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Concert Preview: Seasoned Songwriters Bonoff & Taylor Teaming For Playhouse Gig

Published: April 19, 2018

RIDGEFIELD — The two accomplished and well-seasoned songwriter/performers co-headlining Ridgefield Playhouse on Saturday, April 28, both launched their musical careers when most of their teenage peers were satisfied spinning a few hit records on portable phonographs.

Livingston Taylor — brother of James and uncle to musician Ben Taylor — picked up his first guitar at the age of 13, inspiring a 50-year career that encompassed performance, songwriting, and teaching. While southern California native Karla Bonoff began writing songs and performing at the age of 15, immersing herself among some of the most famous talent coming out of the burgeoning Los Angeles music scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Ahead of their playhouse date, the pair called in for interviews with The Newtown Bee to discuss the tour, their respective careers, and the rush they each still get when a new song or arrangement comes to them out of the mist of their imaginations.

“I am after new songs all the time,” Taylor said.

“I’m mindful to do the hits, but it’s wonderful to have such a broad repertoire. Being my age, I’ve been able to develop a really deep and vast catalog representing all different genres. I need to do stuff that energizes me, that’s what keeps people coming back to see me,” he said. “On any given moment on stage, there are a hundred different directions I can go — so when I get to that place with an audience, we just start traveling!”

Bonoff said she just went to press “with a new CD that actually has some brand new stuff on it, along with some new recordings of some older stuff.”

“It was great to revisit these songs and record them the way I play them live,” she added. “There’s a Jackson Browne cover on it, and a new song that I’ve been playing live — I would say it’s very much a classic Karla Bonoff ballad called ‘Carry Me Home.’ That will be the title of the album, too.”

When it comes to the in-between times, Bonoff says she has lots to do and picks up her instrument when the mood strikes her.

“I’ve never been that disciplined,” she said. “I don’t have a daily regiment. But I do go through periods when I play a lot and other times a couple of weeks can go by. It’s not like in the days with the record companies where you had to have a new record out every year and you were on the road constantly, and  then when you came off the road you were writing. We had tough schedules then, which I kind of rebelled against, anyway.”

Taylor also has some exciting news, he was recently featured as the subject of a documentary film called Life Is Good.

“A woman by the name of Tracey Anarella wanted to make a documentary about my students at Berklee College of Music,” he said. “It focuses a lot on them. It follows an existing class and speaks about what they’re looking to do and how they’re hoping to move their careers forward.”

Playing The Hits

Taylor lives up to his surname and more with several Top 40 Hits to his credit, including “I Will Be in Love with You,” “I’ll Come Running,” “I Can Dream of You,” and “Boatman,” all of which he will be performing at the playhouse show.

Bonoff on the other hand, has happily shared her songs with other artists who have recorded them and turned them into hits. Bonnie Raitt (“Home”), Wynonna Judd (“Tell Me Why”) and Linda Ronstadt are among the huge names who have tapped Bonoff’s talents, resulting in mutually satisfying and beneficial collaborations.

Bonoff recalls in her official bio, that after being introduced to Ronstadt, the two sat down to listen to a demo of “Lose Again.”

“Hey, you know that’s real good,” Bonoff remembers Ronstadt saying, “What else have you got?”

Having plenty to offer, Ronstadt eventually used three Bonoff songs for her Hasten Down the Wind album: “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” “If He’s Ever Near” and “Lose Again.”

When he is not writing or touring, Taylor said he still spends much of his time working as a professor at Berklee, where he has taught a stage performance course since 1989. He recorded his first album at the age of 18 and has continued to craft introspective and entertaining original songs that have endeared him to fans worldwide.

Talking about his songwriting approach, Taylor likened the way he approaches the blank page to the way he tinkers with old cars and his vintage Cessna airplane.

“Sure, first you have to have an idea, and then you need to tinker with lyrics, and melody, and bridges to a point,” he explained. “There needs to be continuity to the story both musically and lyrically. You do all the same things when you tear into some kind of mechanical project. You get the big stuff done and then go back and do the detail work — the polishing and punctuating.”

