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Ronstadt: She ‘could sing literally anything’


Amid the many music biographical studies that have been released of late, one — "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" — tackles the life and legacy of a noted woman singer. Following is the review of the documentary that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

As lead singer of The Doors, the late Jim Morrison holds a distinct spot in rock history. And he was popular with the group’s fans, especially during the days in which he could still fit into a pair of skinny leather pants.

Yet he didn’t have the same effect on some of his more notable contemporaries.

As is made clear in two recent rock documentaries, “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” and “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” neither Ronstadt nor Crosby had much use for the self-styled Lizard King.

Crosby tells a story of Morrison once pulling off the sunglasses that Crosby was wearing indoors. “You can’t hide in there,” Morrison told him. In response, Crosby says, “I teleported to the other side of the room. I never liked him much after that.”

Ronstadt is far more direct. The Doors, she declares, would have been better without him.

Arguable as that point might be, it says something about Ronstadt: Despite her pin-up girl looks, she was no pushover. Her will to succeed in the male-dominated music business was every bit as intense as her voice was strong.

Notice I say “was strong.” Now 73 and with a voice weakened by Parkinson’s disease, Ronstadt has been retired since 2011. Co-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman make that point poignantly by, near the end of their documentary, including a scene of her attempting to sing a Mexican “canción” with a couple of her relatives.

The voice that comes out is only a pale reflection of the one that once powerfully rendered such hits as “First Cut Is the Deepest,” “When Will I Be Loved” and that foot-stomping No. 1 hit from 1975 “You’re No Good.”  Ronstadt’s career, by the way, ultimately comprised some 45 albums and 38 Billboard Hot 100 singles, 21 of which made the top 40, 10 that broke into the top 10, three that made number 2, and the No. 1 “You're No Good.”

And she did it after coming as an unknown to Los Angeles at age 18, vying with thousands of other hopefuls to achieve success. She managed that first with the Stone Poneys, then later on her own, backed by a number of first-rate musicians, including at times multi-instrumentalist Andrew Gold and two of the founding members of The Eagles, Don Henley and Glenn Frey.

Epstein and Friedman, who earlier teamed up for the 1995 documentary “The Celluloid Closet” – which followed Epstein’s two Oscar-winning documentary features, 1985’s “The Times of Harvey Milk” and 1990’s “Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt” – cover the essentials of Ronstadt’s life.

Of her learning about music from her father – who was of both German and Mexican heritage – of her earning the title of Top Female Pop Singer of the 1970s, of her romances with the likes of then-California Gov. Jerry Brown and of her desire to explore every musical form from pop to country to opera and even Mexican ballads.

As Dolly Parton tells the filmmakers, “Linda could literally sing anything.”

Which is something, Ronstadt might say, that Jim Morrison couldn’t do.

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