In the spring of 1970 Linda Ronstadt made the first of three appearances I was present for at The Cellar Door in Washington DC where I worked during college as bartender, waiter and Assistant Manager. Each of these appearances was the standard Cellar Door 6-day, 14 show contract: 2 shows each at 8:00 and 10:00 PM Monday through Thursday, followed by three shows on Friday and Saturday, 8:00, 10:00 and mid-night. It was a long week, but over the course of 14 shows, you developed an appreciation and understanding of the artists work that you could never glean from their recordings alone. This tour was right after the release of Linda�s second album, Silk Purse, which would later earn her the first of her 27 Grammy nominations. She was 24 years old, beautiful, talented and at the start of her career.
Staging and sound check was set for Monday morning at 10:00 AM and Linda was right on time with her back-up group, Swampwater, which included Gib Guilbeau (one of the original founders of the Flying Burrito Brothers) who would, along with John Beland, another Swampwater member, reform the Flying Burrito Brothers as the Burrito Brothers in the early 1980�s. Everything went well, and Linda just charmed everyone she came in contact with during the setup. Fact is, Linda is one of the nicest, most sincere people you�ll ever meet. We all loved her after only a couple of minutes.
Linda and Swampwater opened to a packed house Monday night and played to sold-out shows for the rest of the week. If you�ve ever seen Linda perform live, you know she can belt out a song. Her voice and vocal range are incredible, and she radiates energy when she sings. For this tour her stage dress was a tight, short-sleeved top, a pair of blue jean hot pants, sheer stockings and platform shoes. So, both the visual and aural senses �delighted� the audience. Hell, every male in the place was transfixed the moment she stepped on stage and the spotlights hit her.
One of the interesting things about her shows that week (and every time she appeared) was the number of single, older men who showed up for every show. Invariably they would tip the doormen to seat them at the stage tables and then give notes to the waiters to bring to Linda backstage. She almost always wrote a little note back to each of them (generally on their note) explaining that she was seeing somebody, it was serious and she couldn�t see them after the show. I thought it was a nice touch and mentioned it to her. Her response was surprising, she giggled and said �Oh, they�re just lonely, and they almost never write anything improper. So why not be nice to them?� This is pretty typical of Linda, she�s a sweet, thoughtful person. The one really memorable moment of the week was Monday in the middle of the second show she finished a rendition of Silver Threads and Golden Needles, raised her right fist in a dramatic flourish and yelled, �The Boogie flag is up.� This turned out to be a signal to the rest of the band that this was going to be a party week, and it was. By Wednesday the cleaning crew was demanding extra pay for having to cart out the cases and cases of beer bottles left behind every night in the dressing rooms. There was also an awkward incident with the Washington DC Police � it seems that somebody at the hotel where the band was staying was using a slingshot to shoot gumballs at the hardhats of construction workers on the building site next door. They were not amused, but Jack Boyle, the club owner, was able to sort the whole thing out quietly, off the record. After all, the Boogie Flag was up!
At the end of the week Linda said goodbye to the club�s crew, told us she had a wonderful time and would be back soon. We were all looking forward to her return for a bunch of reasons: the music was great, the crowd tipped well and the entire band was a joy to work with. For anybody who�s ever worked a service job, let alone a night club, you�ll know, what was there not to love?
She was as good as her word and was back again about six months later. Nothing much had changed with the act, except during the Monday sound check Linda wore a wool sweater and a long wool skirt instead of the usual blue jeans. For Monday night�s show she was decked out in the hot pants outfit again and on her way down the back stairs to the club I asked her if the boogie flag was up. She gave me a big smile and said, �Oh yeah!�
Tuesday night I walked into the dressing room with a tray of beers for the band and Linda was wearing the wool sweater and dress again. I figured she would change before the show, but no, she took the stage as usual, gave a hell of a show and went back up to the dressing room to relax for the 10:00 show. When I gave her the 5 minutes heads up for the show I asked her why she was wearing the sweater and dress. Her answer had me laughing out loud: �I fell asleep in the bathtub last night and my only other clothes were soaked this morning.� So I learned that the boogie flag was indeed up, and that Linda packed pretty light when she toured.
During the 10:00 show I was behind the service bar, which at the Cellar Door was located to the left of stage behind a black soundproof curtain. It was where the waiters ran in to order drinks and club guests lined up for the men�s room. Mid-way through the show Linda ran off stage and ducked into the service bar area where she proceeded to pull up her top (not wearing a bra) and then pull down the skirt (not wearing panties) to scratch herself vigorously. She pulled her clothes back into place, looked around and said, �That wool is itching me like crazy,� and then ran back on stage leaving behind several stunned waiters, customers and of course me. I don�t know who started laughing first, but it was all we could do.
Linda was back within a year, this time with a different backup band which was really more of an assortment of musicians she was close friends with (Of course some of them went on to found the Eagles). One of them was Chris Darrow, vocalist and fiddle player formerly with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Chris is a talented musician, and like everyone Linda seemed to associate with, a really nice guy. The boogie flag was up, but the most memorable part of the week for me was asking Linda to sit in on my radio show at WGTB-FM, Georgetown University�s student run radio station. At the time the station was live, on the air, unlike today where it is on-campus only, broadcast over carrier current. Linda brought Chris along and they spent an hour and a half on my show talking, telling war stories and singing both �a capella� or accompanied only by Chris� wonderful fiddle playing. I recorded the session on the station�s reel-to-reel deck, and I still have the tape; a wonderful memento of a wonderful lady and her music. Linda went on to a slew of career achievements, recording over 30 studio albums, number 1 and number 3 singles on Billboard�s Hot 100 plus two number 1 hits on Billboard�s Country Single chart. Overall she has 37 Top 40 hits and was the top-grossing solo female concert artist during the 1970�s. Despite all that success, I�m betting she�s still just as sincere and sweet as she was in 1970.