Linda Ronstadt

 Linda Ronstadt

 Linda Ronstadt – circa 1979

 “Where you’re concerned, my heart has learned / It’s so easy to fall in love” – ‘It’s So Easy’ (Buddy Holly, Norman Petty)

Is the world ready for a rock star as First Lady?  Could the wife of the President of the United States be a famous singer?  These are questions being asked in 1979.  Jerry Brown, the Governor of the State of California is considered a potential future candidate for the Presidency.  Brown’s girlfriend is Linda Ronstadt, one of America’s most popular female vocalists at the time.  ‘Political pundits are wondering whether marriage to Ronstadt would be a good or bad thing for Brown’s Presidential aspirations.’  Aware of the pressures, Linda Ronstadt notes, “The newspapers had begun to speculate on whether the Governor was going to spend State money to protect his girlfriend’s house.  Precisely because of such speculation, Jerry had already decided not to.”  Will she trade chart power for political power?

Linda Marie Ronstadt is born 15 July 1946 in Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.  She is the daughter of Gilbert Ronstadt and his wife Ruth Mary Ronstadt (nee Codeman).  On her father’s side, Linda’s ancestry is a mix of German, English and Mexican backgrounds.  On her mother’s side, Linda is of German, English and Dutch descent.  Sorting out these diverse threads is a bit complicated.  The obviously Teutonic surname of Ronstadt comes from her paternal great-grandfather, Friedrich August Ronstadt.  Friedrich Ronstadt marries a Mexican woman, Margarita Redondo Y Vasquez.  Their son (Linda’s grandfather), Frederico Jose Maria Ronstadt, is born in Banamichi, Sonora, Mexico.  Frederico Ronstadt marries Maria Guadalupe Augustina Dalton, a woman born in Arizona of one quarter English and three quarters Mexican descent.  Their son, Gilbert Ronstadt, is Linda’s father.

Gilbert Ronstadt is a guitar player – but he is also a machinery merchant.  “Everybody in my family plays and sings, not necessarily to a professional level,” Linda Ronstadt explains.  “My grandmother and grandfather were classical music devotees and they also loved [traditional] Mexican music.”  As may be imagined, the Ronstadt home is filled with music and much of it is influential to the work Linda herself would go on to record.

Linda Ronstadt has three siblings: Peter, Michael and Gretchen (a.k.a. Suzi).  When Linda is 14, she forms a folk music trio, The Union City Ramblers, with Peter and Suzi.  This becomes The Three Ronstadts and then The New Union City Ramblers.  (Peter Ronstadt later becomes the police chief of Tucson, Arizona.)

Linda Ronstadt goes on to attend the University of Arizona in 1964…but only for one semester.  While at university she meets Bob Kimmel, a singer and guitarist.  In 1964, the 18 year old Linda Ronstadt moves to California ‘determined to make a living as a singer.’  “When I got to L.A. [Los Angeles, California], I was so intimidated by the quality of everybody’s musicianship,” she admits.

In Los Angeles, Linda Ronstadt and Bob Kimmel recruit a local musician, Kenny Edwards, and form ‘a folk trio’ called The Stone Poneys in the summer of 1966.  Within the act, the members have the following roles: Linda Ronstadt (vocals), Bob Kimmel (guitar, vocals) and Kenny Edwards (bass, vocals).  The Stone Poneys secure a recording deal with Capitol and cut three albums: ‘The Stone Poneys’ (1967) in January, ‘Evergreen, Vol. 2’ (1967) (US no. 100) in June and ‘Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys And Friends, Vol. 3’ (1968).  It is clear from the title of the third disc that Capitol’s plans are built more around the act’s lead vocalist than The Stone Poneys as a trio.  During their time, The Stone Poneys score a hit single with ‘Different Drum’ (US no. 13) in 1967, a track from their second album.  ‘Different Drum’ was written in 1965 by Mike Nesmith of 1960s U.S. pop group The Monkees.  Nesmith’s inclinations towards country music did not always find expression in The Monkees’ more pop-oriented output.  ‘Different Drum’ is first recorded by The Greenbriar Boys in 1966.  The Stone Poneys’ version of the song is delicate pop with orchestral flourishes courtesy of producer Nik Venet.  “You and I travel to the beat of a different drum / Oh, can’t you tell by the way I run, every time you make eyes at me,” sings Linda Ronstadt in a style somewhere between a yodel and an operatic display.  Amongst the additional musicians appearing on this song is guitarist Bernie Leadon, who will re-enter this story a little later.

