Ronnie Spector's Christmas Party with Ronnie Spector , Chris Murphy and the Commotions and DJs Will Munro and Davy Love at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), tonight (Thursday, December 11), 8 pm. $24.50. 416-968-2001. Rating: NNNNN
When Joey Ramone found out his cancer was terminal, he decided to make his final project a collaboration with long-time singing idol Ronnie Spector. His dream was to hear the voice of the Ronettes' Be My Baby - which so beguiled Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie - sing his songs, and time was running out. Joey got his wish, but they only managed to complete four songs - She Talks To Rainbows, Bye Bye Baby, Johnny Thunders's You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory and Brian Wilson's Don't Worry Baby - released as 99's She Talks To Rainbows EP (Kill Rock Stars).
"At the time I was recording with Joey," explains Spector, who refused to discuss Phil Spector and any current litigation, "I had no idea how seriously sick he was or how quickly his health was deteriorating.
"We'd be at Daniel Rey's house and he'd sit down on the couch with the headphones on just listening to me sing over and over again. I didn't know what was going on. He just wanted to hear my voice singing his song."
Spector was so distraught by the death of her duet partner that she couldn't complete the album.
It was through a chance meeting with old friend Keith Richards at one of her annual Christmas concerts in New York that Spector was finally coaxed back into the studio earlier this year to finish the work Joey Ramone started.
"When Joey passed away, I was completely devastated. I didn't know what to do. I was lost. Luckily, I've got people in my life like Keith Richards who helped get me back on my feet. Keith came to one of my Christmas shows, and we started talking afterwards.
"He has a studio in his Connecticut home, which is just, like, 15 minutes from where I live, so I started going over to his place and we'd do stuff together. All we do is sing songs, kid around and have fun. It's more like a party, really.
"I never know whether he's got the tape rolling or not. Keith wrote some songs; there's one Bruce Springsteen wrote for me. It was a very low-stress way of making a record."
The as yet untitled new album will be released in the spring of 2004, coinciding with the publication of a follow-up volume to Spector's autobiography, Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness, Or My Life As A Fabulous Ronette (Harmony).
In the meantime, Spector is looking forward to making her long-overdue return to Toronto - by her best recollection it's been "about 20 years" since she last performed here - and she sounds genuinely excited about ringing in the holiday season with some yuletide favourites.
"Oh, I just love this time of year," she shouts. "I've already told the kids that I want to see that Christmas tree up in the living room when I get home.
"I don't know if it's hearing my Christmas songs on the car radio that gets me in the spirit, but I really enjoy the whole holiday season. I guess I'm what you'd call a Christmas person, which is kinda funny considering I'm Jewish!"