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Back on the Road: Karla Bonoff at the Greenwich Odeum

Okee dokee folks… Back in the pre-pandemic era I was scheduled to perform an opener for Karla Bonoff at the Greenwich Odeum. Then the cancellations started and the show was bumped ahead a couple of months and then again a couple of months later. This continued for a year and a half until society got a little bit of a handle on the pandemic. I am happy to say that the show is actually happening on Friday, October 1! 

Karla Bonoff is a singer songwriter, who has been performing since the late 60’s and her eponymous first album went gold in 1977. This release included a few of of Bonoff’s songs, which had previously been recorded by Linda Ronstadt: “Lose Again”, “If He’s Ever Near”, “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”, and one by Bonnie Raitt -“Home”. This album also included a who’s who of 70’s players and singers as well: Andrew Gold, Lind Ronstadt, Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Wendy Waldman, Glenn Frey, JD Souther, and quite a few others. I’ve had this record in my collection since it was released and I actually find that Bonoff’s version of her song, “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me” outshines Rondstat’s cover. As hard as is is to say about any Rondstat performance, the production muddies this interpretation. Bonoff’s cut seems to better emphasize the loneliness of the lyrics.

At the age of sixteen Karla and her sister Lisa auditioned for Elektra Records and recorded an 11-song demo but no deal came of this. She played often at the famous Monday night Troubadour in LA which was a breaking ground for many artists such as Jackson Browne, James Taylor and Elton John. There were other singer-songwriters (Kenny Edwards-Stone Poneys with Linda Ronstad, Wendy Waldman-writer/producer, and Andrew Gold-“Lonely Boy” and “Thank You for Being a Friend”) who became friends of Bonoff’s and they formed a band together called Bryndle. The group recorded an album for A&M records and but the record was shelved. Edwards and Gold joined Rondstat’s band and this connection led Linda to record three of Bonoff’s compositions on her 1976 Hasten Down the Wind album. This helped Karla secure a record deal and release her debut LP. 

Over the years Bonoff would release many more albums, have more songs recorded by Linda Rondstat and other artists and reform Bryndle-only this time releasing a couple of albums. In 1982 she scored a hit with “Personally”, which was a top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and in ’84 she sang lead on the song “Somebody’s Eyes” which was included on the Footloose film soundtrack. Karla still records and tours the US and Japan regularly. She recently release a holiday album entitled Silent Night as well as a single and video of the song, “Night Full of Rain”. 

I called Karla at her Montecito, California home the other day and we had a conversation about the upcoming show at the Odeum as well as a few off the cuff topics.
John Fuzek: Hi, is it smokey out there from fires?
Karla Bonoff: We haven’t had the smoke, it’s been going east instead of south which is good for us, not great for everyone else, it’s very, very dry
JF: Do you ever watch Bill Maher? I like his idea of a pipeline carrying water cross country
KB: Yes, all the excess rain and snow there should be a way to pipeline it to the west
JF: Romans built aqueducts a millennia ago…anyway…the show that we are playing was supposed to take place a year and a half ago
KB: I know, everything that I am doing started up in September and it’s all from stuff that’s been rescheduled, it’s like we had a weird missing time event and now we’re doing it
JF: I looked at your touring schedule, you seem quite busy
KB: We are, it’s busier than I would normally do, but we are trying to make everything up and had to squash it in wherever we could, everybody was rescheduling so many times, all these shows have been moved two to three times, I feel bad for the agents, it’s bad enough to have that job, but to have to redo this stuff over and over and over and over again… We were out on our first leg last week for the first time I’ve been out playing in a year and a half, I think people are still a little afraid to come out. It is what it is. You just have to plow forward and hope this all gets resolved.
JF: It’s been a mixed bag here as far as audiences, hard to know for sure.
KB: How is RI doing as far as vaccines?
JF: I think we are in the higher end of the vax rate, New England is fairly good overall.
KB: Yes Massachusetts did pretty well. As well as Vermont, which is great.
JF: I couldn’t wait to get a vaccine.
KB: Me, too, I had to go through a lot to get one, too.
JF: Right, me, too and as soon as I got it,, they started giving them to everyone.
KB: Same thing here, I had to drive to LA, Magic Mountain, which is like 75 miles. It was a big amusement park with millions of people driving through. It was worth it. It was really organized, but within a few weeks you could go to the market and get one. I didn’t want to wait. It was scary, I just got the booster. I was getting ready to travel, and be at airports, and be inside at venues that didn’t have vaccine requirements and I couldn’t risk it.
JF: I have had to show my vaccine proof for a few shows that I have done, and I am happy about that.
KB: More and more venues are doing it. I find that (mostly) everywhere I am going is doing it…
JF: Well, 670, 00 people have died from it so being safe is wise.
KB: Michael McDonald got it [COVID-19] after having both vaccines, and they had to cancel four or five Doobie Brothers 50th Anniversary shows.
JF: I had a friend who got very sick, not hospitalized, after getting the vaccine, but it was the J&J.
KB: I have heard that about the J&J. Michael got it out on the road somewhere. He said he’s ok but it’s still scary.
JF: Back to the music… You just put out a new recording, didn’t you?
KB: While we were on Covid hiatus, I did a Christmas album and released the single, “A Night Full of Rain.”
JF: I saw that the video for that single was recorded while you drove a truck, was that on a sound stage or did you just drive around?
KB: My producer, Sean, and his daughter do videos. It was just a one shot thing. I drove the truck and he and his daughter shot it, it was fun.

