An evening with Linda Ronstadt

Reader Chris Bonds wrote me that he was going to attend a presentation by singer Linda Ronstadt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Thursday. I asked him to let me know how it went, and he provided a detailed report. I asked permission to post it here, which he kindly provided; I know a lot of readers, including me, are big Rondstat fans.

It’s hard to believe, but Linda turned 70 this year. You may also know that in 2012 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, leaving her unable to sing. That made me even more curious about how things went. Here’s Chris’s report, and I’ve added two videos of her earlier live performances.

You invited me to give my thoughts on Linda Ronstadt’s presentation last night at the Ham Concert Hall at UNLV.

There were lots more people there than I had expected to see. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of them appeared to be seniors. We were able to get front-row seats. On the stage were two easy chairs with a table in between, on which sat a laptop computer. There was no water. A large projection screen rose behind. After the usual welcoming announcement and acknowledgments of donors, Linda Ronstadt walked in, escorted by  long time friend and producer, John Boylan, who she said was there to help her remember anything she might forget (such as her mother’s name, she added, with a smile).

Her talk was basically an outline of her musical career as chronicled in her book, which came out in 2013. She talked about her parents, grandparents, and great-grandfather; growing up in the desert near Tucson; the music she heard and sang in her home as a child; forming a folk group with her brother and sister; the formation of the Stone Poneys; and much else that you either already know or can read on Wikipedia.

Notably absent from her talk was any mention of her relationships with men. She did mention Jerry Brown’s name but indicated she was not going to talk about any of that.

Even though the Parkinson’s limited her physical movement, facial expression, and her speech was often rushed, coming in little bursts, her sense of humor seemed to be intact. She talked about meeting Emmylou Harris for the first time, saying “she was doing everything I wanted to be doing, only better, and she was beautiful. [I asked  myself,] should I hate her?”

She punctuated her career highlights with photos and videos projected on the screen. The video clips were just long enough to illustrate that part of her story but not so as to slow down the presentation. Clips included “Blue Bayou,” “Pirates of Penzance,” “You’re No Good,” a duet with Aaron Neville called “Don’t Know Much,” “Different Drum,” and others.

One of the more interesting segments was her story about singing at The Troubadour in West Hollywood. As she listed some of the names of people who performed there in the 1960s and 1970s, I was astonished that I had never heard of the place. (I recommend you read the Wikipedia article about The Troubadour, if you don’t already know about it.) It must have been quite a scene to be a musician in that time, to actually be doing music and hanging out with all these people that someone like me knows only from listening to their records. Joni Mitchell, Jack Nicholson (before he was *Jack Nicholson*), Elton John, etc.

Following her oral history, she sat for a Q&A with Ray Suarez, who asked his own questions and followed them with audience questions on index cards. Mr. Suarez seemed especially interested in her stylistic changes, wanting to know why she would want, for example, to do an album of pop standards arranged by Nelson Riddle, risking her rock and roll fan base in the process. I thought at one point “he’s really pushing her to say something,” like he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted. But she was firm in her conviction that doing the kinds of music she wanted to do was more important to her than living up to the expectations of her fans. I thought that was excellent. She talked a little about what she is doing these days with a “problem-solving organization”, Los Cenzontles,  in Richmond, California, near her home.  You can read about the organization at loscenzontles.com.

My dominant impression was of a person who knows her own abilities and limitations well and who has always followed her own musical inclinations, which grew out of the music she knew growing up. She was never satisfied with her own singing, saying at one point she didn’t like her phrasing on her records. It wasn’t until near the end of her singing career that she seemed to make peace with herself and feel that she was in full control of her vocal skills.

JAC: Though written and originally performed by Karla Bonoff, “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” is one of my favorite Ronstadt songs. The video isn’t great, but I like to show live performances. The original recording, from the 1976 album “Hasten Down the Wind” is here.

37 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    She was great. We raised our kids with a well-played video tape of her Pirates of Penzance performance which allowed them to grow up knowing that opera can be fun. (Well… along with Rossini’s Barber of Seville)

  2. Merilee
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Love Ronstadt!! ( note not Rondstadt..)

    • George
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      All these corrections – it is also the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (no at, just a comma), not University of Las Vegas.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      An unconscionable misspelling, now corrected. Thanks!

