Ladies Shaking Up Music – Part 2

Celebrating female artists in blues, country, jazz, rock & roll, soul and pop

Here’s the second part of my two-part post that celebrates some of the amazing female music artists I admire. Part I, which you can read here, covered Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, as well as 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominees Carole King and Tina Turner. I wouldn’t argue with you, if you’d tell me the aforementioned artists are obvious choices. Undoubtedly, three of the female music artists in this second installment fall in the same category. If you’re curious about my two remaining selections, I encourage you to read on. I also have a fun encore.

Bonnie Raitt

Since my often mentioned dear longtime German music friend introduced me to Bonnie Raitt more than 30 years ago, I’ve dug her both as a terrific slide guitarist and a genuine no BS type of artist. Not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time I’m covering Raitt. I also got to see her live in New Jersey in August 2016, which was really cool, and wrote about here. Raitt who grew up in a musical family started playing the guitar as an eight-year-old, teaching herself by listening to blues records. After three years in college studying Social Relations and African Studies, she decided to drop out and follow her real calling: music. Since her eponymous debut from November 1971, 16 additional studio albums have appeared to date. Her most recent release is Dig In Deep from February 2016. My aforementioned concert was part of the supporting tour for that album. Here’s one of my all-time Bonnie Raitt favorites: Angel From Montgomery, a great tune written and first recorded by John Prine for his 1971 eponymous debut. Raitt covered the song on her fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt may “only” have been a cover artist (the same is pretty much true for Bonnie Raitt), but what an amazing and versatile vocalist! There’s a reason why she’s so widely admired. And why she’s the only female artist with five platinum-certified U.S. albums in a row in the ’70s. Between 1969 and 2004, Ronstadt released 24 studio albums in genres that varied from country and rock to traditional Mexican music, jazz and even Broadway/operetta. This woman could sing anything! In 2000, she started noticing something was wrong with her voice. During an April 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star Ronstadt officially stated she had retired from music. Two years later, she disclosed her diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease. If you’d like to learn more about this incredible artist, I’d encourage you to watch the 2019 documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice. Or you can read this previous post. Here’s her pretty rendition of Neil Young tune Love Is a Rose, the opener of her sixth solo album Prisoner in Disguise from September 1975. That release was second of the above noted five platinum records in a row.

Sheryl Crow

If I recall it correctly, the first Sheryl Crow tune I heard was All I Wanna Do from her great 1993 debut Tuesday Night Music Club. I liked her style of catchy pop rock from the get-go and have pretty much listened to her ever since. To date, Crow has released 10 additional studio albums. When putting out her most recent one, Threads, in August 2019, which I reviewed here, Crow said it would probably be her final full-length album. She cited changed listening habits of most music consumers who compile their own playlists with songs from different artists rather than listening to entire albums from one artist. In the age of music streaming, that’s certainly easier than never before. While I still believe in albums, I have to admit most of the time, I listen to playlists as well! One of my favorite Cheryl Crow tunes is from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. Co-written by Crow and her longtime collaborator Jeff Trott, it’s appropriately titled If It Makes You Happy. Indeed, it does!

Tierinii Jackson

Chances are this is the first time you hear of Tierinii Jackson, the lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, the latter name could ring a bell. This band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B, and is one of most exciting contemporary acts I know. Ever since I saw a post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast several years ago, I’ve followed the group and have since seen them twice. They are a fantastic live act. To date, Southern Avenue have released two albums: an eponymous debut (February 2017) and Keep On from May 2019. Recently, guitarist Ori Naftaly said on their Facebook fan page the group’s third album is mostly in the can. It’s scheduled for later this year. BTW, I’ve had a chance to exchange a few words with Jackson who is a humble and down to earth person. When I asked her where she learned to sing like this, she casually replied in church. Time for a little demo! Here’s the powerful picker-upper Don’t Give Up, a tune from Southern Avenue’s first album, as captured live by yours truly during a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. in July 2019, the most recent time I saw them. While it was recorded with an aging iPhone, I think it gives you some idea what happens when Tierinii Jackson gets going. Multiply this by at least three and you probably have what being in the venue that evening felt like.

