Empowered Ronnie Spector tells her story in ‘Beyond the Beehive’
By Dave Hoekstra Chicago Sun-Times October 30, 2013 5:40PM
Ronnie Spector | GETTY IMAGES
Ronnie Spector: Beyond the Beehive, 8 p.m. Nov. 1, City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph. $45-$60. Visit citywinery.com
Updated: October 30, 2013 5:51PM
Ronnie Spector has had some hair-raising experiences.
The former lead singer of the Ronettes and collaborator with the E Street Band was married to Phil Spector between 1968 and 1974. Her acclaimed autobiographical stage production “Beyond the Beehive” will be presented at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 at City Winery. She fronts a seven-piece band with two backing singers.
Spector sings almost all of her hits, ranging from “Walking in the Rain” to Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” which the piano man wrote for Spector and which she recorded in 1977 with the E Street Band.
Her two biggest hits “Be My Baby,” and “Baby I Love You” are not part of the 15-song revue. The songwriting credits are Phil Spector-Ellie Greenwich-Jeff Barry. Although her ex-husband is serving 19 years to life for murdering Lana Clarkson, he will not grant rights to the songs in a theatrical production, though it’s okay for Spector to sing them in concert.
Ronnie talks about her ex-husband in her two-hour revue. He forced her to watch “Citizen Kane” over and over again in his 23-room mansion.
Phil Spector identified with Orson Welles.
“It was devastating,” Spector said last week from her home in Connecticut. “Because the girl in the film couldn’t sing. It was like my ex telling me over and over I can’t sing. It seemed like I was watching ‘Citizen Kane’ every night. I loved Phil, but I’m from Spanish Harlem. And all of a sudden I’m living in 23 rooms with five servants.”
She wasn’t allowed to leave the mansion grounds wearing shoes.
“You have to understand it still goes on today,” she continued. “A person is in prison and they are still trying to stop me. What? I’ve been away from him almost 40 years divorce-wise. Why me? His other performers can do what they want. So I just keep going.”
So liberation and triumph is what fans get in “Beyond the Beehive.”
“I’ve been in psychiatry since my divorce,” she said. “Telling my story, my emotions come out. I’m set free. I’m not telling my ex’s story. I’m telling what I went through. And at the end you can get back. With all those obstacles and waiting 15 years for royalties, I just kept moving.”
In 2000, after a 15-year-fight, Ronnie Spector won a landmark decision in the New York state courts allowing veteran ’50s and ’60s acts to collect royalties on their recordings. She said, “I struggled to get back. It wasn’t easy. There were times I was at an airport getting ready to do a show and I’d see a guy with a coat over his arm or a guy with an newspaper in his arm thinking they were going to shoot me. If you see the show you will know what I went through.”
Spector’s 1990 memoir “Be My Baby” (How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette”, with forewords by Cher and Billy Joel!) is amust-read. A 2004 paperback version features updates including the arrest of Phil Spector.
She said the seeds for “Beyond the Beehive” were planted in 2001 when she performed her hits with a guitarist and piano player on college campuses. Spector then began writing dialogue sections for the show.
Spector thinks it’s been nearly 10 years since she last sang in Chicago.
“I come from a very humble beginnings,” she said. “Then to become famous and then to be taken away from everything. It was like taking candy from a baby. I had been performing since I was five years old. I had seven aunts, seven uncles, 23 first cousins. Every Sunday they would meet because ‘Little Ronnie’ was going to sing atop the coffee table. I had such a great life. We were in the U.K. before the Beatles were in America. They came to our record company party. I went out on dates with John Lennon. It was innocent and it was great.”
Spector is still recording. In 2011 she covered Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” in a benefit project for the Daytop Village addiction treatment centers.
Spector said the time is right for “Beyond the Beehive.” “Women have more power now than ever,” she said. “What better time to tell my story?”