Written by Gary B. White
Videos by American Songwriter
Going solo wasn’t so easy for Linda Ronstadt. Coming off her debut record, Hand Sown.. Home Grown, Ronstadt felt she “was floundering as a singer,” as she writes in her 2013 memoir, “Simple Dreams.” Her luck would change with her second album, 1970’s Silk Purse. “Long, Long Time” became her breakout hit – spending 12 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at No. 25.
In 1969, Ronstadt was opening shows for Jerry Jeff Walker at New York’s Bitter End. Songwriter and guitar player David Bromberg once asked her after a show to accompany him to the nearby Cafe Au Go-Go, where Gary White was playing backup guitar for singer-songwriter Paul Siebel. “He said White had written some good songs, and there was one in particular that he felt would be perfect for me,” Ronstadt writes in Chapter 3, “Going Solo.”
“I was prepared to be disappointed. I thought it difficult for someone to know what I looked for in a song,” she adds.
“We saw the last part of his very impressive show made rich with his cowboy falsetto and a song about a poignant, sad girl of a certain reputation named Louise, and then went backstage to meet Gary,” she writes of the first moment she heard the song. “He had already packed up his guitar, so he took it back out of its case, sat down, and began to sing [this song]. I told Gary I wanted to record it immediately.”
Later, in an October 1985 interview with Esquire, Ronstadt recalled the day of recording. “I can remember the day I recorded ‘Long, Long Time.’ It was 10:30 in the morning, but I was really into this kind of achy feeling, because the music – it’s in these chords. I think my phrasing was horrible,” she said. “I think I kind of butchered it, but it is definitely in those chords. And it happened to the musicians, who are jaded session players. As soon as the fiddle player and Weldon Myrick, who’s the steel guitar [player], began to play those chords, they got real into that and became personally involved.”
Producer Elliot Mazer (Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot) pulled together a group of Nashville session musicians called Area Code 615, which also included violinist Buddy Spicher and bass player Norbert Putnam. “…it sounded like a gritty orchestra string section. It was an unusual sound for the time, with a touching emotional quality,” she writes in “Simple Dreams.” She later adds, “I learned to sing it better. It was a big hit for me in 1970, and it bought me some time.”
“Long, Long Time” also charted in the Top 20 in Canada and earned Ronstadt a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Female Vocal Performance. She was nominated alongside Bobbie Gentry (“Fancy”), Anne Murray (“Snowbird”), and Diana Ross (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”).
In the 2019 documentary, “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” helmed by filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, “Long, Long Time” is one of many Ronstadt songs to take centerstage.