With a career spanning four decades, Karla Bonoff is an acclaimed singer/songwriter who has written many classic songs that have been recorded by Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville, Wynonna Judd, Bonnie Raitt and other artists. She has also released five studio albums as a solo artist, and she continues to play live shows and record new music.
Bonoff is perhaps best known for writing six, memorable songs that Ronstadt recorded for two of her most popular albums: Hasten Down the Wind and Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind. Most of these songs are beautiful, graceful ballads, that are arguably among the best ballads that Ronstadt recorded.
On Hasten Down the Wind (released in 1976), Bonoff wrote the songs “Somewhere to Lay Down Beside Me,” the single “Lose Again,” and “If He’s Ever Near.” And for Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind (1989), she wrote the hit single “All My Life” (a duet by Ronstadt & Aaron Neville), “Goodbye My Friend” and “Trouble Again.”
As a solo artist, Bonoff released her first four albums in the late ‘70s and in the ‘80s: Karla Bonoff (released in 1977 and certified gold); Restless Nights (1979); Wild Heart of the Young (1982); and New World (1988). She was also a member of the folk-rock band Bryndle (which included Kenny Edwards, Andrew Gold & Wendy Waldman) that released two albums: Bryndle (1995) and House of Silence (2002).
Notably, a full 31 years since her last solo album, and 17 years after Bryndle’s last album, Bonoff has released (in February 2019) her fifth solo album, Carry Me Home. This album marks a very impressive return—Carry Me Home is an excellent album that is among Bonoff’s best works. Consisting of 16 songs, Bonoff has recorded new versions of 12 of her classic songs, that feature understated, mostly acoustic arrangements that give each song a pure, timeless quality. The album also contains four new songs: the title cut “Carry Me Home,” plus her recordings of songs written by Jackson Browne and Kenny Edwards.
Originally from West Los Angeles, Bonoff learned to play piano and guitar at a young age, and she was inspired by listening to Joni Mitchell and other artists. She started writing songs when she was 15, and she would eventually become part of the young country-rock community in L.A., who hung out and performed at The Troubadour club. She met and became friends with guitarist & singer Edwards, who introduced her to musicians Gold and Waldman. The four became friends and formed the band Bryndle in the late ‘60s.
Here’s a video of Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville performing their
hit “All My Life,” which was written by Karla Bonoff.
The four members of Bryndle subsequently signed a label deal with A&M Records, but when the band was dropped by the label and broke up, Edwards and Gold joined Linda Ronstadt’s first group, The Stone Poneys. Through her friendship with Edwards, Bonoff met Ronstadt, who liked several of Bonoff’s songs. This led to Bonoff’s breakthrough—writing three songs that were featured on Ronstadt’s platinum album Hasten Down the Wind, followed by the release of her debut solo album (Karla Bonoff) on Columbia Records.
In addition to the songs on her own albums, and the songs recorded by Ronstadt, Bonoff’s songs have also been recorded by other artists. Notably, her song “Tell Me Why” was covered by Wynonna Judd and became a country hit in 1993. Prior to that, Bonoff had country success in 1979 when Lynn Anderson recorded her song “Isn’t It Always Love,” and it became a hit. And Bonnie Raitt recorded her song, ‘Home.”
Currently, Bonoff is promoting her Carry Me Home album, and she’ll be launching a new concert tour in September. She will be playing shows in Japan, followed by shows in Colorado, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Georgia.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Karla Bonoff. She tells how she wrote some of her classic songs, and discusses her new album, Carry Me Home.
DK: Going back to your early years, how did you get started as a songwriter and artist?
Karla Bonoff: I grew up in West Los Angeles, and I took piano and guitar lessons as a kid. Then I think when folk music started, and Joni Mitchell in particular, my sister Lisa and I started writing songs together. She wrote a lot of poetry, and I started writing melodies and put her lyrics to music. So that’s how it started, when I was around 15.
DK: A few years later, you formed the band Bryndle with Kenny Edwards, Andrew Gold and Wendy Waldman. How did you connect with them and decide to form this band?
Here’s the video of Linda Ronstadt’s single “Lose Again,” which
was written by Karla Bonoff.
Bonoff: I met Kenny Edwards first, at a transcendental meditation course up in Squaw Valley, California. And Kenny knew Wendy and Andrew, who went to school together in the Valley (in L.A.). So we all got together; I think it was probably Wendy’s idea for us to form a band.
We signed a label deal with A&M Records and we recorded an album, but they didn’t release it, and they decided to let us go. So we went our separate ways after that.
DK: Many years later (in 1995), you reunited with Bryndle and released two albums. What made you decide to get back together?
Bonoff: We really had a connection as musicians and singers, especially when you start young like that. And we sang four-part harmony, which was something we were good at. But maybe when we started, the songs weren’t realized. I think our talent for singing together and writing music was there, and so we all felt a little cheated by the fact that the band didn’t make it and our album didn’t see the light of day.
Then [in the ‘90s], I think it was Wendy who pushed us to get back together and write songs together. The first time around, we wrote the songs separately. So the second time around we wrote together, and we felt that the time was right to try to actually make that first record (that would be released). And then we did another one after that (in 2002).
