|Origin||Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Genres||Folk rock, country rock, rock|
The Stone Poneys were a folk-rock trio formed in Los Angeles, consisting of Linda Ronstadt on vocals, Bobby Kimmel on rhythm guitar and vocals, and Kenny Edwards on lead guitar. Their recordings include Ronstadt's first hit song, a cover of Mike Nesmith's "Different Drum". Even at this early stage, Ronstadt was already showcasing her performances of an eclectic mix of songs, often from under-appreciated songwriters, requiring a wide array of backing musicians.
As a testament to enduring interest in the trio, the band's three albums: The Stone Poneys; Evergreen, Volume 2; and Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III, were released together as single CDs for the first time in the 1990s in the US (nearly 30 years after the music was recorded), with the first two albums reissued in Australia in 2008. Four additional songs from the band's third album could also be found on the Australian reissue.
Linda Ronstadt first met Bobby Kimmel in 1960 while performing gigs in and around Tucson, Arizona with her older brother Peter and older sister Suzi (under the name "The Three Ronstadts", among others). The three Ronstadts joined with Kimmel and a local banjo player named Richard Saltus, performing locally as "The New Union Ramblers". Kimmel, who was six years older than Linda, was impressed with the strong voice and enthusiasm of the fourteen-year-old. He relocated to Southern California around 1961 and wrote regularly to cajole Linda into joining him throughout her high school years at Catalina High.  Kimmel had already met and befriended Kenny Edwards shortly before Linda's arrival in L.A., and they had started writing folk-rock songs together.
After dropping out of Tucson's Catalina High School, and completing a semester at the University Of Arizona, Linda Ronstadt decided to move to the Los Angeles area in December 1964 to join Bobby Kimmel and form a band. Ronstadt described Kimmel's vision of the band: "It was going to be five people. We had an electric autoharp and a girl singer, and we thought we were unique in the world. And it turned out The Jefferson Airplane and the Lovin' Spoonful had beaten us." The group trimmed down to a trio that called themselves The Stone Poneys. Their (misspelled) name came from Delta Blues singer Charley Patton's 1929 song "The Stone Pony Blues" (also known as "Pony Blues").
The band was discovered by a couple of music industry executives while rehearsing at a soul food restaurant called Olivia's, located in Ocean Park, a community between Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Olivia's was famous for its food and clientele, including The Doors. In 1965, they recorded the Johnny Otis song "So Fine" and several others. Mike Curb, who at that time was working for Mercury, produced the sessions. The record company wanted them to change the group's name to "The Signets" and sing surf music, which the trio chose not to do.
Instead, The Stone Poneys became a leading attraction on the Los Angeles club circuit, with Ronstadt usually performing on stage in a miniskirt and bare feet. They worked intimate clubs like The Troubadour in Hollywood, where they were opening for such musicians as Odetta and Oscar Brown Jr.; The Insomniac in Hermosa Beach, where they often appeared with The Chambers Brothers; and The Bitter End in Greenwich Village.
One night at The Troubadour, the band's first manager, Herb Cohen, told Kimmel in front of Ronstadt: "Well, I can get your chick singer recorded, but I don't know about the rest of the group". Linda Ronstadt called this "the beginning of the end", although this occurred even before they were signed to Capitol and Ronstadt insisted that she would not record without the band. The Stone Poneys broke up briefly in this time period, and Cohen tried to connect Ronstadt with Frank Zappa to make a demo, and also with Jack Nitzsche, but nothing ever materialized (she and Zappa - who were both being managed by Cohen in this time period - would later make a radio commercial for Remington brand electric shavers that was rejected by the company).
After the Poneys reformed, Cohen introduced Linda, Kenny, and Bobby to Nick Venet (also known as Nik Venet) at The Troubadour. Venet signed the band to Capitol Records in the summer of 1966. Ronstadt recalls of the signing: "Capitol wanted me as a solo, but Nick convinced them I wasn't ready, that I would develop. It was true." In a late 1966 article in Billboard, Venet discussed the formation of a new record label under Capitol called FolkWorld specifically to promote folk-rock artists. Although the FolkWorld concept was never realized, The Stone Poneys became the lead act in the stable of folk-rock performers that Venet was signing and producing in this time period.
