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Interview and Interview Photos by Mary Andrews
Other Photos Publicity
Linda Ronstadt speaks candidly about the Eagles, Emmylou, Dolly, politics and the environment in Tucson
October 11, 2014
Tucson's most famous pop female icon sat down with long-time friend, Jeff Haskell, for an old-fashioned town hall forum on Sunday, October 5, 2014. This year has been a busy year for Ms. Ronstadt since she was inducted in to the Rock 'n Roll Hall Of Fame and she received the National Medal of Arts earlier in the year.
Linda Ronstadt comes from a pioneer Tucson Family influenced by her father's guitar and her mother's ukulele. Her first trio consisted of her brother and her sister. After graduating from Catalina High in the '60's, she helped to form the Stone Poneys. Linda became known for her sultry almost jazz style over the years and becoming a pop music super star. She often broke the mold by recording albums of Spanish language standards, country music, and Cajon collaborations. In 2013, Linda announced to the world that she suffers from Parkinson's disease so debilitating, she can no longer sing. She shares her experiences in her autobiography, "Simple Dreams." She is the recipient of 12 Grammy awards, two Academy of Country Music awards, one Emmy award, Tony and Golden Globe nominations, her musical repertoire is deeply rooted in her South West family heritage.
LR: Good evening everyone. Thank you for coming by the way. What a pretty theatre this is. My father sang here way back in the twenties and he was billed as Gil Ronstadt and his Star Spangled Megaphone. These kinds of theatres are really, really important because they prepare you for an experience that is magical reality by the graces called a Proscenium and focuses your attention on the stage so that nearly half is already done for us by the time we get here.
JF: Let me say first of all that you don't just have an artist sitting here, You have a business woman sitting here. If she had believed everything everybody was telling her early on, her career would've lasted a minute and a half. She made the right decisions, time after time, after time. She has had a phenomenal career because of it. So, if you are asking how, if you are looking for answers. If you want to know about show business, I walked into her house and she said I'm gonna tell you about show business 101. It took her 15 minutes to give me a semester. She knows all that stuff, but first I have some questions.
LR: I've gotta say something about that business thing first. It was out of pure self- indulgence that I made those mistakes. Joseph Campbell, the guy who writes a lot about mythology, said, 'You have to follow your bliss and if you do, doors open where you didn't even know there were doors.' That's all I was doing was following my bliss.
JF: Reading from an audience card, As one of our female Latin icons, will you be taking part in another Latin icon documentary? Signed.
LR: What? I don't know what that is. I never did that show.
JF: I'd swear I've seen a clip of you doing "Hee-Haw."
LR: I never did "Hee-Haw."
JF: How did you help the Eagles get started?
LR: I really didn't help the Eagles get started. They started themselves. What I did was introduce Don Henly to Glen Frey. I was looking for a drummer I had this guy working as my producer at the time and he said help me put a new band together. My band had scattered to the four winds. One had gone off the Flying Burrito Brothers. I walked into the Troubador and there was this band on stage called Shiloh from Texas. They were playing "Silver Threads and Golden Needles." My arrangement of it exactly note for note. So I said, they nailed that, maybe I'll just get them. I loved the band and the drummer was really hot. I loved the drummer. He would play essential stuff. I knew he could accompany a singer. I knew he wouldn't get in my way all the time. I went and talked to him and he said he would like to play. So next I needed a guitar player. I was going out with John David Souther at the time and he knew Glen Frey. So I asked Glen and he said he would do it. So, when we were on the road, we didn't have enough money for everyone to have his own room. Glen and Don had to share the same room and they each discovered that each was a good singer and songwriter. So, they said, we going to form our own band, I said fine. I've got gigs. You don't have gigs and it'll take a year before you'll get a band together and get a record deal and get the record recorded. . I've got shows. You play with me and I'll help you get a record deal. So, John went to David Geffen and helped them get signed to David Geffen. I suggested they hire my old guitar player who had gone with the Burritos John suggested they hire Randy Meisner. I didn't have anything to do with their success," she answered. "They had everything to do with their success; I just introduced them to each other in a tiny hotel room. "Which they weren't too happy about at the time," she chuckled, "but which they thanked me for afterward.
