Larry Levine, the recording engineer who helped Phil Spector re-invent rock ‘n’ roll music with his "Wall of Sound" technique and won a Grammy for his work with Herb Alpert, died on his 80th birthday, his family said Tuesday.
Levine’s wife, Lyn, said he died at his Encino home on May 8. He had suffered from severe emphysema, according to relatives.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Levine recalled meeting Spector in the 1960s and beginning a collaboration that lasted for many years.
"He said to me he had the sound in his head that he wanted to create," said Levine, and the engineer set out to build the lush sound that involved dozens of musicians and instruments as well as echo chambers.
Their first collaboration was on the teen anthem, "He’s a Rebel," which Levine helped Spector record in 1962. It would bring stardom to the girl group, the Crystals, just as "Be My Baby" would do for the Ronettes.
Levine was the engineer on such Spector produced classics as "Da Doo Ron Ron" and the Righteous Brothers’, "You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling," the song cited by BMI as the most played in the history of U.S. radio.
Levine was born in New York on May 8, 1928, and grew up in Los Angeles. After serving in the Army during the Korean War he learned to be a recording engineer from his cousin, Stan Ross, who was co-owner of Gold Star Recording Studios in Hollywood.
"He made Phil Spector a genius by applying the simple logic of using echo chamber," Ross once told the Los Angeles Times. "Phil had a tendency of overbooking the room, and there were more musicians than there should have been in the studio."
Ross said he showed Levine how to use echo to make the small room sound larger.
"It gave it dimension," Ross said. "It sounded like it was a football field."
In his interview with the AP, Levine said Spector’s sessions began with a few guitar players but would eventually involve dozens of instruments, including pianos. Session guitarist Carol Kaye recalled people being packed shoulder-to-shoulder into a studio for the session that produced the 1966 Ike and Tina Turner classic, "River Deep-Mountain High," another Spector-Levine collaboration.
Levine said it was difficult to mix all the sounds together under those circumstances but it was that mix that created the Wall of Sound.
He and Spector remained close for decades and he said it was sad when Spector was arrested on a murder charge in 2003.
Although Levine’s name was indelibly linked with Spector in music history, Levine also worked with Eddie Cochran, the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Wings, the Carpenters, Dr. John and Herb Alpert. He won a Grammy for best engineered recording for Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ 1965 hit, "A Taste of Honey."
Besides his wife, Levine is survived by his sons, Rick, Rob and Michael, four grandchildren and a sister, Joyce Black.