Linda Ronstadt - vocals
Andrew Gold - guitar, vocals
Dan Dugmore - guitar, pedal steel guitar, violin, banjo
Waddy Wachtel - bass
Rob Walsh - keyboards
Mike Botts - drums
Peter Asher - vocals on "Lose Again"
1975 was a breakthrough year for Ronstadt and this performance at Berkeley's Greek Theater captures that magic moment in time. Ronstadt was certainly on a roll, having released Heart Like A Wheel the previous year, perhaps her most perfectly realized album, which went on to spend an entire year near the top of the charts. "You're No Good" would sail right to the top of the singles charts, followed by a series of singles that would also become major hits on the Country and Adult Contemporary charts. Billboard Magazine named Ronstadt the top female pop artist of the year and she would grace the cover of Rolling Stone.
Just days prior to this recording, Ronstadt's eagerly awaited follow-up album, Prisoner In Disguise was released, which would continue to cement her success. Although Ronstadt wasn't a songwriter herself, she was personal friends with many of the best songwriters of the era and her keen sensibilities at choosing their songs, as well as classics songs by the likes of Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly, proved her to be a gifted interpreter. Ronstadt's immediately recognizable soprano had an edge that few other singers of the era possessed.
This particular concert is also notable for being her first public performance following the release of Prisoner In Disguise and the first time Waddy Wachtel (who would soon become a ubiquitous presence in Ronstadt's, as well as countless others' music) performed with her band. Wachtel joined the entourage as a last minute replacement of bassist Kenny Edwards, who had taken ill and was unable to play this show. As Ronstadt explains at the beginning of this recording, they had little time to rehearse, so the set will not be focusing on her new album material. While this might seem initially disappointing, what we are treated to instead is a performance featuring an excellent cross-section of her best material from the past few years, including quite a few choice songs from Heart Like A Wheel.
The recording kicks off with Ronstadt's immediately captivating take on Buddy Holly's "That'll Be The Day," which would soon become another huge hit. Following this, she delves back to her roots with a lovely cover of Dick Reynolds and Jack Rhodes classic country number "Silver Threads & Golden Needles," a song she had been singing since her earliest performances fronting The Stone Poneys back in the late 1960s.
Tapping in to Heart Like A Wheel material, Lowell George's classic truck driver anthem, "Willin'," is up next. Ronstadt was one of the first people to recognize the timelessness of this great song and her rendition, as well as her constant press interview mentions of Lowell George and his band, Little Feat, would go a long way toward bringing them national attention. Another Heart Like A Wheel track follows, with her rendition of "It Doesn't Matter Anymore." This Paul Anka song, initially made famous by Buddy Holly & The Crickets, shows Ronstadt's innate ability to deliver a vocal that is both powerful, yet vulnerable, simultaneously. The same can be said about her reading of the Everly Brothers' classic "When Will I Be Loved" later in the set.
The audience is also treated to a preview of a song she would record the following year, "Lose Again," where she invites her manager, Peter Asher (formerly of the British Invasion duo Peter & Gordon) to join the group on backing vocals. The last four songs of the set are a tour-de-force performance, first returning to Heart Like A Wheel material with a new arrangement of J.D. Souther's "Faithless Love," followed by a terrific take on Hank Williams' "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)." The latter would earn Ronstadt a Grammy the following year for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. The show nears the end with her definitive take on "Desperado," a nod to her former band (which became The Eagles).
The new album, released just days before this performance is not completely ignored. In addition to Ronstadt's take on James Taylor's "Hey Mr. That's Me Up On The Jukebox," earlier in the show, she closes her set by announcing a new Neil Young song, "Love Is A Rose." This song, which Young himself had revamped out of his own "Dance, Dance, Dance," written several years before, would soon become another classic for Ronstadt, whose version on "Prisoner In Disguise" would become definitive, even compared to Young's own version of the song.
Every artist who achieves career longevity inevitably has recordings that are perceived as career defining moments. For Linda Ronstadt, those albums were Heart Like A Wheel and Prisoner In Disguise. This remarkable performance perfectly captures the live facet of that special moment in time. As this set so clearly illustrates, Ronstadt could effortlessly vacillate between a heartbroken vulnerability to a gutsy rocker and this versatility made her irresistibly sexy and vocally captivating, regardless of musical categories. These elements combined to make Ronstadt the first female rock 'n' roll superstar of the 1970s.