JF: Did you ever record "As Time Goes By"?
LR: Laughing, well I sang that for my nieces' wedding when she got married which I thought was an unusual choice. I sang it for Cele Peterson's 100th birthday . . .
Jf: So, you're in town for a while. Would you like to come to my place for dinner? That's what it said. I fell in love with your rendition of "Blue Bayou". I always felt like it was an unappreciated song amongst your repertoire. What?
LR: It was my biggest hit.
JF: How might you think about it and what are your own thoughts about the song?
LR: It was my biggest hit so it wasn't particularly underappreciated. I would curse every night I sang it because it was such a wide range, too low and too high. Why did I pick this song, I'll have to sing it the rest of my life. It's a good song. What I really thought was it reminded me of a Mexican song and it was before I began to record in Spanish. I asked my record company if they would pay for me to record it in Spanish and I asked my dad to translate it. I took the words down on the phone as he translated it. I made some grammar errors. I came out like a hermaphrodite in a time machine. That's what I think. . .
JF: What was your high school experience at Catalina High? Did you fit in? Did you graduate?
LR: I did not fit in. I did not graduate. I showed up. I put in the requisite number of years, but not the requisite number of days. I was absent so often they did not graduate me. I was so good at tests. I scored so high at the University of Arizona that occurred so early in the morning. I usually played some show the night before or some coffee house bar and I'd go in my nightgown cause I was too tired to get in my clothes. I'd park the car and forget where I parked the car. And then by the time I got out of my class, it was 745. The sun would be up and it would be hotter than hell. I would be in my nightgown and my coat checking for the car. Too hot. So that was my school experience.
Jf: This is a question regarding making your book into a movie.
LR: There are no plans for that. It means that they can make a movie about you and you don't have any say about it. I hope nobody does that. Most of the biopics I've seen are uniformly hideous. The one about Johnny Cash made him look like a psychopath. It was not good. Laughter He wasn't a psychopath. I knew him.
JF. Is there any song in your repertoire that has special meaning for you or that you enjoyed performing more than others?
LR: Which genre? You know Spanish. "Lush Life" for sure. I never thought I could do that song justice because it was a bitch to sing, but it's a beautiful, exquisite, beautifully crafted song that uses the word "rot" like nobody can write the word rot into a song and make it sound poetically magic. I wonder what I'm going to do with that word. I never think about singing the word rot, I'll just sing it really loud "There will be ROT!" Couldn't find it, you know. So there's that.
Jf: And to think he had most of it together by the age of 15.
LR: He wrote that at 15, 16. Billy Strayhorn. Brillant guy. And Mexican music, I think it was . . .I really don't have a favorite song. Maybe it would the Toy Song. "Surf's Up" is a good one." God Only Knows" is really good. George Gershwin wrote a lot of great songs.
JF: What advice do you have for young aspiring musicians to get recognized and earn money in today's music business?
LR: Good luck for everybody cause there's nothing to be had out there. The record business is completely different and unrecognizable to those of us who made our living in it earlier. In the matter of five years it has managed to vanish entirely. The best thing I can say is to know your gig. Be incredibly prepared. Know your instrument because you are going to need it. Have everything down cold. Nobody waits around for you to get it together when you are in the professional life. You have to be ready and you have to be on time. You have to know how to play your instrument, you have to keep it in tune. Know how to show up on time. Nobody's going to make it up for you and hand it to you. If you take care of those things, the rest of it will take care of itself. If you have something to say, but even with talent of the matter of a professional, you have to have a method in delivering your talent. You have to have something to say that resonates to the public. The public may resonate with really gross stuff. Gross stuff like "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?" When I was a kid, it just stuck! Look at someone like Ry Cooder, playing amazing stuff who maybe they eventually recognize or someone like Randy Newman who the rest of the industry recognizes as brilliant, who was never a huge seller like the Eagles. Even though the Eagles were really good.
