them. That was the stupidest . . . I mean it was really dumb. It doesn’t matter leaving me; fuck that, that don’t mean nothin’. The dumb thing was to leave and suck MGM into that stupid deal, and then die as an act! I made a deal that I would not . . . we can’t tell the figures of, you know, for publication, I mean they have to give me so much money. I mean it’s ridiculous).

Why couldn’t the Righteous Brothers make it without you?
I don’t know if they couldn’t have, but they really should have. I would imagine for the same reason that Mary Wells and Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers all had only temporary success, if any, when they switched. The Righteous Brothers in particular were a strange group in that they really were non-intellectual and unable to comprehend success. They couldn’t understand it and couldn’t live with it, and accept it for what it really was – they thought it was something that could be obtained very easily, and once it was attained, it could be consistently obtained.

I think managers in the tradition of Allen Klein came in and jived them – it wasn’t Allen, but men like that – jived them. The boys’ ability to really dissect, in a sophisticated way, what people were saying was so limited. They didn’t have that ability; they could be swayed to other forms of thinking easily. I think that’s what happened and I really don’t think that they had the ability to do it by themselves.

If anything the reason they should have been successful is because they were accepted by black and white, and that’s a big plus. Then they blew that because they tried, I think, to copy and emulate and use whatever it was that I did, and they didn’t know how – not that they should have known how, but they shouldn’t have even tried.

Really, they were not sophisticated enough to present themselves honestly. We really didn’t bring them out honestly, except on the album. I mean those records were made, those songs were written, “Lovin’ Feelin'” was not just a song. It was a song song, and you just can’t go into the studio and sing “He Can Turn the Tide” and expect everybody to fall down.

I think people who don’t realize their limitations can never really comprehend their ability. You have to know what you can’t do much more than what you can do, because it’s obvious that you know what you can do by doing it. But to fool yourself by thinking you’re a tough guy and go out and just fight cause somebody’s gonna come along who’s really good.

Only an unsophisticated person would go out and start fighting everybody, and the Righteous Brothers are comparable to that because they really got fooled.

Now I don’t know what the situation was with Roy Orbison or Mary Wells. I heard there were a lot of different things, but for the Righteous Bros. I just think it was a great loss, because the two of them weren’t exceptional talents, but they did have a musical contribution to make. I loved them, I thought they were a tremendous expression for myself. I think they resented being an expression. I think now if they had it to do again they never would have left. Two or three years later it never would have happened. In those times there was a lot of bullshit talk going around which influenced artists.

Why did they go to MGM?
Because, if you’ll notice, MGM bought Roy Orbison, bought Mary Wells, bought the Righteous Brothers, buys a lot of them. MGM has to make big billings, and they figure they can eventually settle any lawsuit. Now stockholders really don’t care about it as long as you get the gross billing, so I think that’s why they went with MGM; ’cause MGM opens the door to these kinds of things; they opened it to Wells, Orbison and the Righteous Brothers.

I’m curious now about Holland, Dozier & Holland, represented by Allen Klein, who is the major stockholder in MGM, what’s going to happen to them. . . . It’s funny that I always believed that the Motown organization was really not colored, in that sense. That only recently they got involved with all that, Martin Luther King . . . But that Holland, Dozier & Holland should ever wind up with a Jewish white cat as their representative is realy weird. He probably told them “You made Motown.” Which is what the Coasters told Atlantic seven or eight years ago: “We made Atlantic Records.” If you tell a guy enough, he’ll believe you.

I’m sure that when Motown lost Holland, Dozier and Holland they got a little nervous for a while, and then they shoved it right up ’em by making four number one records in a row with every one of Holland, Dozier and Holland artists, including the ones that were buried like Marvin Gaye. So Allen Klein has got to do a lot of talking now, and I’ll bet he tries to sell them to MGM. I just have a feeling that they’ll end up in a deal with them.

