19.7.14

LINDA RONSTADT: She wanted me to buy her fish’n’chips…

The other week when I was wiring about my mate Pete Frame I mentioned that we first met in November 1973 at the home of Linda Rondtadt in Hollywood. Here's the story I wrote, but I really can't remember offering to take Linda out for a plate of fish and chips. Mind you, a date with Linda Ronstadt is not something anyone would ever turn down

When the film industry was at its peak and the Hollywood Hills beamed down on the Babylon city in its celluloid wrapper, someone decided that the value of houses would rise if there were tangible proof that the building was, actually, situated in Hollywood. So they built a sign, a huge white eye-catcher up in the hills that simply said “Hollywood” – in capital letters, of course.
         To reach the sign, the visitor must drive up snake-like roads, past a riding stable, and finally complete the journey on foot. Built alongside these roads are quaint houses that Hollywood now regards as old, though by British standards they’d just be pre-war. No two houses seem alike, and the majority are built on Spanish or Swiss lines. In one of them lives Linda Ronstadt.
         This afternoon Linda is sat cross-legged on a couch sewing a tapestry and listening to the tapes of a Chris Hillman album on which she sings back-up.
         She is, as the saying goes, as pretty as a picture. She’s wearing a pair of faded jeans and white t-shirt which extols the virtues of a brand of tequila. The previous week she’d done a few nights at the Roxy Club, dressed in an Annie Oakley outfit minus six-gun.
         It was a set of largely country music from a band hastily put together – an almost flawless performance in which Linda more than put over her warm, friendly personality. Many people (including myself) fell hopelessly in love with her.
         So here I am, with the same young lady sat a couple of feet away on a soft couch. Euphoria. She even wants me to take her for some English fish and chips after the interview’s over.
         But we’re digressing. Linda’s musical background is heavily influenced by country and Mexican music – there’s a touch of Mexico, even, in her blood. Her grandfather was a musician and music was passed down the line; her father played guitar, he taught Linda’s sister to play, Linda’s sister taught Linda’s brother and her brother taught Linda.
         “I learned to play a few chords when I was 16 (she’s 27 now), but I didn’t play much more than that. It wasn’t until I came to California that I played a lot. In fact, I’ve only really been concentrating on my guitar playing during the last few months. I’m really a beginner.”
         Linda’s first musical venture was with her brother and sister in Tucson, Arizona, where she was brought up – singing in bars and on local TV and radio shows. It was a mixture of folk, country, bluegrass and Mexican music. “I’m a real freak for Mexican music. I’ve been influenced by Mexican singers more than anything, and by Hank Williams, because that was the music I sang when I was young and that’s when you’re most influenced.
         “I listen mostly to black music now because that’s what I like, even though I don’t sing like that. Really I’m a hopelessly white singer. I like Lola Beltran, who is the hottest chick singer in Mexico. She’s a real folk hero to them.”
         The Stone Poneys, managed by Frank Zappa’s manager Herbie Cohen, were Linda’s first serious musical venture. It was the beginning of a series of backing bands including a variety of musicians from the somewhat incestuous country/folk/LA scene. And, like so many others, Linda’s first breaks came from Doug Weston’s Troubador Club.
         She appeared at a Troubador Hoot night and the audition resulted in a gig as opening act for Oscar Brown Jnr. “It was murder, because it was a black audience and there we were playing folk music. It was really pathetic, like throwing me to the lions, and the band I was with broke up after that. We were so demoralised.
         “After that Herbie Cohen wanted to manage me, not the rest of the group, but I felt some loyalty towards them. All I can remember now is that everyone in that group ended up making some money – apart from me.
         “I wanted to do country stuff but my manager didn’t. No one was doing country stuff then. Gram Parsons, I guess, might have been – I didn’t know him then – but the Byrds hadn’t even started doing it.
         “After my first album came out I remember going down to some club in the Valley where the Burrito Brothers would play and I thought Sneeky Pete was such a great slide player. I knew Clarence White well, too; he used to come to Tucson when I was a kid.”
         Linda’s albums for Capitol, she says, are best forgotten, and she’s not even too pleased about her first set for Elektra.
         After the demise of her group, it was decided that she should become a solo artist, although she felt herself that she wasn’t ready for such a step. “My manager and the record company put a lot of pressure on me to do things so I kept going out on the road with different bands that were really awful. I couldn’t sing properly, and what I really needed was to sit at home with my guitar and learn to play and sing.
         “I don’t think it was until last year that I really started making some progress, and that was because I started learning guitar. I wasn’t good enough to get the most out of the musicians I was with. The only way you can get good is to hang out with people who are good, but I never hung around with singers. The first band I can remember having a good time with was a bunch of musicians who were from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.”
         Linda made one album in Nashville where, she says, there’s a totally different approach to country music than in California. “It was a painful experience because they didn’t seem to understand what I wanted there, and I thought it was a bad record. And there was a hit song from that album, ‘Long Long Time’, which meant that a lot of people heard the album. I still didn’t know how to sing properly then. I really thought I had no business making a record, and that I should have been home practising.
         “I don’t think I really did any singing on a record until this last one I’ve done for Asylum, and even that was hard to make.”
         Linda’s introduction to Asylum, after being with Capitol for almost seven years, came about through John David Souther, with whom she was living until recently. “I’d known David Geffen for a long time, but I got to know him better through John David and Jackson Browne, who was a close friend of his. John Boylan, my manager, just rang up David Geffen and told him I needed a new company.
         “I’m still not too happy about this album but at least it doesn’t make me cringe when I play it like my others did. Some of my albums make me depressed and want to stop singing altogether. I always think I could have done better.
         “John David ended up producing the album, but that made me feel inhibited because I could never sing properly in front of him. I did some of his songs and he wanted a say in how I made them.”
         Though not a strong women’s libber, Linda feels girls in the rock business should stick together instead of competing with each other. “Somebody once said, I think is was George Bernard Shaw, that competition was for horse-racing and not for the arts, and that’s so true. It’s difficult to retain your femininity in the music business; there aren’t many women who don’t come on like a truck driver in this business.
         “I know that when I come off the road after being with men for a long time, the conversation gets to a very low level. I can hardly talk to people after a tour, as I find myself talking real dirty and offending someone. We feel we have to compete. I’m sure the age of girl singers is about to come, though.
         “There’s a girl somewhere, no one’s heard her yet, but she’s going to take the world by storm. The day of people saying, ‘Well, she plays pretty good guitar for a girl’ is over.”
         In this respect, Linda is gradually becoming able to tell musicians what to play behind her. “I find that the better the players, the more competent and the more musical ability they have, the easier it is for me to approach them about what I want. The players that aren’t so good object to having a girl tell them what to do.”

 


 

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