The stories are hardly salacious. Instead, she shares a wry anecdote about Brown's celebrated frugality: On their way to visit singer Rosemary Clooney, Brown commandeered a bunch of roses sent to Ronstadt by a fan and repurposed them as a gift to Clooney.
But most compelling are her musings about the music she loves. In the book, she recalls a time in high school when friends were raving about a new band, the Byrds. "[They] were playing folk rock, a new hybrid taking hold on the West Coast…. As soon as I heard their creamy harmonies, I was mesmerized. It was clear to me that music was happening on a whole different level in Los Angeles. I began making plans to move to L.A. at the end of the spring semester."
The world would first hear the L.A.-based Ronstadt as lead singer of the Stone Poneys. "Different Drum," their 1967 hit, was written by Monkees member Mike Nesmith. The group released three albums before Ronstadt's status as the band's breakout star was cemented with the 1969 release of her solo debut, "Hand Sown … Home Grown."
She charted several more minor hits over the next five years, most of them walking the line between country and rock. The backup band she assembled to accompany her on tour soon launched a career of its own as the Eagles.
But it was her recording of the McGarrigle Sisters' "Heart Like a Wheel" that became the title track of Ronstadt's 1974 breakthrough album, her first of three albums to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 national sales chart.
It catapulted her into the top ranks of pop-rock singers, helping her become one of the five most successful female artists of the 1970s in terms of chart performance. Ronstadt had other big hits with covers of energetic rock and R&B songs such as Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy" and "That'll Be the Day" and Martha & the Vandellas' "Heat Wave," but she says she was never exclusively committed to those genres.
"I never felt that rock 'n' roll defined me," she said. "There was an unyielding attitude that came with the music that involved being confrontational, dismissive and aggressive — or, as my mother would say, ungracious. …
"I cringe when I think of some of the times I was less than gracious. It wasn't how I was brought up, and I didn't wear the attitude well. Being considered, for a period in the '70s, as the Queen of Rock made me uneasy, as my musical devotions often lay elsewhere."
Byrds founding member Chris Hillman recalls meeting Ronstadt at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, one of the focal points of the folk-rock scene in the '60s and '70s. "She's one of the few pop artists who could make a country album with Dolly [Parton] and Emmylou [Harris], then do standards with Nelson Riddle and in between throw in the mariachi songs," said Hillman, 68. "She knew the music, and she could sing."
Ronstadt's heart has always been with the big ballads of love, heartache and remorse that she learned to love as a child. Not surprisingly, it's the liberating spirit within those songs that guides her today.
"Mexican music opened the doors to everything: classical music, jazz and passion," Ronstadt said. "From that I learned how to sing in a joyous way about terrible sorrow. It taught me what joy is.
"Joy is a transcendent state, and I learned that from Mexican music. Joy isn't happiness, it's transcending the horrific."