Linda Ronstadt - vocals; John Boylan - acoustic guitar; Richard Bowden - lead guitar, vocals; Ed Black - pedal steel guitar; Chris Darrow - fiddle; Mike Bowden - bass; Mickey McGee - drums
Prior to Linda Ronstadt becoming one of the most successful mainstream artists of the seventies, she had initially established herself as a critical component during the development of the Los Angeles country-rock scene. Blessed with a powerful and immediately recognizable soprano, Ronstadt's voice had an edge that few other singers of the era possessed. Her early recordings as the frontwoman of The Stone Poneys, as well as her first two solo albums, were firmly entrenched in the country-rock aesthetic of the times. These albums primarily concentrated on the softer aspects of her voice as applied to country and folk songs. Her initial recognition as a solo artist came in 1970 when she recorded Gary White's moving ballad, "Long, Long Time," for her Silk Purse album, generating a hit single and proving that she could sing in a beautifully mellow manner. Although Ronstadt wasn't a songwriter herself, she was personal friends with many of the best of the era and her keen sensibilities at choosing their songs, as well as classics by the likes of Hank Williams, the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly, proved her to be one of the most gifted interpreters of her generation.
Live recordings of Linda Ronstadt prior to 1974 are extremely scarce, which makes this 1972 performance, recorded at the comfortable outdoor setting of the Music Inn in Lenox, MA, a particular treat. Recorded shortly after the release of her self titled 1972 album for Capitol Records, this captures Ronstadt performing with an outstanding group of musicians that not only featured the Bowden Brothers and John Boylan, but also included drummer Mickey McGee, the talented pedal steel guitarist Ed Black and Chris Darrow on fiddle. This remarkable performance perfectly encapsulates the earlier phase of Ronstadt's career.
The recording begins with Ronstadt clearly defining her earlier style and form on Patsy Cline's signature song, "I Fall To Pieces." Following this, she delivers 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. The gospel quality Ronstadt brings to Jackson Browne's "Rock Me On The Water" indicates the kind of sensitivity she would later bring to the singer/songwriter material that made her a superstar in the years to come. The audience, sprawled over the comfortable lawn of this natural sloping amphitheater, are next treated to rare live performances of "Lightning Bar Blues," a terrific cover of the Ray Price classic, "Crazy Arms," and the engaging country flavored rocker, "How Long." Following band introductions, Ronstadt turns the microphone over to lead guitarist Richard Bowden, who delivers a hilarious monologue which leads into his equally humorous "Mail Order Dog." The remainder of Ronstadt's set is a powerhouse of her strongest early material. John D. Loudermilk's psychedelic country rocker, "Break My Mind," a rip-roaring cover of the Fontella Bass soul standard, "Rescue Me," and "Lovesick Blues" all display the more powerful aspects of Ronstadts' remarkable voice. And of course "Long, Long Time" brings out the lovely and sad emotional qualities that were essential to her best early work. Unlike the slicker sound of her later years, the raw straightforward approach applied to this performance is at the essence of its appeal.
Every artist who achieves career longevity inevitably has recordings that are perceived as career defining moments. For Linda Ronstadt, those albums would be Heart Like A Wheel and Prisoner In Disguise, both realized over the next few years. However, this remarkable performance perfectly captures the elements leading up to those commercial breakthroughs. As this set begins to illustrate, Ronstadt could easily vacillate between heartbroken vulnerability and gutsy rocking. Although still raw and unpolished, her innate charm and versatility made her irresistibly sexy and vocally captivating, regardless of musical categories. These elements would all soon combine to make Ronstadt the first female rock 'n' roll superstar of the 1970s.