She was an LA kid who fell in love with music
The Laurel Canyon Sound (is it really a proper noun?) was a flashpoint for rock ’n’ roll during the late 1960s and throughout the ’70s. Love it or hate it, and there were millions on each side of the debate, the music born in the Los Angeles neighborhood inspired passion.
And, really, isn’t that the point?
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is packed with stars of the period: The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, Mamas and Papas, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt.
Karla Bonoff hasn’t been given a plaque in the building, but she is certainly a member of the club. Best known as a writer of hits for Ronstadt (“Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “If He’s Ever Near,” “Lose Again”), Bonnie Raitt (“Home”) and the Grammy-winning “All My Life” for Ronstadt and Aaron Neville, she was an LA kid who fell in love with music and hung out with a group of like-minded friends at the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood.
“Now, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to be in that place and time,” Bonoff says. “I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing if I had been there because of that exposure. I don’t think I would have been brave enough like some of my other friends like J.D. Souther or Glenn Frey to leave their hometowns at that age and come to Los Angeles with nothing to be in the music business.”
Bonoff didn’t have to drive as far as Frey (Detroit), Souther (Amarillo) or Ronstadt (Tucson), but her journey had its own hurdles. The daughter of a doctor, who grew up “across the street from UCLA,” she found the courage to tell her folks that college wasn’t part of the plan.
“I think they expected me to walk over there and go to school, which even if I had gone to college, I would have rather gone to (University of California) Berkeley, which I almost did,” she says. “But because I got sucked into that whole (Troubadour) scene so young, they couldn’t quite get a feel for what it was like.
“I just couldn’t understand what I would do in college. But I can see where parents think when you’re 16, you couldn’t possibly know that. They didn’t want to give me my car or any money, they kind of pushed me out there and said, ‘Great, you try this,’ because I think they thought I would give up and come back. But I didn’t. It was good for me. Actually, it was a good test because you see if you really want something … you have to work really hard for it.”
Bonoff wasn’t – and isn’t – afraid of hard work. Fifty years later, she is making records (“Carry Me Home”) and traveling the country to play music, which was the initial allure of the Troubadour.
“I think there was some strength in numbers because I was in that band (Bryndle) with Kenny Edwards and Wendy Waldman and Andrew Gold, and we were all in the same boat … so that made it a little easier,” she says. “Kenny was a little older, he had been in the Stone Poneys (with Ronstadt) and I was his girlfriend at the time. I was cushioned a little bit by having the other people around me. It wasn’t like I was out there by myself.”
Although her name might have been in the album credits instead of at the top of marquee, Bonoff commanded respect from her peers. She opened tour dates for Taylor and Browne, and the people who played on her solo records included Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, Peter Frampton and Bill Payne among others.
“People hear things on the radio and never pay attention to who writes (the songs),” she says. “Then there’s the other group that pays attention to everything, saw my name on a Linda Ronstadt record and bought my album because of that.
“When you continue to perform and are playing to people who say that your music has been (around) their whole life or helped them get through this or that …. the gratitude that I have for the fact that I able to bring something to people that was meaningful and make a living (at the same time) is such a great gift. That part of it’s pretty cool.”
Interestingly, the Laurel Canyon Sound has popped up to describe a younger generation (Jenny Lewis, Molly Tuttle, Dawes, Josh Ritter and Weyes Blood among others) musically, if not geographically. The work shares some characteristics, but we’ll have to wait a while to see if the songs stand the test of time as well as its ancestors’.
If so, that would be pretty cool.
Karla Bonoff performs “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”.
2019 - Listen
Karla Bonoff’s inspiration for an award-winning career was close to home at the famed Troubadour in West Hollywood.
Bill recently caught up with Karla.