Linda Ronstadt Had Serious Reservations About ‘Live in Hollywood': Exclusive Interview
Most artists stick with a repetitively upbeat message when promoting a new project, but the always-honest Linda Ronstadt isn't most artists.
In fact, she's expressing doubts about a new concert recording called Live in Hollywood, taken from a performance orchestrated for broadcast by HBO in 1980.
“There’s two problems: One is that it was recorded for television," Ronstadt says in an exclusive interview with UCR. "The sound was really compressed and there wasn’t a lot that we could do about it. [Producer] John Boylan did a lot to fix it, but he couldn’t bring it back to true hi-fi. A lot of the instruments and my vocal especially, there’s a lot of story up at the top end of my voice and if that’s not recorded, you lose a lot of the story. But the other thing was, I was happy because it was a good band. The band played really well. It’s just that I can’t really listen to my own singing objectively. I just always say, ‘Why did I do that stupid lick?’ or ‘Why did I sing that?’ ‘That note was nice, but this one next to it was bad.’ It’s a fool’s errand."
Ronstadt was joined on April 24, 1980, at Television Center Studios by an eight-piece group that included manager Peter Asher (who serves as a percussionist and backup singer at the show), her one-time Stone Poneys bandmate Kenny Edwards, guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Dan Dugmore, Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne, vocalist Wendy Waldman and the rhythm section of bassist Bob Glaub and drummer Russ Kunkel. The chemistry they enjoyed onstage with Ronstadt is obvious.
Still, it took a little bit of blind luck for Live in Hollywood to see the light of day. Boylan's initial efforts to surface the master tapes for the concert were unsuccessful. HBO had no record of the tapes. A subsequent attempt to locate the masters at Warner Bros. also came up empty.
The next day, Boylan drove his teenage son to practice. Hanging out with the other “hockey dads” that he had become friends with, he had a conversation with Craig Anderson, who happened to be employed at Warner Bros. as an audio engineer. Sharing his plight, Boylan and Anderson talked about what could have been. The following morning, Boylan received a phone call from Anderson, who was excited to say he had found the elusive recordings, filed under a different project name.
Watch Linda Ronstadt Perform 'You're No Good'
“I have no way of calculating the odds of finding the lost tapes through a chance encounter at a hockey practice,” Boylan writes in the liner notes for Live in Hollywood. “But they must be astronomical – like winning the lottery.”
Only then was Ronstadt brought in to help choose the 12 songs that made the final album run-down – though “with my hands over my ears,” she quips.
“It wasn’t anything I did deliberately, believe me,” Ronstadt adds, with a hearty laugh. “I think the stuff that’s sleeping in there should be left to lie. Because there was usually a reason why we didn’t put it out, because we didn’t think it was good enough. In this case, it would have been that it was not recorded for anything but television.”
Whatever her reservations, Live in Hollywood is revealed as a nearly perfect overview of Ronstadt’s career to that point – and an important live document of her incredible talents as an interpreter of other people’s songs. Among the highlights are Warren Zevon's “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,” Little Feat’s “Willin’” and “Desperado” from the Eagles, just to name a few.
Turns out, there's a reason the now-retired Ronstadt hadn't released a live album before: She always preferred the meticulous experience of working in the studio – "because if you played it wrong, you could fix it. You know, that was the proper environment for that," she says.
"Although, I got to know the songs a lot better live," Ronstadt adds. "You know, I’d learn them in the studio and then by the time we’d have them on the road for 10 days, I’d sing them so much better. So, a live record would have made sense, but Peter and I just thought that you go to the studio and you make a record!"