As the curtain opened and Linda Ronstadt appeared her fans quickly stood up to give her a boisterous and very long standing ovation. As was promised for the show, “Linda Ronstadt In Conversation with Dan Guerrero,” the audience got to see a side of the lifelong entertainer that they hadn’t seen before.
Under a soft spotlight, she sat casually on stage with her close friend producer Dan Guerrero to share some of the highlights of her career, stories about growing up in Tucson, and her love for all genres of music — especially the Broadway Standards and Mexican music.
“If I couldn’t sing that music, I would probably get sick,” she shared.
Listening to her it was clear that her long career, although blessed with so much success, was also a pursuit to fulfill a need to share the music that she felt was unfairly given a short stick.
The audience laughed as Guerrero chimed. “Didn’t you say you wanted to get the Standards out of the elevators?” he asked, referencing her insistence on producing an album of what she considered music that shouldn’t be forgotten.
In preparation for the evening, Guerrero said he wanted people to see her personal side.
“Linda’s gift as an extraordinary artist is well known, but she is also an extraordinary person,” he said. “There is no one like her.” As she spoke, what Guerrero described was clear.
Ronstadt was quick to joke and had a very fast wit.
“We knew Dan was funny, but we didn’t know that Linda was so funny,” a friend of Guerrero’s
While not mentioned during the evening, Ronstadt — afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease — sang her last concert in 2009 and is no longer able to sing, so the event celebrated her career through photo images, audio and video clips.
The only critique by those in the audience was that they wanted to hear more than short clips of her music. They clapped loudly when each of her songs was played and wanted to hear at least one of her songs played from beginning to end.
“While I did not meet Linda until we were both adults, I have always felt a close connection with her,” Guerrero said. “My Dad, Lalo and Linda’s Dad, Gilbert, were good friends in our hometown of Tucson. Linda swears she remembers my Dad serenading her while she was still in diapers.”
Lalo Guerrero, who was widely-acclaimed as “Father of Chicano Music” and was the first Chicano ever honored with the National Media of Arts, has been credited with being an influence on a Ronstadt.
“For special celebrations, like birthdays we would be woken up about two in them morning, and we were supposed to feel good about that,” she joked.
She described growing up in a musical family “where everyone played an instrument, maybe not well, but everyone played something.” At family gatherings, she said, “we often fell asleep in the arms of a relative surrounded by music.”
“There are about eight hundred Ronstadts,” joked Guerrero, “and they were all singers and musicians.”
“I had a cousin for everything,” said Ronstadt who was quick to return a joke. She pointed to her cousin Jose in the audience who is an anchor on Spanish language television. “I brought him in case you [Guerrero] couldn’t do it,” she teased.
Ronstadt shared when she told her dad that she wanted to leave Tucson to pursue a music career. He gave her $30 and the guitar his grandfather had given him and told me the same thing that his father had said to him. “He told me, now that you have a guitar you will never have to go hungry. I still have that guitar.”
Music in the Ronstadt household, she said, started with her father and her uncles.
“We were the next generation and we discovered folk music, and we liked a lot of Mexican music. When we heard folk music, it reminded us of Mexican music and rural life. Folk music had a different, [yet similar] flavor to it,” she said.
Ronstadt spoke affectionately of growing up in the adobe house that her parents built in Tucson “by using their feet” [to make the straw and clay bricks], and listening to the radio that was the window to hear all kinds of music.
“We were able to get radio stations as far away as Louisiana. We heard the Louisiana hay ride, we got Gospel stations and we got opera on Saturday afternoon — there was music all around us,” Ronstadt said. “We heard country music and picked up radio stations from across the Mexican border. The radio was everything, it was my friend.”
Ronstadt, as Guerrero pointed out, has always had a deep connection to her Mexican roots. Photos of her family served as the backdrop as she spoke and sound clips of her singing songs in Spanish with her brothers were played. So it made sense that, like her determination to produce an album of “standards,” it was important for her to produce an album of traditional Mariachi music.
Each time record companies were not as enthusiastic. But“Canciones de mi Padre” became the biggest-selling foreign language album in American record history. as a result, Ronstadt is credited for being an important part in elevating Mexican music in the United States. She featured both Mariachi Vargas and Los Camperos in the recording of the album and during a U.S. tour.
“My father really liked the show,” she shared.
It was then that Dan Guerrero, Lalo Guerrero’s son, met Linda for the first time when she was on her “Canciones de Mi Padre” tour, and they have been close friends ever since.
As a tribute to Linda, following the conversation, Conjunto Hueyapan, a Son Jarocho group homegrown on the CSUN Chicano Studies Department, played her favorite regional Mexican music.
Thor Steingraber, Executive Director of Valley Performing Arts Center, said, “When I consider the most influential musician of the past three generations, worldwide, Linda is at the top of that list. Beyond her breadth of style and exquisite vocal talent, I was also interested in her longtime and deep connections in Los Angeles. Amongst them, the debut of her country music chapter was right here in the Valley, at the Palomino.”
Steingraber said it was one of his desires to have Ronstadt on the CSUN VPAC stage. The audience was filled with people as diverse as her music.
Ronstadt spoke not only about her country period at the Palomino but an exciting time for music at the Troubador in Hollywood — if you could get on stage. “There was always someone in the music industry who would drop by,” she said.
Through the years she has established herself as one of the very important and eclectic artists in one of the most creative periods in the history of modern music. She was unique and could not be branded as one kind of singer. She went far beyond being a “pop singer,” expanding her career to include country, rock and roll, big band, jazz, opera, Broadway standards, Mexican and Afro-Cuban influences.
Ronstadt spoke throughout the evening about her joy in “finding songs.”
She sold more than 50 million albums, at least 31 gold and platinum records, won 10 Grammy Awards, membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a National Medal of Arts to her credit. Tonstadt is considered “the consummate American artist.”
With so much accomplishment, it was a lot of ground to cover during the night’s “conversation.” She spoke about attending the University of Arizona for only a year and it was at the university that she met guitarist Bob Kimmel. The duo moved to Los Angeles, where they were joined by guitarist/songwriter Kenny Edwards. Calling themselves the Stone Poneys, the group became a leading attraction on California’s folk circuit, recording their self-titled first album “The Stone Poneys” in 1967.
The band’s second album, “Evergreen, Vol. 2,” featured the Top 20 hit “Different Drum,” which was written by the Monkee’s Michael Nesmith. After recording one more album with the group, Linda left to become a solo artist at the end of 1968.
For the next forty years, Linda built a career not only for herself but for many other musicians along the way. Along with the Eagles (her former back-up band), Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and others, she helped create California country-rock, the dominant American music of the 1970s. The conversation could have continued for hours.
At the end of the evening, during the question-and answer-period to end the program, Guerrero read the note cards that not only had questions for the star, but equally wanted to thank her and express gratitude to her for her music.
Many in the audience were quite moved as they compared notes on a shuttle bus ride to their cars. “I was glad he read those notes to thank her. That’s what we all feel. That’s why we came to see her,” the fans agreed.