Few performers in any medium have proven more daring than Linda Ronstadt, a singer who has made her mark in such varied styles as rock, country, grand opera, and mariachi. In the 1970s Ronstadt churned out a veritable stream of pop hits and heartrending ballads that delighted country and rock fans alike. Just when she seemed pegged as a pop idol, however, she turned her talents to opera—in The Pirates of Penzance and La Bohème —and to torch songs accompanied by the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Almost every Ronstadt experiment has met with critical acclaim and, surprisingly, with fan approval and hefty record sales. Newsweek contributor Margo Jefferson attributes this success to Ronstadt’s voice, which she describes as having “the richness and cutting edge of a muted trumpet.” Jefferson concludes, “In a field where success is often based on no more than quick-study ventriloquism, Linda Ronstadt stands out. She is no fad’s prisoner; her compelling voice wears no disguises.”
Time reporter Jay Cocks calls Ronstadt “gutsy,” “unorthodox,” and a challenger of creeds. As the singer tells it, she developed a habit of rebellion early in life and stuck to it with singleminded determination. Ronstadt was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, the daughter of a hardware-store owner who loved to sing and play Mexican music. Ronstadt herself enjoyed harmonizing with her sister and two brothers—she was proud when she was allowed to take the soprano notes. At the age of six she decided she wanted to be a singer, and she promptly lost all interest in formal schooling. Aaron Latham, a classmate at Tucson’s Catalina High School, wrote in Rolling Stone that by her teens Ronstadt “was already a larger-than-life figure with an even larger voice. She didn’t surprise anyone by becoming a singer. Not that anyone expected her fame to grow to the dimensions of that voice. But the voice itself was no secret.”
Ronstadt attended the University of Arizona briefly, dropping out at eighteen to join her musician boyfriend, Bob Kimmel, in Los Angeles. With Kimmel and guitar player Kenny Edwards, Ronstadt formed a group called the Stone Poneys, a folk-rock ensemble reminiscent of the Mamas and the Papas and the Lovin’ Spoonful. The Stone Poneys signed a contract with Capitol Records in 1964 and released a single, “Some of Shelley’s Blues,” in early 1965. Their only hit as a group came in 1967, when “Different Drum,” a cut from their second album, made the charts. By that time, intense touring, drug abuse, and a series of disappointing concert appearances as openers for the Doors caused the Stone Poneys to disband. Ronstadt told Rolling Stone that her band was “rejected by the hippest element in New York
For the Record…
Full name Linda Marie Ronstadt; born July 15, 1946, in Tucson, Ariz.; daughter of Gilbert (a hardware-store owner) and Ruthmary (Copeman) Ronstadt. Education: Attended Catalina High School, Tucson, and the University of Arizona.
With Bob Kimmel and Kenny Edwards, formed group the Stone Poneys, 1964-68, had first Top 40 hit, “Different Drum,” 1967; solo artist, 1968—. Has made numerous concert tours in the United States, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Sang at Jimmy Carter’s inaugural concert, 1977. Appeared as Mabel in The Pirates ofPenzance on Broadway, 1981, and in a feature film, 1983; appeared as Mimi in La Bohème off-Broadway, 1984.
Awards: Recipient of Grammy Awards for best female pop performance, 1975, best female pop performer, 1976, and (with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris) best country performance, 1987; recipient of American Music Award, 1978, and Academy of Country Music Award, 1987.
Addresses: Office —c/o Asher, 644 N. Doheny Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90069.
as lame. We broke up right after that. We couldn’t bear to look at each other.”
Ronstadt fulfilled her Capitol recording contract as a solo performer, turning out some of the first albums to fuse country and rock styles. On Hand Sown … Home Grown (1969) and Silk Purse (1970), Ronstadt teamed with Nashville studio musicians for an ebullient, if jangly country sound. The latter album produced her first solo hit, the sorrowful “Long, Long Time.” In retrospect, Ronstadt has called her debut period the “bleak years.” She was plagued by the stresses of constant touring, difficult romantic entanglements, cocaine use, and critical indifference—and to make matters worse, she suffered from stage fright and had little rapport with her audiences. “I felt like a submarine with depth charges going off all around me,” she told Time. Ronstadt eluded failure by moving to Asylum Records in 1973 and by engaging Peter Asher as her producer and manager. Asher collaborated with her on her first best-selling albums, Don’t Cry Now and the platinum Heart Like a Wheel.
