“Music is a biological necessity. It’s a way that we all have of processing our feelings…..that’s what you do. You just try really hard not to suck..” After over 40 years in the music business, Linda Ronstadt is still committed to her task – and her own biggest critic. She was born today in 1946.
Singer Linda Ronstadt was born in Tucson, Arizona, USA and began gigging with her elder brother and sister when aged just 14. Adding banjo player Richard Saltus guitarist Bob Kimmel, the ensemble then played as The New Union Ramblers, as Linda dropped out of high school and then briefly attended Arizona State University.
Relocating with Kimmel to Los Angeles in late 1964, the pair christened themselves The Stone Poneys with Kenny Edwards and played on the LA folk scene, signing to Capitol Records in 1966. Suspicions that their motivation was to securing the female lead singer (a dead ringer for Lily Allen on the cover of their second album) proved correct and after one top 20 hit (“Different Drum”) the trio broke up Linda was marketed as a solo artist.
A trio of solo albums that garnered one top 30 single (“Long Long Time” in 1970) followed, but lacked depth and spark. Quitting Capitol in favour of Asylum at the instigation of label boss David Geffen in 1972, Linda found a kindred spirit in Peter Asher – who managed her along with James Taylor.
Asher produced her contract-completing finale for Capitol,“Heart Like A Wheel” and secured her a slot supporting Neil Young. The title track to “Heart Like A Wheel” rocketed to number one in the USA in 1974 – with follow-up “You’re No Good” also topping the charts and “When Will I Be Loved” peaking at number two.
Unfortunately, Linda was growing ever more tired of her airbrushed take on country – and frustrated in her attempts to switch genres, notably into the traditional Mexican music her Mexican-German father had raised her on. Comfort in the form of a Grammy Award came for “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still In Love With You)” a duet with Emmylou Harris.
Disaffected with her musical output despite hits, accolades and money, Linda changed tack with 1980′s “Mad Love” saw her take repertoire from contemporary songwriters such as Elvis Costello. Alienating some of her fanbase, others were baffled by her appearance in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” – and a subsequent film version.
Impervious to criticism, Linda then targeted the Great American Songbook and inspired by listening to classic Sinatra albums, sought out renowned arranger Nelson Riddle. Backed a full orchestra, three albums followed -”What’s New” selling by the bucketload. Eyebrows were then raised yet again when Ronstadt turned to opera, appearing in a production of Puccini’s La Boheme.
Subsequent releases would include albums of Spanish language and Latin recordings and the rather more commercial “Trio” release with Emmy Lou and Dolly Parton. That sold reasonably well, but a singles chart return came after a chance meeting with Aaron Neville in New Orleans. That resulted in four duets appearing on her 1989 album, “Cry Like A Rainstorm – Howl Like The Wind” and “Don’t Know Much” riding high in the UK and USA singles charts.
At pains to stress that there’s no master plan and uninterested in any record company “suggestions” for retreads, Linda continued to go her own way – with further Spanish language releases, a second “Trio” record and an infinitely superior duets set with Emmy Lou: “Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions.”
Daring to enter the male-dominated world of record producing, Linda also took time out to raise her two adopted children. Trying her hand at jazz standards in a small group setting, a Christmas album followed as has an authentically-flavoured cajun release. “Adieu False Heart” was recorded with Ann Savoy of the Savoy-Doucet Band and found Linda singing in French for the first time. Vive la difference!
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And here’s some footage of Linda in action: