The Story of Bill & Bonnie

Bill and Bonnie Hearne are true American musical legends.  Based in Santa Fe, New Mexico for over two decades, these transplanted Texans have been playing to audiences from Los Angeles to Boston for over thirty years.  Their latest release, Celebration: Live at the La Fonda, was recorded in August of 2002.  Produced by Grammy award winning Jim Rooney, Celebration is just that, a celebration.

The brainchild of journalist and fan Mary Alden, Celebration began as a celebration of the ten-year relationship between Bill and Bonnie and the historic La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe.  It ended up being a celebration of music and life itself, bringing together lifelong friends of Bill and Bonnie – musicians and otherwise – for two evenings of music and friendship.  It was a memorable night.  For Celebration ordering information, please visit “The Album Store” on this web site.

For those visitors to the web site who are newcomers to the music of Bill and Bonnie Hearne, please continue to read the notes below which were prepared for the release of Diamonds in the Rough, their 1997 Warner Western CD, also produced by Jim Rooney.

I would also suggest that you read the article written by Sean Mitchell that appeared in Southwest Airlines “Spirit” magazine.  It can be found on this web site through the “Reviews/Articles” links.


Why, the uninformed may understandably ask, are Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Jerry Jeff Walker and Tish Hinojosa lending their time and efforts to bolster the major label debut of an obscure folk-singing duo from the wilds of New Mexico?

One listen to Diamonds in The Rough, the premiere release by Bill and Bonnie Hearne on the Warner Western label, suggests part of the answer. But there is more to the story than meets the ear. The Texas-born couple have helped influence and encourage a host of celebrated Lone Star and Southwestern singer-songwriters.

In bringing the long-sought project to fruition, the Hearnes enlisted the talents of veteran countryfolk producer Jim Rooney. An author, songwriter and musician of great accomplishment, Rooney has also produced landmark albums by Nanci Griffith, Hal Ketchum, Robert Earl Keen and others.

The Hearnes had initially been introduced to Rooney at the 1985 Kerrville Folk Festival. Joining forces years later, they combined to produce a benchmark project which would become a distillation of their 25 years of playing music together.

Though he grew up in Dallas in the Fifties and she in the Texas capitol of Austin, it seems as though fate conspired to bring Bill and Bonnie together; he is a singer and she is a songwriter; she plays piano and he plays guitar; he plays golf and she doesn't. Most of all, they harmonize like birds on a wire. Both moreover, have transcended daunting physical challenges--Bonnie has been blind since age nine and Bill keeps blindness at bay only by means of thick glasses.

"I took piano lessons at the Austin School for the Blind," Bonnie recalled. "I got some classical training and then began to play the popular music of the day on my own--Fifties and Sixties rock and roll, folk music and Broadway musicals."

As for Bill, growing up in suburban Dallas, "I wanted to be Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, all in one person. I learned all the lead guitar licks that (Buckaroos' guitarist) Don Rich played." Today, Bill is celebrated as a fleet and fluid flatpicking guitarist.

Their professional life had its genesis in the folk music club scene in Austin in the late Sixties. Established stars like Carolyn Hester and Jerry Jeff Walker ("...he was a legend," recalled Bonnie) found an enthusiastic reception in Texas' bohemian-flavored capitol. A few years later, younger musicians such as Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen and Tish Hinojosa listened, and began to glimpse the outlines of their life's work. "Nanci used to talk about slipping into places underage to hear us," Bill recalled fondly. And, Bonnie added, "Lyle opened a show for us at (Houston' s) Anderson Fair."

The Hearnes first crossed paths at the Chequered Flag in Austin around 1970. The sound that eventually evolved was multi-faceted, stylistically unfettered and eminently listenable. It combined the gospel roll of Bonnie's piano and the quicksilver flight of Bill's acoustic guitar, buoyed by dueting vocals that twined together with an organic unity.

"We try to take that old-time country feel and put that in songs with a strong lyrical content," Bill said, in a necessarily imperfect attempt to categorize the couple's sound. "People can call us whatever makes them comfortable," added Bonnie philosophically.

In 1979, Bill and Bonnie left Texas for Red River, a friendly little Western-flavored ski town in the mountains of northern New Mexico.

"We had a great musical community in Red River for about five or six years," Bill said fondly. "We didn't make a lot of money, but we had a lot of fun." By the mid-Eighties, Bill and Bonnie had recorded three albums, one in Texas and two in New Mexico.

Suddenly, after a long hibernation in New Mexico, a brand-new game was afoot.

In June and July, 1996, the Hearnes recorded in Austin and Nashville with a group of prodigiously talented session musicians, including Dobro virtuoso Al Perkins, bassist Roy Huskey, Jr., steel guitarist Lloyd Maines, fiddle player Stuart Duncan, and others. They combined those personalities with exceptional material by writers of the caliber of Ian Tyson, Eliza Gilkyson, Steve Gillette, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Nanci Griffith, Chris Hillman, and others, including Bonnie Hearne, herself.

Finally--call it payback, call it a nod from one peer to another, call it a chance to be part of something special--a collection of Bill and Bonnie's old companeros showed up to lend their talents to the project: Jerry Jeff Walker sang a duet with Bill on "Muley Brown," a tale of an oldtime rodeo cowboy; Nanci Griffith lent her voice to her own "Going Back to Georgia" and another tune, "Georgetown," Lyle Lovett took a turn on his own vintage piece, "Walk Through the Bottomland," and Tish Hinojosa performed with the duo on Bonnie's "Bluebonnet Girl" and the lovely "Alison Lives by the Big Bend."

The sessions bring the closing of a musical circle.

"We want this album to be a statement of some of the directions we go in, and the quality of the lyrics that we choose," said Bonnie disarmingly. Some artists wait a lifetime to make a statement like that. Bill and Bonnie Hearne still have a lifetime of music left to make.


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