Karla Bonoff…Deserved More Success

She deserved to be more popular.

In late 1977, we bought tickets to Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty” concert in Omaha, which was set for January, 1978.  Opening for him was Karla Bonoff.  She had just released her self-titled album (above).  We had heard of Bonoff, because she had been a backup singer for Linda Ronstadt, and had written three songs that appeared on Ronstadt’s Hasten Down The Wind album…”Someone To Lay Down Beside Me”, “Lose Again” and “If He’s Ever Near”.

We always liked to get to know the opening acts, so we bought Karla Bonoff’s album.

Besides the songs she wrote for Ronstadt, the album has a couple of songs that should have been hits… “I Can’t Hold On”, and “Isn’t It Always Love”, plus the beautiful “Falling Star”, and really, the whole album is good.

So she opens the concert, and the crowd is extremely responsive to her performance.  In fact, she gets what few opening acts get, an encore.  We knew what her encore song would be, because she hadn’t performed “Falling Star” during her set.

Here’s a photo of Karla taken less than a month after we first saw her.  It’s amazing that Karla Bonoff never really broke through to Radio, or on the charts.  She had just one Top 20 hit, “Personally”, which was an old cover song.  It might have been a mixed blessing when Linda Ronstadt recorded her songs.  With Ronstadt’s following, Bonoff’s songs became much better known (and the royalties would be large), but Karla was never able to come close to Linda’s level of popularity.  That doesn’t mean Karla Bonoff didn’t sing beautifully, write great songs, and release solid albums.

Karla’s second album, Restless Nights (1979), is also a record you could just drop the needle on and enjoy…so many good songs.

There’s one song on it that’s extremely well-crafted and catchy.  I still have trouble believing it wasn’t a hit.  “Baby Don’t Go” featured Andrew Gold and Kenny Edwards (who co-wrote it with Karla) on guitars and harmony vocals.  Here’s the song, see if you think it would have sounded great on the radio:

Karla Bonoff’s third album is Wild Heart Of The Young.  It was released in 1982, and although it contains the hit “Personally”, it was her weakest album.  It wasn’t until 1988 that Bonoff released her next (excellent) album New World.

This one includes some her best songwriting and recordings.  The title track, “New World”, is one of our favorites.  Interestingly, with this return to form, Linda Ronstadt again chose three of Bonoff’s songs for her multi-platinum album, Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind.  The songs chosen were “All My Life”, “Goodbye My Friend”, and “All Walk Alone”.  Her recording of “All My Life” with Aaron Neville won a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group” in 1989.

We’ve seen Karla Bonoff in concert three times.  The latest one was in January of 2017, 39-years to the month after the first time.

This was at The Shedd Institute, a nice smaller venue here in Eugene, Oregon.  She accompanied herself on guitar and piano, and was supported by an additional guitarist (Nina Gerber).  It was an excellent concert for an enthusiastic crowd.

As she told some stories about her songs, she mentioned “All My Life”.  She admitted she was a little envious of Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville winning the Grammy for her song while she had to watch from home.

After the show, Karla Bonoff graciously talked with fans and posed for photos.  Here she is with my wife, Jeannette, who like Karla, was born in 1951.

In 2019, Karla Bonoff released the album Carry Me Home.  Unfortunately, it’s mostly re-recordings of her already released songs.  It’s still a very good listen, because amazingly her voice sounds the same.  The better recommendation is to stream or buy the collection of some of her best recordings, All My Life.

Once you get to know her songs, you can join the fans who believe she deserved to be much more popular.

Extra:  Our main Karla Bonoff playlist:

  1. I Can’t Hold On
  2. Someone To Lay Down Beside Me
  3. Lose Again
  4. Isn’t It Always Love
  5. Home
  6. If He’s Ever Near
  7. Falling Star
  8. Baby Don’t Go
  9. Never Stop Her Heart
  10. Loving You
  11. The Water Is Wide (with James Taylor)
  12. Trouble Again
  13. When You Walk In The Room
  14. Only A Fool
  15. Personally
  16. New World
  17. All My Life
  18. Way Of The Heart
  19. Goodbye My Friend
  20. All Walk Alone


6 Replies to “Karla Bonoff…Deserved More Success”

  1. Karla Bonoff is my favorite singer songwriter. She has written amazing songs for movies and many other singers. I toured for a while with a finger picker named Elaine Herfindahl, and we covered many of Karla’s songs. I love them all. I met her at her concert at Iowa Western and I was tongue tied. I’m sure she was thinking what is this guy trying to say while she was signing my CD. She was backed up by Nina Gerber, another underrated musician who can do it all. Karla doesn’t come to Iowa or Nebraska often. I envy your seeing her 3 times.

    Editor: Bob, you may not remember, but we were at that Iowa concert too. That’s the second time we saw her. Also, that was Nina Gerber with Karla here in Eugene. Thanks for reminding us of her name.

    1. I bought the self titled album in the 70s and loved it. Still have it, but haven’t played it for a long time. I’ll have to check out All My Life.

  2. I first saw Karla about 1977 in Olympia Washington open for Jesse Colin Young and she stole the show. Less than a year later I saw her in Seattle and Kenny Rankin opened for her. I then moved back to the east coast and did not see her again until 2017-19 in Columbus and Cincinnati Ohio, and Franklin, Tenn with Nina Gerber. I never stopped listening to her first 2 albums. She is far away my favorite female composer and singer. She has the best voice I ever heard and I like every song she has written, her new stuff never disappoints. She is like a fine wine…gets better with age. I love to play Home on my guitar, and can’t wait to see her again. I live near Cinci now and she just does not play much in the Ohio-Kentucky area…..great musician, singer, and song writer! Best voice i have ever heard…..

  3. It’s late night April 23, 2022. I just watched Karla Bonoff and Nina Gerber play at the Red Clay Theater here in Duluth GA. Her voice is still great and Nina Gerber’s guitar blended perfectly with Bonoff. She may have deserved more success but she still delivers a fine show. If you get the chance to see her and liked her songs, you will not regret seeing her live.

  4. Karla’s debut LP is a classic, and a top-10 singer/songwriter debut LP (up there with debuts from Laura Nyro, Dar Williams and Liv Taylor). But her creative output diminished significantly as her career went on, and that’s likely why her success was so limited. I’m surprised that she didn’t write more material, or evolve perhaps as much as other singer/songwriters (P Simon, Joni, JT, Springsteen). But her first album is a gem.

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