Singer. Songwriter. Session Guitarist. Record Producer. Label Owner. The list of women who have many of these titles to their credit isn’t very long. That Bonnie Guitar was all of them in the fifties and sixties, in the days when women were lucky to get a spin on the radio, is nothing short of amazing.
Bonnie was born a West Coast girl in Seattle, Washington, and she would remain her association with the Pacific side of America once she moved to Los Angeles, her base of operation during her impressive career run. Her first job was as a studio session player, and she earned her last name playing guitar on records by Jim Reeves and Ferlin Husky.
Soon, she got her own turn at the mike, and had a big hit in 1957 with “Dark Moon”, which was a surprise crossover hit. That exposure led to her appearances on many variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show. She used her success to establish her own label, Dolphin Records. After renaming it Dolton Records, she signed The Fleetwoods, a teenage group that quickly released the smash hit “Mr. Blue.”
Bonnie’s behind-the-scenes studio skills and her knack for finding talent pulled her away from performing in the early sixties. After she sold her label off, she became the country A&R director for Dot and ABC-Paramount records on the West Coast. There was a burgeoning country music scene in California, and Guitar was the strongest female presence among it. By the time she returned to performing country music as a lead artist in the mid-sixties, the Academy of Country Music had been established, which began as representation for California-based country music.
The ACM started giving out awards just when Guitar’s career heated up again. Beginning in 1966, she racked up several hits, including “I’m Living in Two Worlds”, “A Woman in Love” and “I Believe in Love.” At their first annual award show in 1967, Bonnie Guitar was named Top Female Vocalist.
She continued to record over the next two decades, with varying levels of success, but she turned down the opportunity to become a mainstay in Vegas or at the Grand Ole Opry, happy with alternating between Los Angeles and Washington. Though she officially retired in 1996, she still performs occasionally, and can be seen on YouTube performing some of her old hits with just her guitar.
- “Dark Moon” – 1957
- “I’m Living in Two Worlds” – 1966
- “Get Your Lie the Way You Want it” – 1966
- “A Woman in Love” – 1967
- Two Worlds (1966)
- Miss Bonnie Guitar (1966)
- ACM Top Female Vocalist, 1967