Molly Tuttle

The last artist I’d like to highlight is Molly Tuttle, who I feel is super-talented and has a great future ahead of her: The 28-year-old grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and has lived in Nashville since 2015. She comes from a musical family. Tuttle started playing guitar at the age of eight and three years later already performed on stage with her father, Jack Tuttle, a bluegrass multi-instrumentalist and teacher. She recorded her first album with him as a 13-year-old. In 2015, Tuttle joined the family band The Tuttles with AJ Lee, featuring her father and siblings, along with mandolist AJ Lee. Tuttle’s solo debut happened in October 2012 with the EP Rise. That same year, her impressive guitar skills were recognized by the International Bluegrass Association by awarding her Guitar Player of the Year, something she repeated in 2018. Among other accolades, Tuttle also won Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2018 Americana Music Awards. Here’s her terrific rendition of The Rolling Stones’ She’s a Rainbow from her most recent album …but I’d rather be with you from August 2020. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune originally appeared on the Stones’ 1967 studio album Their Satanic Majesties Request. Check out Tuttle’s incredibly fluid guitar-playing. This is just awesome! In case you’re wondering about Tuttle’s, she’s living with a condition called alopecia universalis, which results in total body hair loss. Usually, she wears wigs.

I’d like to wrap up things with where I started this two-part post: Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I just couldn’t resist to present the following compilation clip of her guitar solos as an encore. Tharpe was a true gospel rock star who among others played a white badass Gibson SG! In case you weren’t aware, now you know where Chuck Berry learned a trick or two. The one caveat is the footage wasn’t published under Tharpe’s name or by a record company, so it’s hard to tell how long this clip will stay on YouTube. Let’s enjoy while it lasts!

Sources: Wikipedia; Southern Avenue Facebook fan page; YouTube

You’re So Good, Baby, You’re So Good

A tribute to the amazing voice and versatility of Linda Ronstadt

The other night, I caught the great documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice on CNN. While I had been well aware of Linda Ronstadt’s amazing vocals, I had not fully appreciated her musical versatility. I’d like to focus this post on the latter, since it’s safe to assume her biography has been covered a million times.

Yes, Ronstadt “only” performed music written by others, which perhaps in part explains why it took me so long to write about her. But it would be a serious mistake to underappreciate her. You don’t need to take it from me.

Let’s start with a few comments from other artists I dig, who are featured in the documentary. “Linda could literally sing anything” (Dolly Parton). “Linda was the queen. She was what Beyoncé is right now” (Bonnie Raitt). “Linda was a very determined woman” (Don Henley). “There’s just no one that will have a voice like Linda’s” (Emmylou Harris). “Try following Linda Ronstadt every night” (Jackson Browne).

Linda Ronstadt Feb 2019
Linda Ronstadt in Feb 2019

And then there’s Ronstadt’s sheer success. The documentary noted she “was the only female artist with five platinum albums in a row:” Heart Like a Wheel (November 1974), Prisoner in Disguise (September 1975), Hasten Down the Wind (August 1976), Simple Dreams (September 1977) and Living in the USA (September 1978). I assume that statement refers to the ’70s only. According to Wikipedia, Mad Love from February 1980 also hit platinum, which would actually make it six such albums in a row. Plus, there’s another series of five platinum records in a row Ronstadt released between September 1983 and October 1989.

Let’s get to some music. I’d like to kick things off with Rescue Me, from Ronstadt’s eponymous album, released January 1973, her third record. Co-written by Raynard Miner and Carl Smith, this nice rocker was recorded live at The Troubador in Los Angeles. In addition to Ronstadt’s great vocals, I’d like to call out her impressive backing band: Glenn Frey (guitar, backing vocals), Don Henley (drums, backing vocals) and Randy Meisner (backing vocals), along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow (pedal steel guitar), Moon Martin (guitar), Michael Bowden (bass). Among the album’s many other guests was Bernie Leadon. Following the record’s release and with Ronstadt’s approval Frey, Henley, Leadon and Meisner formed that other band called the Eagles.

When Will I Be Loved is one of the gems on Ronstadt’s breakthrough album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974. The Phil Everly tune nicely illustrates her ability to select great songs and make them her own. I dig the original by The Everly Brothers, but Ronstadt took it to another level. Apart from beautiful harmony singing, it’s the guitar work by Andrew Gold that stands out to me. Similar to her eponymous album, Heart Like a Wheel features an impressive array of guests, including Frey, Henley, J.D. Souther, Timothy B. Schmidt, Russ Kunkel, David Lindley and Emmylou Harris, among others. Once again, it goes to show great artists like to play with other great artists.

In September 1977, Ronstadt released her eighth studio album Simple Dreams, which became one of the most successful records of her entire career. Among others, it includes Blue Bayou, one of her best-known songs. And then there’s this fantastic version of Rolling Stones classic Tumbling Dice. Check out that great slide guitar solo by Waddy Wachtel, who in addition to electric also played acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals, together with Kenny Edwards. According to It Came With The Frame, Ronstadt at the time had a fling with Mick Jagger who helped her overcome challenges in mastering the song’s lyrics. That little help from her friend came to end when Bianca Jagger flew straight to California to confront her husband. Apparently, she actually liked Ronstadt as long as she didn’t get too cozy with Mick!

