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'Wall of Sound' producer Phil Spector dies of Covid, aged 81

Sixties music icon's legacy scarred by murder conviction

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Spector once said he had ‘devils that fight inside me’.

Spector once said he had ‘devils that fight inside me’.

Spector once said he had ‘devils that fight inside me’.

Rock producer Phil Spector, who changed the sound of pop in the 1960s with his "Wall of Sound" recordings and was later convicted of murder, has died at the age of 81 from Covid-19.

He was diagnosed with the virus a month ago and taken to hospital from his prison cell, where he had been serving a 19 years to life term for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson in 2003.

Spector produced 20 top-40 hits between 1961 and 1965 and later worked with the Beatles on Let It Be, as well as with Leonard Cohen, the Righteous Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner.

Trial

Clarkson (40) was killed by a shot to the mouth from Spector's gun in the foyer of his mock castle home outside Los Angeles on February 3, 2003.

The two had met hours earlier at a Hollywood nightclub.

Spector was convicted of second-degree murder in a second trial after the first one deadlocked in 2007. The case drew worldwide interest because of Spector's fame.

He began his career as a performer, recording a hit single as a teenager with his band the Teddy Bears, but found his true calling as the producing genius behind 1960s girl groups such as the Crystals and the Ronettes.

His signature production technique, the "Wall of Sound", layered pop and even classical instruments into a full, lush sound that was new to pop records.

He called it "a Wagnerian approach to rock & roll: little symphonies for the kids".

By the late 1970s, Spector, who once said he had "devils that fight inside me", had become something of a recluse, retreating behind the walls of his hilltop mansion near Los Angeles where Clarkson was killed years later.

Prosecutors charged Spector with murder despite his assertions that Clarkson, the star of such films as Barbarian Queen and Amazon Women on the Moon, had shot herself for reasons he could not grasp.

He told Esquire maga-zine in an interview that Clarkson had "kissed the gun" in a bizarre suicide.

Spector had a troubled early life. His father took his own life, his sister spent time in mental institutions and Spector himself suffered bouts of severe depression.

He also had a long-standing reputation for gunplay.

The producer carried a pistol, and a biographer said he often placed it on the recording console as he worked.

It was also reported that he had fired a shot in the studio during an acrimonious recording session with John Lennon.

Born Harvey Phillip Spector on December 26, 1939, he grew up in New York City and formed the Teddy Bears with three high school friends.

They scored a hit single in 1958 with a song titled after the inscription on his father's headstone: To Know Him Is to Love Him.

The Teddy Bears had little other chart success and disbanded the following year.

In the early 1960s, Spector teamed up with songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, co-writing the Ben E King hit Spanish Harlem.

In 1961, he and promoter Lester Sill formed Philles Records, releasing singles with what was becoming his trademark sound.

Spector signed Ike and Tina Turner in 1966 and released what he considered one of his masterpieces, the powerful River Deep, Mountain High, but it reached only number 88 in the US charts.

For a time, he turned his back on the record business, marrying Ronettes singer Veronica 'Ronnie' Bennett, who would later say he was abusive and possessive.

He returned in 1969, signing a production deal with A&M Records and working with Lennon on his hit single Instant Karma and with the Beatles on the Let It Be album.

Let it Be was considered a major comeback for Spector, but Paul McCartney was so unhappy with it that in 2003 he oversaw the release of Let It Be ... Naked, which removed most of Spector's work.

Spector returned to the studio in the mid-1970s to work on records by Cher and others, but by the end of the decade he had become increasingly reclusive and worked rarely after that.


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