In concert over the years, Taylor has shared the stage with countless other artists that have worked with or influenced Bonoff including brother James, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Fleetwood Mac, Jimmy Buffett, even Jethro Tull, whose founder and principal songwriter Ian Anderson is a longtime friend.

“Ian is a wonderful and energetic guy, just a delight to know,” Taylor said. “And I’m reminded that he first taught me a certain way of stringing a guitar that I use to this day. He’s one of my innovative and go-to musical sources.”

Bonoff learned to play guitar taking lessons with Frank Hamilton of the folk group The Weavers. And by the time she turned 16, she and her sister Lisa auditioned for Elektra Records and completed an 11-song demo recorded by Doors engineer Bruce Botnick. Unfortunately no deal resulted from that project.

This did not deter Bonoff, who recalled regularly lining up at the legendary Troubadour at noontime on Mondays to get a slot in the famous Monday night Troubadour “hoot,” which was a breaking ground for many artists who went on to great success.

A Few Friends

As a result of hanging out in line at the Troubadour, Bonoff struck up friendships with a galaxy of other southern California rising stars.

“It was an amazing time,” she said.

Her immediate circle of friends included Jackson Browne, famed drummer and producer Russ Kunkel, Joe Walsh, guitarists Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kortchmar, Eagles members Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit, Peter Frampton, Bill Payne, JD Souther, and her old partners from her on-again off-again band Bryndle, Wendy Waldman, Andrew Gold and Kenny Edwards.

“Jackson was really one of the first friends I made waiting in line with him at the Troubadour. I was 16, he was 19, and doing those open mic nights. He wrote “There Days” when he was 16, and he didn’t have a record deal yet. So he’d stand up there and he did these six or seven songs and we’d just stand there in awe.”

There was another special guest on one of those Troubadour open mics that Bonoff remembers vivdly.

“I was about to leave and somebody says I need to stay to hear this new singer,” she said. “And this new singer James Taylor gets up there and played four songs from his very first album, which he just completed in England, and my mouth just dropped. And I remember waiting in line a few months later waiting at the store for his record to come out.”

As far as his choice of venues, Taylor says he enjoys performing in state of the art theaters as well as historic spaces like the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. He’s even taking a few days this summer to entertain audiences on an antique train as a artist in residence with Vermont’s “Roots on the Rails” experience.

Bonoff and Taylor have known each other for years and shared an intersecting point having both worked with Ronstadt. Bonoff has also been invited to open for James Taylor.

She contributed the song “Somebody’s Eyes” for the Footloose movie soundtrack, and scored a Top 20 hit with the song “Personally,” which is arguably her biggest commercial success but not written by her.

Besides performing their own selection of hits, Bonoff and Taylor both told The Bee they will be showcasing brand new material, and the pair will also do a couple of numbers together.

“We don’t have a lot of time, but we’re doing a few encore numbers together,” Bonoff said. “We’re working on getting two or three songs down really well. We’ve only done a few shows together so far, so I think it will be an evolving thing as the tour goes on. We both live on opposite coasts, so it’s hard to rehearse together. We have to work on material together on the fly.”

Taylor said one of the things that works really well for the pair is their contrasting personalities.

“She is a great songwriter and what a voice! While I tend to be a little more energetic and bubbly,” he said. “I tend to be familiar and she tends to be more reserved. If we were both canines, Karla would be the statuesque poodle, and I would clearly be the adolescent Golden Retriever. But when the two of us are together, it’s a nice juxtaposition.”

For tickets ($45), contact the Playhouse box office at ridgefieldplayhouse.org or 203-438-5795. Ridgefield Playhouse is a nonprofit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street.

Check out Karla Bonoff performing her song “All My Life” — one of the most requested wedding songs of all time:

Livingston Taylor included his song “Best of Friends” during a 2014 Fur Piece ranch showcase:

 

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