“The Ronstadts preserve & redefine a century-plus family
tradition, integral to the diverse tapestry of American music.”
—Stephanie P Ledgin, author, Discovering Folk Music
Ronstadt Brothers continue a musical tradition passed from generation to generation in the Ronstadt family. Michael Gilbert and Peter Dalton, Ronstadt Brothers, represents five generations of the family’s musical traditions in North America. Along with innovative drummer Aaron Emery, they present a new and fresh take on the traditional Southwestern and Mexican songs of their family’s heritage while offering innovative original material to millennials discovering the treasure of roots music. An aural illustration of inception to creation, this musical journey will take you from the past to the present steeped in the Americana vein. Carrying forward a sound closely tied in its infancy to their aunt Linda and their father Michael, join the Ronstadt Brothers on their journey through the Post-Modern American West.
The Genesis: Ronstadt Generations
A family Thanksgiving gathering in 2009 – more precisely, an after-dinner, all-night jam session between father and sons gave birth spontaneously to the performance group Ronstadt Generations. Michael J. (guitar/mandolin/mandocello/vocals) found himself running through generations of material with his two sons, Michael G. (cello/mandolin/guitar/vocals) and Petie (guitar/bass/vocals). This session evolved into a rehearsal as the trio played the passages again and again, figuring out harmonies and developing arrangements. Ronstadt Generations was born.
Steeped in family music traditions dating to the 1840s when his great-grandfather emigrated from Germany and settled in the Southwest, Michael J. Ronstadt – younger brother of renowned singer Linda Ronstadt – was just wrapping up seven years touring internationally with the Santa Cruz River Band. Simultaneously, his sons Michael G. and Petie had become increasingly engaged in individual music endeavors.
That jam session became a flashpoint, providing inspiration and impetus for Michael J. to return to his music roots and to create a project to explore, preserve and share the rich musical history of the Ronstadt family. That legacy, noted in a number of history books and publications, began in the late 1800s with his grandfather, Federico “Fred” Ronstadt, and is an important piece of the fabric of Tucson and the entire Southwest region of the United States. Today, that long history continues with Ronstadt Generations. (Click here to jump to history.)
The Addition: Los Tucsonenses
Ronstadt Generations released their first CD, Lulo, just months after officially forming and hitting the road. But the band soon found itself with a regular gig at Tucson’s popular Chicago Bar. From this Monday night engagement evolved the current six-piece ensemble: Ronstadt Generations y los Tucsonenses, featuring Alex Flores (tenor sax and vocals), Sam Eagon (upright and electric bass) and Aaron Emery (drums and percussion). The ensemble released Prelude to stunning reviews in 2012.
The Next Generation: Ronstadt Brothers
Michael J. Ronstadt passed away on August 7, 2016 though the band continues as Ronstadt Brothers now being led by his two sons Michael G. and Petie. They continue to push the boundaries of their own tradition while keeping true to the legacy their father has passed along as it was passed to him from the generation before.
Michael Gilbert Ronstadt
Cello | Vocals | Mandolin | Guitars
For two decades, Michael G. (Michael J.’s oldest son) has entertained audiences throughout North America on cello, guitar and voice. An exceptional musician-composer conversant with a wide range of styles, he not only executes captivating solo performances, but participates regularly in duo and trio situations with a diverse camp of young, innovative musician-songwriters including Lisa Biales and David Trotta. His versatile talents have been tapped for concert and studio work by such artists as David Bromberg, Linda Ronstadt, Muriel Anderson and Craig Bickhardt.
As a core member of Ronstadt Generations, Michael G. displays genre-blending explorations on cello and guitar in complement to thought-provoking lyrics. To say his originals are unusual is an understatement. They set the bar at Olympian heights in their depth and breadth. In addition to his solo recordings as well as those with Ronstadt Brothers, Michael G. is a much sought-after studio musician, who has appeared on more than fifty albums in the last dozen years. Dan Buckley writing for The Tucson Citizen noted his “amazing command of the typical and exotic sounds of the cello, a true virtuoso and a man of instinctive musicality.” Michael holds both a Master and Bachelor of Music in Cello Performance and studied under esteemed pedagogues Yehuda Hanani, Nancy Green and Dr. Gordon Epperson.
Peter Dalton Ronstadt
Guitars | Vocals | Banjo | Tuba | Mandolin
Starting out on violin in grade school, Petie (Michael J.’s younger son) traded “up” to bass guitar and upright bass in middle school, playing in the school’s orchestra and jazz band. The band director tapped Petie to play tuba in the concert band as well. He continued on all three instruments in his high school concert, marching and jazz bands.
Petie first explored composing in high school, during which time he founded an indie rock group, The Goodbye Kiss, in which he played guitar and sang. This led to a record deal with a small Southern California label and the release of a self-titled EP. It was this set of circumstances that provided the engineering education and fueled Petie’s passion for the recording process. He teamed up with bassist Sam Eagon (a member of Los Tucsonenses) and founded LandMark Sound Recorders, a studio in Tucson, where they continue to serve the regional music community.
The Goodbye Kiss eventually morphed into the band Alan Smithee, while Petie simultaneously played guitar in the punk/hardcore band Doyle Brunson (along with Sam Eagon). When both groups ultimately disbanded, Petie continued at his studio, did sound for local concerts and worked at Tucson’s Metro Gnome Music. In 2008 he joined dad Michael J. in the Santa Cruz River Band as bassist and live recording engineer through 2009.
Petie’s keen ear and his sensitive songwriting – such as the exquisite imagery heard in “Hummingbird” – are key to Ronstadt Brothers’ future tradition-building. Whether harmonizing with father and brother or quietly offering his own compositions, Petie demonstrates an engaging, easy-going stage presence.