Karla and I went on to talk at length about CDs and albums and the waning of physical media versus digital. We both preferred to have the CD or vinyl. Karla said, “We are the old people of the generation now, these are remnants of our youth”

We got back to the interview, and I asked Karla if she was performing solo or with a band at the Greenwich Odeum.
KB: I play with Nina Gerber who is a really wonderful guitar player. We have been playing together for 15 years now. She played with Kate Wolf back in the day. She is pretty well known in Northern California. She sometimes plays with Eliza Gilkyson, and she is an artist in her own right. She has some CDs that are really beautiful. It’s just the two of us. It’s pretty “unplugged” acoustic, piano, guitar. I play piano and guitar, and Nina plays electric and acoustic guitar. If you go to my YouTube page you can watch the videos of the two of us performing. That’s pretty much what the show is.
JF: I noticed that you had a bunch of videos recorded in Japan, and saw that you have a following in Japan. How did that happen?
KB: When I did my second record for Columbia, the Restless Nights album, it just took off there. We went over in 1980, and had a huge amount of fans. We’ve gone over pretty much every year to play. We have a lot of younger fans there as well. I think their parents turned them on to it. it’s very different than here
JF: I have been to Japan. It’s an entirely different culture there, especially when I went in the mid 80’s. It was culture shock for me, coming from Rhode Island.
KB: It was culture shock back in the 80’s. We had a drummer with dreadlocks and they would want to touch his hair. They hadn’t seen a lot of westerners then, especially outside of Tokyo.
JF: Yes, they do that! I was in Shizouka, and I had people come right up to me and grab my chest hair or touch my beard!
KB: Right! It’s not like that now but it was in the 80’s.
JF: I had people coming up to me, and wanted photographs taken with me, and I was no one but an American.
KB: It was really fun, but now they have seen us a million times and it’s not like that anymore. 
JF: I am thrilled to be on the bill with you. I have wanted to do a show with you for a long time. I think our music has the same audience, especially these days with newer music that I really don’t connect with.
KB: It’s just a different world… I am grateful to be doing this, and hopefully staying healthy. I know I won’t be able to do it forever but I am enjoying it while it lasts.
JF: While I was watching your videos I came across “Personally”. I remember that one from way back, do you perform that one live?
KB: It was a great record to make. It’s not a great live song without a band. Sometimes we play if for fun as an encore, but it’s kind of weird on acoustic guitar; it’s a whole different thing. It’s also a little high for me now. I haven’t changed all the keys on everything yet.
JF: Yup, I have run into that. Your voice drops as you get older.
KB: On guitar with a capo, it’s pretty easy, but on piano it’s a hassle. I have to learn them in the new key, and then sometimes you wind up going into the old key and it’s a potential disaster!
JF: I have a hard time remembering lyrics these days!
KB: Linda Rondstat in her prime even had a hard time remembering lyrics. It’s just a thing. She would just block.
JF: Didn’t she have stage fright as well?
KB: She was never all that comfortable. She was comfortable singing, but not that comfortable being a performer.
JF: You worked with her, and she recorded your music, like “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”.
KB: Yes… I think more people know her version than mine.
JF: I like your version better. I have friends that are fans of Bryndle, unfortunately I am not that familiar with it. I do know Andrew Gold’s stuff though
KB: We made a couple of good records, one in ’95 and another in 2003.
JF: Is Wendy Waldman still performing?
KB: She is doing more producing of other artists. She was playing a a group called the Refugees. She doesn’t really like traveling. She has a studio in her house. She is a really good producer so she is doing mostly that.
JF: I am pretty sure I met her at one time at a Folk Alliance conference.
KB: It was probably Folk Alliance. She did do that.
JF: And Andrew Gold died a few years back?
KB: he did, yes, as did Kenny Edwards, Andrew was 59 and Kenny was 64, they died just a few years apart 
JF: It’s always sad.
KB: Yes,both of them would have made a lot more music.
JF: They do have music out there, especially Andrew. That will always be out there, he has the Golden Girls theme.
KB: Right, Andrew’s widow does a really good job promoting his music still.
JF: I guess we should get around to talking about the show again. What can we expect at the show?
KB: We do a whole mix of stuff from my first album, all the way until now. Maybe some stuff from the Christmas album. It’s a good array of everything. It’s me and Nina playing the tunes!
JF: The Odeum is very nice I have played there a few times
KB: I have never worked there, it’s a new one for me.
JF: The people who work there are great.
KB: Good! I am looking forward to it! I am excited to get back and play. I hope that people will come out to the show. I think now we are all just trying to keep music going, keeping venues alive.
JF: I look forward to meeting you and playing the show!
KB: I will see you there…

Karla Bonoff with special guest, John Fuzek (ME!), will be at the Greenwich Odeum on Friday, October 1 at 8pm. For more, KarlaBonoff.com and You can find “Something Fine” at: GreenwichOdeum.com. That’s it for now, thanks for reading. www.JohnFuzek.com

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