The Simple Dreams of Linda Ronstadt Captured in Print and On Film

By Dave Price

Many people believe that the rock stars of the late 60s and early 70s, fueled by a diet of drugs, alcohol and adoration, engaged in a decade-long series of wild, sex-filled parties after their sold-out concerts. Linda Ronstadt, one of the most popular singers of that period, admits that while the times could be wild, they were not the same for everyone. “Did I try things? You bet I did,” Ronstadt says. “But my addiction is to reading. I was the girl back in the hotel room reading and knitting”.

Actually reading is much more of the pastime with rockers than you might imagine, Ronstadt explained a few years ago at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC.. “A musician was the one who turned me on to Anna Karenina “The piano players always read; the drummers not so much. The piano player was the guy who had to calm things down. The lead guitar player was like the high-strung pitcher and the piano player was the catcher”.

She compared the life of a touring musician to that outlined in seafaring books like those ofHeart of Darkness author Joseph Conrad. “Those books capture how provincial a sailor’s life is. The harbors are the same all over the world. You hang with the same scabby old guys. You don’t go beyond the harbor. Being on tour is very much like that. There’s the bus, and the hotel, and the sound check, and the show, and the dinner, and then the after-dinner playing. And then you do the same thing the next day”.

Ronstadt, now 67 and battling the crippling effects of Parkinson’s disease that has dictated she will never sing in public again, was appearing at the festival to talk about her new memoir Simple Dreams, which focuses on her upbringing in a musical family in Tucson and the evolution of her career.

“My Dad sang these Mexican standards and folk songs,” she told the crowd of fans that packed the huge tent on the National Mall. “I just wanted to be a singer. I didn’t want to be a star”.

Ronstadt first came to national attention with the band the Stone Ponies and their 1967 hit “Different Drum”. She settled in the southern California area and began putting together a new band. She was able to recruit Don Henley on drums, Glen Frey and Bernie Leadon on guitar and Randy Meisner on bass. If those names sound familiar, it might be because those 4 went on to form The Eagles, one of the biggest selling bands of all-time. “They started playing (opening) shows together and regularly blowing me off the stage, but I didn’t care. It was great music and I was loving it,” Ronstadt said.

She says she is still amazed about those days in Los Angeles. When she was 18, she met a singer/songwriter who was one year younger. His name was Jackson Browne. “I was astonished that someone that young could write songs that well. And the 1st guitar player I met was Ry Cooder. He was up on stage playing his ass off like a demon”.

In the 70s, Ronstadt released a series of hits that showcased her versatility such as “Heat Wave”,”Blue Bayou,” “Tumbling Dice” and “You’re No Good”.

She also had a series of boyfriends, including current Oakland Mayor and former California Governor Jerry Brown. But despite the fact that she raised 2 adopted children, she never married. “I didn’t get married. It wasn’t important to me. I was a serial monogamist,” she said with a laugh. Although Ronstadt enjoyed her time in the rock limelight, she actually pulled herself out of the business to devote time to raising her 2 children, who are now 19 and 22.

Ronstadt said she was inspired to write her memoir after reading other such volumes like the one penned by fellow singer Roseanne Cash. “I thought I would like to write a thank you note,” she said. “I wasn’t the most talented singer, but I was one of the most diverse singers. I wanted to write about why these musical choices weren’t arbitrary. And they certainly weren’t career moves”.

She did a series of standards arranged by the late, great Nelson Riddle in the 1980s, predating such singers as Rod Stewart and his American songbook. She followed that with a return to her Mexican roots. “That was music I was passionate about. I had to sing it or I felt I would die,” she said.

There is a belief that all music stars with hit records make millions of dollars. “That just isn’t true,” Ronstadt said. She cited an article on her current book tour that portrayed her as squandering a fortune. “The writer wondered why I couldn’t afford a $20 million house. Oh gee (hitting herself in the head for emphasis), I must have snorted it”.

Ronstadt says the recording industry of her days is a thing of the past. “The record business I knew is completely gone. Now we don’t have any gatekeepers. They knew what a good record was”. Ronstadt says that while she is not against change, “the price we pay may be much too dear for what we lose”.