The Stone Poneys come to an end and, with the encouragement of Capitol Records, Linda Ronstadt embarks on a solo career.

The musical style with which Linda Ronstadt is most identified is country rock.  As the name suggests, this is a fusion of country and western with rock ‘n’ roll.  Over the course of the 1970s, Linda Ronstadt changes from a country singer with a dash of rock to, by decade’s end, a rock singer with a little residual country influence.  The country half of the equation seems to come more easily to her, probably because it is less of a stretch from her past experience with folk trios The Union City Ramblers and The Stone Poneys.  This is not to suggest that Ronstadt’s more rock influenced songs are less satisfying; they are just more learned and less natural for her.

Linda Ronstadt is not a songwriter.  The vast majority of her catalogue consists of cover versions of songs originally recorded by other artists, augmented by a small number of songs which she is the first to perform.  Some of the original recordings by other artists are very famous; some of them are much more obscure.  The origins and backgrounds of only selected songs performed by Linda Ronstadt will be traced here.  When asked about the difference between writing your own material and recording the songs of others, Linda Ronstadt responds, “You gotta pay ‘em [the songwriters] royalties, but I don’t [the record company does].”  Arguably, there are still some conclusions to be drawn from the songs chosen by the performer, but it may be presuming too much to think that the songs she sings reveal very much about Linda Ronstadt herself.

When Linda Ronstadt begins her career, female rock stars are still a minority.  “When I first started doing this, there weren’t really any other women singers, except for Maria Muldaur and Grace Slick,” Linda claims.  On another occasion, she amends this list to include Janis Joplin and recalls the influence of Darlene Love of The Crystals.  Of the four women cited, the folky jazz of Maria Muldaur is the nearest to Linda Ronstadt, but she is more like a contemporary (Muldaur’s first solo album is not released until 1973).  The Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick played the vengeful Valkyrie, while Janis Joplin was a boozy blues mama – both well outside of Ronstadt’s musical persona.  “I like being a girl,” she shrugs.  Although Darlene Love’s rhythm and blues shaded pop on songs like 1962’s ‘He’s A Rebel’ and 1963’s ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ may seem unlikely forebears of Linda Ronstadt, there is the same tendency to turn up the vocal power to overcome the band and the song itself.  At her worst, Linda Ronstadt’s vocals can seem a bit sterile, a bit too mannered and careful but, more often, she combines the heartache of country, the bluster of rock and her own precision to good effect.

Linda Ronstadt begins her solo career with ‘Hand Sown, Home Grown’ (1969).  Produced by Chip Douglas, this effort is most notable for her first attempt at ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’, a song Ronstadt will return to a few years later.  ‘Silk Purse’ (1970) (US no. 103, AUS no. 34) has a cover image of the singer sittin’ in a hog pen – to fulfil the adage ‘making a silk purse from a sow’s ear.’  This disc’s best known piece is ‘Long Long Time’ (US no. 25), a song whose forlorn melody is screened by clouds of strings at the direction of producer Elliot F. Mazer.  ‘Silk Purse’ is recorded in country music capital Nashville, Tennessee, but Linda Ronstadt reputedly ‘hates the album.’

As Linda Ronstadt’s public profile increases, so does media interest in her love life.  Although she never marries, she is linked with a number of boyfriends.  “I wish I had as much in bed as I get in the newspapers,” Ronstadt splutters in exasperation at one point.  Despite the gossip column coverage, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when she changes lovers so all that can be offered here is a ‘best guess’ at those dates.

Record producer John Boylan (1972?) is Linda Ronstadt’s first well-known ‘boyfriend.’  Boylan is part mentor and father-figure as well as part lover.  However, his role is soon usurped by singer-songwriter John David Souther (1972-1974?) who is described as Ronstadt’s ‘live-in boyfriend for several years.’  Both men play a role in the next development in Linda Ronstadt’s career.