Drums | Vocals
Percussionist/drummer Aaron Emery is a fixture in the Tucson music scene, performing with numerous highly regarded local as well as internationally touring artists. Known primarily in jazz and rhythm & blues circles, Aaron infuses his playing with a flair affected by a long list of influences and his versatile background. When not performing or recording with Ronstadt Brothers y Los Tucsonenses, he too shares (or has shared) stage time with such bands as Genevieve & the LPs, The Socials, Bad News Blues Band, Crystal Stark, The Jive Bombers, The Bryan Dean Trio, among others.
An instructor at Tucson’s Drum and Drummer School of Percussion, Aaron holds a Masters in Percussion, a Bachelor’s degree in Percussion Performance and a Performance Certificate from New York City’s prestigious Drummer’s Collective.
Michael J. Ronstadt (August 26, 1953 - August 7, 2016)
Guitars | Vocals | Mandolin
Michael J. was no stranger to the stage or the recording studio. He has harmonized with sister Linda on some of her biggest hits and appears on several of her albums, most notably the Canciones de mi padre releases. A songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he recalled being introduced to opera recordings by his grandmother and hearing Mexican records his father would play. Michael J. picked up guitar at age six, latching on to the music of the “folk boom era” and then early rock-and-roll. He moved to Los Angeles in 1975, becoming actively involved in the professional music scene, including performing and recording with sister Linda primarily during the 1980s and 1990s.
Michael J.’s resonant songs captivate vivid canvases of life, history, love, joy and hardship. “The Mill Of Oracle” will elicit tears, while “Wagon Mound” transports listeners back to the Santa Fe Trail in the 180’s. Feel the sadness in “Heartbreak” and “Feel The Wind” or hear the Civil War come alive in “Off To Battle.” “Mary” is an exquisite lullaby for children of all ages.
Among his numerous album credits, in addition to those with other Ronstadt family members and with Ronstadt Generations, Michael J. has two children’s recordings and a gospel CD.
The Ronstadt Family History
Michael G. and Petie’s great-great-grandfather, Frederick Augustus Ronstadt, emigrated from Germany circa 1839, first arriving in South America and continuing on and settling in Sonora, Mexico by approximately 1842. A mining engineer and military man, which precipitated his moving and living in various locales, he ensured his love of music was passed along to his son Federico, providing for classical music lessons, primarily while in La Paz, Baja California, and introducing him to the music of Mexico as well as that of German and Italian composers.
Federico José María Ronstadt, better known as Fred in later years, was born in 1868 on the Hacienda Las Delicias near Cananea, Sonora, Mexico. He spent his childhood in Sonora, moving to Tucson at age fourteen to learn the wagon-making trade. In addition to an intelligent, curious, retentive mind, and a capacity for hard work, he brought with him the passionate love of music instilled in him by his father.
Fred Ronstadt's musicianship was not limited to a family context. Around 1899, he and a group of friends formed the Club Filarmónico Tucsonenses, one of the city's first orchestral ensembles. Many of their original musical arrangements were written by Fred. Even when the pressures of business forced him to resign from the orchestra, he found time to play with other friends, remaining an active and enthusiastic musician to the end of his life.
It is not surprising that Fred’s talent and passion for music continued as a family tradition. His daughter Luisa, under the name Luisa Espinel, became an internationally known interpreter of Spanish song and dance in the 1930s. Her Canciones de mi Padre: Spanish Folksongs from Southern Arizona was published in 1946 and was the source for her niece Linda Ronstadt’s two Mexican folk music recordings and subsequent tours in the 1980s and 1990s. This collection was culled from the songs taught to her by her father and which had been passed down to him by his ancestors in Sonora, Mexico. In addition, Luisa toured with world-renowned guitarist Andrés Segovia in the 1920s.
Music was – and remains – a central feature of the Ronstadt household from the very beginning. Luisa remembered her father sitting under the grape arbor in the yard on summer evenings, playing guitar and singing old songs from Sonora, songs that are part of the family heritage to this day.
Fred’s sons -- William J., Alfred, Gilbert and Edward -- made singing a part of their respective family activities, and, in turn, raised another generation of singing Ronstadts. The most famous of these performers is Linda Ronstadt, Gilbert's daughter. In addition, her siblings and cousins in Tucson, Arizona, have performed in private family gatherings, informal settings and in public professionally for decades, putting polished harmonies to a wonderful mixture of folk and popular songs, Mexican and American, old and new. Fred's great-grandchildren have already taken the tradition to the fifth generation, continuing the musical history and paving the way for its place in posterity.
Launched officially in 2010 just weeks after that post-turkey dinner feast as Ronstadt Generations, Ronstadt Brothers tours on both sides of the Atlantic featuring the brothers and their Band of Tucsonans (Los Tucsonenses). (Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and friend Josh Hisle toured and recorded with them until 2011.) From prestigious festival stages to intimate house concerts, intensive hands-on cello technique instruction by Michael G. to trio participatory workshops on “Canciones de mi padre” (“Songs of my father”), Ronstadt Brothers showcases the best of what maintains the Ronstadt family as the “first family of the Southwest.”
While enjoying the Ronstadt Brothers Y Los Tucsonenses, audiences are always treated to a show filled with Ronstadt family stories, traditional songs, old Mexican chestnuts and exciting original music.
Still a “work-in-progress,” the Ronstadt Generations’ Project conceived by Michael J. Ronstadt continues to be developed as a multi-media presentation that ultimately will go far beyond the concert stage and recording studio to preserve the history and provide a pathway to posterity.