An Evening With Linda Ronstadt

by Ben Fong-Torres

from Rolling Stone / March 18, 1971

These are the photos
which accompanied the article.  If the caption makes no sense, it is because Linda shared the
page with an article about Neil Diamond's Tap Root Manuscript album. I chose not to post the
Neil Diamond picture here though.
   HOLLYWOOD - Linda Ronstadt is sexy, sexual, or just plain sex, depending on which ad you've seen, story you've read, or gossip you've heard. She's also known to be a very lovely woman and a pretty good country-rock singer. But she sure doesn't know it.

   Sexy and lovely? Earthy/cute is more like it, even if she doesn't wear a bra. Dark and dimpled, a Third World flying nun (her stock is Spanish- Indian- German- Dutch- Basque), very domestic this early evening in her house just above Sunset Strip, with its view of a Jim Beam sign flashing above all the other bulbs. The former Stone Poney looks comfortable in her purple T-shirt, jeans, and sandals, seated on a sofa trying to crochet under a glaring light. She keeps a neat house- she and her lover, a record producer. But the coffee table is cluttered with cosmetics and hand tools and paper flowers and a lace doillie and a little clock with a baby butterfly on its face, fluttering to and fro with each quick tick. And a typewriter and an AFTRA contract. Linda Ronstadt is moving into film and TV work now, singing themes and getting, from Screen Gems, an offer to star in a television series.

   And Linda is comfortable; Hollywood is her world. Before this house, she was in Topanga Canyon, where she settled after arriving from Tucson, Arizona, with Bob Kimmel to form the Stone Poneys. She used to spend evenings at the Troubadour and sang on demos for Mason Williams. Still, she is an alien, in a real way, to her chosen profession, to this business of art.

   First, her music: "I've never liked any of my records," she says, having made three with the Stoneys and two by herself. Her tone makes it clear she's not just showing off her modesty. "And I never sit around and listen to them. Once you've done something- for me, especially- I have a tendency to just hear all the flat notes, and I get very uptight."   And the voice: "I used to sing along with Joan Baez records- I thought I had a voice just like hers. Then I found out. The first moment you listen to yourself, it takes time to get used to that sound. It might be valid, even good, but you don't have a taste for it. Anyway, I'm amazed at what people say. There weren't that many girls in Tucson who could sing that well, I guess. I just fooled myself."

   Linda is 24 and has a very simple biography. Born in Tucson; musical family; lots of country and other area/ethnic radio. "I used to listen to these funky Mexican stations and try to imitate the female folksingers." A singing group with a brother and a sister. Split for California at 18 "to join a rock and roll band" instead of continuing her education. "School became irrelevant, so my choices were to sing or maybe get a job in a hotel as a waitress. I don't know how to do anything else.

   "I feel very cheated by the system in general," she says. "I went to Catholic school, which made me think that all schools are useless. All I learned was how to go to sleep in class. So I don't have a high school diploma."

   She and Kimmel, in town, met Ken Edwards, and the three became the Stone Poneys, and signed with Capitol. But Linda was never satisfied. "The Stone Poneys tried to combine the roots with rock and roll," she said, "and we were miserable." One hit, "Different Drummer" (written by Mike Nesmith before his Monkee days), and three thin albums later, the band split, and Linda was recording on her own, working with session men both on the West Coast and in Nashville and Muscle Shoals. Two solo albums later, she is again performing with a backup band, called Swamp Water. And she still isn't satisfied.

   "My band is much better playing their own stuff than my stuff," she said. They're a Cajun band and they've got their own LP coming out. I want them to go ahead and be successful. For me to really have a 'band' is just sort of wishful thinking. I'm established as a single performer, so it'll be pretty difficult to get on stage with guys and not be pointed out."

   Swamp Water began backing up Linda last summer. "They're still working for me. I try to make them feel that we're in a band- but it's not always that easy. Like, if I want arrangements to go a certain way, they have to go that way."

   But one can wish. "I'd like to be in a band, and just sing and play cowbell and tambourine [Linda can play guitar, but only as a tool, for working out arrangements]. I'm tired of being a single, and I'm tired of the hassles of being a girl.

   "It's almost impossible for a girl singer to put a good band together. First, women are just not taken seriously. They have to shout around to get people to listen. Women just are not encouraged to make a living doing this kind of thing. People relate to us so differently."

   Lovely Linda, so unsure. Even about her admittedly hyped-up sensuality, beyond the obvious, real sexiness: "I'm fat." She tugs at some skin above her jeans. "I've been this way since I was 14." And instead of giving in to the idea that she is rather delicious, she philosophizes about eating- how you're raised on the idea that you must clean your plate; how food is such an accessible "boredom-appeaser."

   We went to dinner; Linda ordered a New York steak and talked about dolphins and how they made their choice to adapt themselves to their environment, while human beings had done the opposite; about how Indians, too, were materialists, living off the land, "but they didn't upset the balance"; about killing animals.

   Relaxing, she talks about Topanga Canyon, how "the land is committed to keeping people from living there. Canyon houses aren't very functional." And about how . . . strange . . . how nice it is to be really in love for the first time. Linda now basks in femininity. But she thinks of all the things she's said, about her singing, her image, her profession, and she adds: "I think I'd be happy just living with a marine biologist in the middle of the ocean . . . studying fishes."

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