Linda Ronstadt is one of the most versatile, successful, and influential vocalists of our time. The woman who many consider to be the top female rock ‘n’ roll vocalist of the 1970s has often sung country music and collaborated with Nashville-based singers and writers such as Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and Paul Craft. Ronstadt has sold more than 100 million albums in her career. A Kennedy Center Honoree in 2019, she is the subject of a new documentary called Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice.
Peter on Episode 20: Linda Ronstadt
Unlike most of the guests on Voices in the Hall, I’d never spoken with Linda Ronstadt before interviewing her for this podcast. We have some mutual friends—Emmylou Harris, John and Fayssoux Starling, Mike Auldridge, and John D. Souther among them—but I’ll admit to some nervousness in speaking to someone whose voice has been in my brain since childhood.
I think of her as a dominant pop singer, as the rock ‘n’ roll cover girl for Rolling Stone magazine, as the woman who made a Cub Scout outfit into the most alluring of evening wear (try that, Mr. Rogers!), as someone who moved freely between genres, and as a vocal model for so many country, pop, and rock singers who have followed her, attempted to replicate her power and immediacy, and ultimately either given up or found another path to tread.
Sometimes it seems that the only person not thrilled by Linda Ronstadt’s vocals is Linda Ronstadt. She loves to sing, but is frequently critical of her own singing, most often when it involves the work she did up until 1983’s traditional pop collaboration with bandleader and arranger Nelson Riddle, What’s New. With that album, the leading female rock singer of the 1970s became a torch singer, revealing decades-old songs pop songs as pieces of contemporary expression.
Then she teamed with pals Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton and triumphed as one-third of the vocal group that came to be known as The Trio, an award-winning, traditional-minded act that sold millions and won a Grammy.
Ronstadt’s was the first episode of Voices in the Hall that we’ve done via telephone, as the singer’s health issues (she has Parkinson’s Disease) prevents her from doing much traveling. But our mutual pals provided common ground that translated between our Nashville museum and her San Francisco home.
What a pleasure to speak with Linda Ronstadt. Hope you enjoy the conversation.
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