In 1980, after years of playing her songs on the radio, I went to see Linda Ronstadt in concert when she toured to support her album “Mad Love.” Afterwards, I was talking with my father about her, as well as Pat Benatar (who I had seen a few months earlier), and asked, “How do such powerful voices come out of such small women?” He smiled and replied with an answer from his own generation: “Ah, you’re asking me the Judy Garland question.”
That year, Ronstadt recorded a concert for HBO at Television Center Studios in Hollywood with a band that included legendary musicians like Russell Kunkel, Danny Kortchmar, and Peter Asher. After the show aired several times, it went on a shelf somewhere and stayed there.
In the summer of 2016, John Boylan, Ronstadt’s managment consultant, was digging around online, looking for unauthorized releases of her music, when he came upon a DVD of that concert. It turned out to be a copy of the HBO show recorded off a television, so not the greatest quality, but Boylan started to search for something better. Ronstadt’s company owned the audio and video rights to that show, but didn’t have a clean copy. It wasn’t in her storage locker, and HBO had no record of it, either. The next day, Boylan took his son to a hockey practice and started talking with the goalie’s father, Craig Anderson, who happened to be an audio engineer at Warner Brothers, her music label at the time. He said he’d look for the master of the concert, which he found the next day deep in the archives and transferred to high resolution digital audio.
When Boylan played the concert for Ronstadt, she was thrilled and chose her favorite twelve songs from the 80-minute show so they could be packaged as a CD entitled “Linda Ronstadt, Live In Hollywood,” which has just been released by Rhino.
It’s terrific. Ronstadt never sounded better. She had both power and finesse in her vocals, able to handle rockers like “How Do I Make You” and “You’re No Good” as well as ballads like “Hurt So Bad” and “Desperado.” She was crisp and clean on the a cappella portions of “Willin'” (a Little Feat song in which she was accompanied by that band’s pianist, Billy Payne) and when she hit the high note at the end of “Blue Bayou,” my wife and I both spontaneously remarked, “Wow!”
Unfortunately, Ronstadt’s singing voice has been silenced in recent years by Parkinson’s Disease, but listening to her on this long-lost concert recording was a very pleasurable flashback.