Singer/songwriter Karla Bonoff has performed her songs at sold-out shows all over the world. She will bring many of her iconic hits to local audiences when she plays an acoustic show at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 30, at Cincinnati’s 20th Century Theater.
Bonoff , a Southern California native, has shared the stage with artists like James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, John Prine and J.D. Souther. In addition to touring, success with her solo efforts, and work with the band Bryndle, Bonoff has a long history of penning hits for other artists, including Linda Ronstadt (“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” and more), Bonnie Raitt (“Home”), Wynonna Judd (“Tell Me Why) and Aaron Neville (with Ronstadt on “All My Life”) among others.
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In an intimate concert setting, Bonoff will perform a songbook that spans from her early days as a teen songwriter to new music from her latest CD, Carry Me Home. She will also share stories from a musical legacy, spanning over four decades, that has crossed the boundaries of folk, pop, and country music. During the concert, Bonoff will sing, play piano and guitar, and she will be backed by accomplished guitarist Nina Gerber.
The Carry Me Home project features 16 brand-new renditions of songs by Bonoff and Kenny Edwards, such as the title track, “Carry Me Home,” and “On Your Way to Heaven,” as well as a vintage Jackson Browne tune, “Something Fine.”
Produced by Bonoff and Sean McCue, the new album features Bonoff on piano and guitar and Gerber on acoustic and electric guitar. We spoke with Bonoff in a phone interview to find out more about her songwriting, the new album and her upcoming concert.
Q: Tell us about your early songwriting and how that moved into a professional writing role?
A: I started writing with my sister (Lisa), mostly music, and she wrote lyrics. We had an acoustic duo, kind of a Joni Mitchell-style. We were listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, and later, Carole King. So, I started writing music, and then I got in a band with a couple of other people, and we all started writing songs, together and separately, for our band (Bryndle) with Wendy Waldman, Andrew Gold and Kenny Edwards. That’s when I started writing on my own. At that point, I was 19 years old, and we were signed to A&M Records. So, I was trying to write professionally at that point, but it really didn’t come together for me until a bit later when I had done some more writing and performing, which led to Linda Ronstadt doing some of my songs. I would say that was an 8- or 10-year process.
Q: When did you start penning songs other artists?
A: I continued to perform on my own, and I continued to write songs. About the same time I got signed to my solo deal, around 1976, Linda Ronstadt also recorded a couple of my songs. I wasn’t writing for anybody else, I was writing for me, but people would ask for material, so I would offer them things I had written. I had some of the same songs that were on my first album (Karla Bonoff) that were on Linda’s Hasten Down the Wind Album.
Q: After Linda Ronstadt recorded some of your songs, did you aspire to do more songwriting for other artists, or how did that process evolve?
A: I never set out to write for anybody else. That wasn’t what I was doing. I was always just writing for me. Then, when people would ask for songs, I would pass them along. For example, the song that Wynonna recorded (“Tell Me Why”) had already been on an album of mine. So, once I referred her to that one, it had already been released by me. I was always writing for my own records and my own projects, and a lot of times, people would come to me asking for material.
Q: Some of your songs that were recorded by other artists have become big hits. Are there any moments that were especially meaningful for you as far as the level of success they achieved, or that more people were able to hear the song?
A: I always felt really lucky that I had such bright women artists recording my songs, starting with Bonnie Raitt, who was first. Then, Linda (Ronstadt) doing three songs back in the 1970s, and then a couple more in the 1990s. Then, Wynonna. So, I haven’t had that many songs recorded by other people, but the few that have been were recorded by those great artists, and they were hits for them, or successful album cuts for them. Of the few that I’ve had recorded, they were all really great.
Q: Were there any surprises for you as far as the songs achieving success, or gaining listeners all over the world?
A: Well, when Linda (Ronstadt) recorded “All My Life” with Aaron Neville, which was in the 1990s, many decades after her first, that was cool because it won a Grammy for Best Vocal Duo Performance. It was a pretty big hit for them. So, that was great. Then, also, the Wynonna cover of “Tell Me Why,” I think was her first big crossover into Adult Contemporary Radio. So, it was not only a country hit, but a pop hit, so that one was exciting for all of us, that she was able to do that.
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