Spector and Smith, Making Rock History Female rock legends Ronnie Spector and Patti Smith are among this year's inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. From the NPR archives come past interviews with both musicians.
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Spector and Smith, Making Rock History

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Spector and Smith, Making Rock History

Spector and Smith, Making Rock History

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Ronnie Spector, I'm going to take you back right to the beginning, to that part of your voice which has become a trademark. You know what I'm...

Ms. RONNIE SPECTOR (Singer): (Humming)

HANSEN: Yeah, that.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SPECTOR: (Singing) Have I ever told you how good it feels to hold you? It isn't easy to explain.

HANSEN: Tomorrow night, Ronnie Spector, her sister Estelle Bennett and cousin Nedra Talley will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Ronettes left an indelible mark on the music of the '60s. Sure, there were other girl groups - the Supremes, the Shirelles - who sang in harmony and wore glamorous gowns. But the Ronettes, born and raised in New York's Spanish Harlem, projected the image of tough street kids with their skin-tight dresses and beehive hairdos. Their look was only part of their appeal. Their sound made them stars, a combination of Ronnie's intense, quavering voice and the studio wizardry of legendary producer Phil Spector, the man who created the wall of sound.

Seventeen years ago, Ronnie Spector published her autobiography, and she appeared on this program to talk about those early days and her first meeting with Phil Spector.

Ms. SPECTOR: Well, he was the hottest guy in the '60s for girl groups, and my sister and I were sitting at home one night, and we said we're going to call this guy. I'm like 17 years old, and we call him, and my sister actually got through to him. We met him the next night. He loved my voice, and he loved the three of us immediately, and that night he had us in his limousine, so it was day one I was spoiled and day one I liked him a lot.

HANSEN: You say love at first sight?

Ms. SPECTOR: Yeah, it was, for me. I definitely - you know, it was a connection there, eye contact we had the whole evening. So as a matter of fact, he played for me a song by Darlene Love that night, for the three of us, called "Today I Met the Boy I'm Going to Marry," and he kept playing it over and over. So we were sending each other messages from the first night we met.

HANSEN: What do you think he heard in your voice that, as you say, was the final brick in his wall of sound?

Ms. SPECTOR: He used to say my voice was like one of his instruments, and that was very interesting to me because I didn't think I had this great voice. I just thought I had a voice, cute voice, you know, nice mellow voice. But Phil saw something else that I didn't even see in my voice.

HANSEN: Did he inspire you as a singer?

Ms. SPECTOR: No, no. Frankie Lymon inspired me. Phil made me have a dream that I wanted to have a number one record. I was dying for a hit record, and he gave that to me with "Be My Baby." It was like he was writing the songs, but he was writing - to me, they were like love letters, and we always rehearsed them alone. So we had this romance. And between my singing and him teaching me the songs, it was like the best feeling in the world. It was like - mmmmmm.

But that sort of start, and then "Baby I Love You" - he was telling me he loved me, and then in "Do I Love You?" "Do I Love You?" Yes, I love you. And that's the record Phil and I made love to for the first time, "Do I Love You?"

HANSEN: And he kept putting the record on over and over again.

Ms. SPECTOR: Well, in the '60s you didn't have the cassettes like you have today. You just had a turntable, and you'd pick up the needle, and so every time we'd make love and the record would come to an end, we'd start it all over again. We played that record all night long.

(Soundbite of song, "Do I Love You?")

Ms. SPECTOR: (Singing) Do I want you for my baby? Do I want you by my side? Do I want to run and kiss your lips and say you're my loving guy?

HANSEN: Ronnie Spector from a 1990 interview on this program. She married Phil Spector in 1968. It wasn't a happy union, didn't produce much new music, and ended in divorce in 1974. Ronnie Spector released a few more albums and occasionally performed with such groups as the E Street Band, Eddie Money and the Bangles. Last year, her first full-length CD in 20 years came out.

It was called "The Last of the Rock Stars," and one of the great artists on that disk is another woman who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame tomorrow, Patti Smith.

(Soundbite of song, "Gloria")

Ms. PATTI SMITH (Singer): (Singing) Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine, meltin' in a pot of thieves, wild card up my sleeve, thick heart of stone, my sins my own, they belong to me...

