HOME OF THE BRAVE
The Story of Charlotte O'Hara and Bonnie & The Treasures
PART TWO: CHARLOTTE & I
by Peter Canvel
I began working at Gold Star Studios in about 1968. That's where I first met Charlotte O'Hara. She stood out in a crowd. She was about 23 years old then, had long red hair and a rounded, voluptuous figure. She had a creative sense of humour and was a very interesting person to talk to. Although she obviously had other clothes, when I remember her, I always picture her wearing this green, shiny, silky, low-cut, tight dress that almost touched the floor. This glamorous garment had a big flower motif, a fringe along the sleeves and ruffles at the cuffs. Charlotte's inseparable friend Nita Garfield had a matching dress, but hers was purple. I used to have about eight good colour photographs of Charlotte and Nita wearing those dresses. I don't have the pictures anymore, but I always remember those outrageous dresses. I remember Charlotte wore hers a lot.
Charlotte had her own ways. When I called her on the 'phone, she would always answer by repeating the number I had just dialled - as if to act as an answering service to screen her calls - or by saying, "Good news only!" If I asked her how she was, she would always say, "Compared to what?" Always, she would say that. Charlotte was always beauty conscious and had aspirations of becoming an actress. She had an AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) card and was involved in securing television commercial work for her small daughter. She was once offered the chance to go to Japan to sing, but she might have missed a big career break if she left Hollywood. So she didn't go.
She lived a block away from Gold Star in an apartment with her two-year-old daughter Jana. Charlotte knew the owners of the studio and would appear there often to sing demos, back-ups, make a record, or just hang around. I seem to remember asking her early on, "Charlotte O'Hara! Is that your real name?" She insisted it was. Her real name was really Charlotte Ann Matheny, but one day, in jest, Stan Ross called her Charlotte O'Hara. The name stuck.
Soon after I met Charlotte, we talked about records, and I told her I was interested in the Spector sound. She told me she had a release on one of his labels a few years earlier - "Home Of The Brave". At first, I didn't believe her. I had never heard of any version other than Jody Miller's. Besides that, if she recorded for Spector, why wasn't she well known? The next day, she came to the studio and showed me this well played red label Phi-Dan 5005. Henceforth, I knew her as Bonnie.
Disregarding Jerry Riopelle's production credit, I asked her if Spector produced the record. It sounded like his work and I wanted to believe he did. She said that Jerry produced "Home Of The Brave", but that Spector WAS in the studio at the time. Along with the Phi-Dan disc, Charlotte showed me a Bonnie & the Treasures acetate of "Tell Me In The Sunlight", which I believe she said Jerry had produced, and a DJ pressing of "Close Your Eyes", which bore the name Bonnie. I LUSTED after those records. One day she finally agreed to loan me her personal copies, so that I could make acetate dubs for myself at Gold Star.
I wanted to see the rest of Charlotte's collection, in the hope of uncovering more treasures. She said her records were stored at her father's house, miles away in a rural area. When I had finally pestered her sufficiently, she agreed to take me out there. It took well over an hour to get there. The house was miles away from anywhere, abandoned and locked up. As I recall, there was absolutely nothing of value inside the place, except for her collection of records. It was clear that someone had locked a dog in the house, because there was dog food, faeces and other trash strewn all over. As it turned out, there was only a handful of records of minor interest to me, and only one Spector record - a test pressing of the Crystals' "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)" - which she gave to me.
It was many years before I discovered that the three records Charlotte gave me for dubbing weren't the only ones she had made. She had recorded "What About You" by Charlotte O'Hara for the Ava label, "Davey, I'm So Glad It Rained" by Bonnie & the Treasures on Pablo and a bizarre song called "Jungle Rock" for Lee Redman's Gold Crown logo, this time using the name Cherry Blossom. Lee Redman recorded Charlotte at least one other time, singing background with Nita Garfield on Ernie ('Hawaii's suntanned Irishman') Menehune's "My Hula Maid" album.
Charlotte was also an accomplished songwriter. She and Keith Colley wrote the Galens' "Love Bells", and later, in partnership with Nita Garfield, she would compose "We're Here To Entertain You" for the Jackson 5, Jean Knight's "Jesse James Is An Outlaw" and songs for Jermaine Jackson, Bobby Bland and probably others. Then there are several autobiographical songs she recorded herself at Gold Star with Dave Gold. One I recall was called "The Story Of My Life". It was a sad ballad, the story of a woman who falls in love and gets pregnant. Her lover doesn't want the baby, but she has it anyway. Like much of Charlotte's work, the song was never released.
As I sit here writing this, I am looking at a current auction list offering "Home Of The Brave" with the name Ronnie Spector in parentheses. Word travels slowly! I wonder if it just makes for a better story to say that Ronnie was Bonnie, rather than some obscure Los Angeles singer that no one has ever heard of. I think the truth makes the better story. But Ronnie Ronette must like or believe the incorrect version, because I have a videotaped interview with her where she says, "Bonnie & the Treasures, I was Bonnie on that record". WHAT record is she talking about, and WHERE can I get one?
In my opinion, the two women sound nothing alike. But once I thought they did. That was at Gold Star one Saturday when I heard Charlotte overdubbing her voice on a song written and being produced by Al Allen. Allen wrote and produced jingles for the advertising firm Allen-Asher & Associates and owned the Unical label. The song was called "First Came Love", and Charlotte used a slow vibrato, which knocked me out. I thought at the time that she sounded just like Ronnie, but listening to the tune today, I realise the two women have two distinctly different voices. Charlotte would not be pleased if she knew Ronnie was taking, or getting, credit for "Home Of The Brave".
Charlotte would appreciate the interest in her today. When she was in Hollywood, she tried everything, but never really made it. She used to tell me that if Lobo's "Me And You And A Dog Named Boo" or "Angel Baby" by Rosie & the Originals - two records she detested - could make it, then she could. She contracted breast cancer in her thirties and died in 1976.
First published in PHILately magazine, #7, 1990