Thursday, January 3, 2013

FLASHBACK FEATURES - PT 1: Linda Ronstadt (2005)

Linda Ronstadt 

Recently, I discovered a dusty
old file in my office. The folder
contained Xerox copies of
several articles I had written
more than a decade ago for
various print publications. I'll
endeavor to re-publish as many
of these long lost features as
possible throughout 2013.

There are those who might dismiss Linda Ronstadt merely as a pop tart in tiny cut-offs who turned songs that she didn't write into solid gold hits during the ‘70s and ‘80s. However, she's actually been a music biz visionary and risk-taker for nearly 40 years.

As a member of the 1960s trio The Stone Poneys, Ronstadt was a pioneer of an exciting new sound that would become known as country rock. The genre became wildly popular in the 1970s thanks to such musical trailblazers as the Eagles, The Band, Gram Parsons and The Ozark Mountain Daredevils — only to be bastardized and bludgeoned in later years by uninspired modern-day Nashville pop scenesters. 

After a few less than successful albums and only one minor hit single (1967's "Different Drum"), Ronstadt left The Stone Poneys to embark upon a solo career in the late '60s. Although she continued to develop her unique Alt. / Country sound on her first two records, Hand Sown and Home Grown and Silk Purseher initial success as a solo artist was limited at best. However, her luck began to change in the early '70s when she teamed up with such new and relatively unknown young songwriters as Jackson Browne, J.D. SoutherGlenn Frey and Don Henley. Great songs including "Desperado," "Long, Long Time" and "Love Has No Pride" combined with constant touring and frequent appearances on such TV shows as The Midnight Special and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour led to Ronstadt's ultimate breakthrough in early 1975 with the platinum-selling album Heart Like a Wheel. Seemingly over night the whole world fell in love with Linda Ronstadt.

Over the next several years Ronstadt would continue to maintain a perfect balance between rock and country, amassing an unbelievable string of hit records that included "You're No Good," "When Will I be Loved," "Love is a Rose," "Heatwave," "That'll be the Day," "It's so Easy," "Blue Bayou" and so many others. She also became the darling of LA's elite show biz scene  enjoying a well publicized romantic relationship with then California Governor Jerry Brown.

However, at the height of her popularity Ronstadt took an extremely bold musical risk by completely abandoning her signature style with the release of an album entitled What's New in 1983. The record featured none of her fiery rock and roll ditties, nor did it include any country flavored gems. In fact, What's New was a record comprised completely of big band standards recorded with the legendary Nelson Riddle Orchestra.

Wearing a 1940s style dress complete with velvet gloves and pearls, Ronstadt's new look was as authentic as her new sound when she debuted a few selections from What's New on The Tonight Show in September 1983. The studio audience appeared so taken aback by this 180 degree musical change that some seemingly thought it was a joke. In fact, you could even hear a few audience members giggling in the background as she sang the opening lines of the classic "I've Got a Crush on You." However, the gamble ultimately paid off and proved to be a brilliant career move and the record became a Top 10, multi million-seller — introducing Ronstadt to an entirely new audience. Over the next several years nearly everybody in the biz from Natalie Cole to Rod Stewart was copycatting this successful formula. Ronstadt herself would go on to record two more albums of standards with Riddle — 1984's Lush Life and For Sentimental Reasons in 1986.

By the early '80s Ronstadt also had moved into the field of acting, appearing on various TV shows, as well as playing the role of Mable Stanley in both the big and small screen versions of Gilbert and Sullivan's opera The Pirates of Penzance.

Ronstadt's first love, however, was still music and she continued experimenting with new and different genres. In 1987 she teamed up with Emmylou Harris and DollyParton to release the album Trio. Not only was the record a commercial Top 10 crossover success, but it was also considered by many insiders to be one of the finest traditional country recordings of the last quarter century.

In the '90s Ronstadt scored additional pop hits collaborating with such artists as Aaron Neville and James Ingram while continuing to take musical chances by releasing successful Mexican and Latin records.

Still making headlines in the new millennium, Ronstadt found herself in a bit of controversy when her 2004 onstage anti-war comments in Las Vegas drew boos and jeers from the audience and threats of termination from casino top brass. But in 2005 Ronstadt is back on top of her game and back on the road, promoting her current album of jazz standards entitled Hummin' to Myself.

 -Christopher Long
(December 2005)



C'MON! -

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