Higley Center for the Performing Arts Gilbert, AZ
Born and raised in Southern California, Karla Bonoff was a songwriter by the age of fifteen. She and her sister Lisa were writing songs and playing as a duo titled “The Daughters of Chester P” named after their father, Dr. Chester Paul Bonoff. She had already fallen in love with the guitar and studied with Frank Hamilton of the famous folk group, The Weavers. By 16, Karla and her sister Lisa auditioned for Elektra Records. An 11-song demo [recorded by Doors’ engineer Bruce Botnick] was recorded but no deal came of this first effort.
Karla’s sister became a teacher of history and religion, but Karla’s passion was always music. She became friends with other singer-songwriters and musicians [in the ’60s] who were creating their own unique sound. She talks about lining up at the legendary Troubadour at noon on Mondays to get a slot in the famous Monday night Troubadour “hoot,” which was a breaking ground for many artists who went on to great success. She says, “It was an amazing time. Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Elton John were around the Troubadour in those days.” There were some other writer-singers who became friends of Karla’s, and eventually, they decided to put a band together. They were Kenny Edwards, (who had started the Stone Poneys with Linda Ronstadt and Bobby Kimmel), Wendy Waldman, and Andrew Gold. Something powerful in their combined sound drew them together. Thus the band Bryndle was born – one of the early songwriter groups, even before the Eagles. The band made an album for A&M, but it was never released. They were, unfortunately, a bit ahead of their time.
Speaking of the A&M project, Karla says, “They didn’t release it. I think they didn’t really know quite what to make of it. This was right before Crosby, Stills and Nash, and before Fleetwood Mac. We were these two girls and two guys… the closest thing they could compare us to was the Mamas and the Papas. They actually had Lou Adler [producer for the Mamas and Papas] produce a single to try to make us like that. In the next few years, had we stayed together, I think we could have done well.” A single, with Karla singing lead, was released from those sessions, but failed to forward the band’s career. “It was a hit in Santa Maria [California],” Karla remembers. Bryndle broke up, but it launched four very illustrious careers. Kenny and Andrew joined Linda Ronstadt’s band, and through that connection, Ronstadt was to hear a demo of hers. Karla recalled playing a tape of “Lose Again” for her. “Hey, you know that’s real good,” Bonoff remembers Ronstadt saying, “What else have you got?” On Linda’s “Hasten Down the Wind” album [released in 1976], there were three Bonoff songs: “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “If He’s Ever Near” and “Lose Again.”
As Ronstadt was scoring hits with Karla Bonoff songs, Karla herself was signed as a solo artist to Columbia Records in 1977. There, she not only recorded the three songs Linda had done, but also the hit single “I Can’t Hold On” and the tune “Home,” which later wound up on one of Bonnie Raitt’s albums. The producer of this great first album [and the next two] was Karla’s old friend and partner, Kenny Edwards. Bonoff then embarked on a solo tour to promote her album, and by the time she reached Seattle, “I Can’t Hold On” was Number 1 in the Pacific Northwest. “I was headlining and I barely had enough songs to play,” Karla recalls, still amazed at the memory. “So I just kept playing them longer!” She went from there to coveted spots on major tours, opening for James Taylor and Jackson Browne and earning a rave review in Time magazine. Two subsequent albums, “Restless Nights” [released in 1979] and “Wild Heart of the Young” [released in 1982], established Karla as one of LA’s major artists and songwriters. Musicians such as Russ Kunkel, Joe Walsh, Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kortchmar, Don Henley, Timothy Schmit, Peter Frampton, Bill Payne, J.D. Souther, and her old partners from Bryndle, Wendy Waldman, Andrew Gold and Kenny Edwards all participated in the making of these wonderful records. Bonoff had a big hit with “Personally,” from her album “Wild Heart of the Young” – a song Karla did not write. “I’m sure there’re people out there who only know me from this song, but I really enjoyed singing and recording it.”
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