“I was walking through ‘The Troubadour’ [a club in Los Angeles] one day with John Boylan,” explains Linda Ronstadt.  “He and I were looking to put a band together because I had a big tour booked…I heard this band called Shiloh at ‘The Troubadour’ and I said, ‘That drummer’s really good.  Let’s see if I can get him for the band’…His name was Don Henley…I had been playing with Bernie Leadon [from ‘Different Drum’] in my band, but he’d gone off to [country rock pioneers] The Flying Burrito Brothers [from September 1969 to October 1971, but was now available again].  I was living with J.D. Souther at the time, who’d had a musical duo [Longbranch Pennywhistle circa 1969] with a guy named Glenn Frey…So I said, ‘We’ll get Glenn’…and I had Don [and Bernie Leadon]…John Boylan suggested Randy Meisner.”  This quartet, Glenn Frey (guitar), Bernie Leadon (guitar), Randy Meisner (bass) and Don Henley (drums), find they work well together and make plans to start their own career.  Linda Ronstadt suggests, “It’s gonna take you a while to put a band together,” so, in the meantime, they should work with her and earn some money.  This is how Linda Ronstadt’s backing band becomes The Eagles, one of the leading country rock acts of the 1970s.  The album on which they work is ‘Linda Ronstadt’ (1972) (US no. 163), produced by John Boylan.  This is the singer’s last album for Capitol Records.

The Eagles’ debut album, also in 1972, is released on David Geffen’s Asylum Records label.  This becomes the new home of Linda Ronstadt as well.  Although Warner Brothers buys Asylum in 1973, the label remains largely autonomous.

At this point, Peter Asher enters the story of Linda Ronstadt.  In his native Britain, Peter Asher teamed with Gordon Waller as the pop duo Peter And Gordon.  In the mid-1960s they had a string of hits including ‘World Without Love’, ‘True Love Ways’ (a cover version of a song by 1950s rock star Buddy Holly), ‘Lady Godiva’, ‘Nobody I Know’ and ‘I Got To Pieces’.  ‘World Without Love’ is written for the duo by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the British 1960s rock titans, The Beatles.  This is less surprising when it is known that Peter Asher is the brother of Jane Asher, Paul McCartney’s girlfriend circa 1963-1968.  When Peter And Gordon split up, Peter Asher becomes head of Artists & Repertoire in 1968 for The Beatles’ new-born Apple Records label.  One of his first signings is a singer-songwriter of acoustic music.  He is named James Taylor and he is visiting the U.K. from Los Angeles.  As The Beatles – and Apple – fall to pieces at the end of the 1960s, Peter Asher accompanies James Taylor back to Los Angeles, serving as his producer and manager.  Branching out, Peter Asher becomes the producer and manager of Linda Ronstadt as well.  “Peter was the first person willing to work with me as an equal,” notes Ronstadt.  He is not a mentor like John Boylan or J.D. Souther; nor is he Ronstadt’s lover as those two men had been.  The Ronstadt-Asher partnership is strictly professional.  It is difficult to overstate the importance of Peter Asher to the continuing career of Linda Ronstadt, not only as producer and manager, but as arranger and for his role in assisting in the selection of appropriate songs.

‘Don’t Cry Now’ (1973) (US no. 45, AUS no. 46) is Linda Ronstadt’s first album for Asylum.  Production duties are shared between John Boylan, J.D. Souther and Peter Asher.  ‘Silver Threads And Golden Needles’ is revisited here as a country hoedown with sawing violins.  The glum piano ballad ‘Desperado’ is written by Ronstadt’s former backing musicians Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles.  ‘Love Has No Pride’ (US no. 51) is an agonised ballad of lost love.