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Yes, in an interview with Don Henley the other day he said the Troubadour is where he met Glenn Frey, where they did some back up for Ronstadt way back when.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Yes, their tour backing up Linda was their big break into the scene.

      In this video, she has a great band too: Waddy! And Dugmore.

      What a voice! I love her stuff.

  4. Claudia Baker
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Living in L.A. in the 70s, I saw her live many times. Her voice always thrilled me. One of my favourites is her back-up on Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” from his Harvest album in ’72. Her voice rising loud & clear above his in the crescendo at the end.

    Also, love how she is handling her new reality with Parkinson’s. She doesn’t seem to feel sorry for herself or have any hard-heartedness about it. Gorgeous woman, inside and out.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      I agree. She maintains a wonderful sense of herself. Very intelligent and dignified, with genuine humility. I’ve seen this in many top performers who you’d think might show a serious struggle with the inevitable decline. They seem to maintain great perspective and continue to share their living experience with the public.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      Neil Young returned the favour on Linda’s duet with Emmylou Harris, Across the Border, with a great harmonica solo by Neil.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfCS1yXg8gk

      cr

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted December 11, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        Nice!

  5. Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Long Long Time was my favorite.

    • Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      I suppose I should add it here, for people in caves who’ve never heard it.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

        Yes, one of my favs too! With that voice, she just doesn’t have a problem with any song.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        Wow! 7,610,613 views!
        Now 7,610,614.

      • merilee
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Makes me cry every time.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

          Me too!

          cr

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        That is one of my favourites, too.

        Such a sweet-looking young chick, and then she lets go with that powerful voice of hers and the effect is breathtaking.

        (Also, she used to like to sing barefoot. I love going barefoot. I’m retrospectively in love 😉

        My favourite of the versions on Youtube is the slightly longer one (I think it has an extra verse) from the Johnny Cash Show, here:
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ8GUQJAsLk

        cr

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          P.S. I do like songs that are a little bit different or interesting. Long Long Time has an interesting rhythm and the lyrics remind me of youthful mistakes.

          I never drew
          one response from you
          All the while you fell all over girls you never knew

          – isn’t that always the way of it?

          cr

          • Merilee
            Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

            True dat

    • merilee
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Long, Long Time
      + lots

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 11, 2016 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      Oh, yes!

  6. August Berkshire
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    ““Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” is one of my favorite Rondstadt songs.”

    Absolutely! Fantastic combination of music, lyrics, and vocals.

  7. Jenny Haniver
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    No mention of the Ash Grove https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_Grove_(music_club), a legendary folk club in LA, which was where I hung out in those days and where the Wiki entry on the club states “Linda Ronstadt got her start hanging out at the Ash Grove. ‘My goal in those days was just to play the Ash Grove in Los Angeles because that was the center of folk music at the time’, she remembered. ‘The first place I went in Los Angeles was the Ash Grove. That is where I met Kenny Edwards. Kenny liked Mexican music and we started the Stone Ponys.'[2] Future Byrds Chris Hillman and Clarence White met at the Ash Grove while both were in high school.

    The Ash Grove was primarily devoted to roots music and is frequently overlooked when speaking about the music scene in LA during that time. I must have seen her because I spent quite a bit of time hanging out there with various blues singers I’d become acquainted with,Lightnin’ Hopkins, Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry, Mance Lipscomb, Long Gone Miles. All long gone now.

    • jwthomas
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Few people realize that late ’60’s and early ’70’s L A, especially along the Sunset Strip, was a hotbed of Rock creativity. San Francisco got more Press attention, but most of the West Coast artists and bands who had a lasting career came out of the L A scene. While Ash Grove and Troubador were important, the smaller venues where we could actually *dance* to lesser known bands, were the places to go.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted December 10, 2016 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

        You are indeed correct about that. Lots of good music happening in venues large and small, in and around LA in those days, folk, teen pop, C&W, blues, rhythm and blues. Other kinds of music as well, such as “Concerts on the Roof” at the LA Art Museum, which featured chamber and avant-garde “serious” music.

  8. Posted December 10, 2016 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Being of a different generation, and from N Europe, I know her via Warren Zevon, who’s also vastly unknown around here (and dead for over a decade). She covered a song that seems oddly topical for this blog site: Mohammed’s Radio performed by Ronstadt.