The three albums by The Stone Poneys were produced by Nick Venet. The band's original songs were credited to Bob Kimmel and Kenny Edwards, although subsequent CD reissues removed Edwards' name from most of the credits. BMI's website now credits all original Kimmel-Edwards songs to Kimmel alone, resulting in "Back Home" being Edwards's lone songwriting credit with the Stone Poneys.
The first album, simply called The Stone Poneys was more folk than rock and featured relatively few lead vocals by Ronstadt; it received little notice. The band again broke up briefly between the first two albums; but, as related by Kenny Edwards, Nick Venet told the band: "'We can make another record, we can make this happen. If we're going to do anything with this, we've got to make something that sounds commercial and get on the radio."
For the second album, Evergreen, Volume 2, the songs were in more of a rock vein; and Linda was moved firmly into the lead vocalist position, with only occasional harmony vocals. The album includes the band's only hit song, "Different Drum". The original recording by The Stone Poneys of "Different Drum" was quite similar to the recorded version by The Greenbriar Boys from their 1966 album Better Late than Never!; but as Kenny Edwards recalls: "That's when Nik Venet sort of took an executive position and went, 'This could be a hit song, and we need to sort of have an arranger arrange it.' So none of us actually played on the record version of that." (A live performance of "Different Drum" in the earlier style survives though). The original album version of "Different Drum" from 1967 had a slightly longer run time (2:46) from the single edit (2:35), owing to a repeat of the harpsichord break in the middle of the song. All versions of the song reissued after that time have been the single edit although listed with the longer run time.
This was not the only instance of the male band members being pushed out of the recording studio. Ironically, one of the few songs on the second album to feature harmony vocals, "Back on the Street Again" was a duet by Linda Ronstadt and songwriter Steve Gillette (though Linda's voice was clearly on top); Gillette remembers from the session: "[T]here was a scuffle and some noise just outside the door. When we opened it, there was a sad and for some, tearful scene in which it became clear that Kenny [Edwards] and Bobby [Kimmel] had not been notified of the session, and had heard about it indirectly and showed up full of anger at the betrayal. Capitol really did try to break the group up".
The very success of "Different Drum" spelled the effective end of The Stone Poneys as a band: Almost immediately, they started to become known as "Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Poneys". Also, unlike the other 45's, which had been released solely under the name of the band, the "Different Drum" single also included in small letters: "Featuring Linda Ronstadt". As Edwards recalls: "From the record company's point of view, immediately they wanted to push Linda as a solo artist. And frankly, Linda's taste in songs was really growing away from what Bobby was writing.... So there was a spontaneous growth toward her being a solo artist."
A series of club dates throughout the United States to support the second album followed. Ronstadt remembers opening for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village as one of her worst experiences with the band: "Here we were rejected by the hippest element in New York as lame. We broke up right after that. We couldn't bear to look at each other."
During work on the band's third album, in early 1968, Kenny Edwards departed for India. After "Different Drum" hit the charts, Bob Kimmel and Linda Ronstadt rounded up some more musicians, and the reformed Stone Poneys began touring with the Doors. Doors frontman Jim Morrison didn't endear himself to Ronstadt; she recalled: "We thought they were a good band, but we didn't like the singer". After this tour, Kimmel also left the band.
Linda Ronstadt gamely moved forward and, effectively a solo artist already, started taking control of her career. She gathered more sophisticated material for the new album, including three songs by Tim Buckley that would become standout cuts on that album. "Tim used to live in a house that I lived in too, and we both used to move in and out ... that is, we stayed there alternately. It was the house he wrote about in 'Morning Glory,' which I call 'The Hobo'. That was the 'fleeting house.'" Buckley was among those in the group photograph that appeared on the back cover of the third album.