After the departure of The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt does not maintain a regular backing band.  Instead, she uses a pool of talent, many of whom come from the Los Angeles session musician fraternity.  Session musicians are like musical mercenaries.  They are prepared to use their high level of musical skills for whoever is willing to pay for their services.  Session musicians are employed not only for pop songs, but also advertising jingles and movie music.  Among the backing musicians – whether from a sessions background or not – that Linda Ronstadt employs (both in the studio and on tour) during the next few years are the following: guitars – Andrew Gold (1974-1976), Danny Kortchmar (1975), Dan Dugmore (1975-1979), Waddy Wachtel (1976-1978), Mark Goldenberg (1979); keyboards – Andrew Gold (1974), Don Grolnick (1977-1978), Bill Payne (1979); bass – Kenny Edwards (1974-1978) [Linda’s former associate in The Stone Poneys], Bob Glaub (1979); and drums – Andrew Gold (1974), Russ Kunkel (1974-1975, 1978-1979), Rick Marotta (1977).  “People think there’s orgies and drugs going on, but my band weren’t like that,” contends Linda Ronstadt.  “They were a really literate bunch of guys, readers…Don Grolnick…Kenny Edwards…They were serious people, professionals.”  And while her erudite sidemen debated the fate of the world, what was their female commander-in-chief doing?  “I knitted,” she says.

‘Heart Like A Wheel’ (1974) (US no. 1, AUS no. 35) is an album Linda Ronstadt owed to Capitol.  It also marks the point at which her ‘career upturns dramatically’, ‘making Ronstadt a star.’  Peter Asher acts as producer on this and all but one of the next thirteen Linda Ronstadt albums.  The song that gives her a breakthrough is ‘You’re No Good’ (US no. 1).  Over ominous and sinister electric guitars played by Ed Black and Andrew Gold, Linda Ronstadt intones, “Feeling better, now that we’re through / Feeling better ‘cos I’m over you.”  ‘You’re No Good’ is written by Clint Ballard, Jr.  It is first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1963, but it is Betty Everett who has a hit with the song in November 1963.  In the U.K., it is The Swinging Blue Jeans who take the song into the charts in 1964.  Linda Ronstadt also has a hit with ‘When Will I Be Loved?’ (US no. 2), a song composed by Phil Everly and made into a hit with his brother Don, The Everly Brothers, in 1960.  Etched with sharp guitars, this is an oven-hot country rocker.  “I been made blue / I been lied to / When will I be loved?” the lyrics ask but, despite their pitying tone, the arrangement kicks its heels up too much to seem mournful.  On the other hand, ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ is a more traditional, mopey, country music lament.  “When ‘Heart Like A Wheel’ went to number one [on the album chart], I just walked around apologising every single day – I’m not that good a singer,” says Linda Ronstadt modestly.

Comedian Steve Martin is the next of Linda Ronstadt’s boyfriends (1975?).  They are reported to have ‘dated while Martin was doing stand-up’ comedy routines.  Steve Martin’s stand-up stint went from the mid-1970s to 1981, so this seems to be about where he fits chronologically.

‘Prisoner In Disguise’ (1975) (US no. 4, AUS no. 76) finds Linda Ronstadt back on Asylum again.  ‘Love Is A Rose’ (US no. 63) is a banjo-pickin’ country folk tune (Herb Pedersen is the banjo player).  Sumptuously couched heartache is the order of the day for ‘The Tracks Of My Tears’ (US no. 25).  The album’s most commercially successful moment is ‘Heat Wave’ (US no. 5).  Written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, this was originally recorded by Motown Records act Martha And The Vandellas, whose version was released in January 1963.  In Ronstadt’s hands, ‘Heat Wave’ becomes a jiving honky-tonk number over which she wails, “Whenever I’m with him / Something inside / Starts to burning / And I’m filled with desire.”

‘Hasten Down The Wind’ (1976) (US no. 3, UK no. 32, AUS no. 28) is home to Linda Ronstadt’s version of ‘That’ll Be The Day’ and ‘Someone To Lay Down Beside Me’.  ‘That’ll Be The Day’ (US no. 11) is written by Buddy Holly and Jerry Allison and originally recorded by their band, The Crickets, in 1957.  Linda Ronstadt renders the tune as straight-up pop rock: “That’ll be the day / When you say goodbye / That’ll be the day / That you make me cry.”  There’s nothing wrong with Ronstadt’s version – it’s a big hit for her – but the trouble is it remains indelibly associated with Buddy Holly.  It’s one of the signature recordings by a very famous icon of rock ‘n’ roll.  It’s difficult for Ronstadt to really make it her own.  On the other hand, ‘Someone To Lay Down Beside Me’ (US no. 42) is a Karla Bonoff song.  Bonoff is an underappreciated contemporary of Ronstadt.  This gives Ronstadt much more scope to make the most of this song of existential frailty and modern fears.  It’s not as commercially successful as ‘That’ll Be The Day’ but, arguably, it is more aesthetically satisfying.