Now God knows how many tracks Motown has on Holland, Dozier and Holland, but certainly nobody is responsible, no one thing . . . the Righteous Brothers were not Phil Spector. Holland, Dozier and Holland are not Motown. I mean something happens to people’s minds, and they start thinking – I guess it’s normal – you have to start thinkin’ maybe you are the cause of everybody’s money and financial success, but I don’t know the inner workings, and I think the Righteous Brothers would admit it today if they were together, that they were wrong (and the settlement, although I can’t tell figures, is evident). They didn’t even want to take it to a court of law. The very fact that they settled meant they did not want to go to court. I think Bill Medley, in an honest moment, which he has said since, would say, “We really shouldn’t have left Phil, and also we really had no right to.”

They just walked out on the contract, and I just sat back and said “Well, the courts will eventually go with me.” They have to. Like if contracts get broken and I mean if they’ll let people kill each other, then there would be no laws. So eventually, even if it’s in the Supreme Court, you get justice for what you put in.

I even ran into Bobby Hatfield one night about a year ago, and he had every reason to be apologetic, you know, he’s really a strugglin’ cat now. I mean he’s not doin’ anything of worth now. It’s a shame. I really feel funny. I didn’t get hurt; I really came out smelling like a rose in that situation, but I was very upset that they blew their talent. I was selling more records in the colored market than I was in the white market, and yet they had a tremendous fan club of white teenie boppers.

I mean they had it made. They could have been around for three or four years solid with big records. Instead they go and make . . . well, let’s face it – Roy Orbison for years made hit records before he left. Mary Wells was big, but the Righteous Brothers only had three or four hits and then goodbye. They weren’t around long enough to sustain with junk. If they had like two or three years of hits they could have put some junk out for awhile. I mean they went to everybody to produce their records and everybody didn’t really know what to do with them, because they in themselves were not extraordinary talents. They were just just great commercial talents – they were like Sam and Dave, only more commercial. I mean what is the business today if not commerciality. You know, you can write 10,000 things out there, but if they’re not commercial very few will make it.

You did some of the first, I hesitate to use the phrase, “message” songs. Like “Spanish Harlem.” What was the reaction of the record industry at that time to that kind of thing?
That record was a monster. The Drifters . . . well, that was to be the followup to “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and then Ben E. King decided that he’d been screwed, and wanted to go on his own. And then he chose that song, which drove me crazy, I said “You can’t go out with that song, ’cause that’s gotta be done by the Drifters or it’ll never get played.”

I had been in New York, I was born there and had lived out here in California a great deal of the time. I went back there and I wanted to do “Spanish Harlem.” It really meant exactly what it said . . . That song had a lot of meaning to me and is still applicable today. It turned out to be a very very valuable copyright with all kinds of records resulting from it. They’ve offered all kinds of money for the copyright.

I think the record industry just accepted it. I don’t think they knew it was a message or it wasn’t a message. I don’t think they knew anything. I think it was just there, but I don’t think anyone really thought it was a hit; nobody did. Nobody really understood it at first, then it started to grow on people and it made sense. I don’t know. I love it and it says a lot for me. Did you know it was Lenny Bruce’s favorite song?

Of the records that you’ve been involved with, and you’ve done, which do you like the most?
Well, in the beginning I made a lot of records that I didn’t put names on and nobody knows about, and it’s better that way. But I did it because people in the industry somehow found out, and I needed the bread or whatever it was, and some of those records I can’t give titles on, but I’m very proud of one of them. But of those that you know of, I would imagine “Be My Baby” and “Lovin’ Feelin” are the most satisfying. “River Deep” is a satisfying record.

I mean I could tell you how “Lovin’ Feelin” was made. I could tell you I’m the greatest fuckin’ record producer that ever lived and that I’ll eat up all these cats in the studio if they want to put their mouths right there and their money right there.

If I say Bob Crewe is not good, it puts more pressure on me, like to come out and really kill everybody with another “River Deep,” which I really don’t want to do. “He’s A Rebel,” it’s fine; the “Da Do Ron Ron” is fine. I’m not interested in knocking everybody’s brain’cause I’ll always make a good record and it’ll be better than all that shit out there today.