  9. sampson
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Linda has my heart on permanent loan. Hearing her live in a club as a young teenager(early 70s) or an arena(late 70s/80s)was to experience a rare combination of power and tenderness in a petite dreamboat. Remarkable vocalist. A true daughter of the Southwest. Thank you for the update

  10. Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! My old age seems to be a time to catch up on all this wonderful music that was happening around me when I was a very poor young wife and mother of three small children who couldn’t afford to participate.

    I agree with jwthomas that more was going on with music in Southern California. Some of the beach towns were popular venues, as was a club in Pasadena.

  11. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    I only really ‘discovered’ Linda Ronstadt recently, via Youtube.

    I first heard her with ‘Different Drum’ when I was at engineering school. We were in an old hostel on an old airfield 20 miles out of town and the only thing to do in the evenings was listen to radio. We had a ‘choice’ of two stations – Radio New Zealand with string quartets (!), or Radio Hauraki, a real illegal ‘pirate’ radio station broadcasting from the MV Tiri, an old tub outside the three-mile limit (they once had a genuine shipwreck live on air) – guess which we listened to?
    But anyway, my first pop-music discoveries were Linda with ‘Different Drum’, and Judith Durham of the Seekers. ‘Different Drum’, by the way, while being, typically for a Ronstadt song, interesting and unusual, didn’t really give her scope to show off her amazing voice.

    After that, I sort of lost touch with her music, since I didn’t hang around record shops and radio became polluted with ‘talk’, adverts and ‘disco’.
    I only rediscovered her recently on Youtube, and she immediately shot to the top of my personal pantheon, where she still is.

    ‘Long Long Time’ was the first of her songs I found on Youtube, but I’ll just nominate a couple of favourites here:
    ‘Adios’:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CK5hKFsIW8I
    (just close your eyes and listen to that divine voice. It literally brings tears to my eyes)

    and ‘Talk to me of Mendocino’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaH9BnuGH68

    cr

  12. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    “Notably absent from her talk was any mention of her relationships with men. She did mention Jerry Brown’s name but indicated she was not going to talk about any of that.”

    My impression is that she always preferred to keep her private life private, or at least as unobtrusive as circumstances would allow. Her book (Simple Dreams) mentions everybody who had a musical influence on her career but almost no mention of any personal relationships. Which is fair enough, it’s subtitled ‘A Musical Memoir’.

    cr

    • rickflick
      Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

      There’s an interview, don’t remember where, where she discusses Brown a bit. I remember her saying they had a good relationship and that he struck her as a very smart person. I find that comforting somehow.

  13. Filippo
    Posted December 10, 2016 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    ” . . . Suarez seemed especially interested in her stylistic changes, wanting to know why she would want, for example, to do an album of pop standards arranged by Nelson Riddle, risking her rock and roll fan base in the process. I thought at one point “he’s really pushing her to say something,” like he wasn’t getting the answers he wanted.”

    When a journalist persists with such a line of questioning, I wonder what is going on with him/her psychologically.

    I’m reminded of an interview Brian Wilson had with Terry Gross of WHYY’s “Fresh Air.” He mentioned the great influence of The Four Freshmen (Wilson with the Beach Boys having set the FF harmonies to a Chuck Berry R&R rhythmic motif. He has said elsewhere that he learned every vocal part of every song the FF recorded.) She responded, “They’re SOOOOO square!” He held his tongue in response. Would that he had responded to her as Hitch responded to Laura Ingraham, “You should have me on more often so that you can give your opinion.”

  14. Diane G.
    Posted December 11, 2016 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Chris, for the report and for being the impetus of this nostalgic trip down memory lane.

  15. Posted December 13, 2016 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Linda is a LEGEND and always will be. Started with Different Drum and bought every single album of hers. After some more than four decades later, she is still one of my all time favorite vocalists. So sad to see her lose her voice.

  16. Dave
    Posted December 19, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Linda is a pure angel in both talent and poise. She can sing any genre of music and be spectacular doing it. This is the mark of someone with pure, raw talent. Thank you Linda for offering me your talent while growing up in the 70’s. If I ever get my wish, we’ll be chatting over lunch… Stay strong as you battle your illness – prayers to you.


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