Comedic actor Albert Brooks ‘lives with Linda Ronstadt for two years in the 1970s’ (1976-1977?) and seems to be next of her partners.

A measure of Linda Ronstadt’s growing stature in the public eye is her selection, along with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and country music legend Loretta Lynn, to perform at the televised Inaugural Concert for new U.S. President Jimmy Carter on 19 January 1977.

Celebrity of a different sort comes Linda Ronstadt’s way in May 1977 when she is one of ten famous women offered a million dollars each to be photographed nude for Larry Flynt’s skin-magazine ‘Hustler’.  “I got the offer in the mail,” she confirms.  “I laughed at it, and then threw it in the wastebasket.”

“There’s no way that I can be objective and say one album [of mine] is better than another,” claims Linda Ronstadt, before confessing, “I never listen to them anyway.”  ‘Simple Dreams’ (1977) (US no. 1, UK no. 15, AUS no. 1), in September, may have the strongest grasp on the title of Linda Ronstadt’s best album.  Commercially, it ‘becomes the singer’s biggest hit, staying on top of the [U.S.] charts for five weeks and selling over three million copies.’  Creatively, its credentials are also sound.  For a start, it includes Linda Ronstadt’s best single, ‘Blue Bayou’ (US no. 3, UK no. 35).  “I feel so bad, I got a worried mind / I’m so lonesome all the time / Since I left my baby behind on Blue Bayou,” she sings in this song of swampy sorrow.  ‘Blue Bayou’ is written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson and was originally a hit for Orbison in 1963.  Former boyfriend J.D. Souther suggested Ronstadt cover this song.  Roy Orbison’s original, near-operatic performance certainly presents Ronstadt with a challenge.  “I crack into falsetto – not very well (at the end of ‘Blue Bayou’),” she says self-effacingly.  Actually, that soaring final note is one of the song’s chief attractions – along with Dan Dugmore’s weeping pedal steel guitar.  ‘Simple Dreams’ is notable for being ‘more rock-oriented’.  This alteration in emphasis partly arises from a meeting between Linda Ronstadt and Mick Jagger, frontman of The Rolling Stones, sometimes acclaimed as the ‘greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.’  Jagger suggests Ronstadt should play more hard rock songs.  She retorts that her band plays The Rolling Stones’ song ‘Tumbling Dice’ from 1972 at soundchecks before concerts.  She asks Jagger to write out the words for her.  In transposing the gender orientation of the song, it is suspected Jagger may have played a trick on Ronstadt.  In The Stones’ original, the opening line is: “Women think I’m tasty, but they’re always tryin’ to waste me.”  The version on this album by Linda Ronstadt begins, “People try to rape me / Always think I’m crazy.”  In any case, its dirty guitar riffs work well.  Also on the more rock side of the equation is a version of ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’ (US no. 31), a song from Warren Zevon’s 1976 self-titled album.  Jackson Browne, another Los Angeles-based soft rock artist, suggested to Linda Ronstadt that she cover this song.  From its cowbell percussion and syn drums, through its strummed acoustic guitar, to full-blown electric guitar, this is an exciting performance.  Linda Ronstadt also uses another Zevon song on the album, ‘Carmelita’, a junkie’s lullaby.  “His talent spoke for him,” Ronstadt advises.  “I didn’t know Warren very well.  He was so odd.”  ‘It’s So Easy’ (US no. 5) is another rocking song of spring-mounted passion.  It is written by Buddy Holly and Norman Petty and originally recorded by The Crickets in 1958.  The country side of the country rock formula is represented on this set by: the self-pitying ‘Sorrow Lives Here’; a traditional ode to a pony called ‘Old Paint’; and the cowgirl blues of ‘I Never Will Marry’.  The last-named has vocal harmonies from country music queen Dolly Parton.

