With the Ronettes, Spector helped invent rock’n’roll and made Christmas songs soar – but lived in the shadow of her abusive husband Phil. Now 76, she is still touring and recording – between painting and jams with Keith Richards
Ronnie Spector is a regular at the Black Angus steakhouse in suburban Danbury, Connecticut. “Hey hon,” says the host, before leading us to a long table in the corner that they save for Spector when she has business to attend to. As the lead singer of the beehived 1960s girl group the Ronettes, Spector helped invent rock’n’roll, and at 76, she still exudes it: teased dark hair, leather jacket, tight jeans and black sunglasses that stay affixed to her made-up face throughout most of our conversation.
We are meeting ahead of her Best Christmas Party Ever! tour. Since the Ronettes’ versions of Frosty the Snowman and Sleigh Bells appeared in 1963 on their producer Phil Spector’s album A Christmas Gift for You, Ronnie’s aching voice – a perfect pop storm of innocence and rebellion, grit and glee – has been a ubiquitous seasonal treasure. “My family didn’t have a lot of money when I was little,” she says. But at Christmas her father would take her to watch the ice skaters at New York’s Rockefeller Center, and to see Macy’s ornate window displays of trains and dolls. “I didn’t just like Christmas, like most kids, or even love it,” she explains, her voice peaking with excitement. “I was obsessed!”