Country Music People March 2019 - Page 61

Bonnie Guitar 1923-2019 V by Walt Trott eteran country-pop star Bonnie Guitar, 95, died Jan. 12 at a rehab medical center in Soap Lake, Wash. A beauty with haunting vocals, she captured the hearts of critics and fans alike, initially with Dark Moon, an early crossover for a country female artist, peaking at #6 pop in 1957, on the independent Dot label. Bonnie scored a follow up success Mr. Fire Eyes (#15, 1957), which she co-wrote with Ned Miller, who composed Dark Moon. There’s a backstory about Bonnie’s hit, which she recorded on Randy Wood’s Dot label, as former B movie star Gale Storm immediately covered Dark Moon, being a hitmaker for Randy via a series of pop covers for the new label. Among these were I Hear You Knocking (#2, 1955) and Ivory Tower (#6, 1956). Some say it was her spectacular 1950s’ TV series My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show that spurred sales, though Dark Moon her sixth proved to be her last Top 10 charting. Had Randy declined her covering his country artist, Bonnie’s superior version may have been an easy pop #1. Bonnie confided that she was so anxious to cut Dark Moon, that she blurted out she would do it even without royalties. That was taken seriously by her producer, meaning Bonnie passed up a small fortune. On the plus side, it got her on such popular national TV programs as The Ed Sullivan Show and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, spreading her fame. Never one to spit sour grapes, Bonnie temporarily moved to Los Angeles working in the studios playing guitar and supplying backing vocals, along with the famed Wrecking Crew, when not touring with fellow artists like Gene Vincent, Jerry Lee Lewis and The Everly Brothers. Earlier she found working with dictatorial executive Fabor Robinson, a true challenge, while his Abbott label basked in the discovery of smooth- voiced Jim Reeves, and even his fledgling Fabor label found favor with a new group The Browns and unknown Ginny Wright, whose 1954 duet I Love You with Jim Reeves became an easy Top Five, as did her ’55 duet Are You Mine with Tom Tall. As a result of working with Robinson, Bonnie was inspired to operate her own label, Dolphin (later retitled Dolton), scoring Bonnie Guitar with Ed Sullivan a #1 disc with Come Softly To Me by The Fleetwoods, who followed that success with a matching #1, Mr. Blue. Of course, Bonnie released an occasional single herself, notably Candy Apple Red, but enjoyed the challenge of working behind the mic. Another of her label’s successful acts was The Ventures, whose surfing spins, Walk Don’t Run (#2, 1960), and Perfidia (#8, 1960), established them as a perennial group, later earning induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 1963 Dolton was sold to Liberty Records. Impressed by her studio know-how, Dot’s Randy Wood assigned Bonnie as an arranger and producer, likely a first for a country female in the industry. “He gave me a free hand, rather unusual back then,” said Bonnie. She worked in the studio with the likes of Mac Wiseman and Jimmy C. Newman, while also producing her own output. In 1966, she returned to the country charts with I’m Living in Two Worlds (#9) and Get Your Lie the Way You Want It (And Come On Home) (#14). The Academy of Country Music voted Bonnie top female vocalist that year. The following year, she returned to the chart via A Woman In Love (#4) and its successor I Believe in Love (#10, 1968). Born in Seattle, March 25, 1923, later reports indicate her real name was not Bonnie, but Tiffany Carter (news to us). Her brothers lent her their flat-top Gibson when she was 13, to take lessons on. In those beginning years, she entered local talent contests and appeared in a music group that toured the region. Along about that time, she adopted her stage name: Bonnie Guitar. In 1944, Bonnie wed her guitar teacher, Paul Tutmarc, reportedly credited with inventing the first electric bass guitar, who was 27 years her senior. She performed with him around the Northwest, billed as Paul Tutmarc & The Wranglers, until their 1955 divorce. He is dad to daughter Paula. Bonnie married Mario DePiano in 1969. He was a rancher, raising cattle and quarter horses on an 80-acre prime property in Sumner, Wash., near Seattle. She loved the outdoor life and camping out. Bonnie Guitar lost her husband in 1983, so she decided to try her hand at recording and performing again. After that she became the signature artist at the Notaras Businessman’s Club in Soap Lake, run by her lifelong friend Marina Romary. MARCH 2019 - cmp 61