The Old Pueblo got a major holiday treat as the latest generation of Tucson’s musical first family – the Ronstadts – teamed up in venues all over town.
Back in the late 1800s when Federico Ronstadt moved here from Mexico he created Tucson’s first symphonic institution – the Club Filarmonico. Later he would be a founding board member of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. His daughter, Luisa Espinel, would become the city’s first operatic diva, and would gather the Mexican folk songs her father sang to her in a collection, “Canciones de Mi Padre.”
A son of Federico, Gilbert Ronstadt, would have a daughter who would be the most famous family musician yet – versatile pop singer Linda Ronstadt, who would borrow her Aunt Luisa’s title “Canciones de Mi Padre” for her own mariachi tribute to Gilbert. That collection would go on to be a global smash and revive the whole mariachi culture.
Linda’s generation of musical Ronstadts is well represented by Bill, John and Michael J. Ronstadt (the latter Linda’s brother), and it goes on with the next generation through flamenco guitarist Chris Burton Jácome and singer Mindy Ronstadt.
But now the sons of Michael J. Ronstadt – bassist/singer/songwriter Petie and cellist/composer/singer Michael G. Ronstadt – have grown into fine professional musicians as well. And throughout late December and early January, the brothers teamed up with their dad for concerts back in the home city, including gigs with their dad’s musical partner, Ted Ramirez, in the Santa Cruz River Band.
All of the recent performances were eclectic showcases of the considerable talent that has seeped into this next batch of Ronstadts. From folkie family favorites and original tunes to Mexican standards passed down from their great-grandparents, the younger Ronstadts anchored and carried the varied fare to new heights. It’s what Ronstadts do.
“It’s music I’ve heard my whole life,” Petie says. “I had to learn some rhythmic patterns that were a little different from what I’m used to but aside from that it was a pretty easy jump.”
“Every family gathering there’d be tons of guitars,” adds Michael G. Ronstadt. “Bill Ronstadt would have his bass oftentimes, my uncle Peter would have a guitar. My cousin Kiko (Jácome) always played music. If he didn’t have an instrument he sang. I guess I was the only cellist the family ever had.”
And it’s always been that way.
“There’s a picture that we have in an old family album that a photographer friend of my family took when I was in diapers and I was playing my father’s old Martin guitar,” Michael J. Ronstadt recalls. “I think it was pretty well set at that point. It’s just always been something that’s been around.”
Asked how he thought his dad and grandfather would feel seeing him playing with his kids, Michael J. says, “I think they would be very pleased and proud. Sometimes I wish my dad would have been around to see these guys. The fact that both of them are embracing that kind of music couldn’t make him anything but proud and happy.”
The only bad thing is that it was short-lived. Petie will join his dad and Ted Ramirez in the Santa Cruz River Band for the next few months, and there will be a few dates along the way where paths will converge. But for the most part, cellist Michael G. Ronstadt returns to his own road, supporting his CDs, backing singer Lisa Biales and working in a rock project.
Check out video of the trio, as well as the Santa Cruz River Band. And while you’re at it, run down Petie’s Indie Rock group Goodbye Kiss’ self-titled EP, Michael G. Ronstadt’s “Cotton Dreams Parts 1 & 2″ and the several Santa Cruz River Band CDs.