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. 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. Stream the song, and you’ll hear how it should have been a big Radio hit.
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.
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 CD-length playlist