RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Six years after the death of actress Lana Clarkson, and nearly two years after a mistrial, yesterday a jury here in Los Angeles found music producer Phil Spector guilty of second-degree murder. He faces a prison sentence of 18 years to life. Phil Spector produced some of the most acclaimed records in all of pop music. And NPR's Neda Ulaby has this look at that career.
NEDA ULABY: Shortly before the shooting that led to Phil Spector's arrest, journalist Mick Brown taped the reclusive producer's first interview in years, as he told NPR in 2007.
Mr. MICK BROWN (Journalist): Almost as soon as I sat down with Phil Spector, he started to talk about his mental state.
Mr. PHIL SPECTOR (Music Producer): I have devils inside that fight me. And I am my own worst enemy. And for all intent and purposes, I'd say I'm probably relatively insane.
ULABY: Insanity and insecurity haunted Phil Spector's entire life. Spector's older sister had to be institutionalized, and his father committed suicide when the boy was 9 years old. Spector's first hit, at age 18, was inspired by the inscription on his father's grave.
(Soundbite of song, "To Know Him Is to Love Him")
THE TEDDY BEARS (Music Group): (Singing) Yes, just to know him is to love, love, love him. And I do. And I do. And I do.
ULABY: That's Spector in the background, harmonizing with the Teddy Bears. His perfect pitch and knack for a melody soon made Spector an A-list producer. He was only 21 when he co-founded his own label.
Mr. HAL BLAINE (Drummer): Every Phil Spector session was a party.
ULABY: Session drummer Hal Blaine recalled Spector's producing process in an interview with WHYY's FRESH AIR.
Mr. BLAINE: He used to be in the booth, and he'd run back and forth like he was conducting a symphony. Certain times, he would look at me and he would say, now, which meant go for it.
(Soundbite of song, "Be My Baby")
THE RONETTES (Music Group): (Singing) Be my, be my baby, be my little baby.
ULABY: Spector's trademark wall of sound propels this hit by the Ronettes. The group's lead singer married her producer. Ronnie Spector told NPR in 1990 their songs were love letters.
Ms. RONNIE SPECTOR (Singer): And we always rehearsed them alone. So we had this romance between my singing and him teaching me. It was the best feeling in the world. It's like, mmmmmm.
ULABY: Those feelings began to be spiked by abuse. She said Spector would not let her wear shoes in the house for fear she would run away. He bought a glass-lidded coffin in which he threatened to display her if she left. Still, Phil Spector produced an extraordinary string of hits, too many to name. But by the 1970s, Spector's career was in shambles. Journalist Mick Brown says his mounting obsession with guns signaled a psychic free-fall.
Mr. BROWN: He was drinking very heavily. He wasn't a man in control of himself. He'd even wear guns when he was making telephone calls to record executives, in order to give himself a bit of an edge over them, it seemed, on the telephone.
ULABY: When Phil Spector produced a 1980 Ramones album, he reportedly pulled a gun on the group in the studio. Spector soon entered near-seclusion. He tried to record albums with other musicians but ended up fighting with them. Music, it seems, was only a temporary balm for his pain.
(Soundbite of song, "He's a Rebel")
THE CRYSTALS (Music Group): (Singing) See the way he walks down the street. Watch the way he shuffles his feet.
ULABY: Journalist Mick Brown.
Mr. BROWN: He had this one, priceless gift, which was a musical ability. And he was able to create out of this gift these extraordinary records, these grandiloquent dreams of romance and love and escape, and fling those back into the face of the world. It was flinging them at his father, who killed himself; flinging it at the kids who wouldn't talk to him at school; flinging it at the record industry, who thought he was a madman. These records were Spector's revenge.
ULABY: And his legacy.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, "He's a Rebel")
THE CRYSTALS: (Singing) He's a rebel 'cause he never ever does what he should. Just because he doesn't do what…
MONTAGNE: And this is NPR News.