Just recently I watched “Linda Ronstadt, The Sound of My Voice” on CNN and I don’t mind saying I was moved to tears more than once. Narrated by Linda herself and including rare footage and photo’s in addition to some great interviews, it paints a wonderful picture of a remarkable career. If you get the chance you really should watch it, but for now a mini bio and then to some of her music from that amazing voice.
Linda was born on July 15, 1946 and grew up on a ranch in Tucson Arizona in a prosperous family. Music was a very important part of daily life so her exposure and interest came very naturally. She began her career in the mid sixties joining the growing country/folk rock scene. Ronstadt met Bobby Kimmel at the University of Arizona and later met Kenny Edwards and they formed the band the ‘Stone Poneys‘. She would release some solo material starting in 1969 and then tour with Jackson Brown, Neil Young and the Doors. She began having huge success and was the first female ‘rock’ act to be able to tour filling area’s with crowds and she set records as a top grossing act. She was the biggest and highest paid female act in the 1970’s and was on the covers of Rolling Stone (six times), Time and Newsweek magazines.
She has won 10 Grammy’s and two Academy of Country Music awards, an Emmy, American Latino Media Arts Award and nominated for a Tony and a Golden Globe among other accolades and honors. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime artistic achievement. No question she is a superstar.
“Desperado” from the album Don’t Cry Now (1973), she would be the first to cover this Eagles song written by Don Henley and Glen Frey that appeared on their 1973 album of the same name. For all the accolades this song has had I agree with Don Henley’s own assessment, Ronstadt’s version is the best.
“Heart Like a Wheel” is the title track from her album released in 1974. Written by Anna McGarrigle and first recorded by McKendree Spring in 1972. When Linda heard this song with lead vocals by Fran McKendree she knew she had to record this song. Here is a gem of video clip Kate and Anna McGarrigle with Linda Ronstadt: Heart Like a Wheel (1984). This album produced four Grammy nominations and a win for her cover of the Hank Williams song “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love with You)” landing the Best Country Vocal Performance Female in 1976. The great Emmylou Harris provided backing vocals on both this clip and the recording. There are just too many great songs on this album to list you need to check more out yourself.
So when an artist releases an album such as “Heart Like a Wheel” with so many hits and accolades it’s rare their next release can measure up. So when ‘Prisoner in Disguise‘ (1975) went to #1 it was quite remarkable. Then she released ‘Hasten Down the Wind‘ (1976) which also hit #1 on the Country chart and became her third straight album to sell one million copies. How does one top that? ‘Simple Dreams‘ (1977) spent five weeks at #1 on Billboard. It contained “Blue Bayou” that was a million selling single in less than one year, the album garnered two Grammy Nominations and later reached the two million in sales mark. Of course it was a cover of the song written by Roy Orbison and his frequent collaborator Joe Melson. Roy released the song in 1963 and despite only reaching #29 on the charts it became his signature song.
‘Living in the USA‘ in 1978 would also hit #1 and the album cover was (in part) responsible for a resurgence in Rolling Skating in the US and Canada. The Sure-Grip Skate Co. in Los Angeles for a time could not keep up with orders and people waited in line to rent skates in Central Park. (I went to the local area but never did see her there 😞)
Then to follow that she had the Grammy nominated ‘Mad Love‘ (1980), her seventh straight million plus selling album. Next was ‘Get Closer‘ which arguably is one of her finest albums that would not quite match her previous sales as it would eventually hit 900,000 copies sold and get two Grammy Nominations.
Looking for a change Linda Ronstadt wanted to sing some of the American Standards she had listened to her mother play as a child. She wanted it to sound just like a Nelson Riddle album and she was connected with him via both her very reluctant Manager/Writer/Producer/Musician, Peter Asher and her record company. They were worried this would hurt her career. Ronstadt’s determination resulted in the album ‘What’s New‘ charting for 81 weeks on Billboard and stopped from reaching #1 only by Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and Lionel Richie’s ‘Can’t Slow Down’. It charted #2 on the Jazz charts and sold over 5 million copies world wide and gained her another Grammy nomination. Followed by ‘Lush Life‘ in 1984, again with Nelson Riddle and another million selling album. They would pair up for yet another million seller ‘For Sentimental Reasons‘ in 1986.