‘Cause they really don’t know how to record. They don’t know anything about depth, about sound, about technique, about slowing down. One company does know something: that’s Motown. They know how to master a record. You put on a Motown record and it jumps at you. That’s one thing among many they know how to do. For sure. I know how they’re doing it, but it’s their bag. But a lot of their records are not mastered for the record player, they’re mastered for the record player, they’re mastered for the radio, which is a whole different thing.

So the more things you come out and you say–the more antagonistic you are, the more hostile you are–the more is expected of you.

So when you put out something, a lot of people think . . . “Are you ashamed?” Not ashamed, but like that “Da Do Ron Ron” thing. “Da Do Ron Ron” was where I was at that time, just like “Yellow Submarine” was where the Beatles were; I’m glad people remember those things . . . because if people didn’t know where I was, then I would be nothin’. It’s like when somebody dies–all the people do is yell “He died, he died.” I yell “He lived.” A hell of a lot more important than the fact that he’s dead, is the fact that he lived.

So people tend to reverse it, and just like the Los Angeles Times plays on that reverse, so does the underground press. You never know what you’re gonna read in the underground press for shock value. I mean you really just don’t know. So I don’t know how to express myself. Maybe that’s why I don’t do any interviews for anybody. NBC is doing a big thing now. Next month they’re gonna come out with record producers.

Now I was gonna tape one and say “It’s all a lot of shit and everybody’s lousy,” and all that, but I figure that if I’m goin’ back in the record industry, I’ll just antagonize thousands of disc jockeys who may see the show all over the country, and then they’re gonna say, “Fuck Phil Spector, because, you know, he’s an antagonistic prick,” which is a lot of the reason probably for the fact that “River Deep” didn’t make it. They wanted me to get out there and take ’em to dinner and “Who is this fuckin’ millionaire, who does he think he is? Fuck his ass,” you know. But in England they don’t give a shit about nonsense like that. So the best thing to do is just like cool it for awhile, I figured.

I have to be smart enough to know that a $700,000 home that I can sell for $1,200,000 was bought from the record industry. So if I sit and make fun of the record industry, I’m stupid. But if I criticize it, I’m not so stupid because I also have cures for the criticism. I just don’t put people down and say they’re shits – I tell ’em I think I can do it better, and I think there’s a better way.

People put you down for really criticizing, but I can literally tear apart nine out of ten groups. I have to tell you something is desperately wrong with most groups, I mean really bad, bad news. But if you antagonize a million people, and they say, “Well, what are you doing now?”–it’s true, I’m not in the record industry, but that is what gives me credentials to criticize, but in a sense, it gives me none. I live off what I’ve done and my reputation is there, and it’s unspoiled. I keep it that way.

But I can’t comunicate with a lot of these people. I can’t really bullshit with them. I don’t have friends in the record industry. I don’t talk with them. We don’t jell; we don’t communicate; because I’m too bitter I think.

What do you think of Apple?
I think it was a necesssity. Why should they split their money with Capitol so much?

Aren’t they still doin’ it?
Yeah, but they couldn’t do it alone, because the distributors would kill ’em.

Would they?
Oh, sure.

Was Philles records a . . .
A self-distributor. I distributed myself. You see, the Beatles. would have made a mistake if they had left Capitol. They didn’t have to. All their product was on Capitol. Capitol knows how to throw press parties, Capitol knows how to sell albums. They would have had to suddenly hire all people to do that for them. Like if Tony Bennett and Andy Williams came to A&M to negotiate a deal, in the end Jerry Moss would have had to tell ’em to stay where they are. They’d be stupid. They can’t get from A&M what they can get from Columbia Records. Mathis made the biggest mistake by leaving Columbia. The Beatles wouldn’t have been smart to start a new association. They would’ve been fighting their old Capitol product.

You would have had Capitol releasing old shit Beatle records, and the Beatles releasing new Beatle records. It would have been flooded again, it would’ve been that same old thing again, only this time somebody would’ve gotten hurt. So they got what they wanted from Capitol. They’re ending up as if they owned their own company anyway. They’re saving all the bookkeeping charges, saving all the personnel charges. Capitol’s doin’ all the work and given’ them a lot of bread. A lot of bread. So they’re just as smart to stay in that way.

