Nashville, Nightmare star Ronee Blakley: An intimate evening with a living legend - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Nashville, Nightmare star Ronee Blakley: An intimate evening with a living legend

Ronee Blakley starred as Barbara Jean in the Robert Altman film Nashville.

The year 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the cult horror picture, A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s also the 40th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s star-studded tour the Rolling Thunder Revue. And it’s the four decade mark for Robert Altman’s quixotic film Nashville.

What do these seemingly unrelated anniversaries all have in common? All feature the work of folk-rock/country music star and movie legend Ronee Blakley.

Ronee Blakely circa 1976 (Wikimedia)

Ronee Blakley circa 1976. (Wikimedia)

Blakley was in Baltimore last night for a private appearance at the home of arts impresaria Lorraine Whittlesey. With just a piano and microphone, the soulful singer shared an intimate evening of spoken word and song. This reporter was fortunate to be in the audience for Blakley’s moving mini-concert and to sit down for a few minutes with the amazing singer.

“Two weeks ago, I was at the San Francisco Film School to do a class with Steve Kovacs. Then last week I was at UCLA for a Robert Altman Retrospective where I shared the stage with Kathleen Altman, Elliott Gould and Ellen Barkin. And of course, because of Elm Street, I get invitations to do horror movie events like the Chiller Theatre Expo in Pasippany in New Jersey.”

Blakley also routinely receives invitations to do events from a litany of longtime friends. Over the weekend, she performed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the behest of poet and 2010 Pushcart Prize nominee, Jack Veasey. The proximity of that event prompted Whittlesey to extend her Baltimore invitation.

“Tonight is the first time I’ve done anything like this. It is so intimate. Performers work very hard to capture this kind of intimacy on a record but you never can.”

Ronee Blakley spent her formative years in the Pacific Northwest. She burst onto the fast-changing music scene of the early 1970’s with an album which featured the song “Bluebird” in duet with Linda Ronstadt. She recorded another album before being cast as Barbara Jean in Nashville. Blakley’s break-out debut in Nashville earned her an Academy Award nomination as well as the following of legions of lifelong fans. Forty years later, the engaging entertainer still enjoys working in both music and film. She also beams when talking about her daughter, young-adult writer Sarah Blakley-Cartwright – author of the best selling novel Red Riding Hood.

Since bowing with Bluebird, Blakley has recorded 11 record albums and several spoken word CD’s. Along with Nashville and A Nightmare on Elm Street, she has also starred in more than a dozen films, including 1980’s The Baltimore Bullet.

Singer Ronee Blakely performed for about two dozen people  (Anthony C. Hayes)

Singer Ronee Blakley performed for about two dozen people. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Her latest project is an 82 minute faux-documentary film.

“It’s experimental. There are points in it where I do break the 4th wall.”

Blakley said she is about to release a new EP with 5 cuts which will include a recording of the classic cowboy song “Little Joe”, along with licks by guitarists Rusty Anderson and Tony Gilkyson. And she has a new spoken word album with 36 fresh poems.

“For me, part of the challenge as an artist is getting the music out; the business has just changed so much. I rely mainly on my website and on CDBaby.com.”

Along with the passing of time, Ronee has been dealing with the passing of some dear friends. In June, she will appear at a memorial service for the late Paul Colby; owner of the New York coffehouse cabaret, The Bitter End.

“You know, I realized some time ago that I was not an adult until I learned to deal with death.”

Attending the Altman retrospective brought back a flood of memories about a man she described as a “great director and friend.”

“Robert Altman was the best director I ever worked with. He made me feel safe. The day we shot my breakdown scene for Nashville, Robert asked me what I was thinking. I showed him my journal entry from the morning where I described what I was feeling. He read what I had written and then said, ‘Do you know it?’ I told him that I did, so we shot it exactly that way. The only difference was it was his idea to break it up into three parts.”

Ronee Blakely shares a smile with her niece Grace.  (Anthony C. Hayes

Ronee Blakley shares a smile with her niece Grace. (Anthony C. Hayes)

Altman was a film-making legend, but I wondered if there is anyone today Blakley considers to be on her late friend’s creative level?

“I would LOVE to work with John Waters. He is an absolute genius. When I watch his films, I find that I am filled with ideas. I just want to share with him, but I know he works with his own inspirations. Still…”

Waters has already worked with such icons as Kathleen Turner and Deborah Harry. Chatting with Ronee Blakley, one could easily see her playing a part in some future John Waters film.

Ronee is returning to Los Angeles today to finish post-production work on her experimental film. And perhaps to reflect for a moment on some lost gem from her long career.

“Every once in a while I get a call from someone wanting to secure the rights to use something I’ve forgotten about.”

Ronee Blakley may be forgiven if she’s forgotten about some part she played on television more than 30 years ago. That’s bound to happen when you are the kind of humble, heart-felt performer who will travel to Baltimore on a rainy Monday night to perform for a living room full of fans.


About the author

Anthony C. Hayes

Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony's poetry, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland; Alvarez Fiction and Tales of Blood and Roses. Contact the author.
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