Ronnie Spector is Woven into the Soundtrack of Kathy Valentine’s Life

The Go-Go's bassist on the late rock icon's lasting legacy.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the Ronettes — they’re one of those musical sources that are just woven into the soundtrack of your life and once it’s been heard, it doesn’t seem to have a first time. People always called them the “bad girls,” which I think is buying into the whole idea that you have to be either a good girl or a bad girl. I don’t like that idea in general, but Ronnie picked up on it and seemed to like the identifier. I would definitely say they were more edgy; less sugary, more salty. And they had the best hair.

People compared The Go-Go’s to the Ronettes and other girl groups. We certainly didn’t mind, because we were hugely inspired by them. Music is a funny thing — if someone doesn’t like the music that you like, it doesn’t really hurt your feelings or anything. But there are certain songs or artists that, basically, we probably can’t be friends if you don’t like them! I can’t imagine being in a band with a singer who doesn’t love Ronnie Spector. Belinda had a Ronnie influence and loved her, and that in turn informed our music. We all had very different musical influences that we brought to the band, but there had to be some crossover in order for it to work. I would say Ronnie Spector was a big crossover. 

The way she inspired our music was very nebulous, but I would easily say it came through in our harmonies. The Go-Go’s don’t have intricate harmonies, nothing difficult to execute. But at the same time, they support the song and are integral to the sound. That’s a very Ronettes-type thing. When you think of “Be My Baby,” there’s nothing complicated going on behind the melody, but still, it really supports it. She also was an important role model in being a strong, resilient woman who could hit a bottom and bounce back — with an extremely admirable amount of dignity, grace, and good humor.

I think the thing that really came down through the ages was Ronnie Spector’s authenticity as a singer. You never felt an element of pretension or trying too hard. And that was very much an element of The Go-Go’s that resonated with our audiences. We weren’t really hot, or like the sex kittens; we weren’t the best musicians, we had no fancy image or costumes or choreography. We weren’t trying to be anything more than what we were, and I think that’s kind of the same sensibility that the Ronettes and Ronnie encompassed. 

When I was starting out in music, I definitely noticed when a female group or band had a man behind the sound. Much of the time, there were men writing the songs, producing the records, performing the music. I noticed it, but not in a way that took away from the end result. What good is “Be My Baby” without Ronnie Spector? What could possibly hold its own in a production like “Walkin’ in the Rain” other than her voice? I wasn’t looking for feminists at that time; I was more focused on what I wanted to do, and I didn’t really think about male-female stuff then. I didn’t think about the female girl groups being female girl groups — they were just another hit on the radio. Those were all labels that came after, as rock music writing became a widespread thing.

In every era, there are women who are dismissed or overlooked for their roles, or their presence — just their presence was a part of a scene, of a changing paradigm. Ronnie bridged the gap from ‘60s girl group to punk, working with Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone, covering Johnny Thunders’s “Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.” And Genya Ravan, who produced Ronnie’s first solo record, also was producing the Dead Boys and had been in bands since 1963. Her roots were the same as punk rock, and that’s why she was loved and respected by punk rockers. Also, I loved Amy Winehouse, but in all her accolades during the height of her career, I didn’t see a lot of people publicly acknowledging Ronnie’s influence. Maybe it was too obvious to point out, and of course Amy was very original and her own self — but I don’t recall anyone connecting those dots.

As soon as Ronnie died, I put the Ronettes on my household’s speakers, and I was playing all these songs. It was over the holidays and my freshman daughter was home from college visiting. She came shooting out her bedroom door and was like, “What is this?” She’s 19 and loves music, but she’s young enough to have not caught up on everything! She’s absorbing all the good old stuff as well as all the stuff of her contemporary times, so there’s an entire world of music that she’s still discovering. As soon as she heard “Be My Baby,” she asked, “What is this? I love this.” I think that kind of sums it up better than anything: Decades later, a 19-year-old who likes everyone from the Kinks to Kendrick, can just zero in on the timeless sound of Ronnie Spector’s voice and get it. 

My band in Austin has a show at a private party coming up, and they asked us to do a few cover songs, because that’s what private parties are like. So we put “Be My Baby” in the set and just rehearsed it yesterday — performing it, Ronnie is so imbued in the song. It was so fun to play. Our drummer sings it, and we couldn’t believe how she channeled her.

What a legacy. I wasn’t expecting her to die at all. This is a stupid aside, but two weeks before, I’d just seen her on Instagram and followed her. Right away, she followed me back. I was really excited because I never got to meet her. Loads of my friends have met her and worked with her, but I never did. So I was trying to get up the nerve to send her a message and tell her how much I loved her — just gush basically. But then, she was gone.

Kathy Valentine has been a working musician and songwriter for over 40 years, ever since she started her first band at age 16 in her hometown of Austin, Texas. After moving to Los Angeles, Kathy joined a band that would go on to make music history: The Go-Go’s. In this group, Kathy wrote or co-wrote some of the bands most renowned tunes, including the hits “Vacation” and “Head Over Heels.” She returned to Austin in 2006 and began finding new creative pursuits and career opportunities as a public speaker, spokesperson, producer, actor and author.

Signing with the esteemed University of Texas Press, her memoir All I Ever Wanted was released in Spring 2020. She put an academic degree plan on hold while finishing and promoting her book, and still finds time to play guitar with the Bluebonnets the all-female rock & roll band she started in Austin.

Kathy’s greatest loves are her daughter, writing, music, and travel. Her hobbies are reading, computer graphics, digital recording, social media, politics, and natural based health protocols.