You could say that the record industry is like controlled by people who really don’t care about the music.
They don’t, ’cause I can make you a millionaire tomorrow! In one day I can make you a millionaire. Just make me a record, I’ll send it out to every distributor and I’ll bill every distributor. On paper you’ll be a millionaire, ’cause I’ll ship five million of your records. On paper you’ll be a millionaire, and if that record don’t sell you’ll only be a very quick millionaire, but if I do it enough times, eventually I’m gonna get lucky and eventually you will be a millionaire.

That’s how RCA works. You know any group that gets $100,000 from a label advance–you know that label is frightened to death. Any label that puts the Archies out is frightened. Donnie Kirshner is a friend of mine, and he wants me to say nice things about him. but . . . that’s shit, the Archies; that’s pure, unadulterated shit. When I see and hear stuff like that I want to throw up.

Do you think there is any way of changing the record industry?
It’s not that it’s so bad, it’s just like it’s going to bore itself out. These groups are going to bore everybody to death. I mean, it’s a pattern–make a Number One record, go on the Smothers Brothers’ show; make a Number One record, go on the Dean Martin show; make a Number One record, go on Ed Sullivan. It’s getting boring already.

I mean a few good songs are out, like I should name you a good song–a good song is “Games People Play” by Joe South. It’s groovy. It’s a groovy song. The best song of the year probably is “Heard It Through the Grapevine” or “Abraham, Martin and John.” That’s probably the best lyric and message love song, ideawise, yet NARAS won’t even recognize those songs. They’ll give it to that guitar player Mason Williams on Warner Bros. or Paul Mauriat or one of those guys.

“I heard it through the grapevine” is the most common saying; it’s a great idea for a song. “For Once In My Life” is a great idea for a song; they won’t even recognize this stuff. You see, I don’t care about the groups: Just like who can care about the Chipmunks, let ’em make it, so what? Let the Archies make it, let the Monkees make it, so they’re a lot of shit, so what? Let all these groups make it–let ’em cook, cook, cook forever.

But the people who have to change the industry are the people who are running the big time–the NARAS organization. Like it doesn’t mean anything to me, but I’ve never been nominated. Now you say it must mean something or you wouldn’t say it. Well, it means something ’cause, like Dylan has never really been nominated. The Beatles have only been nominated recently, because they wrote “Yesterday,” and they just couldn’t stop the power of that song. Jimmy Reed and Bo Diddley and B. B. King–none of these cats have ever been nominated.

Excuse me, I was nominated once. I was nominated for putting thunder in “Walkin’ In The Rain.” That’s what they nominated me for. Can you imagine that? People say I set standards in the record industry. Yet NARAS doesn’t know I exist. They literally don’t. The best rhythm and blues record of the year several years ago according to NARAS was Bent Fabric and “Alley Cat.” I mean, can you imagine: Nancy Wilson was best R&B artist of the year! I mean, that’s junk.

They’re trying to change, and when we say change it, they say, “Well, why don’t you come down to our meetings and help us change?” I said, “Well, if I’m gonna go to your meetings, I’d rather form my own committee and get the dues myself. Why the fuck do I have to help you get $50 a person? I’m formin’ my own organization called PHIL, right? And everybody give me $100. What do I need you for?” That’s what BMI did to ASCAP–fucked them right out of all that money. Got all the young writers that way.

I mean, there should be a producers’ society. I was gonna form one. Get every producer to join my organization–and they all would – $1,000 entrance fees, Felix you’re vice-president, and Bob Crewe you’re secretary-treasurer, and now we’re powerful, we go on strike and we don’t make no records, right?

“Felix goes on strike unless he gets 8% of the Cream records.” Now that’s a strong idea, right? The publishers have it, the musicians have it. Fuckin’ musicians walked out on the Joey Bishop –Continued on Next Page Show. You can’t put them to work. They played records in the background. So they come back, but they were on strike. Now wouldn’t that be somethin’? The songwriters have it. If you’re a songwriter you join a protective association. If you’re a publisher, writer, you join BMI.