JF: Can you talk about your experience singing with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton?
LR: Chris Hillman had told me I had to hear Emmy in Washington DC and told me she was a great singer and that she was chasing the same kind of music I was. He said I would like her. I was anxious to meet her. The first minute I heard her sing, she sounded better. I had this sinking feeling. I said okay I could get jealous of her and destroy my ability to enjoy what she's singing or I could just think I really love her singing. Maybe if I just do that, I could get a chance to sing with her. That seemed like a better choice and I made it really fast. I never looked back after that. We treated each other like sisters. We could finish each other's sentences musically. When Dolly came on scene, when we met her, we wound up in a room at Emmy's house together. There was something about how our voices resonated we thought was unusual. All three of us came to the same conclusion. We wanted to make a record together. We all spent a lot of time jamming with musicians, but it wasn't like that. Oh my God, this is really different. That was really a thrill for me. It's one of my best musical experiences.
JF: Any special or interesting memories of early years in Tucson that you would like to share?
LR: Well I could talk about the early bird bra and girdle sales at Cele Petersons at seven am. She was so nice to us. We were like a little trio, a little family trio trying to play around town. We were called the New Union Ramblers. "We're going to have this sale, it's at seven o clock. You can come down we'll get a microphone and you can sing. So we're singing through the bra sale. People were so generous to us. We felt a kind of loving embrace and she was one of the people who when she saw something or somebody trying, she would embrace people whole heartedly. She was a great person.
JF: When did you sing your last concert and where was it?
LR: I think it was San Antonio. It was with one of the great kings of the Mariachi, one of the great chiefs. I practiced with him and toured with him. He was very patient. He was the most traditional of all the Mariachi.
JF: We heard you are selling your home in Tucson. We will miss you? Out to the audience, you want to buy it?
LR: I just figured it was cheaper to stay at the Arizona Inn than it was to maintain a house. I have a well by the way, so you can have a garden without it bankrupting you. With the draught in California, we may have to come back.
JF: The Parkinson's Community really need a spokesperson and female role models. Do you see yourself playing that role?
LR: Well I don't feel like I want to be come a professional Parkenson sufferer. It's a fact that I have it. If any of you have any helpful suggestions, I'm open to it. I don't know if I have any helpful suggestions for anybody at this point.
JF: Reading, "Hi, Linda, I'm Jimmy in the front row and I came from Dallas to see you. Is there any story behind your recording of "When I Grow Too Old To Dream?" I love this old song, Was it to giving your fans a preview of what was to come in your later years when you recorded your "American Standards?"
LR: Well, I sang it on the Muppets Show. My piano player, Don Grolnick, was just a brilliant piano player who is no longer with us. He had an arrangement of that song and he played it for me one time and I thought that's cool, I'll sing it. I had a chance to sing it on another show, but they made up this rumor that I had an affair with Kermit the Frog. They premiered it there on the Muppet show.
JF: What was the origin of the Stone Poneys?
LR: I think it's a scatological something or other reference to pre-world blues Use your imagination.
JF: What's the origin of the surname Ronstadt?
LR: German heir Ron shtadt. My grandfather was the first mining engineer in Northern Mexico. He married grandmother here. His family had been here since the late 1600's and its ironic that he settled in this beautiful Sonorian valley which recently had this huge Condonilla mine that's close to where they settled had a tremendous spill of sulfuric acid into the river down 50 miles of the river affecting everyone's livelihood, the farmers, the ranchers, the cattle are dying, destroyed the area's industry. The area is known for its beautiful delicate cheeses. It's terrible. The people who are putting in the Rosemont Coppermine have to know the dangers of copper mining that can happen. Contamination can affect lowering your children's IQ. It's a terrible, terrible thing to look at what can happen.
JF: Tell me about meeting Rosemary Clooney. I adore her.