DK: You wrote three songs—“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “Lose Again” and “If He’s Ever Near”—that Linda Ronstadt recorded for her Hasten Down the Wind album (in 1976). How did you meet and connect with Linda?
Bonoff: Kenny Edwards was in Linda’s first band, the Stone Poneys, so he knew her quite well. And Linda, like many of us, hung out at The Troubadour club in those days. We were part of the same group…all of us were floating around and playing. Then when our band Bryndle broke up, both Kenny and Andrew joined Linda’s band and toured with her. So I was able to be around Linda and pass her my songs, or Kenny would play her my songs. So you know, it was the right place at the right time.
Here’s a video of Wynnona Judd performing her hit “Tell Me
Why,” which was written by Karla Bonoff.
Also around that time, I had signed with Columbia Records and I recorded these three songs for my first album.
DK: So were you thrilled when Linda recorded these songs, even though her album came out six months before your album?
Bonoff: Oh absolutely. You know, there was not a question. At that point, she was at the height of her career, coming off her (multi-platinum) Heart Like a Wheel record. So for a songwriter who’d been struggling for 10 years, to suddenly have that kind of exposure, was huge for me. It was a huge shift, as far as recognition.
DK: I’ve listened to your versions of these three songs and Linda’s versions, and the songs are in the same key. So it just seemed that Linda had the perfect voice, to be the singer who could introduce your songs to a wide audience.
Bonoff: Right, exactly. These songs were really suited for her at the time. I didn’t write them for her, but Linda was a genius at finding songwriters and unknown songs and picking music. That was one of her true talents. Because she wasn’t a writer, that was something she really had to do.
DK: When you’re writing a song, do you usually come up with the music first, or do you like to write the lyrics first?
Bonoff: For me, because I came at songwriting from the music part first, and I wasn’t a poet or lyricist, it’s always been about the melodies and the music first. It’s the music that inspires me to write lyrics. I’m not someone who jots down ideas or writes verses, or thinks of titles. It doesn’t work that way for me. It’s more about the music moving me, that makes me want to say something. It’s much more of a physical than an intellectual thing.
DK: As an artist, you recorded three albums on Columbia Records. What are your favorite songs from those albums?
Bonoff: My first record has always been my favorite, because it’s sort of sentimental, and a lot of my best songs are on that album…“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “Home,” ‘Lose Again” and “If He’s Ever Near.”
Here’s a video of Karla Bonoff performing her song, “Goodbye
Then on my second album, I love “Restless Nights” and I love “The Water Is Wide,” although I didn’t write that song. On my third album, “Wild Heart of the Young” is my favorite song.
DK: Then in 1989, Linda Ronstadt recorded three more of your songs—“All My Life,” “Goodbye My Friend” and “Trouble Again— for her Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind album. How did Linda select these songs?
Bonoff: Linda called me and said she was going to do an album with Aaron Neville, and they needed some songs. So I suggested “All My Life” for her. And I think she just loved “Goodbye My Friend,” and she always liked “Trouble Again.” [Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind] was just the right album for her, and the right moment.
DK: Your biggest hit as a songwriter was writing “All My Life” for Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville. Can you talk about how you wrote this song?
Bonoff: Actually, I was commissioned to write that song for a movie. I wrote “All My Life” for a scene in the movie, but it didn’t make the film. This turned out to be a great blessing for me, because I ended up recording it on my fourth album, New World. And then when Linda asked me about songs for her album, I suggested “All My Life.” I sent her a copy of my New World album, and that’s probably how she heard “Goodbye My Friend” as well.
DK: One of my favorite songs of yours is “Goodbye My Friend,” which has a beautiful melody and a touching lyric. What inspired you to write this song? Was there a certain person or friend that you lost, that made you want to write it?
Bonoff: Actually, that song is about my cat, Tex, who I had for 16 years. He got out one day and he never came back. He was an indoor cat, but he escaped. He was just one of those really special cats, and I was just grieving so much…I couldn’t really come to grips with it. So I figured I would write something that nobody would ever hear, just to try to purge some of the feelings.
I wrote the song, but I didn’t think it was a song that anybody else would ever hear. As it turned out, it became a really important song for me. So it’s an interesting lesson, when you’re just writing for yourself and not really trying, you might come up with something even better than if you’re worrying about it so much. For me, “Goodbye My Friend” really came from a very deep place of grief. And a lot of people have told me that they use the song at memorials and funerals, so I’m glad that it’s been important for people.
Here’s the audio of Karla Bonoff’s new song, “Carry Me Home.”
DK: I like your new album, Carry Me Home, which has beautiful new versions of your older songs, plus new songs. I noticed that guitarist Nina Gerber is one of the main musicians on this album. Can you talk about the making of this album?
Bonoff: The album came out in February of this year. I’ve been touring with Nina Gerber for about 13 years. It’s just the two of us (onstage). And I felt that it would be nice to record the way we play these songs live and the way I sing now, because it’s different than the records that I made.
For the album, we went into the studio on a weekend and recorded a lot of it quickly. We recorded a couple new songs and the Jackson Browne song (“Something Fine”). I just felt like it would be a good thing to document our work, and the fans really appreciate having something new at shows. So I’m proud of the album.