Producers have nothin’. They go into a record company and get fucked left and right. Make a hit . . . who made the record “Little Star?” Who knows, man? Company’s out of business now . . . great record, boom, goodbye, garbage, down the drain . . . But you have an association of record producers called RPI of America, Record Producers Incorporated of America, well you got somethin’, you got a giant there. I was thinkin’ of doin’ it just for the hell of it.

If I get back in the regulars, I’m gonna do it. Engineers have it, everybody has it. We’re gonna become a union; we’ll join up with Hoffa and those Teamsters, get with them, and all that nonsense. Producers don’t have nothin’, man. I mean it’s really a shame. Where’s Eric Jacobson? He’s fuckin’ down the tubes somewhere. He had no protection. We should have had meetings and all the record companies should be sayin’, “Oh God, the Producers of America are gettin’ together again, shit, there’s gonna be trouble, man, trouble.” I wanted to do that long ago, but, you know, everybody thinks I’m joking around.

Everybody should be in some kind of a union, because the unions are the most powerful things. They almost put me out of business twice. I mean they put a black mark on me for overdubbing. That’s it. I couldn’t make a master, I couldn’t even get a dub ’cause everybody was union. There was a letter sent out to all the unions, “Don’t do business with this company.” That’s it. I called up – nothin’. Couldn’t get arrested, couldn’t hire a musician ’til I paid them $50,000 and some nonsense fees that they wanted for the dead musicians fund or the trust fund for dead musicans’ wives or some shit. There is $28 million in that fund, and ain’t nobody ever got none of it. Nobody knows . . . I ask all my musicians, where is all that money? They ain’t never seen it.

Just like David Susskind says to me, “What’s it like on Tin Pan Alley?” I said, “Where the fuck is Tin Pan Alley?” I mean you tell me where it is, and I’ll go. I mean they live ass you and the people don’t know. David Oppenheimer, big producer for CBS, man, he comes here and he’s sittin’ in my room and he says, “Are the young people really takin’ over the record industry?” And he’s sittin’ in my house askin’ me that question! He’s got cameras on me, he’s got the microphone on me, and he’s askin’ me if the young people are takin’ over the country. Now why ain’t the camera on him? I mean, they don’t understand. I can’t change the record industry just like I can’t change Jerry Rubin or I can’t change Ted Kennedy; it’s impossible.

I feel like an oldtimer wishin’ for the groovy young days, but I listen to the Beatles’ album and I know they’re wishin’ for it too, because you can hear it. “Lady Madonna” was such a groovy oldtime thing.

And Dylan is yearnin’ for those days, because this was the first time he was ever able to come out and not be influenced by the people around him. They probably didn’t understand a thing Dylan wrote on John Wesley Harding, but they probably said “Yeah, man, yeah.” He probably thought a long time before he did it. Instead of writing, “I’ve been sittin’ in my mind, lookin’ out the windows of the world”–that’s what they were used to hearing–he just fucked ’em all up by writing just what he wanted to write. It must have been a big, big step for him, ’cause it’s hard when your people around you are all tuned to one way of life, and then you just come and change it for them. He took a big risk, as an artist, by doing that. A big, big risk. He really deserves a lot more credit. He can’t get anymore, I guess, but that was a big, big step for him to do that. ‘Cause the people really wanted somethin’ else from him.

Now in the production world, I may be similar to what Dylan is in the popular world, but I know people expect me to come up with another “River Deep” momentous production. But that’s not where it’s at. It’s in pleasing yourself and making the hit records. That’s all that counts. That’s the only reason people come to see you. That’s the only reason people want to talk to you and get your opinion, ’cause you’re the best; ’cause you’re makin’ money and you’re makin’ a lot of hit records. If you don’t work and you got enough bread, well then you’re cool, too.

