Linda Ronstadt was rummaging through memories tucked in a dresser drawer not long ago and came across a cassette tape from another lifetime.
It was recorded at her home in California near the beach in Malibu in the mid-1970s. Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther had dropped by and the three of them were doing what they usually did when they got together at one another’s homes: playing music.
“We’d sit around and someone would pull out a guitar. ‘You writing any songs?’ ‘Oh, this is a new one,’” she recalled earlier this month during a phone call from San Francisco to talk about her Tucson homecoming next weekend.
On that night, Browne pulled out “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” written by Warren Zevon.
“Jackson was producing his record at the time and he said, ‘You got to learn this song,’” she recalled. “I was always trying to get Jackson’s new song or J.D.’s new song, but they also made their own albums so they would save them for their own records. They were kind of stingy giving them to me, so I would get them after they recorded them.”
But Ronstadt scored a coup: A year after Zevon released his version, she recorded the song in 1977 for her album “Simple Dreams.” The song went on to become her one of her signature hits and the album was certified triple platinum (3 million copies sold).
The tape also has Souther teaching her Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou,” which also landed on “Simple Dreams.”
There’s a good chance Ronstadt, 71, will recount that story when she appears at Fox Tucson Theatre April 29 for “A Conversation With Linda Ronstadt.” It’s a chance for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer to reconnect with her hometown, share a few stories about growing up in Tucson and name-drop the impressive list of iconic musicians who’ve come in and out of her life.
The multimedia event will include photos from growing up in Tucson in the 1950s and ’60s to memories from her 45-year music career that started with the folk-rock trio Stone Poneys with fellow Tucsonan Bobby Kimmel to a solo career that criss-crossed genres, from country to rock to Latin, with stops on Broadway along the way.
A scant few videos are sprinkled into the mix. She rarely lets anyone film her.
“I hated television and I didn’t have a television, so I didn’t see any reason for me having to go on television,” Ronstadt explained with a chuckle. “Who needs television? I make records, you know.”
Ronstadt will likely regale the audience, which will include lifelong friends (“My friend from first grade is still my dearest friend. Isn’t that funny?”) and relatives, with stories of growing up in a Tucson that looked much different than today.
“I love the fact that they put in the light rail (streetcar). The buildings are ugly, but I’m happy that they are working on those restaurants and the theaters,” said Ronstadt, who has never shied from speaking her mind — particularly when it comes to her hometown.
She’s not sad to see La Placita go — “They painted it the ugliest colors I have ever seen,” she said. “The only thing different about the colors was each was uglier than the other one” — and it hurts her heart to see the Benedictine Monastery closed.
The monastery closed in 2016 and although nothing has been finalized, plans for its redevelopment could include a boutique hotel, multistory apartments or student housing.
“I used to know the nuns in there,” she recalled. “They were really great. ... At night, they used to sing vespers and I used to go listen to them sing. I used to go hear them sing when they only sang Gregorian chants. I said, ‘Sister, you’ve got to sing your hits. Gregorian chants are on the charts now. ... And she says, ‘Oh no, we like to think we’re on the cutting edge of liturgical singing.’ But nothing has been better than Gregorian chants.”
The April 29 event is the second time Ronstadt will sit down to talk with Tucson fans. She was here in 2014 as part of the Sunday Evening Forum series. That event came not long after she revealed that she had Parkinson’s disease and on the eve of releasing her late 2013 autobiography “Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir.”
“The reason I wrote the book is not because I was the greatest singer in the world or that I did something different, which was I sang a lot of wide range of styles” she said. “I wanted to show that the reason I was able to do that was because of all the music I heard in the house before I was 9 years old growing up in Tucson. My brother was musical. My sister was musical. My mom and my dad were both musical. My aunts and uncles and grandparents were musical. So I learned a bunch of songs from them. And then I learned from the music of the records and the radio when I was growing up. So I just show the musical journey of how I got to do all those styles.”
“I did OK with singing and I was relatively successful,” she added. “It gave me a good life. But I never think I’m as good as somebody like Jennifer Warren or Bonnie Raitt. There’s always going to be somebody you think is going to be better than you.”
During her talk, she could mention when longtime friend and collaborator Emmylou Harris — they won two Grammys in 1987 with “Trio,” an album recorded in Tucson with Harris, Ronstadt and Dolly Parton — visits when she’s on tour in San Francisco so she can do her laundry.
“She is one of my dear, dear friends and I just love her. She’s a great singer; I love her singing,” Ronstadt said. “She comes over when she comes to town to do a show. ... She puts the laundry in and we sit and talk and then she gets another load in, does the darks. That’s what we do.”
Ronstadt said she would volunteer to do her friend’s laundry herself, but she’s physically not able to, due to the effects of Parkinson’s.
“I’m not that mobile anymore. I am a great hausfrau. I love doing laundry. I love vacuuming. I like dusting. I like washing dishes; I didn’t have a dishwasher for 15 years because I liked washing dishes by hand,” she said. “But I can’t do any of those things any more. I watch Emmy do them.”
The biggest excitement for Ronstadt coming home is catching up with friends.
“I have such good friends in Tucson that I just love and adore,” she said, ticking off a list that includes the family of the late fashion pioneer Cele Peterson and Bill and Athena Steen.
“I love them so much. ... (Bill’s) grandmother was born in the same town as my grandfather and his mother was friends with my mom. They were in the ladies auxiliary together at the hospital,” she said. “And now we’re friends. It’s a three-generation friendship.”