Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Triumph of a Rock & Roll Survivor

The first thing you notice (or hear) is the voice. Floating out into the audience, on songs like “Baby, I Love You.” It may have deepened a bit over the years, but it still sounds wonderful. Then, you hear Ronnie Spector’s story, in her own words, and you appreciate her journey & perseverance on a whole new level. On Friday, September 9, the audience was treated to a heartfelt, emotional performance, as Ronnie Spector brought her one-woman show Beyond The Beehive to The Kate in Old Saybrook.

Ronnie tells her life story in words, pictures & songs, accompanied by an excellent backing group. We hear about her younger days growing up as Veronica Bennett, a multiracial child in New York; her father was Irish and her mother was Cherokee Indian and African-American. Ronnie’s lifelong love of music leads her to form a group with her sister Estelle and their cousin Nedra Talley.  Later known as The Ronettes, the group performs around New York City, including gigs as dancers & backup singers at the famed Peppermint Lounge.

Once Phil Spector enters her life, The Ronettes find fame with classic hits like “Be My Baby” and tour England with The Beatles & The Rolling Stones. Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” style production combined with Ronnie's wonderful voice, leads to many chart successes for the group. And Phil Spector has hits with other acts, including The Crystals & The Righteous Brothers. But there was a dark side to Spector’s personality, and his possessiveness of Ronnie (they married in 1968), lead to her becoming a virtual prisoner in his mansion. Barred from performing or even leaving the house, and subject to mental & physical abuse, she finally left Spector in 1973. But he would still cast a dark cloud over her life in years to come, as she relates during the show.

Ronnie details the highs & lows of her life with frankness, humor & a touch of sadness. The stories are amazing; encounters with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a young Sonny & Cher (who also worked for Phil Spector), among others. Ronnie’s voice & style inspired a generation of rockers, and many of them wrote songs for her, and produced sessions for her, including Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Joey Ramone & Billy Joel. As she makes her long climb back to the top, you can’t help but be inspired by her story.

Along with the stories, words & pictures are the songs: “The Best Part of Breakin’ Up, Walking in the Rain, I Can Hear Music, Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” and of course “Be My Baby.” Powerful, expressive performances of songs that everyone in the rock & roll generation remembers.  And Ronnie’s story isn’t over. It’s a story of triumph over adversity and the things life can throw at you. Beyond The Beehive isn’t just a show: It’s the testament of a true rock & roll survivor.  It’s well worth seeing, and if the show (or Ronnie doing a regular concert appearance) comes to your area, you owe to yourself to check out this amazing woman; she’s a true legend, and an unforgettable performer.

Note: Ronnie’s latest album “Last of The Rock Stars,” was released in 2009, and features guest appearances by Keith Richards, members of The Raconteurs and Patti Smith, and it’s also worth checking out. Full disclosure: This reviewer got to meet her (briefly) and she's a warm, genuine person who really cares about her fans.

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