Heart Like a Wheel was the first in a succession of million-selling albums for Ronstadt. By the mid-1970s, with hits such as “When Will I Be Loved?,” “Desperado,” “You’re No Good,” “Blue Bayou,” and “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” the singer had established herself as rock’s most popular female star. Stephen Holden describes Ronstadt’s rock style in a Vogue magazine profile. Her singing, according to Holden, combined “a tearful country wail with a full-out rock declamation. But, at the same time, her purity of melodic line is strongly rooted in folk.” A Time contributor elaborates: “She sings, oh Lord, with a rowdy spin of styles—country, rhythm and blues, rock, reggae, torchy ballad—fused by a rare and rambling voice that calls up visions of loss, then jiggles the glands of possibility. The gutty voice drives, lilts, licks slyly at decency, riffs off Ella [Fitzgerald], transmogrifies Dolly Parton, all the while wailing with the guitars, strong and solid as God’s garage floor. A man listens and thinks ’Oh my, yes, ’ and a woman thinks, perhaps, ’Ah, well …’”
A leap from rock to operetta is monumental; few voices could make it successfully. In 1981 Ronstadt astonished the critics and her fans by trilling the demanding soprano part of Mabel in a Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance. Her performance led Newsweek correspondent Barbara Graustark to comment, “Those wet, marmot eyes turn audiences on like a light bulb, and when her smoky voice soars above the staff in a duet with a flute, she sends shivers down the spine.” Ronstadt’s appearance as Mimi in La Bohème off-Broadway in 1984 was received with less enthusiasm by the critics, but the singer herself expressed no regrets about her move away from rock. “When I perform rock ’n’ roll,” she told Newsweek, “it varies between antagonistic posturing and to-the-bones vulnerability. I wanted to allow another facet of my personality to emerge…. I’ve gained confidence in knowing that now … I can handle myself in three dimensions, and even if I never use my upper extension except in the bathtub, I’ve gained vocal finish.”
That “vocal finish” was applied to yet another Ronstadt experiment—two albums of vintage torch songs, What’s New? and Lush Life, featuring the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Jay Cocks calls What’s New? a “simple, almost reverent, rendering of nine great songs that time has not touched…. No one in contemporary rock or pop can sound more enamored, or winsome, or heartbroken, in a love song than Linda Ronstadt. Singing the tunes on What’s New, or even just talking about them, she still sounds like a woman in love.” Stephen Holden writes, “One of the charms of Ronstadt’s torch singing is her almost girlish awe in the face of the songs’ pent-up emotions. Instead of trying to re-create another era’s erotic climate, she pays homage to it with lovely evenhanded line readings offered in a spirit of wistful nostalgia.” Holden adds that What’s New “revitalized Ronstadt’s recording career by selling over two million copies, and, coincidentally, defined for her generation the spirit of a new ’eighties pop romanticism.”
More recent Ronstadt projects have departed even further from the pop-rock vein. In 1987 the singer released Canciones de mi padre, an album of mariachi songs that her father used to sing. Newsweek critic David Gates calls the work “Ronstadt’s best record to date,” noting that “its flawless production is the only concession to Top 40 sensibilities. And Ronstadt … has found a voice that embodies not merely passion and heartache, but a womanly wit as well.” Ronstadt also earned several prestigious awards for her 1986 album Trio, a joint country-music venture with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. While Ronstadt will not rule out recording more rock, she seems far more fascinated by other forms and other, more remote, historical periods. Gates finds the raven-haired artist “the most adventurous figure in American popular music,” concluding that, at the very least, Ronstadt is “commendable in her refusal to bore herself.”
With the Stone Poneys
Evergreen, Capitol, 1967.
Evergreen, Volume II, Capitol, 1967.
Linda Ronstadt, the Stone Poneys, and Friends, Volume III, Capitol, 1968.
The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt, Capitol, 1976.
Hand Sown … Home Grown, Capitol, 1969.
Silk Purse, Capitol, 1970.
Linda Ronstadt, Capitol, 1972.
Don’t Cry Now, Asylum, 1973.
Heart Like a Wheel, Capitol, 1974.
Different Drum, Asylum, 1974.
Prisoner in Disguise, Asylum, 1975.
Hasten Down the Wind, Asylum, 1976.
Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits, Asylum, 1976.
Simple Dreams, Asylum, 1977.
Blue Bayou, Asylum, 1977.
Retrospective, Capitol, 1977.
Living in the U.S.A., Asylum, 1978.
Mad Love, Asylum, 1980.
Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits, Volume II, Asylum, 1980.
Get Closer, Asylum, 1982.
What’s New?, Asylum, 1983.
Lush Life, Asylum, 1984.
For Sentimental Reasons, Asylum, 1986.
Prime of Life, Asylum, 1986.
Rockfile, Capitol, 1986.
’Round Midnight: The Nelson Riddle Sessions, Asylum, 1987.
Canciones de mi padre, Asylum, 1987.
With Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris
Trio, Warner Bros., 1986.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, Harmony Books, 1977.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St. Martin’s, 1974.
down beat, July, 1985.
Esquire, October, 1985.
Newsweek, October 20, 1975; April 23, 1979; August 11, 1980; December 10, 1984; February 29, 1988.
People, October 24, 1977; April 30, 1979.
Rolling Stone, December 2, 1976; March 27, 1977; October 19, 1978; November 2, 1978; August 18, 1983.
Saturday Review, December, 1984.
Time, February 28, 1977; March 22, 1982; September 26, 1983.
Vogue, November, 1984.
