After singing lead on so many Phil Spector -produced standards–“He’s A Rebel,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),””He’s Sure The Boy I Love”–Darlene Love was recognized for her stellar pipes last month, when she was granted a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This left her practically floating in midair, she affirms from her NYC home: “The only reason I knew I had come down a little bit I had to make up my own bed, and start washing my own clothes!”
Daughter of a preacher man, Love bolstered her chops in her father’s church choir. In 1959, as a teenager, she joined a female vocal group called the Blossoms, which, while not always properly credited, sang backups for the likes of Elvis, Marvin Gaye, Patty Duke, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett (when He’s A Rebel” knocked Pickett’s “Monster Mash” out of the number one slot on the singles chart in 1962, one Love song replaced another). But her leads on Spector productions assured her luxury placement in the pop music firmament.
Closing in on age 70, Love attributes her vocal longevity to staying very quiet in the early morning hours. She lets her husband handle the telephone (“I retired him, so he can come home and help me”) and still tours–and she can always be counted on to sing Spector’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on Late Show With David Letterman come holiday season. She’s working on a movie about her life, and she’s prepared to spill the beans on Phil Spector. (Turns out he could sometimes be a very nice guy.)
So you’re waiting to give your Hall of Fame induction speech; is this a whole-life-flashing-in-front of you proposition, or something else?
No, it is my whole life flashing in front of me. And it’s a nerve-wracking thing. You gotta be able to say everything you want to say, that’s why I wrote mine out, specifically so I could remember.
You’re not using to getting your accolades. People do all that after you die, so you don’t get to hear all that. To sit there and listen to what somebody like Bette Midler’s saying about you,that in itself is overwhelming.
Where were you and what were you up to when the Hall of Fame’s message came through?
I was on my way to Atlantic City to do a show and I was in this limousine, I tell everybody that it was longer than my house. I don’t know why they sent a limousine that long to pick me and my husband up, but they did. My cell phone rang and one of the Presidents from the Hall of Fame, Terry Stewart, called me and he says, “Well, welcome to the family!” And I said, “Who is this? Welcome to what family?” (laughs)
And he said, “You’re in, but you can’t tell nobody!” (laughs)
Oh, that must have been so horrible–
–because they weren’t going to make the announcement for two more weeks! My husband was in the car, he was right there, and knew, and so I was like, “I can’t tell nobody?!?” (laughs) I actually started screaming. And then I said, “Let me stop screaming, ’cause the driver might think my husband’s back here killing me. Or I’m killing him.”
You were raised Pentecostal?
Oh definitely. (laughs) No lipstick, you couldn’t wear pants. Back in the early days we couldn’t go to movies. We said, they should just put a sign in front of our church that “NO.” (laughs)
Was it during the recording of Phil Spector’s Christmas album that your red wig fell off?
We had been in the studio for twelve hours, non-stop, and I was actually sitting with my head back listening to a playback, when Sonny Bono came up behind me and hit the bass drum, and I jumped up and my wig just fell off my head. That brought everybody back to reality, “Okay, it’s time to go home!” (laughs)
Did you own many wigs at the time?
Yeah, back in the ’60s, that’s when we were the Wig Kids. We couldn’t do our hair back in those days. On the road we all had straightening combs and curlers. We all carried around cans of Sterno to heat up them curling irons. So it was easier, actually, to wear wigs.
Did you ever offer to switch wigs with Phil Spector?
(boisterous laughter) No, but I wish I had! That’s a very good point. I used to just stare at this head all the time. [He’d say] “Why do you keep looking at my head?” and I’d say, “I don’t know.”
I think he knew, that I knew that he had one on. I think everybody knew that, but nobody ever said anything. I saw him in more wigs at the trial than I’d ever seen in my life! When he was on trial for murder.
Okay, Phil Spector’s arrest. Where were you when you heard that news?
My [Los Angeles] agent usually sends for me during [television] pilot season, and I was coming in for that. When I got to the airport I had calls from my agent, 10 or 15 calls, “Call me when you get in, I can’t wait to tell you what’s going on,” and I’m like “What the heck?” So of course I start listening to these messages, “Have you heard about Phil?”–well the first thing, I thought he was dead! Because usually when that much news is going around about entertainers, they passed away or had a very bad accident.
It didn’t even dawn on me that he was getting ready to go on trial for murder. I was looking at my phone going, “Are you kidding me?”
Did you witness gunplay on Spector’s part?
A couple of times. I had to go to his house for some rehearsals, I drove up to his house and I hear all this noise, “Come on Phil, stop playing with the guns now, somebody’s gonna get hurt in a minute.”
Then I ring the doorbell and he comes to the door with these six-guns on his hips. And I say “Not me, I’ll see y’all. I ain’t comin’ in unless you put the guns up, Phil.”
One time I went to a recording studio and he had guns, and I said, “Why y’all in here with this man with guns?” So I left and he sent his bodyguards after me, to say, “Phil has given us the guns.” I used to tell him all the time, “Phil, one of these days, you’re gonna hurt somebody.”
You play with fire long enough, you’re gonna get burned. And I think it became a compulsion, with him, with guns. I never went around him when he had’em. I said, “Guns don’t kill, people kill.” Those two times was enough for me.
Were you ever afraid to stand up to him?
Never. I used to tell him he was nothing but a little…well I won’t tell you exactly the words I used. But he was not anybody I would be afraid of. Matter of fact, his bodyguards, they were huge, he had a set of twins, they were blond, and you could tell they were bodybuilders–me and them used to get out in the hallway and just laugh. They would always say, “You’re really not scared of Phil are you?” and I’d say “No, what’s he gonna do to me?” I’m not gonna let him shoot me ’cause I ain’t gonna be around him when he’s fooling around with guns.
Even in his [stack-heeled] shoes, he wasn’t even five-six. He was this little man that wanted to wield his big rod, and think the biggest the reason I didn’t depend on him for a living, was that I was already a successful backup singer. I was making a great living without Phil Spector.
And I always had a mouth on me. In fact, when I was dating Bill Medley [of the Righteous Brothers], at a recording session one time, me and him was going at it over something, he just said “Alright, Motormouth!” (laughs)
Are you the same now?
Oh no, I’ve mellowed with age, because of my grandchildren. And just life is gonna be what it is. I’m very happy with my life the way it’s going now. Spiritually I’m in a fantastic place. I try to do unto others.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 22, 2011