And while she describes herself as not particularly political, she does have strong feelings about the immigration debate. She contends that like much of America, the golden era of 20th Century music was nurtured by great American immigrant songwriters like George Gershwin. “It was completely created by the fact that we were a nation that was welcoming to immigrants,” Ronstadt said. “We allowed them to come in and find their place. We allowed them to prosper, which is what people from Mexico and Guatemala and El Salvador and Liberia and Libya and all these people would be doing now if we let them. We need to help them find their place. “I don’t know why this country doesn’t learn.”

Of course, she is asked how she feels about the Parkinson’s that has robbed her of her singing voice and forces her to steady herself with the aid of 2 walking sticks. Her succinct answer – no regrets. “I had a great career. I had an unusually long run at the trough,” she says.

This summer, a praised documentary on the life and career of Ronstadt was released. You can check out the trailer and a review below.

To read David Browne’s review of the documentary, click here

Talking ‘Bout My Generation Makes News

As a former journalist I’m used to seeing my name in print, but this was the first time one of my programs made the news in Washington, DC. My lecture was listed second of the best things to do in DC on this particular Monday night. And I have to admit, Paws of Honor was a much better cause than my talk.

The Washingtonian

Things to Do in DC This Week
AUGUST 26-28, 2019

MONDAY
DOGS The St. Gregory Hotel is celebrating National Dog Day with a “Patio Pawty” where both humans and canines can enjoy food and drinks (four-legged friends will enjoy treats from Doggy Style Bakery). The event is a fundraiser for Paws of Honor , a nonprofit that provides no-cost veterinary care for retired service and military dogs, which the hotel also supports with its pet stay fees. Paws of Honor alums will be on hand for snuggles and belly rubs. Free to attend; $35 for drinks, light appetizers, and doggy treats, 5 PM – 10 PM.

LECTURE Even beyond Woodstock, 1969 was a crucial year for music with the formation of the Allman Brothers, Judas Priest, and ZZ Top as well as the recording of the Beatles’ final album. In a lecture at the S. Dillon Ripley Center presented by Smithsonian Associates, DC-based author Dave Price will explore the year in a before-and-after context, looking at the events  of 1959 (“the day the music died” with the death of Buddy Holly ) and the late 1970s with the arrival of Tom Petty , the Clash, and more. Price will pull from the research for his upcoming book What’s That Sound: Song Lists and Stories to Help You Better Understand the Music of the Baby Boom Era. The final lecture in the series takes place on September 23 . $45, 6:45 PM.
My T-shirt says it all …
I share a laugh with one of my guests, South Jersey poet and songwriter R.G. Evans

Notes on Woodstock 2019 – Day 2

Early Afternoon

Since we had spent 11 hours at the Bethel Hills site yesterday, we decided not to go early today. At noon, we went to lunch at the Two Rivers Grill in Matadoras, Pennsylvania where we staying. There we met my new favorite waitress, Lisa, who had just started work that week. For a few years now, if my wife Judy and I order dessert, we share. I’ve made it a standing joke to ask our servers to bring Judy a smaller fork or spoon so that I can get more of the dessert. Today, Lisa complied. But there was a twist. She brought the smaller fork for me, explaining that Judy, as a female, deserved the larger portion. Our dessert was delicious. It was fresh-baked caramel covered apple pie (neighboring upstate New York is known not only as the original home of Woodstock, but also for its apples) with home-made vanilla ice cream. And I don’t even like apple pie.

On the elevator at the Hampton Inn we met a Buffalo couple, Maria and Gunner, who had just arrived that morning and were going to the Woodstock for the first time. They asked us several questions, and since we all had lawn seats for the Santana performance, we asked them if they wanted to travel to the Bethel site with us. They said that would be great and the four of us were on the road by 3 p.m.

While Gunner and Maria wandered around taking in the atmosphere and the sights that we had been exposed to yesterday, Judy and I decided to focus on a just a couple of exhibits.