Washington Post Magazine, October 9, 1977.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Ronstadt, Linda: 1946—: Singer
Linda Ronstadt: 1946—: Singer
Linda Ronstadt has released more than 35 albums during a career that has spanned nearly 40 years, with sales topping more than 50 million copies. With a total of 13 platinum albums to her credit, she was the first woman ever to have four consecutive albums sell more than one million copies. Gaining fame by covering popular pop-rock songs, Ronstadt has also delved into opera, mariachi, Afro-Cuban, jazz, big band, and children's lullabies. She is known as one of the premier contemporary interpreters of the rock ballad.
Began Performing With Family
Ronstadt was born on July 14, 1946, in Tucson, Arizona, and grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood with her sister and two brothers. Her father, who owned a large hardware store, was of Mexican and German descent, and her mother, a housewife, was of German, English, and Dutch descent. Her whole family was musically inclined. Her mother played the ukulele, and her father, who loved to sing his favorite Mexican songs, played the guitar. By the age of six, Ronstadt was singing harmony with her family.
As a child Ronstadt listened to her father's collection of Spanish-language albums, as well as to country and western, top 40, blues, and gospel. She first began performing as a teenager in local clubs and pizza parlors with her brother Pete and sister Suzie. She had a rebellious streak that did not serve her well during her years at Tucson's St. Peter and Paul Parochial School, where her attire was deemed too alluring and her talk of boys too direct. But by high school Ronstadt was focused on a future in music. After graduating from Catalina High School she enrolled in the University of Arizona, but lasted only a couple of months before moving to Los Angeles to pursue her musical career.
Ronstadt became romantically involved with Bob Kimmel, a Tucson native who occasionally played bass and guitar for Ronstadt and her siblings. Kimmel convinced Ronstadt to form a band with him in Los Angeles. In 1964 18-year-old Ronstadt agreed, and the two enlisted Kenny Edwards and formed the Stone Poneys. The band's entire—albeit short—history was a turbulent affair. Their first professional offer came from Mercury Records, which wanted to turn them into a surfer band called the Signets. The desired style was completely out of sync with their sound, which was much closer to the folksy Mamas and the Papas and Lovin' Spoonful, and the group rejected the offer.
At a Glance . . .
Born on July 14, 1946, in Tuscon, AZ; daughter of Gilbert and Ruthmary (Copeman) Ronstadt; two adopted children.
Career: Singer, 1964–.
Awards: American Music Awards, 1978; Grammy Awards, 1975, 1976, 1987 (with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton), 1988, 1989 (with Aaron Neville), 1990 (with Aaron Neville) 1992 (two awards), 1996; Academy of Country Music Award, 1987, 1988.
Address: Agent— Electra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY.
Abandoned By Group, Began Solo Career
The Stone Poneys played at the Troubadour, a popular Los Angeles venue, where Ronstadt was approached by the promoter Henry Cohen to sign as a solo artist. Naively loyal to her band, she refused, but when the band finally split up, Ronstadt signed with Cohen and then convinced him to work with a reunited Stone Poneys band. The band ended up with a contract for three albums. The second album, Evergreen, Vol. 2, released by Capitol in 1967, included the single "Different Drum," written by Mike Nesmith, and the song reached the charts. Encouraged, Capitol sent the band on a promotional tour, but the trip was a failure. Working as an opening act for more popular groups, the Stone Poneys found themselves playing for audiences who didn't want to listen. Discouraged, Kenny Edwards left the band after the tour.
Ronstadt and Kimmel worked with pickup musicians to stage another tour, as the opening act for The Doors, but Kimmel soon jumped ship also, leaving Ronstadt holding an unfulfilled contract for a third album. Using session musicians, Ronstadt finally completed The Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. 3, released in 1968, but sales were abysmal. Still under contract with Capitol, Ronstadt released three consecutive solo albums, Hand Sown … Home Grown, Silk Purse, and Linda Ronstadt. Hand Sown … Home Grown revealed Ronstadt's lack of confidence and timid singing, but Silk Purse was an improvement, with such songs as "Lovesick Blues" and "Long, Long Time," which reached the top 30 in 1970. Linda Ronstadt contained several well-received singles, including "Rock Me on the Water" and "I Fall to Pieces."
The late 1960s and early 1970s were difficult times for Ronstadt. She went through a succession of managers, producers, and musicians, who did little to help her map out a clear plan for success. She was in debt due to the Stone Poneys' fiasco and was becoming exhausted from touring incessantly. During 1973 she opened for Neil Young and struggled with impatient fans waiting for Young's turn on stage. Ronstadt dealt with her worries, frustration, and significant stage fright with cocaine, but it was a habit she was able to quit following the tour.
Released Gold and Platinum Albums
Ronstadt's future began to take shape in 1973, when she signed with Asylum Records. She enlisted the services of producer Peter Asher, formerly of the British pop duo Peter and Gordon, who helped Ronstadt complete her next album, Don't Cry Now. Released in 1973, it became Ronstadt's first widely accepted album, and reached number 45 on the charts. The best-received cut was her highly acclaimed rendition of the Eagle's "Desperado." The success prompted Capitol to release a compilation of Ronstadt's earlier work, including several Stone Poneys' songs, a year later.
