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Bonnie Guitar, Music Industry Trailblazer, Is Dead at 95 – The New York Times

Bonnie Guitar, Music Industry Trailblazer, Is Dead at 95 - The New York Times
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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/17/obituaries/bonnie-guitar-dead.html?actiohttps://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/obituaries/clydie-king-dead.htmln=click&module=MoreInSection&pgtype=Article&region=Footer&contentCollection=Obituaries
 
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Bonnie Guitar, Music Industry Trailblazer, Is Dead at 95
6-8 minutes

Bonnie Guitar in 1957. That year her “Dark Moon” became one of the first records by a female country singer to cross over to the pop chart, where it reached the Top 10.CreditMichael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Bonnie Guitar in 1957. That year her “Dark Moon” became one of the first records by a female country singer to cross over to the pop chart, where it reached the Top 10.CreditCreditMichael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Bonnie Guitar, who had hit records as a country singer and guitarist, but whose biggest achievement may have been her work as a businesswoman in the male-dominated music industry, died on Saturday in Soap Lake, Wash. She was 95.
Howard Reitzes, a longtime friend, confirmed her death, at a rehabilitation hospital.
Ms. Guitar was best known for her recording of “Dark Moon,” a Top 20 country single on the Dot label that crossed over to the pop Top 10 in 1957. The record, a haunting nocturne sung in a clear-toned alto, was, along with Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight” — which reached the pop Top 40 the same year — one of the earliest records by a female country singer to cross over to the pop chart.
“Dark Moon,” which also made the pop Top 10 in a subsequent version by Gale Storm, earned Ms. Guitar an invitation to appear on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in June 1957. Later that year she performed “Mister Fire Eyes,” her successful follow-up to “Dark Moon,” on the TV show “American Bandstand.”
But the achievement for which Ms. Guitar never really received her due, perhaps because she decided to remain in her native Washington instead of resettling in a major recording center like Los Angeles or Nashville, was her trailblazing work as a studio maven and entrepreneur. Over seven decades she did everything from engineer recordings to scout talent and run a record label.
In the late 1950s, returning to Seattle after a brief tenure as a session guitarist for the producer Fabor Robison in Los Angeles, she established Dolphin Records with two local businessmen, Bob Reisdorf and Lou Lavinthal.
Under her creative direction, Dolphin — which soon changed its name to Dolton — signed the Fleetwoods, a doo-wop-inspired trio of teenagers from Olympia, Wash., whose gauzy pop recordings “Come Softly to Me” and “Mr. Blue” both topped the pop chart in 1959.
Ms. Guitar was credited only as the arranger on the trio’s big hits (Mr. Reisdorf, a refrigerator salesman, was listed as producer), but her role was more than such billing might suggest.
“Because they had so much air in their voices, I had to do a lot of different fooling with microphones to get enough sound on the tape to saturate the tape,” Ms. Guitar said of her work with the Fleetwoods in an interview with No Depression magazine in 2006.
“I knew that the sound would be interesting to people, because they were so used to the full sound. I wanted it to come out, but I wanted it to be intimate. And I knew also not to use a regular guitar sound. I put nylon strings on my guitar, and I played just little, tinkling notes behind them.”
Dolton’s other landmark release under Ms. Guitar’s supervision was “Walk — Don’t Run,” a No. 2 pop hit in 1960 for the instrumental combo the Ventures, which came to be regarded as a surf-rock classic.
Ms. Guitar in about 1970.CreditMichael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Ms. Guitar in about 1970.CreditMichael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Ms. Guitar had a minor pop hit as a performer for Dolton with a song she wrote, “Candy Apple Red.” On an album she recorded in 1959 for RCA, which went unreleased at the time but was eventually issued by Bear Family Records in 2013 under the title “Intimate Session — the Velvet Lounge,” she sang in the pop-torch mode of Peggy Lee and Julie London. Backing her on the sessions were her fellow guitarists Billy Strange and Tommy Tedesco and other future members of the famed Los Angeles studio entourage known as the Wrecking Crew.
Ms. Guitar and her business partners sold the Dolton label to Liberty Records in 1963. She returned to Dot, as a recording artist, producer and talent scout, two years later.
Bonnie Guitar was born Bonnie Buckingham on March 25, 1923, in Seattle. Her parents, Doris and John, raised her and her five siblings on a farm outside Auburn, Wash., some 70 miles south of the Puget Sound.
Ms. Guitar’s brothers gave her their flat-top Gibson guitar when she was 13. Soon after that, she started entering local talent contests and performing in a musical revue that appeared throughout the region. She also began using the stage name Bonnie Guitar.
In the early 1940s she met and started taking music lessons from the guitar teacher and inventor Paul Tutmarc. They married in 1944 and had a daughter, Paula, before parting ways in 1955.
Ms. Guitar released a series of country hits for Dot in the 1960s, including three that reached the country Top 10: “A Woman in Love,” “I’m Living in Two Worlds” and “I Believe in Love.” She was named female vocalist of the year by the Academy of Country Music in 1966.
In 1969 Ms. Guitar married Mario DePiano. The couple raised cattle and quarter horses together on an 80-acre ranch in Sumner, Wash., about 30 miles from Seattle.
Ms. Guitar had all but retired from music business at that point, releasing only the occasional record, until her husband died in 1983. After that she started performing again, most notably as a regular at the Notaras Lodge near her home in Soap Lake.
She is survived by a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter and a great-great-grandson. Her daughter died in 2013.
Fewer than 5 percent of producers and engineers working in the music industry today are women, according to Women’s Audio Mission, a nonprofit organization that equips women for careers in creative technology. The number was doubtless a fraction of that when Ms. Guitar was staking her claim to a place at the controls of a recording studio.
“I worked in the mixing with the engineer, but I worked as an assistant there,” she recalled to No Depression, referring to her apprenticeship with the producer Fabor Robison in Los Angeles in the 1950s. “I’d keep the records, do the cataloging and things. So I learned to operate the equipment.”
“Fabor was difficult to work with,” she added, “but I didn’t care. My whole intent was to learn to produce and learn the studio.”
 
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