Rock Flashback: The Remarkable Career Of Sonny Bono

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(Getty Images/J. David Ake/AFP)

(Getty Images/J. David Ake/AFP)

This week in 1998, [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Sonny Bono[/lastfm] died in a skiing accident. He’s probably more famous today for his late-in-life careers than for what he did in the 1960s, but his accomplishments in that decade were remarkable.

Salvatore Bono grew up the son of poor immigrants in Detroit. Like many Americans before and since, he lit out for California, searching for opportunity — and fame.

He became a promotion man for Los Angeles-based Specialty Records in the late ’50s, which brought him into contact with stars as big as Little Richard and Sam Cooke. He eventually became a protege of producer [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Phil Spector[/lastfm], playing on some of Spector’s most famous sessions, writing, and producing.

Bono also hired musicians and singers for Spector. One of them, Cherilyn La Pierre, would cause Bono to divorce his first wife and take up with her. They recorded as [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Caesar & Cleo[/lastfm] in 1963, but became famous as [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Sonny & Cher[/lastfm], scoring five top-10 singles between 1964 and 1972. Cher also scored a number of solo singles in this period, many produced by Sonny.

In the late ’60s, Sonny & Cher made a movie that bombed, got into a contract wrangle with [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Cher[/lastfm]‘s record label, and were hit with a $200,000 tax bill from the IRS. Needing a lucrative gig, they worked up a Las Vegas nightclub act, which revitalized their careers and led them into television, where The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour became one of the big hits of the early ’70s.

The first run of the TV show ended with the couple’s divorce. While Cher remained a star, Bono got out of the entertainment business entirely. He was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California, in 1988 and Congress in 1994. His political career was no joke. He had become an important figure in Republican circles before his career was cut short.

Here’s a clip of Sonny and Cher performing [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]the Band[/lastfm]‘s “Up on Cripple Creek” on their TV show in 1972. Because why not.


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