In 1973 Ronstadt found out she still owed Capitol another album. She completed her contractual obligation to Capitol in 1974 with the release of Heart Like a Wheel, which became her breakthrough album. With Asher as her sole producer and manager, Ronstadt put together a superb collection of country-rock cover tunes and contemporary songs that took the album, which went platinum, to number one on the charts. The singles "You're No Good" reached number one on the pop charts, and "I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love with You," with harmony by Emmylou Harris, climbed to number two on the country and western charts. "When Will I Be Loved" reached number one on the country and western charts and number two on the pop charts. Riding on the popularity of Heart Like a Wheel, Ronstadt won a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocalist. The success of the album made Ronstadt a household name, and seemed due to a combination of factors, including stronger, more assertive singing, and better song selection, musical arrangements, and production.
Of Heart Like a Wheel, Stephen Holden wrote in his Rolling Stone review: "The song lyric … underscores the essence of Ronstadt's vocal personality. No other pop singer so perfectly embodies the Western mythical girl/woman, heartbroken yet resilient and entirely feminine in the traditional sense. There is a throbbing edge to Ronstadt's honey-colored soprano that no other singer quite possesses. … the edge between vulnerability and willfulness that I find totally, irresistibly sexy."
Riding the wave of her widespread popularity, Ronstadt put out Prisoner in Disguise in 1975, which also went platinum. Covering Motown classics such as "Heat Wave" and "Tracks of My Tears," she also sang Neil Young's "Love is a Rose," which became a hit on the country and western charts. Despite its success, however, the album was criticized as merely a remake of Heart Like a Wheel. In 1976 Asylum released Ronstadt's Greatest Hits, Vol.1. Ronstadt's Hasten Down the Wind was her seventh solo album and the third to go platinum. Highlights of the album included covers of Buddy Holly's hit "That'll Be the Day" and Willie Nelson's "Crazy."
Ronstadt spent six months in 1976 touring around the United States as well as Europe. In January of 1977 she was invited to sing at Jimmy Carter's presidential inaugural. During that year Capitol released Retrospective, a selection of Ronstadt's pre-hit country-based songs. By the end of the year, she had released Simple Dreams, which sold over three million copies, reached number one on the charts, and produced multiple smash-hit singles. Ronstadt, who continued to benefit from Asher's production skills, proved her ability to cover a wide range of styles, with renditions of Dolly Parton's "I Will Never Marry," Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou," and Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy." Her feminine interpretation of the gritty, male-dominated lyrics of the Rolling Stones' "Tumblin' Dice" and Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me" were also noteworthy. In a testament to her willingness to play on the edge of acceptable genres, Ronstadt also included an old standard cowboy tune, "Old Paint," performed with simple acoustic guitar and a dobro.
Living in the U.S.A., released in 1978, received mixed reviews. Individual cuts were praised, but overall the album suffered from a lack of focus and direction. The following year Ronstadt produced Mad Love, an ill-advised attempt to incorporate contemporary tunes. Given her past success covering classics from a number of genres, Ronstadt's move to take on a production dominated by new wave and punk-influenced pop was a disappointment. Stereo Review's Noel Coppage suggested, "To put it in easy pop terms, Ronstadt's a melody singer and what this music needs is a beat singer." Of most interest on the album were the covers of older tunes, including Little Anthony and the Imperials' "Hurt so Bad" and The Hollies' "I Can't Let Go." Despite the critics' lukewarm reception of Living in the U.S.A. and Mad Love, Ronstadt's superstar status propelled both albums to platinum.
Moved Into New Territories
Ronstadt's 1982 release of Get Closer signaled the closing days of her place at center stage of the pop rock scene. Although still successful, it was her first album in nearly ten years that did not go platinum. Ronstadt's solution to her waning pop popularity was to switch genres completely. She moved from Los Angeles to New York and spent 1980 on stage as Mabel in a Broadway production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, and then appeared in the film version in 1983. In 1981 she began a working relationship with arranger-composer Nelson Riddle and his 46-piece orchestra. What's New, which sold more than two million copies, included traditional pop standards such as "I've Got a Crush on You" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons again paired Ronstadt with Riddle. She appeared on stage again in 1984 in a small-scale production of La Bohéme.
The single "Somewhere Out There," a duet with Aaron Neville that was featured in the animated children's movie An American Tail, put Ronstadt briefly back in the mainstream pop audience. When Riddle's untimely death ended their collaboration, Ronstadt once again switched musical directions, releasing her first Spanish-language album, Canciones de mi Padre ("Songs of my Father"). Created as a tribute to her Mexican heritage and her father's love of mariachi music, Ronstadt sings both corridos (story songs) and rancheras (folk dances). She released two more Spanish-language albums: Mas Canciones ("More Songs") in 1990, and Frenesi (Frenzy), a tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz. In 1987 Ronstadt collaborated with Harris and Parton to produce Trio, a much-anticipated album that the three had been trying to put together for several years. The three came back together in 1999 to release Trio II. Ronstadt again partnered with Harris in 1999 on the country-based Western Wall—The Tucson Sessions, a rough-cut recording completed mostly in Ronstadt's living room at her Tucson home.