After having become one of the biggest female music artists on the planet and having firmly established herself in the country, pop and rock genres, Ronstadt took the gutsy decision to turn to Broadway in the summer of 1980. She became the lead in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, alongside actor and vocalist Kevin Kline. While people in the music industry tried to talk her out of it, saying it would be the end of her career, it all made perfect sense to Ronstadt. Her grandfather Fred Ronstadt had once created a musical arrangement of The Pirates of Penzance. Ronstadt also co-starred in the 1983 film version of the operetta, for which she won several Tony Awards and earned a Golden Globe nomination. Here’s Poor Wandering One.

During her Broadway and operetta phase and beyond, Ronstadt continued to release studio albums and took excursions into new musical territory.First up: An album of pop standards, ironically titled What’s New and featuring songs by the likes of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Sammy Kahn. It was the first in a trilogy of jazz-oriented albums. Again, Ronstadt’s record company Asylum and her manager Peter Asher were quite reluctant to produce such a record. But Don Henley didn’t call her “a very determined woman” for nothing, and in the end, the record label and Asher knew they couldn’t talk Ronstadt out of it. The album actually turned out to be a success, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and spending 81 weeks on the chart. Here’s Ronstadt’s take of I’ve Got a Crush On You, co-written by George Gershwin and his older brother Ira Gershwin.

In 1987, Ronstadt took yet another musical turn. Inspired by her Mexican heritage (her father Gilbert Ronstadt was of German, English and Mexican ancestry) and her exposure to Mexican music, which was sung by her family throughout her childhood, she recorded Canciones De Mi Padre, an album of traditional Mariachi music. Released in November 1987, it became the first of four Spanish language albums Ronstadt released. It also remains the biggest-selling non-English language album in American record history, with 2.5 million copies sold in the U.S. and nearly 10 million worldwide as of 2012. According to Wikipedia, it also is the only recording production that used the three best Mariachi bands in the world: Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Los Camperos and Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey. Ronstadt simply didn’t do anything half-ass! Here’s Tú Sólo Tú.

If you’re new to Linda Ronstadt, I suppose by now, nothing would really surprise you. Plus country isn’t perhaps as big a leap as operetta and Mariachi music. Here’s a tune from Trio II, the second country collaboration album Ronstadt recorded with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris: Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush. The album appeared in February 1999. I have to say I’ve rarely heard such beautiful harmony vocals. It’s like angels singing. And dare I add it as a huge Neil Young fan, I like Ronstadt’s take better than the original, which is one of my favorite Young tunes.

I’d like to wrap things up with one more song: Back in the U.S.A. Ronstadt’s cover of the Chuck Berry tune was the opener of Living in the USA, released in September 1978, her third and last record to peak the Billboard 200. Back in the U.S.A. also became the album’s lead single in August of the same year. Dan Dugmore and Waddy Wachtel on guitar and Don Grolnick on the piano do a beautiful job. Russ Kunkel (drums), Kenny Edwards (bass, backing vocals) and Peter Asher (backing vocals) round out the backing musicians.

Linda Ronstadt has had an exceptional career. In addition to having released more than 30 studio albums, including three no. 1 records on the Billboard 200, she has appeared on approximately 120 albums by other artists. According to her former producer and manager Peter Asher, Ronstadt has sold over 45 million albums in the U.S. alone. She has also produced for other artists like David Lindley, Aaron Neville and Jimmy Webb. In April 2014, Ronstadt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also became a Kennedy Center Honoree last year.

In a February 2019 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, Ronstadt said that it was in 2000 when she started noticing something was wrong with her voice. “I would start to sing and it would start clamp up. It was like a cramp. It was like a freeze…It’s very slow-moving this disease, so it took a really long time to fully manifest.” After these first signs, Ronstadt recorded one more album, Hummin’ to Myself, released in November 2004. During an April 2011 interview with the Arizona Daily Star, she said, “I’m 100 percent retired and I’m not doing anything any more. I’m at the ripe old age of getting to be 65 and I find that I don’t have the power that I had and that’s not worth inviting people to spend their money.”

While Parkinson’s is a bad disease, especially for a vocalist, Ronstadt is very gracious about it. “You know, I’m grateful for the time I had,” she said in the documentary. “I got to live a lot of my dreams and I feel lucky about it…Another person with Parkinson’s said that life after death isn’t the question. It’s life before death. So how you gonna do it? How you gonna live?” BTW, in good old CNN fashion to repeat content, the documentary airs again tonight at 9:00 pm ET and tomorrow (January 5, 12:00-2:00 am ET). If you like Linda Ronstadt, I highly recommend it.

Sources: Wikipedia; It Came With The Frame; CBS Sunday Morning; Arizona Daily Star; YouTube