I’ve always been interested in the Asylum Records story. For a while, in the early seventies, they almost held a monopoly on the most talented Californian singer-songwriter acts of the day. The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Andrew Gold, John David Souther, Judee Sill and Linda Ronstadt were all significantly big-selling artists of these years. To own one album was often to open a window onto all the other acts on the label. Linda Ronstadt and JD Souther had been partners, and it was Souther who partly produced her first Asylum Records album, the first album she felt really represented what she was trying to do.
I wonder, looking back on her story, what a young Linda Ronstadt would have done had she started out this century. Like so many artists we feature on the show, she went over to Nashville to record, but unlike many that we know, she didn’t enjoy the experience. Instead she stayed in the Hollywood Hills and followed her own unique path. That path, which clearly owed so much to country and roots music, brought bountiful success and allowed her to make the diverse directions in music which have signified her career.
This week she will be seventy five years old and, unlike so many senior artists we’ve featured over the years on the AC, unable to celebrate that by way of performing. She announced her retirement in 2011 and revealed shortly afterwards that she is no longer able to sing as a result of a degenerative condition later determined to be progressive supranuclear palsy. So, in the light of all that, we felt the best thing to do was to celebrate the contribution she has made to country music in particular over the course of her hugely successful career. In choosing tracks to play on this week’s two hour Linda Ronstadt special I have leaned towards the many contemporary artists she championed including the aforementioned, JD Souther, whose beautiful song, Prisoner In Disguise, became the title track to one of her biggest mid-seventies albums.
There were others too. Linda covered Jackson Browne, her one time back up band, The Eagles, Karla Bonoff, Neil Young, The McGarrigle Sisters and her studio musicians included the super talented, Andrew Gold. She covered classic country by Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers and Patsy Cline and she found and reinvented traditional songs. She said she liked to be surrounded by talented musicians but she knew her way around music as she had been taught by her brother who, in turn, was taught by her father to play guitar. In the show you will hear the voices of some of the people whose songs she has made her own including, Jimmy Webb and Dolly Parton. You’ll hear songs in English and Spanish and you will enjoy her singing harmony with so many artists who asked her to contribute to their own projects including the greatest country singer of them all, George Jones.
Putting this show together was a labour of love. It all starts at five past eight this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland or any time you fancy after on BBC Sounds. Join me if you can.