Returned to Roots
Ronstadt returned to pop music in 1989 with Cry Like a Rainstorm—Howl Like the Wind, and her reentry into the mainstream was loudly applauded. In his Audio review, Hector La Torre noted, "The more you listen to Cry Like a Rainstorm, the more you realize that of greater importance than Ronstadt's return to pop/rock is the enormous musical development that has taken place in this woman." La Torre applauded Ronstadt's astonishing vocal development during her 40 years in the business.
After taking time to develop her Spanish-language albums and produce for David Lindley, Jimmy Webb, and Neville, Ronstadt returned to her folk- and country-rock sound with Winter Light and Feels Like Home. In 1999 she released Dedicated to the One I Love, which covers old popular tunes such as "Be My Baby" and "In My Room," but this time reinterprets them as children's lullabies. The release of We Ran in 1998 features covers of John Hiatt's "When We Ran," Bruce Springsteen's "If I Should Fall Behind," and Bob Dylan's "Tom Thumb Blues." In 2002 Asylum released The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt, favoring Ronstadt's biggest hits from her rock-pop albums.
Although she remains active with her music, Ronstadt, now in her fifties, has slowed down her singing and recording schedule. The mother of two children by adoption, Ronstadt has never married, although she has been linked romantically to former California governor Jerry Brown and film director George Lucas, among others. Ronstadt moved back home to Tucson to raise her children among her family in relative anonymity. She has claimed she does not own a television or computer, loathes the junk-food culture, and would much rather attend the opera than listen to modern rock or pop. With few exceptions, she has preferred to fill her home with live music, and has avoided recorded or digital formats. Her pride appears to be mostly centered in the work of her later years.
(With the Stone Poneys) We Five Sounds, Capitol, 1967.
(With the Stone Poneys) Evergreen, Vol. 2, Capitol, 1967.
(With the Stone Poneys) The Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. 3, Capitol, 1968.
Hand Sown … Home Grown, Capitol, 1969.
Silk Purse, Capitol, 1970.
Linda Ronstadt, Capitol, 1971.
Don't Cry Now (Gold), Asylum, 1973.
(Compilation) Different Drum, Capitol, 1974.
Heart Like a Wheel (Platinum), Capitol, 1974.
Prisoner in Disguise (Platinum), Asylum, 1975.
Hasten Down the Wind (Platinum), Asylum, 1976.
Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (Platinum), Asylum, 1976.
(Compilation) Retrospective (Gold), Capitol, 1977.
Simple Dreams (Platinum), Asylum, 1977.
Living in the U.S.A. (Platinum), Asylum, 1978.
(Compilation) Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (Platinum), Asylum, 1980.
Mad Love (Platinum), Asylum, 1980.
Get Closer (Gold), Asylum, 1982.
What's New (Platinum), Asylum, 1983.
Lush Life (Platinum), Asylum, 1984.
For Sentimental Reasons (Platinum), Asylum, 1986.
(Compilation) 'Round Midnight (Gold), Asylum, 1986.
Canciones de mi Padre (Songs of my Father) (Platinum), Asylum, 1987.
(With Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton) Trio (Platinum), Warner Brothers, 1987.
Cry Like a Rainstorm—Howl Like the Wind (Platinum), Asylum, 1989.
Mas Canciones (More Songs), Asylum, 1990.
Frenesi (Frenzy), Asylum, 1992.
Winter Light, Asylum, 1995.
Feels Like Home, Asylum, 1995.
Dedicated to the One I Love, Elektra, 1996.
We Ran, Elektra, 1998.
(With Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton) Trio 2 (Gold), Asylum, 1999.
(With Emmylou Harris) Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions, Asylum, 1999.
A Merry Little Christmas, Elektra, 2000.
(Compilation) The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt, Rhino, 2002.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.
Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, eds., The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone/Summit Books, 1983.
Slonimsky, Nicolas, and Laura Kuhn, eds., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Schirmer, 2001.
Audio, January 1990.
Billboard, December 4, 1993; August 21, 1999, p. 11.
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New Statesman, April 19, 1999, p. 39.
New Strait Times, March 27, 2002.
Popular Music and Society, Summer 1997, pp. 152-54.
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U.S. Weekly, December 18-25, 2000, pp. 72-74.
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Linda Ronstadt Homepage, http://www.ronstadt-linda.com (March 27, 2003).
Ronstadt, Linda , popular female rock vocalist; b. Tucson, Ariz., July 15, 1946. Linda Ronstadt combined folk, rock, and country music, along with the best material by young singer–songwriters and astutely chosen remakes of earlier pop hits, to become one of the most popular female rock vocalists of the second half of the 1970s. Always an eclectic singer, she spent her second decade on the pop scene exploring various musical genres, including reviving earlier pop standards with noted arranger Nelson Riddle to surprising success and exploring her own Mexican-American heritage.
