When you think of the greatest female voices of the 70s, Linda Ronstadt should, very rightfully so, be at the top of that list.
From the very start of this Dolly Parton produced documentary, you just know this film is going to be something very special. Ronstadt announces in the first 5 minutes that she has Parkinson’s disease, as did her grandmother. Tragically, this disease is what has silenced Ronstadt on stage since 2011 – in her own words “I can no longer sing a note.”
Ronstadt grew up in Tucson, AZ to a musical family, was raised on radio, and she loved singing. Her first gig was with her older brother and sister, performing around Tucson. After trying her hand at various venues, she went to Los Angeles in 1964 at age 18 as a solo artist. She and good friend Bobby Kimmel, along with guitarist Kenny Edwards formed the Stone Poneys. They started making the open-mike rounds, and quickly homed in on the Troubadour (which was an up-and-coming club at that time) that focused their Monday nights solely on new artists. Many artists were discovered there, including Ronstadt. Record label interest in her vocals was intense, strong and immediate … but without the backing band. They wanted her as a solo act.
After a misunderstanding with then-manager Herb Cohen over tickets he gave her to an event, that then resulted in Ronstadt being arrested, she and Cohen parted ways. She then hired friend and record producer John Boylan to take over as her interim manager. She met songwriter JD Souther, who introduced her to Glenn Frey. Shortly thereafter, she hired Don Henley as her drummer, and her backing band was set to tour. While on the road rooming together, Henley and Frey discovered what great songwriters and musicians each other was, and left shortly thereafter to form the Eagles, probably to Ronstadt’s chagrin. Nonetheless, she wished them well, and even recorded one of their songs, Desperado.
She was booked to open for Neil Young, and after a couple rough starts, she owned the crowds. Not one to rest on her own laurels, she also generously helped other up and coming artists such as Emmylou Harris, and songwriter Karla Bonoff. She befriended Bonnie Raitt, who was also coming up at the same time. She was beloved by musicians and producers alike, including Peter Asher, who ended up being her next manager when Boylan went back to producing.
David Geffen saw her at the Troubadour and signed her to Geffen Records on the Asylum label, despite Ronstadt’s lack of confidence in her own abilities. Producer Peter Asher said, “Linda NEVER thought she was as good as she was, and that is an interesting paradox, because she’s confident about her ideas, but not about herself and not about her singing.”
Asher went on to produce Ronstadt’s Heart Like A Wheel album, which included the hits You’re No Good, and When Will I Be Loved. Although Ronstadt had been a cult favorite on the music scene for several years, 1975 was “remembered in the music biz as the year when 29-year-old Linda Ronstadt belatedly happened.” The massive praise, accolades, and awards would soon follow, as Ronstadt solidified her presence in the music industry. Numerous albums and hit songs would follow throughout the remainder of the 70s.
With drugs and alcohol being prevalent, Ronstadt became addicted to diet pills to help her maintain the brisk pace of touring in the mid 70s. Eventually, it became a bit too much.
Ronstadt herself summed it up when she said “If I were going to choose something to do, it would not be to stand up in front of a lot of people, but I love to sing. I love to sing, and I love music, so at some point, you do whatever you have to do to do music.”
In 1978, Rolling Stone declared Ronstadt “by far America’s best-known female rock singer.” She also co-formed the supergroup Trio with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, although the trio would not record an album for another 10 years.
In the 80s, she then turned to the stage, starring in the hit musical “The Pirates of Penzance.” It seemed everything she touched would turn to gold.
In 1987, she also flaunted convention by doing an album of Mexican songs from her heritage through her father. In doing so, she had to take lessons in singing canciones (songs). Undeterred, she did so, and recorded one of the greatest albums of Mexican music by a female singer to date.
Not yet satisfied, she went on to record duets with Aaron Neville, and win even more Grammys. It was around this time she started noticing marked changes in her vocals, and discovered she had Parkinson’s.
Her last concert was November 7, 2009, a Mexican show. Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll HOF in 2014 by her close friend Glenn Frey, along with Carrie Underwood. Many of her hit songs were included, including a rousing version of When Will I Be Loved by her close friends Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Nicks, along with Carrie Underwood and Sheryl Crow.
She also addressed her choice to remain single, after several high-profile relationships, such as JD Souther and Governor of California, Jerry Brown. She felt like she really couldn’t do both, be a wife and continue to sing and tour. She ultimately chose her career.
This documentary by Dolly Parton is so brilliant, and so thoughtfully well done. It covers the entire scope of Linda’s life from childhood to present day. Her current daily battle with Parkinson’s is documented, and while tragic, she has persevered and thrived in spite of it.
In the documentary, she performs with her uncle and nephew. Always a perfectionist, she criticizes her performance, however, she still sings like an angel. Linda Ronstadt is living proof that even Parkinson’s can’t stop her. Her bravery and determination brought tears to my eyes. She will forever travel to the beat of a different drum.
Tami Danielson is the main in-house blogger and Director of Operations for Pop-Daze. She was raised in California and Florida and currently resides in Oregon. Tami has written for a variety of periodicals and has provided digital marketing services for a number of artists. She can be reached at [email protected]