A voice to remember
Maybe you’ve heard the sad news that Linda Ronstadt will never sing again. She announced it a week or so ago, letting the world know that Parkinson’s disease has taken her voice. Today I read an interview with her, in the International Herald Tribune, in which she tells Sam Tanenhaus about her illness and the other problems that have dogged her life in recent years.
Things were pretty different when I interviewed her for the Melody Maker in January 1971. She’d had her first hit with the Stone Poneys’ great “Different Drum”, she was already making solo albums for Capitol Records (Hand Sown… Home Grown and Silk Purse), and she was starting to move in the right kind of circles. But she was still a few years away from the superstardom that arrived when Peter Asher took control for the run of hit albums that began with Heart Like a Wheel.
She was smart, funny, serious about serious things, and completely beguiling. She told me how she’d made the move from her home in Tucson, Arizona in 1965, when she was 18, after a friend called from Los Angeles, saying there was a band out there for her to sing with. “I jumped into a car with my boyfriend, who played steel guitar, and we drove straight there. I think the boy went straight back. I never saw him again.”
A free spirit, then and always, but she was fretful about one thing. “I’ve had trouble finding material,” she said. “I don’t write. I’ve never been able to write even a paragraph. And I can’t do songs that have been done well by the people who wrote them.”
That changed, with Asher’s help. She turned out to be a wonderful reinterpreter of the very finest material. I didn’t really follow her through the years in which she collaborated with Nelson Riddle on albums of standards and then delved back into her Mexican roots, but I loved the recordings she made with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. The YouTube clip above is of an exquisite song from their second album, Trio 2, called “High Sierra”. It features Linda. She composed it, too. So she could write a paragraph, after all.
Nice piece, Richard, sad news indeed. Thos early albums and particular Heart Like A Wheel are wonderful. I’m with you on the Dolly & Emmylou albums, beautiful. High Sierra is on my ipod as a special track.
Parkinsons is a terrible disease. I have two friends bravely living with it. One, the pirate Radio London/Capital radio DJ Duncan Johnson is a man who lived by his voice – now he does what he can between lock-ups (the body actually locks up until another drug intake unlocks it again. That said, he recently celebrated his 75th birthday), and long-time Roger St. Pierre, who is in the early stages and juts finding everything slowing down and being more of a struggle.
Her interpretation of ‘Blue Bayou’ was sublime…and never forget, she could rock out, too – as evidenced by her duet with Joseph Williams on ‘Stay away from my Heart’ from Toto’s ‘The Seventh One’. Such a crying shame we’ll never hear that voice again – but what a wonderful legacy of recordings.
Thanks, Richard. This saddened me greatly when I read it last week. Will never forget seeing her perform at the coffeehouse concerts Friday nights at Vanderbilt University (Nashville) in ’71 – ’72. Beguiling, indeed.
She cannot sing professionally, but you can sing with Parkinson’s, and many of us do.
And also hear what the great Carol Grimes has to say
Oh that is sad news. My mother got Parkinson’s when she was just in her 30s. It’s a particularly cruel illness but thankfully there are some better treatments available now than there were in the 60s.
What a shame Linda won’t be singing anymore. I remember seeing her at a BBC recording and being amazed about how powerful her voice was. Her records with Emmylou and Dolly are wonderful, as is the Western Wall record with just her and Emmylou. I’m also grateful to Linda in the early 70s for somehow making sense of my love of both west coast country/folk/rock and avant-garde jazz when she turned up singing on Carla Bley and Paul Haines’ Escalator Over The Hill!
As the musical heroes and heroines that we grew up with all start to become frail or die, there seems an increasing risk of this blog becoming ‘The Black Moment’. But this is a nicely written tribute and an excellent choice of music, as ever, so thanks for focusing on the positive. Let the music keep our spirits high, as Jackson Browne wrote.
I’ve been playing “Escalator Over The Hill” a lot this past week – Ronstadt is brilliant on that – I’d say it was a properly trained voice, great individualism.