Raised in Tucson, Linda Ronstadt was inspired to sing by a musically talented father. By age 14 she was singing with brother Pete and sister Suzi in local pizza parlors and clubs, occasionally accompanied by bassist-guitarist Bob Kimmel. After one semester at the Univ. of Ariz., she joined Kimmel in Los Angeles, where the two formed the Stone Poneys with local guitarist Kenny Edwards. Playing the region’s club circuit, the group signed with Capitol Records in 1966 and recorded two albums largely comprised of material written by Kimmel and Edwards, although their only major hit was Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum.” After a third album, recorded with studio musicians, Ronstadt pursued a solo career, initially as a country singer. In 1970 she achieved a major hit with “Long, Long Time.” In 1971 her touring band coalesced around future Eagles Glenn Frey, Don Henley, and Randy Meisner, who accompanied her on her self-titled solo album from that year, which produced a minor hit with Jackson Browne’s “Rock Me on the Water.”
Touring with Neil Young in early 1973, Linda Ronstadt reenlisted Kenny Edwards, who recruited songwriter-guitarist Andrew Gold for her new backup band. She recorded Don’t Cry Now with three different producers. The album included three songs written by John David Souther—the title song, “I Can Almost See It,” and “The Fast One”—and yielded minor hits with Eric Kaz and Libby Titus’s “Love Has No Pride” and “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” a major hit for the Springfields in 1962. One of the album’s producers, Peter Asher, became Ronstadt’s sole producer and manager through the 1970s; he produced the breakthrough Heart Like a Wheel, her final effort for Capitol Records. The album was an instant best-seller, yielding a top pop hit with “You’re No Good” (a minor hit for Betty Everett in 1963), a smash country hit with Hank Williams’s “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You),” and a smash country and pop hit with Phil Everly’s “When Will I Be Loved.” The album also contained Souther’s “Faithless Love,” Anna McGarrigle’s title song, and the Lowell George favorite “Willin’.”
Linda Ronstadt’s next album, Prisoner in Disguise, produced pop hits with covers of the Motown standards “Heat Wave” and “Tracks of My Tears” and a smash country hit with Neil Young’s “Love Is a Rose”; it also included Lowell George’s “Roll Urn Easy” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Hasten Down the Wind contained the major pop hit “That’ll Be the Day” (Buddy Holly’s biggest hit), the smash country hit “Crazy” (Patsy Cline’s biggest hit), and three compositions by Karla Bonoff, including the minor hits “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” and “Lose Again.” After completing a six-month tour of Europe and America in December 1976 and singing at President Carter’s inaugural the following January, Linda Ronstadt recorded Simple Dreams. The album sold more than three million copies and produced five hit singles: “I Never Will Marry” (a near-smash country hit), Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” (a smash pop and country hit), Buddy Holly’s “It’s So Easy” (a smash pop hit), Warren Zevon’s “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice.”
During 1978 Linda Ronstadt attempted to record a trio album with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, but the hastily made recordings proved unsatisfactory for release. Ronstadt’s formula for success continued with Living in the U.S.A., which produced hits with cover versions of “Back in the U.S.A.” (Chuck Berry), “Ooh Baby Baby” (The Miracles), and “Just One Look” (Doris Troy). The album also contained J. D. Souther’s “White Rhythm and Blues” and Elvis Costello’s “Alison,” Ronstadt’s concession to the burgeoning New Wave movement. Mad Love was Ronstadt’s attempt to record in a more contemporary vein; she included three songs by Costello and three by Mark Goldenburg of the Los Angeles-based Cretones, but the hits were “How Do I Make You” and covers of “Hurt So Bad” (Little Anthony and the Imperials) and “I Can’t Let Go” (The Hollies). Her first album of new material in nearly 10 years to not sell a million copies, Get Closer, yielded moderate pop hits with the title cut and “I Knew You When,” and a major country hit with “Sometimes You Just Can’t Win.”
Linda Ronstadt abandoned rock music for the rest of the 1980s to pursue projects that helped establish her as an all-around entertainer. She appeared as Mabel in the Broadway production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance and the subsequent movie version, in 1980 and 1983, respectively. In 1983, against the advice of then-boyfriend and former governor of Calif. Jerry Brown, Ronstadt performed at the Sun City resort in South Africa. Later in the year, in a daring career move that defied conventional music-industry wisdom, she recorded an entire album of Tin Pan Alley ballads, What’s New, with arranger-conductor Nelson Riddle, best known for his 1950s work with Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra, and his 46- piece orchestra. Although the album yielded only a minor pop hit, the title song, it eventually sold more than two million copies and encouraged Ronstadt to record two more albums with Riddle, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons. She made her big-band debut at Radio City Music Hall in N.Y. with mixed results, and later played Las Vegas with the entire retinue. In late 1984 Linda Ronstadt performed the role of Mimi in a small-scale version of Puccini’s opera La Bohème at the Public Theater in N.Y. Despite the improved power and discipline of her voice, the performance was judged lackluster and disappointing by critics. In late 1986 Ronstadt scored a smash pop hit with James Ingram on “Somewhere Out There” from the animated movie An American Tail.