When the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team play in the World Series on 14 October 1977 they request Linda Ronstadt, their city’s favourite adopted daughter, sing the national anthem.  Linda complies…but the Dodgers lose to the New York Yankees.

Live performances of ‘Poor Poor Pitiful Me’ and ‘Tumbling Dice’ by Linda Ronstadt and her band are featured in the film ‘F.M.’ (1978) and its soundtrack in May.  The film is a comedy about a dispute within a radio station about its playlist.

‘Living In The U.S.A.’ (1978) (US no. 1, UK no. 39, AUS no. 3) is Linda Ronstadt’s next outing.  Released in September, the album title is derived from the song ‘Back In The U.S.A.’ (US no. 16), a Chuck Berry hit from 1959.  A rollicking rock ‘n’ roll number with clattering piano, its loquacious lyric gives Ronstadt an opportunity to use her most careful diction: “New York, Los Angeles, oh how I yearn for you / Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge.”  ‘Ooh Baby Baby’ (US no. 7), penned by Smoky Robinson and Warren ‘Pete’ Moore, was first recorded by their vocal group, The Miracles, in 1965.  Ronstadt’s version is suffused with saxophones and smouldering late-night regret: “I’m just about at / The end of my rope / But I can’t stop trying / I can’t give up hope.”  ‘Just One Look’ (US no. 44) offers nicely ordered pop with soaring harmonies.  Familiar contributors J.D. Souther (‘White Rhythm And Blues’) and Warren Zevon (‘Mohammed’s Radio’) are on hand, but a bigger pointer to the future is ‘Alison’, an edgy song from British punk / new wave artist Elvis Costello.

Linda Ronstadt becomes involved with Jerry Brown (1978-1980?) during the time Brown is Governor of California (1975-1983).  Linda remembers they “had a lot of fun for number of years.  He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline.”

In January 1979 Linda Ronstadt begins recording an album with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.  Although Parton and Harris may sometimes be considered country rock artists, they are much closer to the country end of the scale than Ronstadt.  At this point, nothing eventuates from the work of the three women, but the idea will later be revisited.

On 21 December 1979 Linda Ronstadt, The Eagles, and Chicago (a brass-heavy outfit) put on a benefit concert at the San Diego Sports Arena.  A similar concert is subsequently held at the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas.  These concerts raise money for Jerry Brown’s Presidential campaign.  Ultimately, Brown’s tilt at the nation’s highest office proves as ill-fated as his romance with Ronstadt.  “Neither of us suffered under the delusion that we would like to share each other’s lives,” says Linda Ronstadt.  “I would have found his life too restrictive, and he would have found mine entirely chaotic.  Eventually we went our separate ways and embraced things that resonated with us as different individuals…We have always remained on excellent terms.”

‘Mad Love’ (1980) (US no. 3, UK no. 65, AUS no. 6) in February is a bold step in a new direction for Linda Ronstadt.  Country rock is dying out.  The prevailing trends of the day are disco and punk / new wave.  Linda Ronstadt opts for the latter.  This album includes three Elvis Costello songs (‘Party Girl’, ‘Girls Talk’ and ‘Talking In The Dark’) and three songs from The Cretones’ album ‘Thin Red Line’ (1980) (‘Mad Love’, ‘Cost Of Love’ and ‘Justine’).  Cretones’ guitarist and leader Mark Goldenberg is on hand to lend some authority to the album.  Further freshening things up is new producer Val Garay, though he has been acting as engineer (sort of like an assistant to the producer) on the Ronstadt albums produced by Peter Asher.  It’s almost amusing hearing Linda Ronstadt and her session musicians trying to sound purposefully rough and spontaneous like new wave acts.  The album’s first hit is ‘How Do I Make You?’ (US no. 10), a song written by Billy Steinberg which Linda Ronstadt is the first to record.  With (mock?) fury, the singer rants, “You put your head on my pillow and you’re fast asleep / And how do I make you, how do I make you, how do I make you / Dream about me?”  ‘Hurt So Bad’ (US no. 8) was first released by Little Anthony And The Imperials in 1965.  The song is written by Teddy Randozzo, Bobby Wilding (Weinstein) and Bobby Hart (Harshman).  Over serrated guitars, Linda Ronstadt pleads, “You loved me before / Please love me again / I can’t let you go back to her.”  ‘I Can’t Let Go’ (US no. 31) has a tense and dramatic sound.

