Linda Ronstadt Says She Once Took Famous Friends for Granted: Exclusive Interview
Linda Ronstadt's career was blessed by geography and happenstance. Along the way, she ended up working with some of music's biggest names, and transforming many of their songs into her own.
That includes Neil Young, whom she happened to run into on Johnny Cash's TV show. And the Eagles, a pre-fame pickup band Ronstadt assembled for her solo debut. She became closely associated with future stars like James Taylor and Warren Zevon, too.
“I have to say, I took it totally for granted," Ronstadt tells UCR in an exclusive interview. I just figured that everybody in Los Angeles was a pretty good songwriter. [Vocalist] Wendy Waldman brought Billy Steinberg to me and I go, ‘Well, he’s a really good songwriter; I’ll record some of his songs.’ That’s how we got 'How Do I Make You.' Mark Goldenberg wrote [other songs on 1980’s Mad Love album] and I met him through [late bandmate] Kenny Edwards and [songwriter] Karla Bonoff. It was just friends of friends of friends.”
Ronstadt, who left music after a Parkinson's diagnosis, said real estate played a role in becoming close with Zevon.
“Warren and I had mutual friends and I found out that he was moving out of his apartment on Beachwood up in Hollywood," Ronstadt says. "So, he moved out and I moved in. We knew each other, just sort of through mutual friends. JD Souther and Jackson Browne were really good friends with him, so I used to meet him sometimes and I loved his songs. I learned ‘Hasten Down the Wind,’ I think from JD, and recorded it [as the title track of a 1976 album]. Then, I started doing as many of his songs as I could figure out how to do.”
A concert update of Zevon's “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” is featured on her new Live in Hollywood album; Ronstadt also recorded “Carmelita” and “Mohammed’s Radio.”
Listen to Linda Ronstadt Perform 'Poor Poor Pitiful Me'
She became a huge fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, calling them “my favorite rock and roll band of all rock and roll bands.” "The Waiting," a Top 20 Petty hit, later appeared on Ronstadt's 1995 album Feels Like Home.
“I loved Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers the best, because they really were a band,” she says. “Their songs and their arrangements are so good. They sounded exactly like they did on record because their arrangements put it so that everybody was flying in the same airspace. They weren’t competing with each other. They sound like a garage band on stage, but a good garage band.”
Ronstadt doesn't take these relationships for granted anymore. In fact, many of those connections remain, even after her retirement. For instance, Souther has said he still plays his new songs to Ronstadt first.
“I know what he writes like and I know what he’s written before, so I know what I to compare it to – because a writer can’t be objective. They just can’t be,” Ronstadt says. “And you don’t say, ‘Well, that sucks.’ You say, ‘I like this song better.’ You know, you have to be encouraging, but I’ve known JD for a long time. He’s a good songwriter and he’s a great harmony singer. He puts great harmonies and voicings in his chords.”