Born with the last name Buckingham, Seattle native Bonnie “Guitar” was a true renaissance woman who moved from role to role during the course of her long career. You name it, this 88 year old has done it: singer, songwriter, session musician, producer, executive and record label owner.
Bonnie Guitar learned several musical instruments during her adolescent years–becoming especially proficient on guitar–and before graduating high school she had already written several songs. During the early 1950s she recorded for Fabor Robison’s Fabor label, which also featured such artists as Ned Miller, Jim Reeves and Jim Ed & Maxine Brown. By the middle of the decade she had moved to Los Angeles where she worked as a session guitarist, playing on records for a number of big name (or future big name) artists, including Ferlin Husky.
In 1957 Bonnie signed with Dot Records, a label she would be associated with, off and on, for many years. Her big break occurred shortly thereafter when she recorded the Ned Miller-penned “Dark Moon.” Her version soared to #6 on the Billboard pop charts, selling nearly a million copies along the way. Unfortunately, her label also issued a pop version of the song by noted television actress Gale Storm, who appeared on such shows as My Little Margie and The Gale Storm Show. Storm’s very similar version, no doubt aided by her greater fame, reached #5 on the Billboard Pop charts, also selling nearly a million copies (and outselling Ms. Guitar’s version by a few thousand copies). Bonnie made many television appearances in the wake of her success with “Dark Moon.”
In 1958 Bonnie formed her own record label, Dolphin Records (soon to be renamed Dolton Records), where she produced a number of acts, the most successful of which, the Fleetwoods, had a million seller with “Mr. Blue.”
Wishing to focus on her own career, Bonnie sold Dolton Records and went back to recording her own music for Dot (later ABC-Paramount), and eventually became an A&R director for the label on the west coast. After several years of focusing on A&R work, Bonnie got serious about her recording career again, and in 1966 scored several hits including “I’m Living In Two Worlds,” “A Woman In Love” and “I Believe in Love,” which all made it into the top 10. After 1967 the hits fell off – she had no further top 30 chart entries.
Perhaps this was to be expected, as by 1967 Bonnie was already 44 years old – rather long in the tooth, even in those days.
At the first annual Academy of Country Music Awards in 1967, Bonnie Guitar was named Top Female Vocalist, but this was essentially an award for past services and accomplishments. She would continue to perform until 1996, and still makes occasional appearances. According to one source, she is gearing up for a few appearances even as this article is being printed.
As far as I know, there are only two Bonnie Guitar CDs currently available, both issued by Bear Family (Germany).
Dark Moon features her recordings from 1956 to 1958, so it catches her two biggest pop hits (“Dark Moon” and “Mister Fire Eyes”) but misses her country hits for Dot.
By The Fireside – The Velvet Lounge, released in April 2011, features recordings made in three 1959 sessions at RCA’s Hollywood CA studio as produced by noted performer and songwriter Don Robertson. The album features Bonnie performing country standards, accompanied only by a solo guitar. The recordings on this 15 song CD were billed as previously unreleased; however, eight of the titles match up with the song titles on a 1969 RCA Camden album titled Night Train To Memphis.
Other than the above CDs, you’ll need to do some vinyl hunting. While Bonnie Guitar had one of the prettiest voices ever to sing country music, her 60s output has some rather syrupy backing–the full “Nashville Sound” treatment–which sounds more easy listening than country at times (although most of it is vastly superior to today’s pop country). Despite the musical arrangements, Bonnie Guitar is an outstanding singer whose voice shines through–always. Bonnie released fifteen albums on Dot Records from 1957-1969. After 1969 there are some scattered albums on a variety of smaller and reissue labels.
Listen to some of her music at http://www.myspace.com/bonnieguitar