Finally, in 1987 Linda Ronstadt’s long-anticipated collaboration with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton was released on Warner Bros. Over the next year, Trio produced smash country hits with “To Know Him Is to Love Him” (a top pop hit for the Teddy Bears in 1958), “Those Memories of You,” Linda Thompson’s “Telling Me Lies,” and Parton’s “Wildflowers.” Lauded for its rich harmonies, exquisite lead vocals, and sympathetic arrangements, the album sold more than a million copies. Ronstadt next pursued a reawakened fascination with traditional Mexican music, mariachi music in particular, performing in Luis Valdez’s Corridos! Tales of Passion and Revolution for PBS television and recording the poignant Canciones de Mi Padre (Songs of My Father) for Elektra Records. The album sold astoundingly well for a foreign-language recording and inspired her to tour with mariachi bands in 1988 and 1992. The 1988 tour produced an award-winning PBS television show. She recorded two more albums of Mexican music, Mas Canciones (More Songs) and Frenesi (Frenzy), in the early 1990s.
Linda Ronstadt returned to contemporary music with 1989’s Cry Like a Rainstorm—Howl Like the Wind. The album included four songs written by Jimmy Webb and four duets with New Orleans vocalist Aaron Neville. Three of the duets became hits: the pop smash “Don’t Know Much” and the near-smash “All My Life,” both top easy-listening hits; and “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby.” After nearly 40 years in the music business, Neville finally received widespread recognition as a result of the best-selling album. In the late-1980s and 1990s Ronstadt became recognized as a producer by supervising albums by David Lindley, Neville, and Jimmy Webb. She returned to her country-rock sound with 1995’s Feels Like Home, which featured Randy Newman’s title song, Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush,” and Tom Petty’s “The Waiting.”
THE STONE PONEYS: The Stone Poneys (1967; reissued as Beginnings, 1975); Evergreen, Vol. 2 (1967); Stone Pmeys and Friends, Vol. III (1968); Different Drum (1974); Stoney End (1972). LINDA RONSTADT: Hand Sown … Home Grown (1969); Silk Purse (1970); L. R. (1971); Heart Like a Wheel (1974); A Retrospective (1977); Rockfile (early Capitol material) (1986); Don’t Cry Now (1973); Prisoner in Disguise (1975); Hasten Down the Wind (1976); Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 (1976); Simple Dreams (1977); Living in the U.S.A. (1978); Mad Love (1980); Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1980); Keeping Out of Mischief (1981); Get Closer (1982); What’s New (1983); Lush Life (1984); For Sentimental Reasons (1986); ’Round Midnight: The Nelson Riddle Sessions (1986); Prime of Life (1986); Canciones de Mi Padre (1987); Cry Like a Rainstorm—Howl Like the Wind (1989); Mas Canciones (1991); Frenesi (1992); Winter Light (1993); Feels Like Home (1995). THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE: Broadway Cast Album (1981). LINDA RONSTADT, DOLLY PARTON, AND EMMYLOU HARNCE: Trio (1987).
R. Kanakaris, L. R.: A Portrait (Los Angeles, 1977); V. Claire, L. R. (N.Y., 1978); M. Moore, The L. R. Scrapbook (N.Y., 1978); C. Berman, L. R. (Carson City, 1980).
(b. 15 July 1946 in Tucson, Arizona), pop-rock superstar, songwriter, actress, and record producer who came out of the Los Angeles club scene in the 1960s to win Grammy Awards in rock, pop, country, and Latin music, becoming one of the most beloved singers of her generation.
Ronstadt was the third of four children born to Gilbert Ronstadt, a hardware store owner, and Ruthmary (Copeman) Ronstadt, a homemaker who was the daughter of Lloyd Copeman, a well-known inventor. Ronstadt grew up surrounded by music. She spent her free time listening to the radio and to records. When she was fourteen she formed a trio with her brother Mike and sister Suzie, called the New Union Ramblers. Cute and talented, she took center stage as the threesome performed in local clubs and coffee-houses, singing Mexican folk music, country songs, and popular folk songs. Ronstadt attended Catalina High School in Tucson.
In 1964, when she was eighteen, Ronstadt attended the University of Arizona briefly before moving to Los Angeles to launch her singing career at the invitation of Fred Kimmel, a Tucson friend who played rhythm guitar. Ronstadt arrived in the city with thirty dollars and a two-dollar bill with the corner torn off, a gift from her father for good luck. Naive and optimistic, she would later say that if she had realized how difficult it would be to earn a living as a musician, she would have stayed in Tucson. Still, in 1964 Los Angeles was exactly the right place for her—a mecca for aspiring musicians, attracting many artists who would become successful singers and musicians.
