Torchy Rock. That was the title Time Magazine gave to singer Linda Ronstadt back in 1977. This was at a time when women were not as well respected in the music industry, especially if they created music that had been carried solely by men. By this time in her career, Ronstadt had only been solo since 1968. She had been part of a folk-oriented trio called The Stone Poneys and would go on to collaborate with country-oriented rock musicians, including future members of the Eagles.
While Ronstadt was still with The Stone Poneys, she allowed herself to try a different array of music and styles. Her first hit in the group, "Different Drum", a cover of Mike Nesmith, showcased her ability to sing a mixture of songs and grow as a singer. Other songs such as "One For One", "Sweet Summer Blue And Gold", and "Some Of Shelly's Blues" only solidified Ronstadt as a vocal force.
In 1969, her debut solo album, "Hand Sown, Home Grown", was in fact a commercial failure. Selling only 10,000 copies before her next album release. However, the release of the album did gain her some traction on live television shows and performances.
In 1972, she released her third studio album. That album, as well, only charted at No. 163 on the Billboard pop chart. However, that album helped create the Eagles. "Glenn asked if I'd like to go on the road with Linda Ronstadt's band, and I said: 'You bet I do,'" Henley said in an interview in 2008. "I was broke, and here was a chance for $200 a week. We went out for a month or two, and Glenn and I struck up this great friendship. That's when we started plotting to put a band together."
She released, "Heart Like A Wheel", her fifth solo album to chart-topping success. With tracks including "You're No Good", "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)", and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore", commentator Stephen Thomas Erlewine described it as "a landmark of '70s mainstream pop/rock.". Those that reviewed her album praised her vocal control and vocal improvements. While most of the songs she put out were covers, her vocal abilities captured her audience's attention.
In 1976, the album was nominated for four Grammys. She won Best Country Vocal Performance, Female for the track, "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love with You)". She was also nominated for Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female.
In the 80s and 90s, Ronstadt decided to branch out. She starred in the Broadway version of "The Pirates of Penzance" as well as the film version. She even decided to go back to her roots with releasing Spanish-language singles, "Canciones de mi padre", "Mas canciones", and "Frenesí" - all three winning Grammy Awards. "I grew up listening to Mexican music. My family is Mexican, and I always identified as Mexican culturally," Ronstadt said in an interview, "This was music that I learned from my grandfather,
and he learned from his father and that I learned again from my father. I remember my dad singing in Spanish and playing on the guitar, harmonizing with his brothers and my grandfather singing and playing on the solo guitar. And then on Saturday afternoons, my father would play records by Los Panchos, Trío Calaveras, Trío Tariácuri, Lola Beltrán, Mariachi Vargas. I loved all these records, and I wanted to sing them, but only knew part of the words. I didn’t speak very good Spanish as a child, so I thought Spanish
was the language you sang in and English was the language you spoke. To me, Spanish was always a musical language."
I think what made her the most recognized in the music industry was her long-awaited collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris in their two albums, "Trio" in 1987 and "Trio II" in 1999. Tracks off the albums include "To Love Him Is To Know Him", "Telling Me Lies", "These Memories Of You", and "Wildflowers". While many of these were covers, the vocal performances delivered by the three women made the tracks sweet and melodic with seamless harmony.
In recent years, Ronstadt revealed that she was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy that made it difficult for her to sing and perform, thus leading to her retirement. In 2014, Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the National Medal of Honor. She also received a lifetime achievement award from the Latin Recording Academy in 2011. For someone who began with humble Mexican roots in Arizona in 1946, for some, Ronstadt will go on to be known as the
"First Lady of Rock" for her rock/country "arena" rock that she helped popularize.
Written by Gabrielle Thompson