Songwriter Karla Bonoff looks back with no regrets
April 11, 2014
When singer and songwriter Karla Bonoff was younger, saw future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jackson Brown perform at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, Calif.
"I remember being 16 and hearing him play and being so blown away," Bonoff said during an interview with The Park Record from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. "He would play Monday nights and always would come in with a new song."
Browne was also a huge influence on Bonoff and, later, became one of her biggest supporters.
When Bonoff’s self-titled debut album was released in 1977, Browne asked her to be his opening act.
"I played in front of 10,000 people for about two months," Bonoff said.
Park City will get to see Bonoff in action when she plays the Egyptian Theatre for one night on Sunday, April 13. Nina Gerber will open the show at 6 p.m.
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Bonoff said she is looking forward to the show.
"I’ve been in Park City a long time ago for vacation, but I have never played up there," she said.
Sunday’s set will be a career retrospective, Bonoff explained.
"We play stuff from all my albums that go all the way back to the 1970s and covers the past 40 years," she said. "We will also play some new stuff."
One new song is Bonoff’s cover of Browne’s "Something Fine," which appears on the new album, "Looking Into You: A Jackson Browne Tribute."
Other artists who appear on the album include Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper, Lucinda Williams, Lyle Lovett, Marc Cohn, Bruce Hornsby, Keb’ Mo’ and Don Henley of the Eagles.
"For me it was a huge honor, because I was in Los Angeles when Jackson was writing his songs and trying to get record deals," Bonoff said. "I would have felt bad if I wasn’t a part of the tribute."
Most of the songs that are on the album were selected from a list, she said.
"I was originally asked to do ‘Late for the Sky’ and, in retrospect, I think I could have done it, but we didn’t have a lot of time," Bonoff said. "’Something Fine’ was one that I knew and I felt it would be very different if performed from the perspective of a woman, because as far as I know, no woman has recorded it. I was glad to do it."
The other songs that Bonoff will perform Sunday night will include "Someone to Lay Down Beside Me" and "Lose Again," a couple of her biggest hits.
"You know certain songs just rise to the top over the years," she said. "There are always the ones that are easy to play and sound good."
So it wasn’t difficult for her to choose a set list.
"In actuality, I haven’t been very prolific, so I don’t have 200 songs or a huge catalog like James Taylor," she said with laugh. "So it’s not hard for me to figure out what I’m going to play."
To Bonoff’s fans, each song takes them back to different points of their lives, but for the songwriter, the songs’ significances have changed.
"It’s interesting because after playing these songs year to year, they start to take on different meanings," she said. "Since new things happen during life, the songs don’t always feel like they are about the original thing they were written about. I mean, some of these songs I wrote when I was 23 and I can barely remember what I felt like back then."
These days the enjoyment of performing the songs sometimes isn’t what the song is about, but how it feels.
"It’s about getting into the music and the craft," Bonoff said. "It’s just about playing the music and being on stage, so it doesn’t have a deep emotional meaning."
Still, there have been a few songs by Bonoff that took on lives of their own.
"The song I wrote called ‘Goodbye My Friend’ was one I didn’t really write for people to hear," she said. "I wrote it for myself, because I had lost a favorite pet. I was so upset and started writing it as a way to get all those feelings out.
"It has turned out to be a very cathartic song for people who have lost loved ones and that sort of surprised me," Bonoff said. "It also taught me not to edit myself. It’s good to really do something purely for the sake of doing it."
Throughout her career, Bonoff has had her songs recorded by Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Wynonna Judd.
"It keeps the songs alive because their versions spread out to their audiences, which aren’t necessarily the same as mine," Bonoff said. "People get to know me from a whole other fan base. And that’s the great part about being the songwriter. You’re reaching a lot of other people and you have income from other places, which means you don’t have to constantly be on the road. It’s always something that I’ve considered a blessing."
When she was starting out, Bonoff never thought twice about the future, let alone the fact that she might be performing 40 years down the line.
"You are so in the moment of what you’re doing that you don’t think about things like that, which can be somewhat bad, because the peak moments are fleeting and you should take advantage of them," she said. "I doubt that any of us thought we’d still be playing songs after all these years. I mean, I doubt we even thought Mick Jagger would be doing what he does at 70."
However, Bonoff has no regrets about the life she has chosen.
"It has been a gift for me to be able to do this for a living and not having to have a regular job," she said. "It’s been amazing to have the freedom that comes with this type of life. I don’t have to go into an office every day, but I’ve been able to tour the world.
"Most of my music has always been personal, and that’s the thing that I think people relate to," she said. "This kind of music, the singer and songwriter style, is very personal and I think that’s why people like it."
Singer and songwriter Karla Bonoff will perform at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Sunday, April 13, at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $23 to $35 and are available by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.