Karla Bonoff took us on a melancholy trip back to 1970s Los Angeles tonight at Eugene’s Shedd Institute.
Though she has had her own minor singing career, the 64-year-old Bonoff is best known for penning a handful of love songs made famous by other singers – principally Linda Ronstadt, whom she got to know at L.A.’s famous Troubadour – but also by such luminaries as Bonnie Raitt and Wynonna Judd.
Performing solo, accompanying herself on guitar or piano tonight at the Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall, Bonoff started out a bit rough – her voice couldn’t quite stretch to hit all the notes – but by the end of the 90-minute single-set program she had settled into a comfortable groove with herself and with her enthusiastic Boomer-age audience.
Bonoff was pretty much unknown when she first met Ronstadt in L.A. in the 1970s. She was, she told the audience, working two jobs, playing in a top-40 rock ‘n roll bar band near LAX and emptying cat litter boxes in Topanga Canyon. Then Ronstadt performed a Bonoff song at the Universal Amphitheatre, and, as Bonoff said, “I knew I would never have to empty cat boxes again.”
Ronstadt’s 1976 album Hasten Down the Wind had three Bonoff songs on it: “Someone To Lay Down Beside Me”, “Lose Again,” and “If He’s Ever Near.” The next year Bonoff brought out her first album, Karla Bonoff, with those three songs as well as “I Can’t Hold On” and the tune “Home,” later covered by Raitt.
Her voice may have been stronger in 1977, but it was sweet this evening to hear Bonoff’s stories about her musical career. She made easy fun of her one hit single – Paul Kelly’s 1978 pop tune “Personally,” which she said she stopped performing for some time as a solo artist because she couldn’t compete with the intense orchestration of the original release. “Now I don’t give a shit,” she said, to audience cheers.
Bonoff’s musical offering may be small, but it’s lovely and sad. She writes and sings well of love and loss, and it’s hard to imagine a better late-night driving song than “Home”:
Traveling at night, the headlights were bright
And we’d been up many an hour
And all through my brain
Came the refrain
Of home and it’s warming fire
Sings me of sweet things
My life there has it’s own wings
To fly over the mountains
Though I’m standing still….