First up was the Light Bus, a version of which had actually made the journey to the original 1969 festival. In fact, the bus itself has a storied history. In 1968, Bob Grimm, who was then playing in a rock band named Light, asked his friend Robert Hieronymus to “paint us a magic bus”. Heronimus immediately got to work transforming a 1963 split window VW Kombi bus into a vehicle covered with esoteric symbols to welcome in to what was then being called a new Aquarian Age.

Like Ken Kesey and his fellow pranksters on their famed bus Further, Grimm and his friends made the trip across country in 1969 to Woodstock. Their painted bus was featured in an AP Woodstock photo that appeared in newspaper’s around America. Based on that photo, the bus began appearing in all kinds of publications and became a a talismanic of the peace and love portion of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

In 1972, the bus was used to run errands for the Savitra commune in Baltimore. Within a short time, the now decaying bus became unusable. However, in 2009, as part of the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, a limited edition diecast model replica of the Light Bus was a popular best-seller.

In 2018, Hironimus and a team of artists restored a 1962 Kombi VW bus in a secluded barn in Maryland. Now, that restoration was drawing big crowds, most of whom wanted to get the pictures taken with the Light Bus in the background.

Next, I headed to Recovery Unplugged tent to talk Jim, a recovering alcoholic police officer from my home state of New Jersey who I had chatted with briefly yesterday. He was at Woodstock at a representative of the music-based alcohol and drug treatment program Recovery Unplugged offers at its facilities in Lake Worth and Fort Lauderdale in Florida and northern Virginia. A fourth facility is expected to open soon in Nashville.

Jim explained that Recovery Unplugged are pioneers in music-based addiction treatment. “Actually, our C.A.C. is the man who literally wrote the book on music-based addiction,” Jim explained, pointing out Paul Pellinger’s book about the story of Recovery Unplugged Music Is Our Medicine. Several musicians including Steven Tyler and Richie Supa of Aerosmith, Morris Day of the Time, and the rapper Flo-Rida are associated with the program.

While we were talking, a Bethel Woods worker approached and told Jim that he and his fellow workers would have to take down their tent and secure all the Recovery Unplugged items as a severe storm was expected to strike the area in about half-an-hour.

Judy and I decided to seek shelter in the Woodstock Museum until the storm passed. We focused on two of the exhibits, one explaining in depth the background of all the artists who performed at the first Woodstock festival and the other a temporary exhibit We Are Golden: Reflections on the 50th Anniversary Festival and Aspirations for a Peaceful Future.

The special exhibition features a collection of of authentic Woodstock artifacts including Jack Cassidy of Jefferson Airplane’s bass guitar and the tunic he wore, handwritten lyrics for the song “Goin’ Up the Country” by Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, and a speaker cabinet and missing equipment used by Bill Hanley, whose work established the standard for outdoor concert sound.

Other sections included Voices from the Past, which presented first-person commentary about changing American society in the 1960s; Woodstock Remembered, first person accounts from people who attended the historic three-day festival; Woodstock Through the Lens, a collection of photos taken at the festival; and What the World Needs Now, an interactive exhibit tat engaged participants in conversations about what they want from society today and how the experiences from 50 years ago could inform attitudes, decision-making, and actions today.

Night

While we were inside, the threatened severe storm never materialized and we headed to the amphitheater lawn to meet Gunner and Maria and enjoy in tonight’s concert with The Doobie Brothers and Santana, with its leader Carlos Santana whose musical breakthrough came from the song “Soul Sacrifice” which was featured in the award-winning 1970 documentary on Woodstock.

Of course, the original Woodstock was plagued by incessant rain storms that turned the festival fields into veritable seas of mud and mess. In fact, one of the lasting moments from the film featured the crowd shouting the “No Rain, No Rain” chant which provided the segue into Santana’s energetic performance.

