Updated: Jan 11, 2020
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Linda Ronstadt wears a Cub Scout uniform during a performance with Emmylou Harris in the 1970s.
“LINDA RONSTADT: THE SOUND OF MY VOICE”
Blu-ray; 2019; unrated; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Only extra is a few added interviews
THERE ARE a handful of voices among women singers that are immediately recognizable. In 1987 three of those extraordinary voices came together to make an album: “Trio” featured the heavenly harmonies of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt. In Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s (“The Times of Harvey Milk”) excellent documentary, “Linda Ronstadt: Hear My Voice,” Parton and Harris pay moving tribute to their “Trio” sister.
Ronstadt is now 73 years old and has been living with Parkinson’s disease for more than 10 years, one result of which is the loss of her magnificent voice. The documentary covers Ronstadt’s career, during which she became a mega-star beginning in the 1970s, produced 11 platinum albums, won 10 Grammys, and was recently honored at the Kennedy Center.
Born in Tuscon, Arizona, of Mexican and German descent, Ronstadt grew up surrounded by singing — much of it in Spanish by her father, whose voice Ronstadt praises generously. From her folk/rock days as a member of the Stone Poneys, to reaching the heights as a solo rock star, to her famous relationship with California Governor Jerry Brown, the film intersperses archival footage with recent interviews. Music luminaries, such as Jackson Browne, Parton, Harris, Bonnie Raitt, producer Peter Asher, and Karla Bonoff talk about their friendships and professional interactions with Ronstadt, many remarking on her independence, perfectionism, and modesty. Producers recall arguing with her about her choices to go in different musical directions — operetta (“The Pirates of Penzance”); old standards; traditional Mexican songs — each time, warning her she might be jeopardizing her career, but each time being proven dramatically wrong. When discussing her illness, Ronstadt doesn’t display the slightest bit of self-pity. She says her decades-long career was more than she’d ever dreamed, considers herself lucky to have had such a full and fulfilling life and, as is shown in the final scene of the film, still joins family members in song, with what little of her voice remains.
Now 73, Linda Ronstadt watches dancers and singers during a festival in Banamichi, Mexico, 200 miles south of her hometown Tucson, Arizona.
(1&2) Linda's family lived on her grandfather's cattle ranch outside of Tucson. She was surrounded by singers, who spoke in English but sang in Spanish. (3&4) At 18, Linda headed to the L.A. music scene as the lead singer for the Stone Poneys. Soon the record label eyed her for a solo career.
This Greenwich Entertainment Blu-ray looks and sounds state-of-the-art, while archival clips exhibit varying levels of quality.
The solitary extra, three paltry “Additional Interviews,” is disappointing. Even a few extended performance segments would have made this a more satisfying package. The added interviews include one with songwriter Karla Bonoff, who met Ronstadt because Bonoff was “the bass-player's (Kenny Edwards) girlfriend.” She describes the tremendous feeling she had the first time Ronstadt performed one of her songs in a concert. Bassist Waddy Wachtel talks about filling in for Edwards when he was sick. Wachtel sat in for two of Ronstadt’s shows and then later met her at a recording session — after which he joined her backup band.
Asher, who managed Ronstadt in addition to producing her albums, recalls her initial reaction to the arrangement of one of her biggest hits, “You’re No Good.” She didn’t like it at all, due to Andrew Gold’s guitar solo, which Ronstadt felt was much too “Beatles-ish.” Gold, in a brief archival clip, jokes about how he “desperately wanted to be one of the Beatles.” Asher notes that, after a while, Ronstadt changed her opinion of the arrangement, pronouncing it “great.” It went on to become her first single to reach Billboard’s number one.
— Peggy Earle
Interviews include singer/songwriters Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, ex-Rolling Stone journalist & director Cameron Crowe and singer/songwriter/ex-flame JD Souther.
(1) Linda's first Rolling Stone cover - December 1976. (2) Newsweek cover - April 1979, highlighting her romance with California Gov. Jerry Brown. (3) Linda was the hottest female artist of the 1970s, earning a string of platinum-selling albums and Top 40 singles in Rock, Pop, and Country. (4) In the early 1990s, Linda returned to her Mexican roots with two albums in Spanish.
Earlier this year, the effects of Parkinson’s disease were evident when Linda joined her nephew Peter Ronstadt and cousin Bobby during an informal singing session.
“I don’t have that note in my speaking range anymore. This isn’t really singing. Believe me, it’s a few notes.” The interviewer asks, “Are you enjoying it?” Linda responds, “Well, I would enjoy it much more if I could sing, but I can’t let them sing this without me. It’s a family thing.”