Can a man build a wall of sound when he's stuck behind bars? That's what fans of Phil Spector have been asking following news that the legendary music producer, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder last year, will shortly release his first new record in almost three decades.
The star of Spector's latest album will be somewhat less influential than the Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Ben E King, Tina Turner, and all the other stars of the Sixties and Seventies whose careers he shaped. She's an unknown singer and trombonist by the name of Rachelle Spector. And she happens to be Phil's wife. Her debut album is called Out of my Chelle, and when it hits iTunes next week, it will be Spector's first professional work since he collaborated with the Ramones in 1980. He wrote several of Rachelle's tracks, including a single called "Here in My Heart", which is billed as a heart-rending love song to a now-absent husband.
The couple worked on the project during downtime from the three-year court case that ended last May with Spector found guilty of having shot a struggling B-movie actress called Lana Clarkson in the face, during a late-night dispute at his Los Angeles mansion seven years ago. "Making this record was his escape, during a very hard time," Rachelle told The Independent on Sunday yesterday. "The idea of releasing it is now to put people's focus back on Phil's music, and to show them that, after everything that's happened, he's still the genius he always was, an incredibly gifted producer who is way ahead of his time."
Whether her lofty aim will be achieved depends on the public. But regardless of its commercial reception Out of my Chelle will represent yet another bizarre twist in an unlikely saga that began when Spector, then 62, met Rachelle, then 23, at a Hollywood nightclub on 3 September 2003.
Rachelle, an aspiring singer, said she felt an instant "connection" when they were introduced. They chatted, "mostly about religion and politics", until 6am and exchanged phone numbers. Rachelle did not find out that her new suitor – who, by the by, had picked up the unfortunate Clarkson at an eerily similar Hollywood nightclub – was facing murder charges until several weeks later. And by then it was too late: she had fallen "completely in love".
In 2006, she duly became the fourth Mrs Spector, and her subsequent presence at his two court cases saw her, perhaps unfairly, dubbed a gold-digger by America's tabloids. She is nonetheless happy to discuss what attracts her to the multimillionaire impresario. "I like the way he looks," she said. "He's boyish and cute, witty, smart and we are so much alike even though we are generations apart. We share common interests, a love of music, people, life, old films, a strong work ethic, even certain mannerisms."
These days, of course, Mrs Spector has less time to spend enjoying her husband's boyish charms. They get to meet only on Saturdays, when she gets up at 1.30am and hits the road to be first in the visitor's queue at Corcoran State Prison. The couple chat in a dingy cafeteria where she's allowed to give him $50 in cash, together with no more than one hug and one kiss. They usually discuss Phil's old friends, Rachelle's album, and the appeal against the second-degree murder conviction. "It's tough. He's surviving in prison. But it's really hard. I'm his lifeline, a link to the outside world. This experience is showing him to be more of a man than I ever thought he was."
Once a day, Spector telephones the vast mansion where Rachelle now runs the companies that collect musical royalties on his behalf. He continues to claim his innocence, saying that Clarkson committed suicide. Rachelle, who now has a private investigator's licence, cites an alleged lack of forensic evidence in the case. An appeal was filed in March. "Science doesn't lie. His DNA was nowhere on the gun. His fingerprints were nowhere on the gun. He had no gunshot residue on him at all. He had no blood spatter on him, except one small spot which was behind the right elbow of his white suit, which is nowhere near what you'd expect if he'd actually shot her."
In the meantime, Rachelle hopes that the new album will remind the public that, whatever they think of her husband's character, he is a man of enduring musical talent. "What he does, in my opinion, is really amazing," she said.