LR: I love her. She's one of my dearest, closet friends ever. I remember talking to Nelson Riddle that I had a girl crush on Rosemary Clooney and he said that composers get crushes on girl singers too. He told me about this on affair he had with Rosemary Clooney. She broke up his marriage and he broke up her marriage. She was the love of his life but something happened and they couldn't stay together. So after Nelson died, I had a letter from Rosemary asking me to come sing at a benefit that she had organized. So, I wrote her a note back saying I'm dying to meet you and talk to you about Nelson Riddle. She called me up on the phone the next day and invited me to come to dinner. We talked all about Nelson and had such a good time. She just became my best girl singer confidant. We could share our experiences that girl singers have that no one else has. And we would do those things and I used to say that if there was such a thing as "Girl Singers Anonymous" Rosemary would have been my sponsor. She was a great person. She was really smart. She had a huge heart and a great looking nephew. She used to say, "You gotta meet my nephew. He's really cute." I'd say, "well, how old is he?" He was about 14 years younger. I'd say "older, smarter, richer, i like that!" He didn't fit the category. I had a crush on his dad.
JF: Is there any hope of you releasing a DVD of any of your concert footage over the years or perhaps a cd of your live concerts?
LR: I didn't let anybody record if I could help it although sometimes it was recorded live. A lot of the records were live. I never let anyone record live. I figured one medium at a time. I don't think so is the answer to that.
JF: You've sung so many genres. If you were to start over, would you sing a different type of music at the beginning?
LR: Like I said I would just follow Joe around right from the beginning. I tried to be a girl singer in his band.
JF: Who were your favorite performers to share the stage with?
LR: I loved singing with Aaron Neville.
JF: I first fell in love with your voice many years ago when I saw your face I was smitten. Several years later, I heard your voice and heard your political views and I knew you were the total package. Thank you for contribution to music and being strong and thoughtful. Are you hopeful about the future and our country and the world?
LR: Not hopeful. I think the scariest thing is armed malicia that are stealing weapons from the US military. They are all returning from Iraq with post-traumatic disorder and armed to the teeth. We've got to do something about this gun control thing. Also, there is no sane policy about the border and immigration reform. We got to have immigration reform. People are suffering so terribly. The amount of money we spent building that fence which is completely useless, just caused a lot of anger across the states. Doesn't stop a lot of people from crossing. The people who have a lot of money just bribe people at the border. They bribe the border patrol. They get the border patrol in trouble. It's not a good thing. They've got to figure out a way to make it legal. They could give a million dollars to everyone in Mexico for what they spent on that fence. Then, they could stay home and everything would be fine. It's much nicer down there. The people are nice. There is less pollution.
Jf: If you could be stuck in any age, what would it be and why?
LR: Well, I like 1910. 1910 in America was full of vigor and hope. It was wonderful. It was before the war and anything could happen. I like 1910. Just so they had antibiotics and a good micro-surgeon.
JF: What new artists are out there that you like?
LR: I like this group called Lake Street Dive. I think they were just here. This girl looks a lot like Scarlett Johansson and sings like Amy Winehouse. And boy, she can wear the red lipstick. She looks good. She's backed by a three-piece jazz band just trumpet, bass and drums. They swing really well and she's a great singer this girl. Look her up on You-Tube. She's really good.
JF: Please tell us about the duets with Mick Jagger.
LR: I don't think I did a duet with Mick Jagger. I remember Chuck Berry. He's in our collective unconscious.
JF: Did you enjoy your collaboration with Phillip Glass?
LR: Well, I think I enjoyed it. . I don't read music and he writes the hardest thing a vocalist can sing. It's very unvocal like. So I had to learn it by someone actually playing it and I had to memorize it. That was hard. It sets a mood and got me into the Gregorian Chant mode.
JF: You're first album was "Simple Dreams." I was ten years old. My favorite song was "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me," Could you tell us something about making "Simple Dreams?"
