Linda Ronstadt Biography

Linda Maria Ronstadt, 15 July 1946, Tucson, Arizona, USA. The daughter of a professional musician, Ronstadt’s first singing experience was gained with her sisters in the Three Ronstadts. She met guitarist Bob Kimmel at Arizona’s State University and together the two aspirants moved to Los Angeles, where they were joined by songwriter Kenny Edwards. Taking the name the Stone Poneys, the trio became popular among the city’s folk fraternity and had a US Top 20 hit with ‘Different Drum’. Ronstadt embarked on a solo career in 1968. Her early solo albums, Hand Sown... Home Grown and Silk Purse, signalled a move towards country-flavoured material, albeit of a more conservative nature. The singer’s third album marked a major turning point and featured a core of excellent musicians, including Don Henley, Glen Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner, who subsequently formed the Eagles. The content emphasized a contemporary approach, with songs by Neil Young, Jackson Browne and Eric Anderson, and the set established Ronstadt as a force in Californian rock.

The artist’s subsequent two albums showed the dichotomy prevalent in her music. Don’t Cry Now (1973) was largely undistinguished, chiefly because the material was weaker, while Heart Like A Wheel (1974), paradoxically given to Ronstadt’s former label to complete contractual obligations, was excellent. This platinum-selling set included ‘You’re No Good’, a US number 1 pop hit, and a dramatic version of Hank Williams’ ‘I Can’t Help It’, which won Ronstadt a Grammy Award for best female country vocal. This highly successful release set the pattern for the singer’s work throughout the rest of the decade. Her albums were now carefully constructed to appease both the rock and country audiences, mixing traditional material, singer-songwriter angst and a handful of rock ‘n’ roll/soul classics, be they from Motown Records (‘Heat Wave’), Roy Orbison (‘Blue Bayou’) or Buddy Holly (‘That’ll Be The Day’). Despite effusive praise from the establishment media and a consistent popularity, this predictable approach resulted in lethargy, and although Mad Love (1980) showed a desire to break the mould, Ronstadt was increasingly trapped in an artistic cocoon.

The singer’s work during the 80s proved more divergent. Her performance in Joseph Papp’s production of The Pirates Of Penzance drew favourable reviews, although her subsequent role in the more demanding La Boheme was less impressive. Ronstadt also undertook a series of releases with veteran arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle, which resulted in three albums - What’s New, Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons - comprising popular standards. In 1987 a duet with James Ingram -produced ‘Somewhere Out There’, the theme to the movie An American Tail; this gave her a number 2 US hit (UK Top 10) hit, while that same year her collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, Trio, and a selection of mariachi songs, Canciones De Mi Padre, showed an artist determined to challenge preconceptions. Her 1989 set, Cry Like A Rainstorm, revealed a crafted approach to mainstream recording and included ‘Don’t Know Much’, a haunting duet with Aaron Neville, which gave Ronstadt another number 2 hit in the USA (and the UK). The highly acclaimed Winter Light was produced by herself and George Massenburg, and came across as a personal and highly emotional album.

Ronstadt, while hugely popular and successful, has never been truly recognized by the cognoscenti. Her change in styles may have been a contributing factor. She has courted (with great success) country rock, country, rock ‘n’ roll, Latin, standards, opera, light opera, AOR and white soul. In 1996 she was firmly in the middle of the road with Dedicated To The One I Love, an album of lullabies and love songs ‘for the baby you love ages 1 to 91’, although this was redressed in 1998 with the more familiar We Ran. The following year Ronstadt reunited with Parton and Harris for a second Trio album, and with the latter for an excellent duo album. She signed to Verve Records in 2004 and debuted on that label with a smooth jazz recording.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.