Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice
You may have to pay to rent this one. I didn’t find it on any of my usual free places.
Linda Ronstadt came from a musical family. Her grandfather had a band that played all around Tucson. Her older brother was a soloist in a world-class chorus, and he taught her to sing at age five. Her parents were classical music devotees, and her mom also listened to Gilbert & Sullivan. She had a lot of musical influences.
She narrates the story of how she formed a folkish group with a local guitarist named Jimmy Kimmel. Eventually, the group separated, and Jimmy went to LA. At age 18, she moved to LA to form The Stone Poneys with him and another musician. It was the right time; the LA music scene was starting to happen. The Troubador hosted Jackson Browne, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell; almost everyone played there. There’s a clip of her singing Different Drum, a song written by Mike Nesmith, later of The Monkees. It was an immediate hit, and she got signed to a record deal. It’s so easy! Everyone who listened to her thought she was a fully developed artist already. All those years of singing with her family paid off. You hear these stories of other artists who struggle for years to learn their craft, starving, playing to crowds of three, etc. That wasn’t her story — she was so good, everyone could see it.
The record company didn’t like the spare, acoustic version of the song, and they recut it with strings, creating the version you’re familiar with. Linda didn’t like it and didn’t want to put it out. As she says, “Good thing they didn’t listen to me.”
After the Stone Poneys came back from a tour, the record company fired the band and kept her as a solo artist. There’s an almost-complete version of her singing Long, Long Time, an early hit, and you just think, “This lady could sing anything.” It’s awe-inspiring to hear how she could go from a tender, soft passage to almost screaming, and not lose one bit of musicality.
She put her own band together, basically, and on a tour with Don Henley and Glenn Frey, The Eagles were born. Peter Asher, who had managed The Beatles, became her manager. He talks about how she was never satisfied with what she did, and this theme comes through in the whole movie. She was intensely serious about her own work.
Life on the road as a rock star: it’s the crucible that a lot of rock ‘n’ roll heroes had to pass through. The drugs, the drinking, the lack of sleep all killed an awful lot of them. She managed to get clean and survive it. She talks about how unhealthy the life is, for the singer, for the band, for everyone.
Later, she was eating at a Mexican restaurant in LA, and then-Governor Jerry Brown came in, saw her, and fell in love. They were together for several months and were a hot item on the gossip pages.
He ran for President, and (personal story here!) :
The guys I was rooming with had a band that got invited to play at a fundraiser for him. I went along, hoping I’d get to meet her (and the Governor, of course), but neither one showed up. I did get to meet his father, Pat Brown, the former Governor.
She got tired of singing in giant stadiums. It was lucrative, she was good at it, and the crowds loved her, but she was (and is) someone who wanted to do it her way. She wanted to sing other kinds of music, and so she did Pirates of Penzance in Central Park in New Yor
She sang with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. In almost every case, the record company told her, “Don’t do it. You’ll ruin your career!” and she said, “Well, I’m doing it.”
She went to New Orleans, attended a show by the Neville Brothers, and ended up making a record with Aaron Neville which won two Grammies. But then: Parkinson’s robbed her of her voice. She gave her last concert in 2009. In the end, she sings a Mexican song with her brother and her nephew in a living room. Thanks for some great music, Linda. Here she is talking about it.
Appendix: the movie doesn’t contain one of my absolute favorite Linda songs, so here it is: Heat Wave.