On 15 July 1980 Linda Ronstadt makes another odd, sideways, career decision.  She appears as Mabel in a New York City production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.  The production has a long run (seven hundred and seventy-two performances), though Linda Ronstadt’s role is taken over by other pop singers, Karla De Vito and Maureen McGovern.  Ronstadt returns for the motion picture incarnation, ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ (1983).

Peter Asher resumes production duties for ‘Get Closer’ (1982) (US no. 31, AUS no. 26).  On the title track, ‘Get Closer’ (US no. 29), Linda Ronstadt produces a leonine roar, but the album ‘fizzles’ commercially.

In 1983 37 year old Linda Ronstadt dates 21 year old Jim Carrey, before he becomes famous as a comedy actor in Hollywood.

Linda Ronstadt forsakes rock ‘n’ roll all together for her next three albums: ‘What’s New’ (1983) (US no. 3, UK no. 31, AUS no. 11), ‘Lush Life’ (1984) (US no. 13, UK no. 100, AUS no. 32) and ‘For Sentimental Reasons’ (1986) (US no. 46. AUS no. 43).  These albums all feature her performances of ‘pre-rock standards’ backed by The Nelson Riddle Orchestra.  Riddle also acts as arranger.

In the midst of this phase, Linda Ronstadt has a relationship with George Lucas (1985?), the movie director best known for creating ‘Star Wars’ (1977).  This is apparently a fairly significant pairing since they are reported to have become engaged, but it soon comes to an end.  George Lucas is the last known boyfriend of Linda Ronstadt.

At the end of 1986, the duet ‘Somewhere Out There’ (US no. 2) is released by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram.  This hopeful, romantic effort comes from an unlikely source: the animated movie ‘An American Tail’ (1986).

‘Trio’ (1987) (US no. 6, UK no. 60) is the long-delayed collaboration between Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.  This is released in February.

In November comes ‘Canciones de Mi Padre’ (1987) (US no. 42) – literally, ‘Songs Of My Father’ – a compendium of mariachi music and traditional Mexican folk songs.  It may be recalled that Gilbert Ronstadt, Linda’s father, was a guitar player and her family loved traditional Mexican music.

‘Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind’ (1989) (US no. 7, UK no. 42, AUS no. 11) features ‘Don’t Know Much’ (US no. 2), a duet with New Orleans singer Aaron Neville.  It is Linda Ronstadt’s first album of contemporary music since ‘Get Closer’ (1982).  After this, her career leapfrogs from genre to genre.  Also, with this disc, Linda Ronstadt moves to another subsidiary label of Warner Brothers, Elektra.

‘Mas Canciones’ (1990) (US no. 88) is another album of Mexican rancheras and corridos.

Despite not having a romantic partner, Linda Ronstadt adopts an infant daughter, Mary, in 1991.  She goes on to adopt a baby boy as well, Carlos, in 1994.

‘Frenesi’ (1992) (US no. 193) is a mix of Latin American, jazz, and Cuban music styles.  ‘Frenesi’ is co-produced by Peter Asher and George Massenburg.  It marks the end of Peter Asher’s twenty year tenure as Linda Ronstadt’s main record producer.  George Massenburg produces or co-produces subsequent releases.

‘Winter Light’ (1993) (US no. 92) contains pop, new age and art rock.  ‘Feels Like Home’ (1995) (US no. 75) is a return to country rock.  ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’ (1996) (US no. 78) is an album of children’s lullabies and pop tunes.

In 1997 Linda Ronstadt is diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that contributes to her weight gain over the years.

‘We Ran’ (1998) (US no. 160) is a rock album.  ‘Trio II’ (1999) (US no. 64) in February is another outing with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.  ‘Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions’ (1999) (US no. 73) in August is by Ronstadt and Harris alone.  As the title suggests, ‘A Merry Little Christmas’ (2000) (US no. 146) is an album for the holiday season.

