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Linda Ronstadt on The Eagles, music and Parkinson's disease

21 June 2019

Linda Ronstadt talks to Andrew Threlfall about her incredible backing band, The Eagles, discusses her Parkinson's diagnosis, and names her one regret.

My backing band were The Eagles

"The very last song on my new album Live In Hollywood is me singing Desperado, the most beautiful song ever written by my very close friends Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles. It was a huge hit the first time I released it and it is the most popular song on the new album."

"It’s so wonderful to see The Eagles doing their world tour this year, and I find it just amazing to see Glenn’s son Deacon singing his Dad's parts on stage three years after he sadly passed. He looks just like him, it’s like a dynasty. I still remember the first time I heard Don Henley and Glenn Frey who became my backing band – I knew they were going to be massive stars.

"Can you believe it? I was so lucky to have Don and Glenn literally stood behind me on stage as I embarked on my career. Looking back, I probably knew that they would be the biggest American group of all time.

“I still speak to my old friend Don. He is an amazing fundraiser for so many great causes and incredibly supportive of all the work I try to do for Parkinson's charities. He even canvasses for official recognition of my career and would not stop asking for me to be inducted in to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.

Learning to sing

“I really wasn’t a very good singer when I had Don and Glenn in my backing band. They were a lot better than I was. I was singing at two years of age but I don’t think I really became a good singer until I was 40. I have the heart and voice of an emotional and really loud Mexican singer – it’s not from rock ‘n’ roll and not from the blues that I learned how to sing pop music.

“If you really want to know my singing style, go on YouTube and look up Chavela Vargos  singing a song call Paloma Negra. Everything I know about singing is in that record. Hers is an incredible story because she was the great lover of Frida Kahlo but because she was gay, she was discriminated against in Mexico, so she left for Europe where she made an amazing comeback and then became famous again in Mexico. She was the best singer of Mexican folk music."

Why I had to sing in Spanish

"Performing my concerts I eventually got so sick of the repetition of singing my big hits like Blue Bayou that I realised the only way to leave it behind was to stop singing in English and move over to Spanish. At the time I just got so bored of them – I just needed to give the English language a rest.

“I had enough power with my record company that I just told them ‘I’m doing this Mexican album that I had wanted to sing for years. This is what you’re getting, and you have to like it.’ Only in 1980 did I really learn how to sing for the first time. because I started to sing Mexican music full time. To their credit, my record label put their shoulder to the wheel and helped to promote it and it won several Grammys."

"My family in Arizona lived directly across the wall from Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s house over the border in Mexico and my uncle actually collected their original art. My family were friends with Frida and when I was young they would tell me about her. I was fascinated, under her spell."

Linda Ronstadt’s one regret

"The song I deeply regret turning down is ‘Make You Feel My Love’ which Bob Dylan offered to me. I had a newborn baby at the time and I informed everyone around me ‘Please don’t let anybody contact me for work for a few weeks’. And weeks later I was told that Bob had been in touch to ask me to sing it. Years later it became a huge hit for Adele – when I heard that I said to myself “Oh my God I wish they’d offered it me again!”.

Linda Ronstadt and Parkinson's disease

One of the biggest selling female artists of the 70s and 80s amassing over 100 million album sales worldwide, Linda Ronstadt last played live in 2009. Three years later in 2012 she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“And I knew that I couldn’t hum along to the songs in the shower because of my Parkinson’s. So I just stopped overnight. Thankfully, I’ve just released my first-ever live album called Live in Hollywood but sadly I can’t sing along with the girl on the record from 1980.”

She turns 73 in July, and reflects with a degree of wistfulness but never with any sense of bitterness about how her singing voice has now completely disappeared. “I’m hopeful that they will find something new that can slow down this debilitating disease but I am not sure it will happen in my lifetime.”

As one of the world’s most famous sufferers of the illness she is determined to raise awareness and much-needed funds to help others less fortunate than herself. The scale of her work on behalf of others is staggering. This, she attributes, to the support she has received, which “has overwhelmed” her.

"Michael J Fox has been extremely helpful in putting me in touch with certain doctors but I have a very atypical type of Parkinson’s so the drugs that usually work on conventional Parkinson’s don’t work on me and actually make me sicker. The search for the right medicine has been very difficult but Michael’s Foundation have been very helpful and I speak to him on the phone from time to time.”

True to the thoughtful and caring person she is, Linda smiles when she tells me:

“I try to fundraise as much as possible for Parkinson’s causes. In fact I went to Mexico this week taking 20 schoolchildren with me on a cultural music exchange with a dance group. I was determined to go even though flying with Parkinson’s is very, very difficult for me. I flew in first class to my old home city of Tucson, Arizona and then we drove the rest of the way across the borders. I hoped it would be ok to manage a five-day trip to Mexico. To cope with the discomfort. Just.”

It would be entirely inaccurate to say that there is no stopping Linda. Her voice might have been a force of nature, but she is astute enough to know that her health is likely to deteriorate albeit slowly. But this is a lady who is steadfastly determined to wring the most of her life.

Linda Ronstadt live in Hollywood

Recorded on April 24, 1980, at Television Center Studios in Hollywood, the concert captures Ronstadt at the peak of her reign as America’s most popular female rock singer. For Live In Hollywood, Ronstadt selected 12 of her favourite performances from the original concert.

Linda Ronstadt’s Live in Hollywood album highlights 12 performances from her acclaimed 1980 HBO Special. Previously unreleased recordings, including “You’re No Good”, are available on the CD and LP.

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