The music world has lost one of its rock legends in Ronnie Spector, who died on Jan. 12 at the age of 78 after a battle with cancer. But one Langford entertainer also lost an inspiration and mentor.
Johnny Vallis, a musical tribute artist best known for his performances as Buddy Holly with the Legends of Rock and Roll, got to know and work with Spector early in his musical career.
“There is personal loss, but there is also a loss for the business,” Vallis said. “Ronnie was an innovator of ’60s music.”
He recalled how Spector was invited to help host and perform in an 80-show Legends house stint in Calgary in 1993, an offer she was happy to accept. Vallis, just 21 at the time, not only got to work with her behind the scenes – they had neighbouring dressing rooms – he got to see her perform in-person every night.
“I have worked amongst a lot of artists of the day, but the opportunity to work on a production for quite a long time with her was quite something,” he said. “I knew even at that age that she was important, and I was able to watch her every night.
|Signed vintage publicity photo of the late Ronnie Spector from the collection of Johnny Vallis, who worked with the legendary rock vocalist in the 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Johnny Vallis)
“She was firing on all cylinders every single night. She would go out and be bubbly with a sparkle in her eye, she was nice to people back stage – very professional. She just didn’t have an air of being better than us. She was one of us.”
Spector, born Veronica Yvette Bennett and a 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with the Ronettes, rose to prominence with the group in the early to mid 1960s. Spector and her band mates quickly became recognized as the “bad girls of rock and roll,” belting out hits like Be My Baby, Baby I love You and Walking in the Rain.
“A lot of people have been inspired by Ronnie,” Vallis said. “She was adored by everybody, including the Rolling Stones, and she opened for The Beatles … she is a survivor of the business, she worked so hard in the business and she could show people how to do all that.”
That professionalism and dedication to the craft and the business was something Vallis benefited greatly from during his time working with her. She helped build his understanding of the music business and how to succeed in it, he said.
Even after working with the likes of Buddy Knox, Tommy Sands, Randy Bachman and Long John Baldry, Vallis said Spector stands out as an important figure in his musical life. If nothing else, he said, he learned how to back-comb his hair by watching Spector.
“A piece of me was taken away from me on Wednesday. Truly, she is one of the greatest people that I have worked with.”
While the musical world has lost one of its greats, Vallis said there is still plenty to be gleaned from Spector and her career, and encourages everyone to take the time and listen to her records.