HANSEN: Patti Smith was a vagabond New York street poet in the early 1970s. She worked in bookstores and hooked up with Manhattan's bohemian arts community. Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, playwright Sam Shepard and rock writer Lenny Kaye were all part of her circle.

When Patti Smith staged a poetry reading backed by Lenny Kaye on guitar in 1971, something clicked. She got together with other musicians and soon was performing a regular gig at CBGB's in New York. At the time, Patti said the poetry and rock scenes were moribund, and she wanted to kick some life into them.

In 1975, she released her first album, "Horses." A combination of surreal stream-of-consciousness poetry and raw garage-band rock, "Horses" propelled Patti Smith into the vanguard of art rock. Not everyone loved it. Some were offended by the quasi-blasphemous religious overtones; others said her poetry was self-absorbed. But the album's emotional honesty and sense of mystery opened doors that female artists have been walking through ever since.

In 1976, she went on her first tour and gave her first interview to NPR and talked about poetry, music and art.

Ms. SMITH: The whole thing about art for me is that art has always been a way for me to exorcise demons and stuff, exorcise a certain kind of frustrations or clawings in my brain, and rock and roll is like a way - it's totally different, you know. I mean, it's more an ecstatic thing. I mean people, like, seem very possessive of the fact that, well, Patti is an artist or you are an artist or a poet, you know, and we got into you as a poet, and now you're doing this stuff, you know. Have you sold out to rock and roll? And I think it's really dumb.

You know, to me, like, rock and roll is like the art of our generation, you know, a very unexplored art, and it's like I haven't even tasted what it feels like to get to the ultimate to rock and roll, you know. I mean I'm still waiting for, like, to do some big hall, you know, with kids screaming. That's to me - the ultimate in rock and roll is like, you know, to have like an audience like Blue Oyster Cult, you know, where the kids just go totally insane, you know, and you just get caught up in like the whole physical mania of it.

I mean, I've been performing for years. To see a bunch of people sitting in a club, you know, like getting into the poetry or, like, yeah I dig you, yeah I'm into - that doesn't do anything to me anymore. You know, I've been doing that for years. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, somebody else can take that over, you know.

I get hundreds of letters from kids writing as good poetry as me or better. Let them take it over, doing the poetry. You know, rock and roll is really what I want to do.

(Soundbite of song, "Free Money")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Every night before I go to sleep, find a ticket, win a lottery, scoop the pearls up from the sea, cash them in and buy you all the things you need. Every night before I rest my head...

Ms. SMITH: The thing that performance has done to me is because you're dealing with the moment, you know, because that's it, you know, just like this (unintelligible) T-shirt says, you don't get no second chance, when you're on the stage, that's it, you know. I mean, if you're daydreaming and you're not thinking about it or you can't get into it, you don't get off, you know? But mostly what performance has done, most of the thing I like about being on stage is I'm right there with everybody.

I mean, if I'm like doing bad, I'm experiencing the same pain as they are. It's not a shell. I mean, most of my life I've been sort of like my soul or my consciousness has hovered over me like a little spaceship, and there's this shell, this body. And I want to live, you know. I like being on Earth, you know. I don't want to like zing out. And it's like now, you know, it's like with performing I feel really integrated. You know, that's like the best word I can feel.

I feel like a real merging of this part of me that wants to like express myself, you know, artistically or recreate nature or whatever it is with my body, you know. It's all one. I'm really grateful. I mean, rock and roll and being - performing rock and roll has really solidified me as a person. Everything is better. I feel when I love somebody I love them for real. I mean, everything feels more real. It's like I feel like a real - I feel human.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) The wall is high, the black (unintelligible)...

HANSEN: Patti Smith in a 1976 NPR interview. She's been called the godmother of punk music, but she bristles at labels. After her fourth album in 1979, she married Fred Sonic Smith of MC5, settled in Detroit and raised two children. She re-emerged in 1988 with another recording, then suffered a string of devastating losses: her husband, her brother, bandmate Richard Soul, and former lover Robert Mapplethorpe.

In 1995, her most personal disk, "Gone Again," was released and was followed by a number of well-received recordings. Her latest one comes out next month. Tomorrow night, Patti Smith will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Zack de la Roca of Rage Against the Machine.

And Ronnie Spector will be introduced by a member of a band that once opened for the Ronettes: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. If you'd like to hear the complete interviews with Ronnie Spector and Patti Smith, go to our Web site, npr.org.

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