LR: I remember Jackson Brown and JD Souther came out to my house at night and Jackson was producing a record with Warren Zevon and they loved that song "Pityful Me." Jackson sang it and it had this verse in it "She asked me if I'd beat her. She took me back to the Hyatt House, I don't want to talk about it." I said, I can't sing that verse. Fortunately I left the verse out. That's what made it a hit. Sometimes the songwriter writes his story and its not necessarily your story. Sometimes you have to do some twists and turns. JD Souther taught me "Blind In The Night." There was a Jimmy Webb song we worked out.
Jf: Do you have any memories of recording the "Western Wall" Album with Emmylou Harris at Tucson's Arizona Inn?
LR: We did that at the Arizona Inn. We had the most fun doing that album. I love the Arizona Inn. I would just love to move there it is so beautiful. The food is terrible, but someone has to tell them. The place is fabulous! Its one of the few places that is not corporate. It's for the individual. They take full care of the gardens. It's beautiful. Eleanor Roosevelt used to stay there and she was my favorite Roosevelt.
JF: My Favorite song has been "Silver Blue" What's it about really?
LR: Well, JD Souther is kind of a fatalist. He is recording beautiful stuff. He recorded a new record where he's writing in a new style with a jazz band with beautiful strings. I don't know what that song means. It kind of means you are dislocated from family and friends, a sense of who you are and not being nice to your girlfriend. Or ex-girl friend.
JF: When did you first hear "Different Drum" and some of 'Shelly's Blues?'
LR: I heard "Different Drum" on a bluegrass recording by the Greenbriar Boys with singing by Joan Baez. I didn't know Mike Nesmith had written it. I thought it was a really good song. We need some of your questions, Jeff.
JF: You said somewhere that you don't listen to a lot of recorded songs. You like You -Tube a lot. Also, you said you like live performance. Who, early on, besides your family, that you heard in live performance that really blew you away?"
LR: I heard some guitar player at the Temple of Music and Art. Might have been Montoya. I was three. It would have been in the '40's. The first recorded music I heard that really blew me away was a Spanish gypsy Flamenco singer.
JF: Did you always know you had a great voice?
LR: I don't know to this day. I think it's very hard to be objective about your own, what ever it is that you do. I always enjoyed singing at the time. I'd much rather listen to Amy Winehouse or somebody else.
JF: "Hasten Down The Wind" is one of the most beautiful songs you've ever done. I love the song. Do you love it?
LR: Well Warren Zevon again was a brilliant writer. A really, really great guy. I moved into an apartment he had just moved out of. The song kind of came with the apartment. I was left with a big mess when he moved out. I kind felt like the song was compensation for cleaning up the apartment.
JF: What in Tucson do you like besides the Arizona Inn?
LR: I think the Catalina Mountains are pretty good and the Rincon Mountains are nice. The Tucson Mountains are nice but they are dry. I like the Saguaros, but there is some car pollution. Its good here except you have to watch out for the dust storms. We're getting into the new dust bowl. I tell people to go home and look it up. It's was 10 years of the worst environmental disaster of the twentieth century. It happened right here in the United States, Its caused by erosion. The developers are digging up the ground and they are not putting anything back to hold the dirt down. All the dirt is going in the air and it's going to make a living hell if they don't do anything to fix it. Maybe it'll all go to Phoenix. They deserve it. They've got that sheriff. Maybe he'll just blow away with the dust.
JF: About three weeks ago, I asked if you would be ready for a large crowd at the Fox Theatre? You said not so fast, if they don't come to see me sing, they don't come to see me. Is there anything you would like to tell them?
LR: Is this all questions from the audience? I thought Jeff and I have known each other so long, that I thought we would get up here and start gossiping about our children. I have two children. They're big now. Thank God.
JF: Why wouldn't your record company use your sequencing for your Christmas album? Yours is so much better.
LR: I don't know. It started with this really old song. They wanted me to start with "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire." I was tired of bargaining with them. I had this scheme where it started with ancient and went to modern. I always like to organize chronologically. Jeff arranged, conducted the orchestra and the choir. We recorded that here.
The interview continued for a few more minutes. Ms. Ronstadt threw the crowd a kiss as she departed.