There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.
I don’t care if people put me down for what I say, but society sets a standard of living for you, and they create rules and record books . . . they force you to live by them. It’s almost like being psychotic. It’s like, if you can take a couple of pills and just cool it, that kind of life becomes a lot more exciting than going out and working and grooving. So they put you in a hospital and every day you stay in. That’s why people go in the mental hospitals and very rarely get out, because they dig it. It becomes easier than to go out and face society with the cabs and the horns, and the people. They make it almost impossible for you to want to get out of there.

The underground sort of does the same thing. They get your standards all twisted–like the Los Angeles Times ignores your standards. It’s almost like the people running the underground press must be a lot of frustrated people; a lot of them who really want to be important, like agents want to be actors, musicians’ agents want to be drummers, etc.

Are you apprehensive at all about what’s goin’ to happen and how your stuff is going to be received?
If I say yes, then I’m frightened. If I say no, that means that I’m very cocksure of myself. I’m cocksure of myself to the extent that I know I can make hit records. I don’t worry about that. I’m apprehensive about certain people who don’t have any standards but drug standards, really. If they’re loaded at one time, my record will sound great; if they’re not loaded, it may sound bad. I’m apprenhensive about the kind of things that people expect. I mean, they don’t really want hit records.

Let’s face it. It’s nice to see somebody on top get the shit beat out of them. That’s why I stayed away for a long time, so I’ll come back almost like a newcomer, because I mean, that’s why everybody hates Cassius Clay; he’s a very cocky son of a bitch. You want to punch him in the nose, but that’s really great when you can scare the shit out of your opponents by your cockiness.

I’m apprehensive only to the extent that I don’t know how to lose yet; I don’t know how to say “fuck it” about my art. I get too involved. See, I could just cool it, I mean, somebody’s got to come in second . . . but it’s guys like Bill Gavin that make me nervous. Those are the guys that get me uptight. And so I have to say, “Fuck that guy; who cares. I’ll kill ’em, I’ll stomp him.” And it’s true. It’s just that I haven’t gotten over it yet, you know.

I’m still involved with why “River Deep” wasn’t a hit, and what the fuck was . . . and am I that hated? Am I too paranoid? You know, you can antagonize people if they think you’re not human, if you say, “Aw fuck, I ain’t afraid.” A lot of people will get very angry at that; disc jockeys in particular.

Herbie calls me in sometimes and says “Listen to this”: I mean he played me that thing “A Taste of Honey.” My engineer Larry Levine won best record of the year production for that record at NARAS, but never won with me on anything – was never even nominated! The only thing we were nominated for was the thunder in “Walkin’ in the Rain.”

So I guess the best thing to be is not apprehensive and to not give a fuck. I should be smart enough, knowing Dylan and knowing the Beatles, to know that they don’t give a fuck anyway, and I don’t give a fuck what they do–realistically. Because I don’t sit and criticize their albums. They can’t do anything wrong, and if I don’t like it, so what? But who do they really have to impress? They have to impress all the people. People got to buy. So that’s really where it’s at.

The days of the dominating disc jockey are over. There’s no more powerful disc jockey who rules anything. What does scare me a little bit is that there’s not many more Tom Donahues around. That’s bad. I mean, there aren’t any guys with good ears that know how to play a record, and a disc jockey’s not allowed to bust a record anymore. He’s got to say–it’s really commercial and play this one and scream–”I can dig it.” The music comes on and he says, “Now here’s a pimple commercial.” That bothers me a little bit.

Where does the power lie?
The power lies in program directors.

Are there any groups you would consider working with today?
Yeah, a lot of groups–all black. I don’t like the white groups. I think there is a great void in black music today–great void.

What is the void?
Not being heard enough. Motown should not dominate it. Stax shouldn’t dominate it either. There should be more black groups. There should be three black groups on every label around town. Hell, they’ve got enough of ’em and enough singers–they just don’t have anybody to produce their records for them. Ben E. King should be making hits; he’s a great artist.

I mean really, Motown has got it all tied up. Stax doesn’t even come near Motown. They can’t get a special on television or anything. So who’s dominating it?

