The significant contribution Linda Ronstadt made to the music industry can’t be measured in a 95-minute documentary. She is the true definition of a superstar and an artist who refused to be labeled.
After recording 28 studio albums, winning 10 Grammy Awards, three American Music Awards, two Academy of Country Music Awards, an Emmy Award and an ALMA Award, the sexy and humble perfectionist who Bonnie Raitt called the Beyonce of her generation, announced her retirement in 2011 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This is her story and for newcomers prepare to be amazed.
Linda Ronstadt grew up in Tucson with a musical family who sang songs around the house. She formed a band with her brother and sister playing small clubs in the area until her brother became a police officer and her sister began raising three kids.
Linda quickly moved to California where she formed the band Stone Poneys, which caught the ears of music execs, including David Geffen the founder of Asylum Records. In 1967, the band had a hit with the song “Different Drum,” written by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees.
Bonnie Raitt was a freshman in college when she heard the song and thought “yeah baby” while Jackson Browne remembers being blown away by a “fully developed vocal stylist.” The artists are just two of the many musical greats who appear in the film to praise Ronstadt.
The best part of Epstein and Friedman’s documentary is listening to Ronstadt narrate her life’s story. She only appears in the film at the beginning and at the end, where she’s joined by her family in Mexico to once again sing songs. The sentimental scene is a testament to Ronstadt’s resilience as she defies Parkinson’s while attempting to sing along with her nephew on guitar, but as she notes, “This isn’t really singing,” as she has a difficult time following along.
She may have lost her singing voice, but for 90 minutes, we have the pleasure of listening to Ronstadt sounding sharp as ever as the film’s narrator, recalling colorful moments from her storied career, like arriving in L.A. and going to see The Doors, thinking they would be a good band if they just ditched their singer.
“The Sound of My Voice” is loaded with clips showcasing Ronstadt performing her biggest hits including “You’re No Good,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Heart Like a Wheel,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Hurt So Bad,” “It’s So Easy” and countless others. Watching her belt out these classics with such raw emotion and a dynamic vocal range is a real treat. I can foresee Ronstadt attracting quite a few new fans who may be sampling her songs for the very first time.
It’s also amazing how so many talented artists gravitated toward Ronstadt during her rise to stardom.
In 1970, she brought musicians Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon into the fold. A year later, she recruited guitarist Glenn Frey to be in her band. At the same time, she discovered Don Henley playing drums, and he played with Ronstadt.
Later, the four of them would form The Eagles who in April of 1973 released the single “Desperado” off their second album. It didn’t get much airplay and record executives panicked – that is until Linda Ronstadt recorded the song and it became a smash hit. It was the first song that Henley, who appears in the film, and Frey wrote together.
Ronstadt opened for Neil Young, and she became the first true “female rockstar.” According to record producer John Boylan, the only female artist to have five platinum albums in a row. After selling out huge arenas and conquering the pop and country charts, Ronstadt changed gears at the height of her success to take over Broadway, when Joseph Papp cast her as the lead in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” That led to the 1983 film version, where she appeared with Kevin Kline and Angela Lansbury.
Epstein and Friedman cover a lot of ground in the fast-paced documentary including Ronstadt’s successful duets with Aaron Neville (“Don’t Know Much” is one of the first songs I played when starting my radio career) and her collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris whose “Trio” album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Album chart.
In another surprising move, Ronstadt decided to enlist 62-year-old conductor Nelson Riddle who worked with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, to help her record a trio of albums covering traditional pop standards. But Ronstadt wasn’t finished exploring genres.
She went back to her Mexican roots to record 1987’s “Canciones de Mi Padre” (“Songs of My Father”) and 1991’s “Mas Canciones” (“More Songs”), which featured Mexican folk songs, ballads and Mariachi music. “Canciones de Mi Padre” became the largest selling Spanish language album in the history of the industry selling almost 10 million copies worldwide.
“Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” shows how despite such a phenomenal career, Ronstadt remained humble. Her opinions about politics, women’s place in rock and the music industry in general have always been laid out for all to see. She is a true icon whose multicultural impact on the music industry will last forever.