Spector: I'm the Leonardo of pop music

Producer talks about his work and that murder charge in rare TV interview

He is among the biggest influences on modern popular music and has spent five years at the heart of an unresolved media firestorm over whether he is guilty of murder, but he has never given a lengthy television interview until now.

Questioned at length for the first time for a BBC2 documentary, eccentric record producer Phil Spector reveals the demons and insecurity that drove him, argues that he has never received the recognition his art deserves, and protests his innocence.

Spector, 68, changed the course of music with his run of 1960s "wall of sound" hits such as Be My Baby before going on to work with the Beatles, John Lennon and the Ramones. He was interviewed for the film, to be shown tonight, for more than three-and-a-half hours at his Los Angeles castle by the film's director, Vikram Jayanti, in March 2007.

Anthony Wall, the series producer who previously oversaw Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home film on Bob Dylan, said Spector's troubled childhood held the key to his genius and his torment. In the film he talks about the impact of his father's suicide when he was eight and the death of his own son, Philip, from leukaemia at the age of 10 in 1993.

Of his first hit, To Know Him Is To Love Him, he says: "Nobody knew it was about my father and nobody knew it was about death and it was a love song to somebody up beyond."

Spector, almost as well-known now for his murder charge, bouffant hair and eccentricity as his musical legacy, will shortly face a retrial over the death of out of work actor Lana Clarkson. In February 2003 she was found by police slumped dead in a chair at his house, killed by a single gunshot to the mouth.

A chauffeur, who drove them to Spector's mansion, has told of hearing a gunshot and seeing Spector emerge from the house holding a gun and declaring: "I think I killed somebody." In an email to friends Spector called the death "an accidental suicide". The jury in the first trial failed to reach a verdict in September last year. In the film he calls the judge in the first trial "a mean son of a bitch who doesn't like me".

The film dissects his songs, as Spector explains their genesis for the first time and betrays his deep-seated bitterness that his work has not been accorded the respect he believes it deserves.

"Depression is a wasted emotion to me, like pity, it's a wasted emotion. I'm concerned with the fact that I have not been made a doctor at any college and Bill Cosby has, even Dylan has," he says. "I think I've offered more to the American culture or music or at least as much than they and a lot of people that have been given them - Mrs Bush and people like that."

He compares his work in the studio - which produced hits such as You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling, Da Doo Ron Ron and River Deep Mountain High - with that of Leonardo da Vinci. "I always considered it not rock'n'roll, I considered it art," he says. "I was just a loner and was always treated with contempt; they [the establishment] never considered me with the same respect they considered Berlin or Gershwin ... but that just builds up the anger and the rage which made you do better, made you do a lot better."

• The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector is on BBC2 tonight at 9.40pm


Owen Gibson, media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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