Well, as if to prove the musical gods have a sense of both history and irony, after the Doobie Brothers concluded their set (which included their huge hits “Listen to the Music”, “Jesus Is Just Alright,” “Long Train Runnin,” and “China Grove,” as well as my all-time favorite Doobie’s tune “Ukiah,” lighting flashed and thunder rolled. Those of us in the amphitheater (which has a reported capacity of 16,200 but on this Saturday night, was estimated to be far more than 20,000) prepared for bad weather, and, indeed just minutes before Carlos Santana and his current band were scheduled to take the stage, rain began falling.

As they have on this tour all summer, Santana was paying tribute both to Woodstock and the 50th anniversary of his band. With an explosion of noise from the crowd, a precoded version of the rain chant from the Woodstock burst from the speakers and, once on stage, the band broke into three songs that became their standards from their initial Woodstock debut – “Soul Sacrifice,” Jin-go-lo-ba,” and “Evil Ways”. Now, while it is true you can’t go home again, or as the Chinese put it, you can’t put you feet in the same river twice, that Santana there-song opening was about as close as you can get if you had been one of the estimated 400,000 who attended Woodstock in 1969.

Complete Set List for Santana at Woodstock 2019

  1. Woodstock IntroPlay Video
  2. Soul Sacrifice(with ‘Light My Fire’ tease)Play Video
  3. Jin-go-lo-ba(Babatunde Olatunji cover)Play Video
  4. Evil Ways / A Love SupremePlay Video
  5. (Da Le) YaleoPlay Video
  6. Put Your Lights OnPlay Video
  7. Exodus (Bob Marley & The Wailers cover) (with The Doobie Brothers) (with ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ and ‘… more )Play Video
  8. Black Magic Woman / Gypsy QueenPlay Video
  9. Oye como va(Tito Puente cover)Play Video
  10. Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile) Play Video
  11. Happy Birthday to You(Mildred J. Hill & Patty Hill cover) (for band member and roadie… more ) Play Video
  12. Imagine (John Lennon cover) (Cindy Blackman Santana on lead vocals) Play Video
  13. Hope You’re Feeling Better (with rap interlude and blues outro)Play Video
  14. Total Destruction to Your Mind (Swamp Dogg cover) (with ‘Miss You’ tease, ‘(I… more )Play Video
  15. Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)Play Video
  16. Breaking Down the Door Play Video
  17. Corazón espinado Play Video
  18. Maria Maria Play Video
  19. Foo Foo Play Video
  20. Encore:
  21. Are You Ready (The Chambers Brothers cover) (with Cindy Blackman Santana drum solo) Play Video
  22. Smooth Play Video
  23. Peace Love and Happiness (with band introductions; with… more ) Play Video
  24. Get Together(The Youngbloods cover)

David Crosby: Remember My Name

Last Monday night, Washington Post movie critic Anne Hornaday joined me for my presentation at the Smithsonian where we discussed the impact the 1970 documentary on Woodstock had on the legacy of the most-famous mud and myth rock festival of the 1960s.

Hornaday was a huge music fan (especially of the Who) before she became a film critic, which may partially explain why her reviews of music documentaries are so insightful. Of course, the main reason for her success is that Anne is a great analyzer and a powerfully descriptive writer no matter what type of film she is reviewing.

Tonight, I saw the new film David Crosby: Remember My Name and here is Anne’s review to help you better understand the film if you should decide to see it.

By Ann Hornaday

Washington Post Movie critic

Rating:     (3 stars)

“David Crosby: Remember My Name” was one of the breakout hits at Sundance this year, and understandably so: In this film, the pioneering folk-rock musician — who will turn 78 in a couple of weeks — emerges less as a lion in winter than a tiger in full attack mode, as often as not against himself.

Haloed by a nimbus of cottony white hair, still sporting the walrus mustache he made chic in the 1960s, Crosby presents a reflective, irascible, observant and irresistibly candid figure in a documentary that ostensibly chronicles one of his many comeback tours but becomes something far more introspective. “Remember My Name” joins a cohort of nostalgic music movies that have glutted theaters this summer, and it spares few musical pleasure points: When Crosby reminisces about forming the Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, those glorious harmonies burst forth with the same exhilarating abandon baby boomers thrilled to when they heard them for the first time.

To continue reading this article, click here.