Larry Levine, Phil Spector’s longtime engineer, died on his 80th birthday Thursday, according to a statement released by his family. Levine’s first collaboration with Spector was on the Crystals’ “She’s A Rebel,” and the two worked together on hits by the Righteous Brothers, Darlene Love, and Ike & Tina Turner. (He was there for those Leonard Cohen and Ramones albums, too.) Outside of Phil’s reach, Levine won a Grammy for his work with Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, and he had his fingers in several Eddie Cochran hits and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as well. Levine’s primary responsibility with Spector was to indulge the producer’s need for size and grandeur without letting the track collapse. Needless to say, he pulled it off more than a couple times.
I knew the routine by heart. He’d start with the guitars, and he’d have the guitars play, and then he’d maybe have them change something, and he’d have the guitars play [again]. And when he was satisfied that maybe he had something going, he would bring the pianos in.
So now it was the guitars and the pianos playing. That didn’t work, so it was back to the guitars and the pianos sat out. Then he got something else going with the guitars and then he added the pianos. When he got past that point, it was bring in the basses. And so they played. And if that didn’t work, back to the guitars. So this was a continuous … and so it was adding always to that. And the horns. And finally, the last thing to be added was the drums.
Phil knew what he was looking for and could communicate this. I think the biggest part I played was to serve as his sounding board. He trusted me, that was the thing. Phil wanted everything mono but he’d keep turning the volume up in the control room. So, what I did was record the same thing on two of the [Ampex machine's] three tracks just to reinforce the sound, and then I would erase one of those and replace it with the voice.