Happy 73rd birthday to Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Linda Ronstadt, born July 15th, 1946, in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to her mid-Seventies dominance as rock’s premier female artist, Ronstadt also delivered impassioned performances of country songs throughout, and beyond, that era, with crossover hits including the Everly Brothers’ “When Will I Be Loved,” Neil Young’s “Love Is a Rose,” and her Grammy-winning take on Hank Williams’ “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You).”
Also faithful to the origins of country music were the members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose landmark 1972 three-record set Will the Circle Be Unbroken featured legends such as Mother Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff, Doc Watson, Merle Travis and more. Having previously included the songs “Honky Tonkin’” and “Jambalaya (on the Bayou)” on their early Seventies albums, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band were more eclectic on 1975’s Symphonion Dream but included a Williams cover, spotlighting Ronstadt for good measure.
In late 1974, the two acts merged onstage at a taping for the ABC late-night music series, Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. In an episode which also featured John Hartford, and a standup comedy routine from rising star Steve Martin, the Dirt Band and Ronstadt, joined by legendary fiddle player Vassar Clements, returned to Hank Williams’ iconic catalogue to rip through a rollicking version of the 1951 classic, “Hey, Good Lookin’,” which spent eight weeks atop the country chart for Williams upon its original release. Included on Symphonion Dream, and sung by Ronstadt with the group’s Jimmy Ibbotson, the guitarist introduces the song by telling the crowd that the two acts had previously played shows together and had included the song in some of those concert performances. “It blows me out. I got permission from my wife to do it and everything,” he says, a quip that elicits a thunderous reaction from the audience. In spite of a few flubbed lyrics along the way, it’s a joyful reminder of Ronstadt’s vocal ferocity and the band’s long-lived virtuosity.
Ibbotson, who first left the group in 1976, would rejoin them in the early Eighties, staying in the lineup until 2004. As the Dirt Band in 1980, they were joined by Ronstadt on “An American Dream,” a Top Fifteen pop single written by Rodney Crowell. Their 2016 live LP, Circling Back: Celebrating 50 Years, was recorded at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
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Linda Ronstadt retired from singing following her 2013 diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. Now living in San Francisco, she saw the release of her first-ever concert album, Live in Hollywood, earlier this year.