“You know, the whole thing was like a bad marriage,” Darlene Love says. “It’s a marriage that was abusive — not just physically, but mentally. That’s what Phil was trying to do with me. He wanted to control not Darlene, but the talent.”
Darlene Love, who sang many of Phil Spector’s greatest songs but also saw her career effectively sabotaged by the infamously unstable producer, remembered her problematic relationship with him to Variety on Sunday. Spector died on Saturday, aged 81 and serving a 19-year-to-life prison sentence for the 2003 murder of Lana Clarkson.
Love heard about Spector’s passing from her son on Sunday morning. Having had a few hours to digest the news, she says: “I felt this is very sad. I didn’t think of hate. I didn’t think, ‘He deserved it or this should have happened.’ I just felt this was a sad way for him to leave this earth.
“The more I thought about it, the sadder I got,” she concludes. “He changed the sound of rock ‘n’ roll — the reason I know this is because Steve Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John all told me that.”
Love had been a background singer with the Blossoms when she first met Spector in the early 1960s in Los Angeles.
“Things changed for the good as far as me being a record artist,” Love recalled. Her powerful voice drove one of Spector’s early classic hits, “He’s a Rebel” — although it was credited to one of Spector’s girl groups, the Crystals — and Love was signed to his label Philles Records. However, while she describes him as a “fun-loving guy” at the time, his controlling nature showed itself almost immediately: While she sang many of his hits — including “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from his classic 1963 Christmas album — Spector often buried her name, also releasing what was intended as her debut solo single, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love,” as a Crystals song, or putting them out under the group name Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans. She was also relegated to backing vocals on many other Spector hits with lead vocals by unquestionably inferior singers.
“The problem I have with Phil is that he wanted to control Darlene’s Love talent,” she says. “If he couldn’t do that, he was going to do everything in his power to keep my talent from shining. He made me. ‘I discovered her.'”
Using his control of the copyrights, Spector effectively blocked Love from singing the songs on which she’d built her career. So she “started over again. I was determined to be an entertainer.”
Love has gone on to a successful career without him as a lead and backing singer and actress, including roles on Broadway.
“Once I moved to New York [in 1983], I thought I was done with Phil. I had a wonderful husband and life was great. I met Paul Schaffer and he got me on “The Late Show with David Letterman,’” she says. “[Spector] didn’t control me anymore, and that’s what I left in California. I didn’t have to think about him anymore.”
Love sued Spector in 1993 for unpaid royalties and won. She won a Grammy Award in 2015 for her role in “20 Feet From Stardom,” a documentary film about her and many other widely recognized but often overlooked singers.
In a separate interview with Variety last month about her Christmas music, Love explained the confusion that still arises over her tenure with Spector. “At that time, Phil couldn’t get the Crystals to fly in to California to do ‘He’s a Rebel’ or ‘He’s Sure the Boy I Love’ [the two major hits Love sang that were released under the Crystals’ name]. I lived in California and was one of the women that started the background singing groups, and he used me to do it. The fans didn’t realize that Darlene Love and the Crystals and Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans were all part of Darlene Love’s voice, so it got a little crazy. When I started out as a solo artist, I had to actually work harder to get my name out there, because (agents and bookers) said, “Well, we could find better jobs for you if you say you were a Crystal, or Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans.” But I was determined not to use those names because they were not my names. I was Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, but I was never a Crystal. The Crystals were young teenagers, you know — 13, 14 years old. I was already 19, so I couldn’t have made it with them anyway. They were too young, and they couldn’t do a whole lot of traveling at that age. So I was just determined to get my name out there, and work on my own rather than as a Crystal or any other group. It ended up being very hard to do, but I stayed my course, and it worked.”
But even before his death, Love was emphasizing that the work would outlive Spector’s personal legacy. “When your work is good, they forget about whatever happened to you, and they look at the product, and that is what has happened with Phil,” she said. “Even though his life didn’t go the way he expected it to go, the music is still there, and people still love ‘He’s a Rebel’ or ‘Be My Baby’ or ‘Lovin’ Feeling.'”