IN THE GROOVE with CINDY ANNIS ~ The Ronettes
By: Cindy Annis – Dec. 2016
Back in the 1960’s, there were plenty of “Girl Groups,” singing about the boy they were going to marry or the boy next door. Then out of Washington Heights, New York comes this innocently forward group that was singing TO the boy next door!
The Ronettes were a couple sisters, Veronica and Estelle Bennet, and their cousin Nedra Talley. There were a lot of other family members in music and show business so it wasn’t a surprise that these three got the bug at a very young age. The idea of a great Saturday night would be going to grandma’s and entertain each other. Grandma loved to hear them sing so they wanted to perform for her. Even at the age of 8, Veronica, later known as Ronnie Specter, was already fine tuning harmonies and putting on little “sets” for the family.
Around 1957, Veronica formed their first group called “The Darling Sisters.” Veronica and her sister, Estelle, and their cousins Nedra, Diane and Elaine. By this time Estelle had been into dancing school and Veronica was into Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers. Doing a great job on harmonies at grandma’s house the girls added their cousin, Ira, and got signed up for the amateur show at the Apollo Theatre by way of friends of Veronica’s mom. Their song was supposed to be started by Ira, but he got stage fright so Veronica stepped in. A disaster was averted and the more the audience approved, the louder Veronica would sing.
After the win, there were a few changes to the group. Ira, Elaine, and Diane were out, leaving Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra, and now calling themselves, “Ronnie and the Relatives. “They started with singing lessons and doing a few local shows and smaller parties, and sock-hop kinds of gigs. During these small gigs, they met Phil Halikus. Phil hooked them up with Colpix Records.
Stu Phillips, producer for Colpix played the piano for the girls’ audition. He liked what he heard and that was the “in” for the group. They recorded 4 songs in June of 1961. Colpix records released 2 of them. “I Want A Boy” in August of 1961and the other one was “I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead” in January of 1962. These songs were the very beginning of a tremendous career!
Ronnie and the Relatives made their big debut at New York City’s Peppermint Lounge, in 1961, by way of a case of mistaken identity. So, to get into the lounge, the very young- looking Estelle and Ronnie had to pile on the make-up. They were getting in by being the backup dancers for Joey Dee and the Starliters who were big with “The Peppermint Twist.” When the chance arose, Ronnie had the microphone and was belting out Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” They soon became regulars at the Peppermint Lounge earning the big bucks; ten bucks a night per girl to do the Twist and sing an occasional song. During this time is when they became “The Ronettes.”
They went down to Miami to open up a Peppermint Lounge there. After the opening show, Murray The K, the radio host, wanted the Ronettes to perform, regularly at his “Brooklyn Fox” in New York. At this time Colpix released the first two songs by The Ronettes, “Silhouettes” and “I’m Gonna Quit While I’m Ahead.” Neither song would chart for them. The girls would do one more song with Colpix Records. “Good Girls” missed the charts, also, so they decided to find another label to go with.
Ok. This is all you get this month as it would be impossible to get it all in one column.
Next month we will be into the Phil Spector Era of The Ronettes.
Remember to listen to Cindy’s Vinyl Vault. We play the best music ever recorded on vinyl. We’re at 980 WCAP Radio every Sunday night at 10:00, Monday night at 11:00 and Wednesday night at 9:00, and remember folks, it’s not how old it is, but how great it sounds!