Great example of what this nut was like.
In 1965, a new band called Jefferson Airplane was making waves in the San Francisco Bay Area. Word reached a famous record producer down in Los Angeles. The following story has never before been published in its entirety. With the news that Phil Spector has passed away, Best Classic Bands presents the full tale of their meeting for the first time.
Marty Balin, one of Jefferson Airplane’s lead singers and the band’s co-founder, had arranged—without the knowledge of the Airplane’s’s then-manager, Matthew Katz—for the band to audition for Phil Spector in Los Angeles. Spector’s sister had heard the commotion about the group up in San Francisco and had called Balin to see if they might be interested in playing for Phil. Being a brand-new band, of course they were!
The call had taken place in the late summer of 1965, barely a month after the group’s first public performance, and just a week after Ralph J. Gleason’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle raving about the new band. A number of record executives were already looking at the group as a possible signing, but none were as high-profile in the industry as Phil Spector. The New York native was still considered the finest pop record producer in America, maybe the world, and had been for a few years. His string of successful records with the Ronettes, the Crystals and, more recently, the Righteous Brothers, was lauded as monumental, and his trademark “Wall of Sound” technique was emulated by dozens of competitors, among them the massively successful Beach Boys and Four Seasons. To be taken under Spector’s wing could be a major coup for the band.
The Airplane, accompanied by Katz, flew to L.A.
What they weren’t yet aware of when they boarded the plane was that Spector was also known to be something of an eccentric, a reclusive character who was notoriously difficult to deal with. In later years, several of the artists he worked with, among them his then-wife Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes, would tell tales of brutal treatment by their mentor. According to recollections from those who knew him, Spector was always surrounded by bodyguards, was rumored to flash around firearms, and was a taskmaster in the studio. (He would, of course, famously spend his final years in prison, having been convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson.)
But here, on September 20, 1965, was the new sound out of San Francisco, mild-mannered Jefferson Airplane, unproven, unknown and waiting for Phil Spector to size them up. The band members remembered it well. In interviews conducted by this author for his Jefferson Airplane biography, Got a Revolution!, they flashed back to their memorable meeting with the so-called “Tycoon of Teen.”
Listen to a rare Airplane demo recording of “The Other Side of This Life” featuring vocalist Signe Anderson
Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitarist): We went to Phil’s place and of course Phil Spector was [acting like] Phil Spector. We set up in his huge house in Beverly Hills, and I remember he had his bodyguards and the whole deal. He had a…I don’t remember if it was a pellet pistol or a real pistol. Probably was a pellet pistol. He was shooting and stuff. Made me uncomfortable and I left after we played.
Marty Balin: When Jorma and I tried to leave and his bodyguard showed us his gun, we said, “Get out of the way. What are you gonna do? Shoot us?” He [Spector] was a little strange. He was always looking in the mirror and while he was talking to us he was looking at the part in his hair. And then, under this stairway, he had all these drawers that came out, full of all this great grass. And he never offered us one joint. So I looked at Jorma and said, “Man, let’s get out of here.” So he and I walked out. I said, “We can’t take this guy.”
Related: When the Airplane were on American Bandstand
Bob Harvey (original bassist): Matthew wanted him to produce the band. I’ve never seen a more paranoid bastard in my life [than Spector]. I mean, heavies with 45s. He’s out there in space! He didn’t want us in the room where he was at, in the big room, so he had us play out in the hall. And it was pretty strange. But he and [guitarist/singer/songwriter Paul] Kantner hit it off. They talked and talked and talked. The rest of us went back to the cars and packed up the instruments and everything, and he and Kantner talked for another 45 minutes, inside there alone. And it seemed like just because of the rapport that he had going there with Kantner that maybe something was going to happen because of it. If you could put up with his insanity, good things could come out of it. As long as you could cope.
Paul Kantner: It was interesting, given his reputation. But he didn’t like us.
Signe Toly Anderson (original female lead singer): I remember his stone-cold entrance hall. I had to sit there for two hours while we waited for him because he wasn’t available. Excuuuse me.
While they were in L.A., the Airplane also auditioned for several other labels, including Capitol, Columbia and Colpix. Ultimately, they signed with RCA, beginning a relationship that would last more than two decades, through changes of style, personnel and even band names. They never saw Phil Spector again.