Although their final album still appears to be in the name of the band, the album name, Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III was purposefully vague, without a specific artist's name. Even the two singles from the album were released under different names, though Linda Ronstadt now had the burden of the Capitol recording contract: "See, The [Stone] Poneys were taken off the books after the second album. Since it was a hit, they made royalties off it. But I didn't. I paid all by myself for the third album, which was expensive, and it put me severely in the red by the time I started recording my first solo album."
By late 1967, Linda Ronstadt began recruiting musicians to assist in the studio and also on the road. One of the first was an old friend from Tucson, Shep Cooke. He had already turned down Ronstadt's invitation to join Stone Poneys twice (in 1966 and also in early 1967); when she asked him again in late 1967: "Something told me I'd better not decline a third time. 'Different Drum' was climbing up the charts, and I couldn't refuse. So I joined the Stone Poneys in November 1967." Another latter-day member of Stone Poneys was Kit Alderson, who would later help train Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in the guitar and autoharp, respectively, for their work in the 2005 Johnny Cash/June Carter Cash biopic film Walk the Line. By November 1968, a different group of musicians were billing themselves as the Stone Poneys. Joining Ronstadt was guitarist John Forsha - who was also a session player on the band's first two albums - drummer John Ware, bassist John Keski, steel guitarist Herb Steiner, and drummer Bill Martin.
Purists might contend that these Stone Poneys were not the real band, only backing musicians for Linda Ronstadt; however, they were still being billed as Stone Poneys, and many of the musicians still view themselves as "ex-Stone Poneys". Shep Cooke fondly remembers his time with the band: "We rehearsed like crazy, finished the third Stone Poney album, toured the entire country for 2½ months, played on Joey Bishop's and Johnny Carson's TV shows*, went crazy for lack of sleep, and parted company (after the last gig in late 1968) reasonably good friends but a little disillusioned about 'the big time'."
(*There was never a 'Tonight Show' Stone Poneys appearance aired. Linda first appeared on the late night talk show in 1969. Her second appearance wasn't until 1983.)
Despite the lack of big hits, Linda Ronstadt was becoming increasingly well-known following the success of "Different Drum", and in 1969 she officially went solo with her album Hand Sown...Home Grown. However, beginning in the mid-1970s, Kenny Edwards recorded and toured with Linda for about 10 years. In 2007, Linda Ronstadt reconnected with Bob Kimmel in Tucson and sang harmony vocals on one of Kimmel's songs, "Into the Arms of Love" that was included on a CD released that year by his new band, BK Special.
On the first two albums, most of the songs were written by Bob Kimmel and Kenny Edwards. Under the guidance of producer Nik Venet and Capitol, the group recorded their first album in the fall of 1966, The Stone Poneys, which was released in January 1967. The album is notable for its precise strong-voiced harmony vocals. The disc's one and only single release "Sweet Summer Blue And Gold" received no airplay and failed to chart anywhere. (The first album is now mainly known by the name of the 1975 reissue, The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt).
The second album, Evergreen, Volume 2 was released in June 1967. On this album, Linda Ronstadt sang lead vocals on almost all songs. The exception was the title track, which has a psychedelic rock feel. Kenny Edwards was the vocalist on "Part One", while "Part Two" was an instrumental that featured fine sitar work (also by Edwards).
The band hit pay dirt with Michael Nesmith's "Different Drum" (written and copyrighted in 1965 prior to Nesmith joining The Monkees), the second 45 (following "One for One") from the new album. The band's version of "Different Drum" hit the Billboard Pop Chart on November 11, 1967 and stayed in the Hot 100 for 17 weeks, getting as high as No. 13. The song also reached No. 12 on the Cash Box survey. The song has been a staple on oldies radio ever since and remains one of Linda Ronstadt's most popular recordings. Its parent record slid up Billboard's main album chart to No. 100 and lasted for a respectable 15 weeks on that chart.
