He was once the first tycoon of teen, the pop-music genius who legitimized rock ’n’ roll by transforming its songs from primitive outlaw music to what he called “little symphonies for the kids.”
Those days were decades gone, however, when Phil Spector walked out of his castlelike mansion in the hills east of Los Angeles on the morning of Feb. 3, 2003, and, according to authorities, told his chauffeur, “I think I killed somebody.”
Four years, numerous pretrial motions and three prominent defense attorneys later, Spector is on trial for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Jury selection was completed Tuesday with the seating of six alternates, and opening statements were scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Spector, 67, says Clarkson killed herself.
Whatever the trial’s outcome, it will be one more chapter, likely the most sordid, in the life of a tortured American genius whose early musical success was overshadowed by years of eccentric behavior.
“I’ve been called a genius, and I think a genius is not there all the time and has borderline insanity,” Spector himself said during a 2005 court deposition.
He was just 17 when he made his mark in the music business, writing and producing the hit song “To Know Him Is to Love Him.” The title was taken from the tombstone of his father, who had committed suicide when Spector was 9.
By his mid-20s he had nearly two dozen hit songs to his credit and had made stars of the Ronettes, the Crystals, the Teddy Bears and the Righteous Brothers.
His secret was the “Wall of Sound,” a recording technique that filled a studio with instrumentalists and vocalists and, through the use of overdubbing and other special effects, could transform even a lyrically mindless pop confection like “Da Doo Ron Ron” into something that sounded like a 2½-minute symphony.
Writer Tom Wolfe, who heralded him as “the first tycoon of teen” in a 1964 profile, also recounted a darker side of Spector. Among other things, he told how the producer once aborted an airline flight moments before takeoff when the shape of raindrops falling on the windows sent him into a panic attack and he insisted the plane would crash.
Asked why he acted the way he did, Spector replied: “I’m paying a doctor $600 a week to find out.”
When the “Wall of Sound” went out of style in the late 1960s, Spector’s career appeared to go with it until former Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison tapped him to produce several of their solo albums.
The result was two of their most memorable recordings, Lennon’s “Imagine” and Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” They represented Spector’s last musical hurrah.
His last recording session of any note was with the Ramones in the early 1980s when bassist Dee Dee Ramone accused him of pulling a gun. Too much was made of that incident, drummer Marky Ramone said later.
“There’s no way Phil would have shot Dee Dee Ramone,” he told Fox News shortly after Spector’s arrest in the Clarkson case.