Is This What I Get For Loving You?
Imagine having a hit record during the height of the 1960’s. Then imagine that hit record allows you to travel with the Beatles on their first American tour. Now imagine your producer/partner (Phil Spector) denying you that honor for fear of John Lennon stealing your love. This was the dilemma Ronnie Bennett faced in August, 1966– and even though the Ronettes did the tour, Ronnie’s cousin took her place with three simple words from Spector– “Them or me.”
Ronnie comments in her autobiography, “I had to choose between going on a tour and being screamed at by a million people who didn’t care who I was, or staying at home and being adored by the one man who could give me more love than a million people ever could.” As a young lover this made perfect sense, however her career was plagued with little mistakes caused by Phil that ultimately led to the demise of the Ronettes, and eventually a more intimate relationship with another famous rock star.
Ronnie’s first encounter with the Rolling stones wasn’t as positive as she had hoped. The first week of the European tour had the Ronettes in a state of frustrated confusion. The girl-group felt avoided by England’s most popular blues cover band and had no idea why. It wasn’t until the girls approached the Stones manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, that the truth was discovered. Oldham admitted, “The boys are your biggest fans. We’d all love to talk to you. But we got a telegram just before the tour started that forbids us from fraternizing with you.”
It was obvious that Phil Spector had sent the telegram. Ronnie threatened to leave the tour if the Stones and crew continued to ignore the girls. The next night the boys dropped by and cemented a lasting relationship with Ronnie and the girls. Phil later warmed up to the Stones and allowed them to stay at his recording studio on 5th avenue in New York on their first American tour. While staying in the big apple Keith and Mick were regulars at Ronnie’s house for home-cooked breakfasts prepared by her mother and aunt. Ronnie even introduced them to James Brown, Backstage at the Apollo.
It was at the Apollo that Keith began to study Ronnie and fall deeply in love with the talented front-woman. Maybe it was Ronnie’s defiance to Phil’s overbearing control or Keith’s undeniable smooth charm that caused the two lovers to fall for each other. Their relationship was more than a fling and lasted for 40 years. Ronnie has been quoted saying that she should have married Keith instead of Phil.
Ronnie and Phil married after the Ronettes farewell tour wrapped up in Germany. However, few were aware that their marriage was never official. In actuality, Phil had created an elaborate hoax to convince Ronnie’s mother to let Ronnie stay in his care. Ronnie’s mom cut through the lies and made her way to California to pick her daughter up. Upon returning to New York, Ronnie grew depressed and increasingly reliant on alcohol to heal her emotions.
Years later, Phil would officially marry Ronnie in California. But the marriage was overshadowed by the couple’s inability to conceive a child. Phil became famously reclusive, and would not allow Ronnie to leave his Hollywood mansion. Ronnie kept drinking and Phil’s paranoia grew to the point that he was threatening her with violence. Ronnie wanted out but Phil adopted a set of twins and used the guilt of her leaving them to mask the real truth of her leaving him.
Ronnie and Phil divorced in 1974. Ronnie eventually had two children of her own, and still records to this day. She lives 15 minutes away from Keith Richards in Connecticut and recalls a day she drove by the elementary school and saw Keith outside drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette while waiting for his kids. They still work with each other and Ronnie was quoted saying “I like all the Rolling Stones, Mick and everyone, but by far, Keith was the sexiest for me,” she says. “He was just laid back. Mick was out there doing his little silly dance and stuff, but Keith was never like that. He was always Mr. Cool.”
– All quotes from Spector’s autobiography, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness, or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette