Murder charge puts legendary producer back in the spotlight

By Cahal Milmo
Tuesday 04 February 2003 01:00
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A black Mercedes car with the passenger door hanging open was the focus of the investigation last night into the events that led to one of the world's most successful music impresarios being charged with first-degree murder.

The vehicle, surrounded by police tape, had been parked on the drive of Pyrenes Castle, a mansion styled to look like a fairytale chateau, which belongs to Phil Spector, a man of such precocious musical talent that he had written and produced his first number one record by the age of 17.

When police from the Los Angeles suburb of Alhambra arrived at the sprawling estate at about 5am local time (1pm GMT) to answer a report of gunfire, they found the body of a woman. Mr Spector, who was believed to have been the only other person in the house, was placed under arrest.

The LA County Sheriff's Department refused to comment on reports that the emergency call alerting officers had come from the secluded mansion.

Friends of the music producer, whose name was associated with a roll call of iconic talent from the Beatles to Ike and Tina Turner, from Elvis to the Righteous Brothers, said he had been living alone at the property and did not have a girlfriend. Officers investigating the killing would not be drawn on the identity of the victim. Mr Spector, a reclusive and eccentric genius who has won two Grammy awards, was expected to appear in court by tomorrow afternoon. Some reports said he had been bailed for $1m (£640,000).

His neighbours said he led an almost hermit-like existence. The only glimpse of the 62-year-old divorcee would be when he slipped out of the property in his white 1964 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, licence plate Phil 500. His eccentricity is underlined by his wrist watch, which makes a whirring sound on every hour like a cuckoo clock and speaks the time.

In an interview last weekend with The Daily Telegraph, breaking a silence of 25 years, he said: "I don't like to talk and I can't stand to be talked about. I can't stand to be looked at. I can't stand to be photographed. I can't stand the attention."

At the height of his powers from the 1960s through to the early 1980s, Mr Spector mixed with the aristocracy of pop music. He produced the last Beatles album, Let It Be (much to annoyance of Paul McCartney when he added an extraneous strings section), worked with John Lennon on Imagine and helped Yoko Ono produce her husband's work after Lennon's death in 1980.

In 1968, he married Veronica Bennett, a singer in one of his creations, the Ronnettes. The couple divorced in 1974. Last October, a court in New York overturned a $3m award for royalties brought against him by his ex-wife and the two other members of the group.

Mr Spector was born on Boxing Day 1940 in the Bronx in New York. He was the grandson of a Russian Jew called Spekter, whose name was changed when he arrived at Ellis Island.

The young Harvey Philip Spector knew tragedy from an early age. His father, Benjamin, committed suicide in 1949 after falling deep into debt. The family moved to Los Angeles in 1953, where Mr Spector's mother, Bertha, worked as a seamstress.

Short, skinny and thin-lipped as a young man, he toyed with careers as a French interpreter and a court reporter before concentrating on the talent that came naturally – his ability to play music. At school, his repertoire of instruments included the guitar, piano, drums, bass and French horn. By the mid-1950s, Los Angeles was the hub of America's recording industry and when Mr Spector's first band, the Teddy Bears, released their first single, "To Know Him Is To Love Him", it became a massive hit and made him a millionaire while still a teenager.

What secured his fame, however, was his technical acumen in the recording studio. He perfected a technique of layering instrumental tracks to produce a booming orchestral rock bringing together strings, horns and additional percussion on top of the spare chords of rock music. He described the "Wall of Sound" as "little symphonies for the kids".

He had hits with the Crystals, the Ronnettes, the Rolling Stones, Ike and Tina Turner and George Harrison. He shared a Grammy with Harrison, Bob Dylan, Clapton and others for the 1972 Concert for Bangladesh album.

Mr Spector saw himself as a presiding genius. He told The Daily Telegraph: "I knew Beethoven was more important than whoever was playing his music. That's what I wanted to be."

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