West Coast country personality Bonnie Guitar passed away on Sunday, Jan. 13, at age 95.
Regarded as a groundbreaking woman in the music business, she sang hits such
as “Dark Moon,” was a session guitarist, co-founded Dolton Records, wrote successful songs and produced various pop
and country artists.
Born Bonnie Buckingham in 1923, she acquired the pseudonym “Guitar” thanks to her instrumental proficiency in the
recording studios of L.A. Her older brothers played guitar, which she also took up as a
teenager in the Seattle, Washington area. After high school, she went on the road with a country band and hosted her own radio show.
Her homemade recordings came to the attention of Fabor Robinson in 1955. He was the owner of
the 4-Star and Abbott record labels in Los Angeles. Robinson brought her to his home in Malibu and
hired her as a session guitarist for his label’s Dorsey Burnette, Jim Reeves, Tom Tall, Ferlin Husky, Ned Miller
and other artists. Robinson also changed her name and began recording her as a singer-guitarist. He brought
her Miller’s song “Dark Moon.” She recorded it for his Fabor label in 1957. Picked up by Nashville’s Dot
Records, the song became a major pop and country hit. This led to appearances on TV’s Ed Sullivan Show
and American Bandstand, as well as concerts alongside Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, The Del-Vikings and Jerry Lee Lewis.
She and Miller co-wrote her follow-up, “Mister Fire Eyes,” which became a much bigger country hit. She made just
the pop charts with her self-composed “Candy Apple Red” in 1959.
Guitar and some business associates discovered the Washington State pop trio The Fleetwoods and formed Dolton
Records to distribute the group’s records. She co-produced the act, which had its first hit with 1959’s “Come Softly to Me.”
Later that year, she brought The Fleetwoods “Mr. Blue.” It launched the career of future Nashville Songwriters Hall
of Fame member Dewayne Blackwell. She wrote the group’s 1960 single “Magic Star.” With Guitar producing and backing the trio
on guitar, its other hits on Dolton included “Tragedy” (1961), “The Great Imposter” (1961), “Outside My Window” (1960)
and “Lovers By Night Strangers By Day” (1962). Next on the Dolton roster was the instrumental rock group
The Ventures. This act scored with “Walk Don’t Run” (1960), “Perfidia” (1960)
and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (1964).
Guitar, herself, joined the Dolton roster. She and songwriter Don Robertson recorded as The Echoes and
issued “Born to Be With You” on the label in 1960. She and her partners sold Dolton to Liberty Records in 1963.
Following a brief stint at RCA in 1961-62, she re-signed with Dot in 1965. This resulted in her longest string
of country hits, beginning with “I’m Living in Two Worlds” in 1966. Other successful country tunes for her
included “Get Your Lie the Way You Want It” (1966), “The Tallest Tree” (1967) and “You Can Steal Me” (1967).
She was named the ACM Female Vocalist of the Year in 1966.
Bonnie Guitar had her biggest country hit with 1967’s “A Woman in Love” and followed it with
“Stop the Rain” (1968), “Leaves Are the Tears of Autumn” (1968), “That See Me Later Look” (1969)
and “Allegheny” (1970). She and publisher/songwriter Buddy Killen were duet partners on Dot with
1969’s “A Truer Love You’ll Never Find.”
Guitar was also Dot’s country talent coordinator. She commuted between Seattle and Nashville for several years.
Among the country acts she produced for the label was Mac Wiseman.
Her own Dot LPs included Two Worlds (1966), Miss Bonnie Guitar (1966), Award Winner (1967),
A Woman in Love (1968) and Affair (1969). She co-produced all of these in Nashville.
She subsequently recorded country discs for Columbia, MCA, 4-Star, MAC, Tumbleweed and Playback. Her songwriting came
back into the spotlight when Susan Raye scored a 1973 hit “The Cheating Game.” It was co-written by Guitar and Dennis Knudson.
Bonnie Guitar retired to a ranch where she and her husband raised cattle and quarter horses. After his death
in 1983, she resumed her entertainment career. She became the “house band” at the Notaras Lodge
in Soap Lake, Washington. With just her own guitar accompaniment and a drummer, she headlined there for more than a decade.
In 1985, she returned to Nashville to record two albums, Yesterday and Today. The latter contained five new Guitar
compositions alongside a number of pop tunes. Her LP You’re Still the Same was issued in 1989. She
made a number of media appearances in Nashville the following year, including some on CMT. In 1991, Germany’s Bear
Family label reissued her early Dot sides.
She retired from the Notaras Lodge in 1997. Guitar occasionally performed at a resort in Idaho and at cowboy-poetry gatherings
thereafter. She was profiled extensively in No Depression magazine in 2007. At age 93, she began performing every
weekend at a Soap Lake nightclub.
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