Leaving behind Elektra Records, ‘Hummin’ To Myself’ (2004) (US no. 166) is a jazz album released on Verve.  Vanguard Records issues ‘Adieu False Heart’ (2006) (US no. 146), an album of duets with Ann Savoy on folk rock, Cajun and acoustic material.

In 2011 Linda Ronstadt retires from music.  At the end of 2012 she is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, and is left unable to sing.  Linda Ronstadt publicly announces her illness in August 2013.

‘The Complete Trio Collection’ (2016) (US no. 125, UK no. 47), issued by Rhino Records, is a three CD box set of Linda Ronstadt’s collaborations with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.  It collects ‘Trio’ (1987), ‘Trio II’ (1999) and a twenty track bonus disc of additional material.

Linda Ronstadt never became the U.S. First Lady because her partner, Jerry Brown, did not secure candidacy for the role of President of the U.S.A. and, in any case, she and Brown split up.  However, it could be argued that she was the First Lady of Rock in the 1970s.  Which position is more prestigious would be a matter of opinion.  From 1974 to 1980 Linda Ronstadt’s career was at its height.  Few artists in rock history who have relied almost entirely on recording cover versions of other performer’s songs have been as successful or highly regarded as she.  ‘Of the principal Los Angeles rock stars of the 1970s…Linda Ronstadt best combined artistic integrity and mass commercial success.’  ‘Linda Ronstadt became one of the most popular interpretive singers of the 1970s.’

Sources:

  1. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 266, 270, 275, 284, 294, 305, 314, 322
  2. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 119
  3. ‘The Los Angeles Times’ (Los Angeles, U.S.A. newspaper) – ‘Linda Ronstadt recalls time with Jerry Brown in new memoir’ by Anthony York (17 September 2013) (reproduced on articles.latimes.com)
  4. Notable names database – nndb.com – as at 21 December 2013
  5. wikipedia.org as at 21 December 2013, 4 January 2017
  6. Internet movie database imdb.com as at 9 February 2014
  7. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 199, 200
  8. Linda Ronstadt video interview conducted by Patt Morrison of KCET-TV (Pt. 1 of 4) (2013?)
  9. allmusic.com, ‘Linda Ronstadt’ by Stephen Thomas Erlewine as at 18 March 2002
  10. ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine, ‘Linda Ronstadt: The Million-Dollar Woman’ by Cameron Crowe (2 December 1976) (reproduced on ronstadt-linda.com/arts76.html)
  11. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘The Girl Groups’ by Greil Marcus, ‘The Sound of Southern California’ by John Rockwell (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 189, 191, 542, 544
  12. ‘Linda Ronstadt – Greatest Hits’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Elektra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records, 1976) p. 3, 4, 5, 6
  13. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 152, 183, 184
  14. brainyquote.com as at 3 February 2014
  15. ‘Linda Ronstadt – Greatest Hits Volume Two’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Elektra/Asylum Records, 1980) p. 3, 4, 5, 6
  16. albertbrooks.com as at 4 February 2014
  17. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’ – ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 54
  18. lyricsfreak.com as at 8 February 2014
  19. rollingstone.com – ‘Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris to Release “Trio” Box Set’ – by Stephen L. Betts (14 March 2016)

Song lyrics copyright MPL Communications, Inc. / BMI with the exceptions of: ‘Different Drum’ (Screen Gems – EMI Music Inc. BMI), ‘You’re No Good’ (E.H. Morris & Co. Inc. / JAC Music Co. Inc. / Blue Seas Inc. / U.S. Songs Inc. ASCAP), ‘When Will I Be Loved?’ and ‘Blue Bayou’ (both Acuff-Rose Publications Inc. BMI), ‘Heat Wave’ and ‘Ooh Baby Baby’ (both Jobete Music Company, Inc. ASCAP), ‘Tumbling Dice’ (EMI Music Publishing Ltd.), ‘Back In The U.S.A. (Arc Music Corp. / BMI), ‘How Do I Make You’ (Billy Steinberg Music / ASCAP) and ‘Hurt So Bad’ (Vogue Music / BMI)

Last revised 12 January 2017

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