Linda Ronstadt has remained a superstar in the music world for four decades, compiling a wide-ranging and nearly always high quality discography. Almost as impressive has been her ability, for the most part, to keep her personal life out of the public spotlight; even in the few official bios provided by record companies, there's not much personal information beyond the fact that she's a native of Tucson, Arizona. Her recording career began in an equally under the radar manner with folk-rock trio The Stone Poneys.
There's a well-researched and surprisingly detailed writeup online about the group's history at Wikipedia. To summarize the backstory, a teenage Ronstadt met fellow Tucson native Bob Kimmel at a gig in the early '60s; he subsequently moved to Los Angeles, and eventually convinced Ronstadt to make the move as well. What would become The Stone Poneys formed in early 1965, and quickly contracted to the trio of Kimmel, Ronstadt and Ken Edwards. As they built a following in the L.A club scene, they picked up a manager -- Herb Cohen, also working with Frank Zappa, Tim Buckley and others at the time -- who engineered a signing with Capitol Records in 1966. By that point the group had reportedly already broken up once, as they would a couple more times in their short lifespan, at least partly due to outside influences pushing Ronstadt to be a solo artist.
The Capitol signing was a piece of a short-lived push by the label to get more directly involved in folk rock, via the subsidiary label Folk World. The marque was announced on the front page of the Nov. 19, 1966 issue of Billboard
The self-titled debut album from early 1967 is the most unadulterated chance to hear the trio as a group, rather than Ronstadt and backers. Most vocals are shared, and the majority of the songs are written by Kimmel and Edwards. And, being folk-rock rather than folk, some extra instrumentation was needed beyond acoustic guitars; there are some intriguing names among the players, including drummer Billy Mundi (Mothers of Invention, Rhinoceros), Cyrus Faryar (Modern Folk Quartet, Whiskeyhill Singers) and guitarist Pete Childs (who played on albums by Fred Neil, Peter Paul and Mary, Don McLean and many others). Ronstadt is credited on "finger cymbals, pain and suffering," and her powerfully direct and crystal clear vocal style is nearly all there. It's a very enjoyable album which was nearly completely ignored by the public at the time, though it eventually did hit the charts via a '70s reissue.
Undaunted, Capitol put the group right back in the studio, and their second album Evergreen, Vol. 2 was in stores by the summer of 1967. Already, the contributions of Kimmel and Edwards are beginning to be marginalized a bit by producer Venet, who aims this time for a more baroque style of folk-rock featuring solo vocals by Ronstadt about half of the time, along with a string section and harpsichord on much of the album. And it must be said that this instrumentation contributed to the band's lone hit single, a classic take on Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum" that has become a standard. Another harbinger of the way things were progressing was the credit on the hit single, which included a "Featuring Linda Ronstadt" line under the band name; a similar stickering was done of the album's shrink wrap in the wake of the hit single. That being said, Kimmel and Edwards still wrote half the album, and Edwards contributes sitar to the group's one foray into psych territory, the two-part title track.
The original band essentially collapsed during the tours supporting the hit status of "Different Drum," but Ronstadt completed one more Stone Poneys album, wafflingly titled Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. 3. While still mostly in a folk-rock vein, there are a couple experiments with country rock, the direction Ronstadt would soon take. Vol. 3 introduces Ronstadt's penchant for interpreting singer songwriters both established and up-and-coming, and there are also a couple good songs by Kimmel and Edwards that sound as if they may have been left over from Evergreen. The varying influences do clash, but there's a lot of good music here -- if you can find the album. My copy's pretty much trashed, but I've only ever seen one other in person. Like Evergreen, Vol. 3 went out of print quickly after its initial issue and was never reissued on vinyl, despite Ronstadt's massive success during the ensuing decades.
All three albums were issued as stand-alone CDs by Capitol in the mid-1990s, but are long out of print. (Capitol, 1967-68)