Ronnie Spector rocking Christmas at Mohegan Sun
When it comes to classics, Danbury resident Ronnie Spector is one of the benchmarks of the American music scene. Lead singer in the 1960s of the R&B/pop vocal group, the Ronettes, the girl who grew up in Harlem, N.Y., skyrocketed to fame with songs like “Be My Baby” and “Walking in the Rain.” Ex-wife of music mogul Phil Spector, she moved on after a bad marriage, jump-starting her career and personal life. An author, music producer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, Spector has been married to husband Jonathan Greenfield for more than 30 years and has a new album, “English Heart,” featuring covers by rock bands from the 1960s. She will be doing some free holiday entertaining at Mohegan Sun on Friday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. with her “Best Christmas Party Ever.” Still petite and sassy with a voice that won’t quit and a perfect bouffant hairdo that defies gravity, Spector and her husband shared thoughts on her career over lunch at their favorite Danbury grill.
Q: Why did you decide to record your new album, “English Heart?”
A: It actually came from the past, when the Ronettes found themselves in the mid-’60s. We were the headliners for groups like the Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones; the Beatles were not big yet. There were some wonderful songs from those groups, and I had always wanted to record some of them. And finally, I did. I like that the album is me singing. No big background sound, no over-orchestration. Very intimate. I like the way it was produced. It’s me singing.
Q: Favorite tracks?
A: It has to be “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” I can never mend the feelings of losing my sister, Estelle, who performed with the Ronettes. Something happens inside me when I sing that song and there are usually people in the audience who start to cry. I think they know it is a song that is coming from my heart. And “I’d Much Rather Be With the Girls,” which is a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I’d Much Rather Be With the Boys.” I changed it to “girls” because of women power and girlfriends. I don’t have a lot of girlfriends, but all you need is one. The album is doing so well and I am so happy with it.
Q: Is that you I saw recently on MTV?
A: Yes. I performed at the Glastonbury Music Festival in England and some of it, including me, has been on MTV. I was on the same bill as Adele. It was amazing to sing a song like “Be My Baby” and have everyone join in.
Q: What music do you listen to?
A: Singers like Bruno Mars and, of course, Amy Winehouse. She and I were fans of each other. Before I met her she was writing about me and how she wanted to look like me, you know, the hair and the eyes. I work in England a lot and we ended up becoming friends. After her death, I did a show at Lincoln Center and dedicated it to her.
Q: You were coined “the bad girl of rock and roll” early in your career. How bad were you?
A: I wasn’t. You forget how young I was when the Ronettes began. My mother always traveled with us, so being bad wasn’t possible. I think it had more to do with my look, you know, the hair and the make-up. My grandmother watched my cousins and me while our mothers worked and she wouldn’t let us go outside. I would sit in the window of the lobby of her building and watch the girls go by — the Hispanics with their great make-up and the black girls with their attitudes and cigarettes. They would all wear these great clothes and I would sit there and think, “I want to look like and act like them someday.” When we started touring with groups like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, they would ask us to go out. One time John Lennon asked me to go to dinner, and to be polite he asked my mother too. She grabbed her purse and came along. I couldn’t be bad if I had wanted to!
Q: You had a sad life in many ways, the bad situation with your ex. But you changed your life and had even bigger success. What’s your advice to women who are in domestic violence situations?
A: First of all, there is always hope, and you control that. And if you are going to do one thing to change a bad situation, you have to plan. And that involves money. You have to put your own aside, even if it’s $5 a week. I was lucky because I had a mother who helped me. And I was always strong inside. You control what happens to you.
Q: Of all the places you could live, why Danbury?
A: I have the greatest in-laws, and that’s where they live. My father-in-law is a surgeon. We started to raise the boys in New York City, but the traffic, the crowds, the drugs, too many liquor stores, we just decided we wanted to raise them somewhere different and we found a beautiful place in Connecticut and it’s home.
Q: At 73, do you think about grandchildren?
A: I am sort of looking forward to grandchildren. But we tell our two boys, take your time when it comes to getting married. It should be forever.
Q: You have been married and working together for 30 years. What’s the secret to your success?
A: I think the secret is I give him his space and he gives me mine. I make him a little supper and he goes off and watches whatever he wants on TV and I do whatever I want to do. The best thing you can do in a marriage is give the other one space. And don’t nag. Nagging is the worst. I love my husband very much. He supported my career; he didn’t stop me. When I had to start over again, he was there.
Q: Tell us about the Christmas concert at Mohegan Sun.
A: It’s a party with lots of surprises and some of the Christmas songs the Ronettes released in 1963. The album turned into a classic, and arranger Jackie Nitzsche and those musicians on it were amazing. Jack was so good at what he did.
Q: What do you think gives your music staying power?
A: I think the game has all changed when it comes to the music industry. I think when a lot of us were popular, we had music and voices that were better and that’s why our music sustains and people still come to see us and know our songs. Now it’s all manufactured. I find it amazing how much music from the ’50s and ’60s has sustained and still draws an audience.
Q: How do you do those famous cat eyes?
A: It’s an eyelining crayon I buy at the drugstore.
Q: Something most people don’t know about you?
A: I am one person on stage — sassy, loud, brash, with sexy outfits and lots of make-up. But off the stage, I am a totally different person — happy to just hang around the house and enjoy my family.