Why do you think the Beatles’ first release in this country didn’t make it?
Timing. Bad timing. What else could you attribute it to but timing? It has to be timing. It has to be. I mean, I can’t think of any other reason except that we weren’t ready for it. They probably weren’t exposed and we weren’t ready for it. I mean there were probably many more reasons why they should have made it than why they shouldn’t have. Now, we can look back and say, “Yeah, we were fucked up,” but we could not look back then at all. I would imagine, time and maturity. Great amount of luck involved too. Elvis Presley is another guy.

What did you think of his television show?
They ruined it; you should have seen it before they edited it. I didn’t see the final version. What was originally done was sensational. How it ended up, I can’t tell you. I know they cut out three scenes that were unbelievable. I meanthey cut out everything that was Elvis, really Elvis. They destroyed a lot of it, so I can’t tell you how the final version was. But I think he’s a sensation on stage.

Do you think he’s gonna come back?
Yeah, he’s got a hit now. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a hit. Oh, he should man. He is never gonna die. Somebody ought to cut an album of him singin’ the blues. You know there’s a strong belief–and judging from what I saw and heard at NBC, I believed it–that when he goes into a room with Colonel Parker, he’s one way, and when he comes out, he’s another way. You know, it’s possible Colonel Parker hypnotizes him. That’s the truth, too, and I can tell you six or seven people who believe it, too, who are not jive ass people. I mean, he actually changes. He’ll tell you “Yes, yes, yes,” and then he’ll go in that room and when he comes out it’s “No, no, no.” Now, nobody can you like that. I wonder about that.

What has he got that has survived the worst recording career direction in history?
He’s a great singer. Gosh, he’s so great. You have no idea how great he is, really, you don’t. You have absolutely no comprehension–it’s absolutely impossible. I can’t tell you why he’s so great, but he is. He’s sensational. He can do anything with his voice. Whether he will or not is something else. He and Dylan–he and Dylan I would like to record. Elvis can make some masterful records and can do anything. He can sing any way you want him to, any way you tell him. Even Dion. Look at Dion. Even Dion came back. Anybody great can come back today. That’s what’s so good about it.

What stops the Everly Brothers?
They’ll get lucky like Dion did. Dion put out a lot of records that didn’t mean anything. They’ll get lucky.

What do you think accounts for the Everly Brothers and Fats Domino . . . and they’re both on the same label. And fats makes a really respectable record.
You mean the album?

Yeah, Fats Is Back. Why can’t the Everly Brothers do it like that? What’s the difference between them as artists?
I don’t know. You see, to me, Fats Is Back wasn’t any better than any of Fats’ old albums. If you’re gonna bring Fats back, you gotta bring him back better or you can’t bring him back. That’s why they never should have put those greatten or nine old records with little blurps of each one, at the beginning, cause it really makes you want to hear the old record rather than the new gib-gab that that guy cut–whatever guy makes Tim’s records, Tiny Tim. Now, I mean I’m willing to bet that Rolling Stone gave that an A plus rating and that they gave him genuine credit for a superb production on that record. I’m willing to bet on it.

You win.
Everything else was nice, but other than the two Beatle tunes, I mean it was like old Fats Domino again, but it did show one thing–that the Beatles are hit songwriters by anybody. If they had written “Lady Madonna” for Fats he would have had a number one record. It was nice to hear him on the radio again. I’ll say that. It was good to hear Fats on the radio again. I just wish he could have been heard more for a longer period of time, but yeah, it was a respectable album. It was respectable. That’s such a common word. My school teacher was respectable. It doesn’t mean much.

Do you judge art in terms of success?
Art is relative. Because everything and anything can be art. It’s just a matter of taste. Warner Brothers has an idea of art. . . . Their art was bringing back Fats Domino. They didn’t do it, so they fucked up. John Lennon’s got a different approach to art–so he puts out “Do It In The Streets” and that’s groovy, that’s his terms. So, art is relative. Each person has their own interpretation of art.

What I’m asking is if you are evaluating the record in terms of success.
I’m evaluating it in terms of what their goal was. Warner Brothers’ goal was to bring Fats back, and they didn’t. So in that area, they failed. Did they make a great record? No, they didn’t. I could make giant records with Fats.