Once again following her heart Linda Ronstadt would honour her Father’s Mexican heritage with ‘Canciones De Mi Padre’ (1987) or “Songs of My Father”. She did not speak Spanish and worked very hard to create that perfect diction. It would win the Grammy Award for Best Mexican/Mexican-American Album in 1989 and sell over 2.5 million copies in a very short time and it is still the biggest selling non English language album of all time in the U.S. with current sales at approximately 10 million. I bought these strikingly beautiful songs on a CD (Compact Disc) with ‘Tú Sólo Tú” and 12 other tunes to play for our friends at a Mexican themed ‘gourmet club night’ in 1988, memorable more for the music than my cooking I must say ;).
‘Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind’ (1989) would once again put two more Grammy’s in her hands for duets with Aaron Neville, “Don’t Know Much“, and then the next year with “All of My Life“. Next as she is quoted as saying it was for “selfish” reasons was another Spanish album ‘Mas Canciones‘, followed by ‘Frenesí‘ which would win a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album. She produced the incredible album ‘Winter Light‘ (1993) and the title track was used in the movie “A Secret Garden”. She then returned to her Country Rock roots with another fine performance in ‘Feels like Home‘ (1995). In 1997 yet another Grammy Award with ‘Dedicated to the One I Love‘. Returning a year later to more of a rock feel with Tom Petty’s band the Heartbreakers was ‘We Ran‘.
In 1987 her album ‘Trio’ with other superstars Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris would win the Grammy for ‘Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group’ with Vocal. They would produce a follow-up ‘Trio II’ in 1999 and win a Grammy Award for ‘Best Country Collaboration with Vocals’ for the Neil Young song “After The Gold Rush“.
She also released ‘A Merry Little Christmas‘ in 2000.
A tragic loss for Linda Ronstadt and indeed the world of music as apart from her struggle with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism which was diagnosed in 1997, she had reportedly contracted Parkinson’s Disease. However I’ve found several references including from Linda herself in a CNN interview stating she has a rare disease known as “progressive supranuclear palsy” which is not a form of Parkinson’s but a brain disorder. Perhaps she has both. Regardless her condition is such she can no longer perform. Her last studio album was in 2004 with ‘Hummin’ to Myself‘ another stellar collection of American Standards that she enjoyed singing.
I believe there is no other recording artist that has been nominated in more categories than Linda Ronstadt, from a Tony and Golden Globe for acting in ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ as “Mabel”, to nominations and wins for Grammy’s in Pop, Rock, Country, Contemporary, Latin and Folk music. She also had those hit albums on the Jazz Charts and sung songs in numerous other genre. She has three Lo Nuestro Award nominations, an Emmy Award, Academy of Country Music Award, Country Music Association Award and an American Latino Media Arts Award. She also appeared on the 1981 album ‘In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record’ which won the Grammy for Best Album for Children. Whatever she did she put all she had into it with stunning success, winning fans across the music spectrum.
She has had two #1’s on Billboards Hot Country, and two #1 hits on the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts. She hit #1 with “Your’re No Good” (Heart Like a Wheel) on Billboards Hot 100, along with 10 top tens and 34 other appearances. Yet for all this she was the person who was instrumental in starting the career of the ‘Eagles’ who’s original lineup were all members of her band at one time. In highlighting songs from the likes of; Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Tom Petty, JD Souther, Randy Newman and Elvis Costello she exposed these artists to a new audience. She revived songs from Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry as well. All the while she has been both humble and selfless throughout her life.
She published an Autobiography in 2013 Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.
Please check out my Spotify Playlist MMC Linda Ronstadt Through the Years a chronological snapshot of her music.
References; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, Secondhandsongs.com, https://www.billboard.com/music/linda-ronstadt/chart-history, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1979/03/29/the-new-fad-afoot/1bfe575b-6843-4ceb-94f3-7f40ef198a8c/,
https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/linda-ronstadt , https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/28/entertainment/linda-ronstadt-anderson-cooper-intv/index.html images: http://www.lindaronstadt.com/?p=photos, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23123538
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