I was fifteen years old that year, at a new school where it seemed everyone - from students to teachers to administration - was in full rebellion. No more required Latin or French, or even a requirement to show up for class. Although when you did, class was rigorous and you were expected to carry your weight. Andrew Gold was there, so was my dear friend from birth Peter Bernstein, and many other children of people in the entertainment industry.
In those days I was playing the blues and funky mountain music (Blind Willie McTell and Doc Boggs) to my composer father’s horror. I was buying obscure blues and folk releases through Dad’s Grammy account, which explains albums by Robert Johnson King (of the Delta Blues), the Monk solo LP, and many others (when they were first released, not as reissues!). I hadn’t yet met Taj, but I would shortly.
Our brilliant history teacher was from Arizona, a guy named Ken Waldman. He had grown up there, and had gone for his masters at Harvard in Boston. Now, this fellow loved music - and happened to know young Linda Ronstadt very well from their youth. In Boston, he spent a lot of time at the Club 47 meeting all kinds of now legendary folk pioneers. One day, he presented a little concert at our school - a lunchtime affair. He told me I should show up because I would like the band, he thought. And out walked the Stone Poneys: beautiful young Linda Ronstadt, barefoot in a short dress and fabulous huge hoop earrings; Bobby Kimmel ever looking like the beatnik uncle; and Kenny Edwards, towering like the dark prince he was even in those early days. I LOVED this band, but ironically primarily and because of Kenny. I wanted to play like him, to phrase like him, to play WITH him, to get close to him because I felt like I was looking at my musical brother.
And I did.
But at the same time, as the soup was cooking all throughout Los Angeles in the early 70s, we were all friends. I became close with Linda Ronstadt and others because we were all basically one crowd. Some rose higher than others in the world of pop music, but we remained connected throughout and even until today, as those early years were very special.
In 1980, I was in need of work. I’d done a bunch of critically acclaimed (ah, yes) records, a bunch of hard touring, and had wound up unemployed in the heat of the emerging disco era.
I had a last minute opportunity to tour with Linda and her band, and to perform TWO OF MY OWN SOLO works in the middle of her concert, while she and the band took a break! Every night, in front of 10-30,000 people, I stood alone onstage and sang “Mad Mad Me” accompanied only by the stunning Bill Payne on piano.
We toured in Lear jets, to my everlasting terror, and we lived for three weeks in a fabulous hotel in New York City. Linda and Kenny and I at one point flew in the Lear to Three Mile Island to play with Pete Seeger. These were command performances: given my terror of flying in those days, there was no choice as I was a hired gun and if she said “sing,” I sang.
That tour was a blast, and it was a life changer for me. I subsequently wrote the music for ‘Which Way to Main Street,’ and found new footing as an artist - and also wound up going to Nashville… but that’s another story.
Linda and I are still friends. We talk occasionally, and I’m very proud of her. I was proud of her every time she took a chance and did different music, and I supported her quite vocally when she doubted.
I believe that the world has vastly underestimated the tremendous influence Linda has had on American popular culture. She took music that mainstream fans might not understand in the hands of its original creators - such as the McGarrigles and other interesting but more esoteric (like me) artists, and made these songs popular for everyone. She brought us the Eagles, she showed us great country songs, great songwriter music, great Mariachi music, great interpretations of Rolling Stones songs, Lowell George songs, Jimmy Webb songs, classical songs - you name it, on and on.
She made us see the greatly wider possibilities in music - for all of us. Oh yes, and all of this when it was a hell of a lot harder for a woman to dominate in her field.
We filmed these tunes: I think Linda and I were on some kind of diet at that point. I’ve always laughed at how I looked but I gotta say, if you have any doubt, check out these masterful musicians. Any questions? THIS is how you do it. And no protools editing (and you know I love my protools). But this is the result of hard, hard touring for years and years. That’s how Linda sold 100 million records, and how these guys could play like a freight train, and most still do. There are some here who are deeply missed but I’m glad we’ve got this document, something that used to be called… a record.
- Wendy Waldman (Northridge, CA - February 2019)