It’s impossible to not feel a strong love for Long Island when you hear Ronnie Spector, former lead singer for the hit all-female rock group The Ronettes, rave about the area and her connection to its epic ’60s musical scene.
“The Ronettes were first noticed and recognized on Long Island,” confirms Spector. “People forget, until The Beatles there were no stadium shows. Before that, in the ’60s, you did all nightclubs. That’s what I loved doing. I was playing on Long Island.”
Spector will return to her roots when she plays Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater this Saturday, in a show that blends her music with nostalgia. “[The show is] about the ’60s and The Ronettes. You’re going to see pictures, hear me tell stories and see how much fun [the Ronettes] had, touring with the [Rolling] Stones, meeting the Beatles before they came to America. It’s a show about everything from the ’60s on. It’s just a fun show to do,” she says.
So fun, in fact, that Spector says that her managers didn’t tell her she was coming back to the Island until last week. “They know I get too excited, [but] I can’t help it!”
Spector recalls playing with The Ronettes all over Long Island, when their opening act was a little-known fellow New Yorker by the name of Billy Joel. The two remain friends, and Joel’s 1976 hit “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” is a tribute to Spector. “It’s just amazing how you can be someone’s opening act. Years later, they’re famous, and you still treat each other the exact same,” she says.
It’s a small world, “especially in rock and roll,” confirms Spector. “I hadn’t seen Keith Richards in maybe 15, 20 years, but he lives 15 minutes from me. [The other week, he said] ‘Hey Ronnie, come on over, let’s do some records. I’ve got a recording studio in the basement,’ and it was like we saw each other last week. It’s so great to see your old friends that you haven’t seen in years. You pick up right where you left off.”
The Ronettes, composed of Spector (née Bennett), her sister Estelle Bennett and her cousin Nedra Talley, rose to fame in the 1960s with hit songs like the Grammy Award–winning “Walking in the Rain,” “Do I Love You,” “Baby I Love You,” “The Best Part of Breaking Up,” “I Can Hear Music,” and the international No. 1 hit “Be My Baby.” The trio, who hailed from Spanish Harlem, became immensely popular when they were discovered by “Murray the K” (aka Murray Kaufman), who hosted rock and roll revues at the now-defunct Brooklyn Fox Theater.
“The Brooklyn Fox in the ’60s was everything,” says Spector. “We were in the same building for 10 days, six shows a day. You became very close to all the people in the shows. Everybody…had a hit record. Except for The Ronettes, at the time, but then we had our hit. It was amazing and everybody congratulated us and was so happy for us.”
Riding off that success, the group toured the UK in January 1964, where they met the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, who opened for The Ronettes on that tour. “[The Beatles] wanted to see these three girls from Spanish Harlem with this long black hair and slits up the side, because we had done TV shows,” Spector says. “They came to our record company party and the rest is history!” The Suffolk Theater show is a kickoff to Spector’s upcoming UK tour, which will conclude at Colston Hall in Bristol, the same stage where the Ronettes ended their UK tour in 1964.
“It’s an amazing feeling to just be around [music] and still be in the recording studio and loving what I do,” says Spector about the longevity of her career. “And coming to Long Island [this Saturday], oh my God!”
Ronnie Spector Sings the Fabulous Ronettes at Suffolk Theater, 118 East Main Street, Riverhead on Saturday, November 21, at 8 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for dinner and drinks. For tickets ($47.50, $55, $65) and more information, visit suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343.