By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The latest PBS special shot in Pittsburgh, "My Music: Rock, Pop and Doo Wop," is chock full of legendary acts, from the Marcels to Carl Gardner's Coasters, but it's the ladies who ultimately steal the show.
Headlining producer TJ Lubinsky's special, premiering Saturday on WQED-TV, are Ronnie Spector and Dolores "La La" Brooks, a pair of petite pop divas whose careers were ripped away from them in the early '60s.
Ms. Spector's story is better known. She rose to fame in 1963 as the brash and sexy lead singer for the Ronettes, which had a very short history with the endearing wall-of-sound hits "Be My Baby" and "Baby, I Love You." Her life took a dark turn with her six-year marriage to domineering genius producer Phil Spector (now in prison for murder).
"She was basically taken out of the recording business in 1967," Mr. Lubinsky says. "She was told 'You're gonna stay home now,' so she wasn't given a chance to get out there with these songs."
It wasn't until she sang with Eddie Money on his 1986 hit "Take Me Home Tonight" that she was able to get back on the charts. Over the next decade or so, the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Joey Ramone would take her under their wing. Her last big splash was in 2007, when she sang during her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"Ronnie Spector is someone everyone had a crush on," Mr. Lubinsky says. "I'm 38. I didn't live through the '60s, but I heard these songs when they used to be played on oldies stations. They're not anymore, sadly. When I grew up, when I was 14, I played this music and the girl I was with would say, 'Why are we listening to your father's music?' But I heard it the same way, I felt it that same way, the teenage angst and all that stuff."
The 67-year-old Ms. Spector does a beautiful job with both songs on the special, as does Ms. Brooks, who was under the thumb of Mr. Spector even before the Ronette. As a member of the Crystals, the Brooklyn native put her bold 15-year-old voice to the 1963 hits "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "Then He Kissed Me."
Her legacy was obscured to some extent by people thinking that Darlene Love sang on those hits. "I went to Europe from around 1984 to '97," she said in a phone interview this week. "The next thing I know, they do 'Leader of the Pack' on Broadway and Darlene was hired to do the show. By her doing 'Da Doo Ron Ron,' she stuck with it and people were confused. I was off the scene till '97, people said, 'Darlene did "Da Doo Ron Ron," I said, 'What?! Darlene was never even a Crystal.' It made me upset even though I love her as an artist. If people would just look at the history and read, they would have known. Phil didn't want to use Darlene on it, because her voice was too gospel."
Also, the Crystals were quickly cast aside due to Mr. Spector's focus on the Ronettes. Later in the decade, Ms. Brooks was part of the original Broadway production of "Hair" and then she went to live overseas.
"Her history got erased and this was a chance to make it right," Mr. Lubinsky says. "As big a goal it was to give Ronnie her due, it was the same for La La, because no one knows La La's name."
She said the show is a rare opportunity to shine. "It tells people that at our age, like a Tina Turner or me myself, with my size and my energy, age doesn't really matter. It's in the mind. I could stand next to Beyonce, too."
The performances were shot over three days last May at the Benedum Center with a 16-piece band of local musicians. Among the others appearing in this special, hosted by Jon "Bowzer" Bauman of Sha Na Na, are Sonny Turner (Platters), the Chantels, Len Barry and Jay Black.
In many cases, Mr. Lubinsky says, "There's no footage, they're not out there working -- these are concerts we put together."
"It means so much to me," Ms. Brooks said. "If it wasn't for TJ bringing back the oldies but goodies, we would be history."
The Benedum session produced enough footage for a final doo-wop show that will air in 2013. It also produced clips for a show of late '60s pop and rock, including Question Mark and the Mysterians, the Kingsmen, Steam and Jefferson Starship.