Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice

By

Leonard Zwelling

I have two sons. They are aged 39 and 33. They know the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Bruce Springsteen. Who they know less well is Linda Ronstadt.

Linda Ronstadt is still quite alive despite having been most popular over thirty years ago. She has sold over 100 million records and is an inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But her music is different from that of the rest of those who my kids tend to know. She didn’t write it because she was not a songwriter. Linda Ronstadt was a singer. And, as Dolly Parton says in the movie whose name is the title of this blog, “Linda can sing anything.”

Linda Ronstadt first made national attention in 1967 with a hit single with a group called The Stone Poneys. They had this big chart buster with a song written by Michael Nesmith called “Different Drum.” At the time Nesmith was a Monkee. As the film makes clear, this song was heavily orchestrated by the record company after the minimalist folk-rock group was signed to a contract. How do I know what the Stone Poneys really sounded like?

In April of 1967, the Stone Poneys appeared in a small concert in the Duke Gardens on Joe College weekend. My friend Boo and I were the host committee assigned to escort the young trio plus manager around campus. We took them to our fraternity dorms and to a fraternity party that evening. Everyone knew two things. The Stone Poneys were a pretty tight acoustic folk-rock group with a single hit. But their girl singer was something special.

This film tells the story of that girl singer who I got to know 52 years ago and followed closely through every turn in her amazing career from rock to pop to country to jazz to standards to light opera to Mexican classical mariachi music. Linda Ronstadt sang it all and did so better than anyone ever had before Every time the record company said you couldn’t do that—American standards, Mexican classics, Gilbert and Sullivan—she said I can and I will. Then she did and rang up sales off the charts every time.

This film does three things very well. First, it lets the artist now afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease and unable to sing, to speak for herself and tell her story her way. Nothing else would be appropriate. Second, it interviews a host of famous musicians with whom Ronstadt collaborated from Nelson Riddle to Don Hendley to Dolly Parton to Emmy Lou Harris to Ruben Blades to Jackson Browne. To a person they describe a great singer and greater person. What a legacy! Third, there’s the music and there is plenty of it in the film. Linda Ronstadt could indeed sing anything and the film proves it.

My fifty plus year old recollection is about the same. The Linda Ronstadt I knew was intensely curious about all kinds of music, in love with Bob Dylan and a raw, unpolished talent herself who eventually took vocal lessons and became one of the greatest, if not the greatest, singer of her generation. The movie is a wonderful tribute to both the talent and the person and is not to be missed.

The first calls we made from the car driving home from the movie was to our sons.

“Go see the Linda Ronstadt movie. It’s great!”

Leonard Zwelling