Country music's most important West Coast club, the Palomino in North
Hollywood has seen a lot of performers in its 20 years--from Johnny Cash and
Merle Haggard to Jerry Lee Lewis and Ernest Tubb--but it no doubt has seen
few evenings as spirited as the one in which Linda Ronstadt made her
In direct contrast to the conservative stereotype of the girl country
singer, Miss Ronstadt raced on stage the other night wearing a tight red
sweater, sequined blue jean hot pants and asked the waitress to bring a
supply of tequila for her and the band.
The regular Palomino customers seemed, simply, overwhelmed as she began her
country-rock stylings. But it wasn't so much the music--at first--that
caught the audiences attention. It was she. Tammy Wynette may sing "Stand
By Your Man" with unbeatable intensity, but she's never looked like Miss
But after the novelty of her dress and manner (more what you'd expect to
find at the Whisky than a country club, if we're going to place any faith in
stereotypes at all) wore off, the audience seemed to get right into her
versions of songs written or made famous by Hank Williams ("Lovesick
Blues"), Merle Haggard ("Silver Wings"), Waylon Jennings ("Only Mama That'll
Walk The Line"), and Jerry Lee Lewis ("Break My Mind"), among others.
A LITTLE APPREHENSIVE
Even though Miss Ronstadt was new to many at the Palomino (where she set a
new attendance record for girl singers), she is no stranger to country
music. She heard a lot of it around her native Tucson and she has been
singing country-oriented songs in rock clubs and concert halls for several
Though she did appear on country music's Grand Ole Opry (a guest number
with Earl Scruggs), the Palomino date was her first important country club
appearance. It's something she has long wanted to try, but admitted she was
a little apprehensive about it.
"I was really nervous about tonight," she said after the first show. "I
didn't know how a country audience would accept me. So many of the girl
country singers are so polished that I was afraid they might think I was
unprofessional or something because I'm so loose on stage."
A SHIFT INDICATED
Though there is no indication Miss Ronstadt is going to shift her career
emphasis away from the rock field, her showing at the Palomino indicates she
probably would find a large and certainly enthusiastic audience in the
country market. For the Palomino Club is one of the nation's most important
tests for country performers. It hasn't been voted the No. 1 night club six
years in a row by the West Coast-based Academy of Country and Western Music
Originally a rather tough beer bar, the Palomino was leased in 1952 by
brothers Bill and Tom Thomas, who had come to Los Angeles from Indiana to
open a club. They picked the Palomino because the rent was low. They
figured they'd operate the club for a year, get a feel for the area, and
then move on to something else. But the owner had an automobile accident,
needed money and offered them the place for a good price. So they bought
the building and property.
As country music has grown over the years, the club also has grown--both in
class (new carpeting, sound system, etc.) and in size. The club's big break
was in 1959, when the nearby Riverside Rancho, a major country music
showcase, closed and the top country stars, formerly booked by the Rancho,
became available for the Palomino club.
Besides being an important showcase for country talent, the Palomino is a
hangout for country entertainers. During the past month, Merle Haggard and
Jerry Lee Lewis both dropped by the club and got up on stage to do a few
songs. Business has improved, the Thomases say, each year, and they are
thinking of expanding the room again (it now seats 400). By the time they
have the expansion finished, Miss Ronstadt may be ready to try to break her
own attendance mark. She'll be an odds-on favorite to do it.