Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Nov-Dec Contents 30 Rhythms
By 1977, linda ronstadt had befriended the cream of
la’s musicians. Just look at the credits on ‘77’s Simple
Dreams album: waddy wachtel, David lindley, spooner
oldham, Kenny edwards, Dolly Parton, JD souther, Don
henley, mike auldridge feature in the formidable cast
of contributing musicians, while writers like Jackson
Browne, warren Zevon, and Jagger and richards played
crucial background roles.
Little wonder then, that Simple Dreams was so successful.
Selling millions of copies and making Ronstadt the first
female artist ever to have two songs simultaneously in the
Top Five on the charts, it was a benchmark in Ronstadt’s
“It was a heady, heady time where we had a lot of success
and we were whizzing around in private jets,” Ronstadt
responds when asked to recall that period on the 40th
anniversary reissue of Simple Dreams. “And, you know,
thought we were cool. But we weren’t that cool. And we were
mostly pretty nice.
“But I just remember it as very fast. We toured all the time.
Just album, tour, album, tour, album, tour, album, tour and
there was hardly any time to change your socks. It was a
Ronstadt, who reminds me she’s facing her 71st
says it feels every bit of 40 years since the release of Simple
You titled your memoir after Simple Dreams, does the
album hold a special place in your life and career?
Well, it’s really hard to stay. I always say I didn’t start
singing really authentically until about 1980, which is a
little past that record. But it’s really hard to look at younger
versions of yourself and finding anything of value (laughs).
I always think ‘oh I learned that better later on.’ I don’t listen
to my own records, but if I hear it I hear something that’s
frozen in time – that I developed better later or had enough
sense to never do it again or whatever.
Are there any long held secrets people might not know
about Simple Dreams that you can reveal after 40 years?
I wish there were. Um, I recorded ‘Blue Bayou’ in Spanish
and my father wrote the lyrics for it. And I forgot to take the
lyric copy when I went to go to the studio in the morning
and I sort of filled in the blanks with bad grammar in
Spanish, so when the record came out it was... the Spaniards
were very, very offended. Mexico didn’t mind particularly
because I’m a daughter of Mexico. They cut me some slack
(laughs). I remember that – I got sometimes the genders
wrong and sometimes the tenses wrong, so I was like a
hermaphrodite in a time machine.
I was trying to think what else happened. We did a lot
of woodshedding in those days so it seems like there’s a
couple of things that are on there that I just used to do with
guitar. Like ‘Old Paint’, which is a cowboy song that I knew
since I was a little child growing up in Arizona. And that’s
a song that I just used to play by myself on guitar that got
thrown on there somehow, but it’s in strange company.
Reading back on reviews it seems like people surprised
at some of the more rock and roll based directions the
album took at the time?
Well I don’t think so. I’d had rock ‘n’ roll hits before that. I
had ‘You’re No Good’. I started out in folk music, so I was
always trying to get back to acoustic music one way or
another. Also the song with Dolly Parton that’s on there [‘I
Never Will Marry’] it’s a folk song that I learned from my
sister when I was a kid, but Dolly sang beautifully on it and
we had already recorded together. So I really wanted her to
sing on the record, I liked her voice.
So I guess you were starting to work on the Trio idea
with Dolly and Emmylou Harris around the same time as
Yeah I think we were. We’d been together and sung a lot
together already. I think we’d recorded together but we
didn’t put the record out. We weren’t happy with the record
so we waited and did it over again. There were a couple of
tracks that we like, 'My Blue Tears' was a song that Dolly
wrote that three of us sang that went on another album, I
can’t remember which one (1982’s Get Closer). And then I
had to call her back for ‘I Never Will Marry’.
You’ve talked about Emmylou Harris and how great she
was at finding songs. But it strikes me that your career
has been characterised by impeccable song selection.
Was that all your doing or did you have great people
around you suggesting songs as well?
Oh no, no, I picked my songs for me. It was all I ever wanted
was somebody to choose songs and I never had anybody to
do that for me. But I had good friends and my friends were
talented. It just happened to be that way. The first person I
met when I left Tucson, I was 18 years old and I met Jackson
Browne, and I think he was 16, maybe 17. He was a really
good songwriter, he’d already written ‘These Days’. And I
was just astonished by his maturity and his craftsmanship
and the deeply felt sentiment he put into his songs without
being corny. And then I met JD Souther, who was also
a really good songwriter. And Randy Newman. There
were people that I just knew from The Troubadour. And I
thought, ‘Well this sounds good, I’ll try to sing it.’ (laughs).
Often it wasn’t good for my voice. I’d pick a song that I
really loved, that didn’t love me back!
Simple Dreams does seem like a snapshot of the people
you were hanging out with at the time, just an amazing
group of musicians Browne, jD Souther, Warren Zevon.
Yeah Warren lived in the apartment building that I lived
in with JD Souther. He moved out of the apartment that
I moved into. So I feel like there were songs he left in a
drawer some place. And I got some (laughs). Not really, but
if felt like that. He is an amazing songwriter.
You had special relationship with Warren Zevon’s songs,
what attracted you to his writing so much?
Yeah, they were just really good. I liked the lyrics. I liked
the straightforwardness, I liked the subject matter, it wasn’t
just ‘oh poor me, oh poor me’. Well ‘Poor Pitiful Me’ was,
but it was a satire on that. I loved the rawness of the lyrics.
And then a song like ‘Hasten Down The Wind’ with poetic
lyrics I thought was beautiful. He had a real sensitive side
to him, he loved classical music and he tried to incorporate
elements of classical music into what he wrote in this really
raw pop music form. That was a great combination.
There’s a great sense of musical collaboration and co-
operation in that group of musicians. You all seemed to
contribute to each other’s music.
Well we did, because we’d sit in the living room and work
on songs together. Like I sang on Warren Zevon’s record,
Excitable Boy with Jennifer Warne, it’s one of my favourite
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