Their third album was titled Linda Ronstadt, Stone Poneys and Friends, Vol. III (released in April 1968); at this point, Capitol was promoting Linda Ronstadt rather than the band, and only Linda's picture was on the cover. Like its predecessor, the album had two singles: "Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water" b/w "Carnival Bear" (released under the name Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys) which stalled at No. 93 on the Hot 100; and "Some of Shelly's Blues" b/w "Hobo" (released under the name Stone Poneys, Featuring Linda Ronstadt) which, like the album, did not chart. "Some of Shelly's Blues" was another Michael Nesmith song. The album ended with the Laura Nyro song, "Stoney End", which turned out to have been aptly named (although the song was not written for The Stone Poneys).
After "Different Drum" became a hit, Mike Curb pulled out two of the recordings he had produced back in 1965, "So Fine" and "Everybody Has His Own Ideas", and decided to release them in 1968 as a 45 on his label Sidewalk, which was a Capitol subsidiary. The single was put out without the knowledge of Capitol - or Mercury either, for that matter, who had paid for the recording session. Capitol record company executives were understandably furious, and the single was immediately pulled from the market. Thus, this disk has become one of the rarest Linda Ronstadt collectables, bringing as much as $144 (in a 2007 eBay auction).
In the early 1970s, the Pickwick record label licensed several Stone Poneys tracks from their Capitol albums. Five of these songs were included as Side 2 on a dual compilation album called Back on the Street Again (catalog number SPC-3245), with Side 1 consisting of five songs by David Clayton-Thomas that are taken from solo albums that he was recording while serving as the lead singer for Blood, Sweat and Tears. Other than the title song and "Different Drum", the Stone Poneys songs on this album are relatively obscure tracks that have hardly appeared at all on Ronstadt's compilation albums over the years: "Song About the Rain", "I've Got to Know" (also known as "I'd Like to Know") and "New Hard Times".
Apparently somewhat later, Pickwick released Stoney End (catalog number SPC-3298) under the name Linda Ronstadt & The Stone Poneys. The only song included on both of the Pickwick albums is "Different Drum"; the other tracks on this album are mostly familiar songs like "One for One" and "Some of Shelly's Blues", as well as their recording of the 1960s classic "Let's Get Together". (The album was released on the heels of the successful reissue of the version by The Youngbloods in 1969).
In 1974, prior to the release of Heart Like A Wheel, Capitol issued a Linda Ronstadt compilation titled Different Drum, which featured five Stone Poney tracks and five songs from Ronstadt's first three solo albums. Aside from the title track, the four Stone Poneys tracks were remixed tracks from the third Stone Poneys' album, all featuring Ronstadt solo: "Hobo," "Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water," "Some Of Shelly's Blues," and "Stoney End."
Eight years after the release of the band's first album (in March 1975), it was reissued by Capitol under the name The Stone Poneys Featuring Linda Ronstadt, as a result of the multi-platinum success Linda Ronstadt had in 1974-75 as a solo artist with the No. 1 album Heart Like A Wheel. The song listing in the reissue highlighted Ronstadt's three solo performances (she also sang solo on one verse in a fourth song that was not so identified). As a result, the largely unknown first album by The Stone Poneys was more widely available in the 1970s and 1980s than the subsequent albums that featured the band's more familiar songs.
In 1995, Capitol briefly issued the three Stone Poneys albums as individual CD releases. These releases were removed from the catalog within a few years.
Linda Ronstadt has claimed dissatisfaction with the arrangements of the three Stone Poneys albums many times over the years, but Capitol has continually made money through reissues of the early material in numerous configurations. Also, in addition to their hit song "Different Drum", several of the other Stone Poneys tracks have been featured in many of Linda Ronstadt's compilation albums over the years, such as "Hobo", "Some of Shelly's Blues" and "Stoney End".
The now deleted Linda Ronstadt Box Set included the initial release of "Everybody Has His Own Ideas" besides the original 45; otherwise, the only Stone Poneys music made available on CD has been the songs on the original three albums, which has left many songs such as "Carnival Bear," from a 1968 single that never appeared on any of the albums, without any available issue. Even the three song "fragments" that open the third album - which total barely 1½ minutes - have never been reissued as full songs.
Numbers in parentheses indicate the date of release, and also the highest position on Billboard charts