Ronstadt formed a trio with Kimmel and the keyboardist Ken Edwards, and they called themselves the Stone Poneys, after the Charlie Patton song "The Stone Poney Blues." Ronstadt, with her vibrant soprano voice and sexy waiflike beauty, was clearly the group's drawing card. With her raw and powerful voice and her instinct for lyrics, she shone above the others and soon attracted a cult following on the club circuit. Like other struggling musicians, Ronstadt was searching for a musical style and not finding it. A first chance to record came from Mercury Records, but the group turned down the offer, which would have renamed them the Signets and had them playing surfing music. Another offer came just for Ronstadt, but she did not want to sing solo. The Stone Poneys, who began as an acoustic rock band, did not jell as a pure rock act, because the group members were drawn in different directions musically. Ronstadt was more interested in country music, but the others were dubious of that musical style.
The Stone Poneys were booked into the Troubadour in West Hollywood, the "in" club where both rock stars and aspiring artists hung out, mingling with managers and promoters on the lookout for new talent. The band's stint at the "Troub" landed them a contract with Capital Records. In January 1965 the Stone Poneys recorded "Some of Shelley's Blues," their first single, for Capital Records, and the following year they recorded the album The Stone Poneys, which featured three Ronstadt solos. Their second album, Evergreen Volume II (1967), produced the group's only successful single, Ronstadt's rendition of "Different Drum," which had been written by Mike Nesmith of the Monkees. The song, a sad ode to lost love and breaking up, became the first of many Ronstadt hits.
By 1968 the song made number thirteen on the Billboard charts. At age twenty-one Ronstadt had her first hit record, but psychologically she was not prepared for success. She was insecure and felt that she was not an accomplished musician, and felt that she suffered from a lack of guidance. The group was constantly on the road opening for other bands and artists, such as the Doors, Alice Cooper, the Mothers of Invention, and Neil Young. With audiences un-sympathetic to the band's style of music, Ronstadt's self-confidence continued to wither. Artistic differences, dissatisfaction with being an opening act for other bands, and low pay of barely $100 per month were all factors in the breakup of the band. Ronstadt recorded another album, Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys, and Friends, Volume 3 (1968), backed entirely by studio musicians.
Despite suffering from agonizing stage fright, Rondstadt made her first solo appearance at a popular Los Angeles club, the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. In spite of her shyness she established a rapport with the audience, gradually becoming accustomed to solo performances. She continued to make records for Capitol, such as Hand Sown … Home Grown (1969) and Silk Purse (1970), and she had a hit single, "Long, Long Time," in 1970. This tearjerker about romantic yearning and sadness brought her continuing fame as the singer who taught the baby boomers how to cry. Ronstadt recalled these solo years as bleak: she was constantly on the road opening for other bands, had no continuity in terms of backup musicians, and was taking drugs, including cocaine, to help her deal with her insecurities.
Ronstadt was a paradox: a beautiful, sexy singer with low self-esteem who struggled to find her musical style. Her love affairs often were more publicized than her music. Over the years she was linked romantically to her one-time manager John Boylan; the singer/songwriter John David Souther; the actor/producer Peter Brooks; the comedian Steve Martin; California's governor Jerry Brown, Jr.; and the producer George Lucas. She always maintained, however, that her career was her first love and priority. In 1972 Ronstadt found self-confidence and success with the manager/producer Peter Asher, who knew how to provide an instrumental setting for her voice. In 1973, with Asylum Records, the two released Don't Cry Now, which included the critically acclaimed "Desperado." Ronstadt was on her way to superstardom. In 1974 she had her first platinum album, Heart Like a Wheel. In 1975 she had her first number-one single, "You're No Good."
Ronstadt had been singing since the early 1960s, but in musical terms the 1970s are remembered as Ronstadt's decade. Her next four albums went platinum, selling more than one million copies each, making her one of the biggest rock stars of the era. Her popularity helped bring an end to the male domination of rock and roll, and she used her success to open doors for other female performers and to improve the status of women within the music industry. Although Ronstadt never married, she adopted two children.
In the following years she would go on to change musical directions many times, singing everything from opera to Mexican folk tunes, from Tin Pan Alley favorites to country-and-western songs, from pop tunes to children's lullabies. She has released more than thirty albums in as many years and has earned nine Grammy Awards.
Biographies of Ronstadt include Vivian Claire, Linda Ronstadt (1978); Connie Berman, Linda Ronstadt: An Illustrated Biography (1980); Mark Bego, Linda Ronstadt: It's So Easy (1990); and Melissa Amdur, Hispanics of Achievement, Linda Ronstadt (1993). Her place in the baby boom generation is noted in Joel Makower, Boom! Talkin' About Our Generation (1985). An interview with Ronstadt concerning her song "Long, Long Time" and her Troubadour days is Ron Rosenbaum, "Melancholy Baby," Esquire (10 Oct. 1985). Biographical information and Ronstadt's place in musical history are discussed in Susan Katz, Superwomen of Rock (1978); Mary Ellen Moore, Linda Ronstadt Scrapbook (1978); and Edith and Frank N. Magill, eds., Great Lives from History, American Women Series, vol. 4 (1995). A website with information about Ronstadt and her recording career is <http://www.ronstadtlinda.com>.