What’s the effect of drugs been upon you? Have they had an effect on your music?
I haven’t made any music since that whole drug thing started.

Do you think it will?
Well, the listening audience will be affected by it. I mean, I’ve gotten a lot of letters and a lot of people said they’ve listened to “River Deep” stoned, and they had the ear phones on, and they just freaked out, you know, with the sound. Well, you know nobody was stoned when they made the record, I can tell you that.

David Susskind once said that rock and roll records are out of tune. Was he stoned? Well, I’ve never used anybody but Barney Kessel and those kind of guys, the best musicians, they don’t know how to play out of tune!

So you can get a tag–psychedelic or drugs. I don’t know, maybe drugs will affect my music. Drugs tend to frighten me a little in an audience because it doesn’t make for good hearing and concentration. Now I’d hate like hell to have an incoherent jury listening to me, when I’m tryin’ to plead a case . . . just spaced out. I’d get frightened. Just like I hate to bet on a fighter or horse that’s drugged. That’s scary. I don’t give a fuck what they do in their own time, but if a disc jockey is going to review my record, and he’s stoned, well, you know, he can go either way. It depends on how good the stuff he took was, and he’s gonna either love my record or hate my record. But I mean, you shouldn’t be judged that way. In fact–art can’t and shouldn’t be judged at all! Because it’s all a matter of taste.

What do you think the difference is going to be between the audience today and the audience’s reaction to music today, as compared to five years ago?
I don’t know. Everybody’s a helluva lot hipper today, I’ll tell you that. There’s 13-year-old whores walkin’ the streets now. It wouldn’t have happened as much five years ago. Not 13-year-old drug addicts. It’s a lot different today. I tell you the whole world is a drop-out. I mean, everybody’s a fuck-off. Everybody’s mini-skirted, everybody’s hip, everybody reads all the books. How in the hell you gonna overcome all that? Sophistication, hippness, everything. They’re really very hip today.

The music business is so different than any other business. You know, Frank Sinatra has a hit. Sister Dominique or whatever her name is, has a hit. I can show you six groups out there today who are opposite. I mean the Archies have a hit at the same time the Beatles do, so it really doesn’t mean anything.

Now who’s buyin’ the Archies’ records? That’s what I can’t understand, and who bought all the Monkees’ records–same cats who bought all the Stones records? If they’re not, then that makes the buyin’ public so big . . . ‘ Cause the four million that bought the Monkees and the six million that bought the Beatles are different, then there’s 10 million kids buying records. That’s a helluva lot of a better throw at the dice. I’d rather have a chance out of 10 million times instead of six million times, so. it probably will be easier.

How are you cutting with the Check Mates?
I don’t know yet. All different ways. Very commercial records. Good records. Easy records. Soulful records. Some have depth, some don’t have. . . .

Does it worry you at all, that there’s been a change?
Well, anything that deteriorates music bothers me a little bit. I mean, if when Beethoven lost his hearing, if I was alive, it would have bothered me. I have to be affected by it. It bothers me that some music is very boring. I hear a lot of disc jockeys saying “Let’s throw this shit out.” I hear them saying there are so many fucking groups–so boring. I hear this so much, that I believe it. If it’s true then yeah, it bothers me. It bothers me enough to get back in.

You’re not worried that you won’t be able to make the change?
If anybody’s going to have to worry, they’re going to have to worry. Not me, ’cause I’m comin’ back! You know, I don’t know if there has been a change, because if six million kids still buy the Monkees,’ then there hasn’t been a change. They’re the same six million that bought honky records five years ago.

The only real difference there is in the record industry is in black music. That’s the big difference. But I don’t consider Motown black; I consider them half and half. Black people making white music. The Monotones, the Drifters, the Shirrelles, Fats . . . I mean, all those artists, not making it and around anymore. That’s a big debt. But maybe it’s only because nobody’s doing it. We’ll find out soonenough anyway.

This story is from the November 1st, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.


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