Additional Biography

No question about the voice: it's worn, aged, soulful, defiant, utterly lacking smooth edges - an enormously compelling instrument to anyone enamored of blue-eyed soul.

—That’s Rolling Stone writer David McGee’s spot-on appraisal of two-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Kim Carnes, whose extensive writing and recording career spans more than five decades, with instantly recognizable hits including her first Top Ten smash in 1980, a sultry cover of Smokey Robinson’s “More Love,” “I’ll Be Here Where the Heart Is,” from the Grammy-winning Flashdance soundtrack and 1988’s “Crazy in Love,” among many others. In 1981 Carnes was catapulted into the pop/rock stratosphere – and the record books – with a hard-driving synth-pop classic, her history-making rendition of the Jackie DeShannon-Donna Weiss-penned “Bette Davis Eyes.” Billboard’s No. 1 hit of that year and still one of the Hot 100’s biggest chart successes of all time, it’s her best-known hit (and ranks among writer Dave Marsh’s “1,001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”).The Grammy-winning Record of the Year, which logged nine weeks atop the singles chart, is just another remarkable facet of her global recording, performing and songwriting career. Her most recent album, Chasin’ Wild Trains, remains a high watermark in a recording catalog bursting with unmistakable gems, showcasing the tunesmith at the very pinnacle of her songwriting prowess. Cited by Country Music Today magazine as one of the best non-country albums of the year and widely praised around the globe, the collection featured guest appearances from such notables as Kings of Leon producer Angelo, Al Anderson, Matraca Berg, Chuck Prophet, Anders Osborne and Kim Richey, among others. “It’s the only album I did exactly the way I wanted,” says the singer-songwriter. “Nobody told me ‘no.’ I did it with the help of these incredible songwriters. It was a collaborative ‘love’ project.”

Although Kim’s musical style across 13 studio albums has always remained refreshingly eclectic, her songwriting has long been marked by an innate ability to fuse heart-piercing lyrics to indelible melodies, distinguishing the artist’s own platinum-selling projects as well as those of her many peers. And then there is that unmistakable voice. Like a mysterious beehive, it buzzes and crackles with a dusky, kinetic energy, the treasure of sweet, natural honey stored within, just waiting to be savored.

Kim Carnes penned her first song at the tender age of four and hasn’t stopped since. Her first publishing deal teamed her with famed producer Jimmy Bowen. Carnes would share demo-recording time with Bowen’s other writers, which included future Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey, as well as J.D. Souther. In 1971, she sang “Nobody Knows,” written by Mike Settle, over the end credits of the road film, Vanishing Point. She also scored her first cut as a songwriter with “Sing Out for Jesus,” recorded by Big Mama Thornton for that same film.

Carnes soon signed with A&M Records and released a pair of albums, notching her first Billboard entry as a solo act on the Adult Contemporary chart with “You’re a Part of Me,” from Kim Carnes. The second A&M LP, Sailin’, issued in 1976 and produced by the legendary Jerry Wexler, featured the American Song Festival grand-prize-winning “Love Comes From Unexpected Places,” which also won Best Composition at the Tokyo Song Festival and was the first of three of Kim’s songs to be cut by Barbra Streisand, one of which, “Make No Mistake (He’s Mine),” Carnes wrote, co-produced and performed with Streisand.

In 1978, she became the first artist signed to the newly established EMI-America label and earned her inaugural Top 40 hit with a duet version of “You’re a Part of Me,” featuring Gene Cotton. The 1979 album, St. Vincent’s Court, was her first entirely penned by Kim and her husband Dave Ellingson, and in 1980, Carnes and Ellingson co-wrote all of the tracks for Gideon, a landmark concept album recorded by Kenny Rogers. A No. 1 country and Top 20 pop entry, it was buoyed by the crossover success of “Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer,” the Rogers-Carnes duet which was a No. 4 pop hit, No. 3 on the country chart and No. 2 on the Adult Contemporary survey. Gideon would earn triple-platinum status, selling more than three million copies and becoming a global smash.

In April 1981, Carnes released Mistaken Identity, a multi-textured collection that ranks among the most thrilling and ahead-of-its-time recordings of the decade. The album’s lead single, “Bette Davis Eyes” penned by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, and produced by Val Garay, featured a cadre of in-demand session musicians, including drummer Craig Krampf and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. But it was keyboardist Bill Cuomo, seated at his Prophet-5, who contributed what would become the song’s signature lick, cementing the track’s sizzling modern sound, which was also enhanced by Krampf’s riveting, forceful percussion, a trash-drum beat that would eventually be heard – and seen – around the world. Among the rave reviews for the fast-rising tune, music journalist Greil Marcus declared it “the most seductive pop single in recent memory.” Propelled by the single’s blockbuster success, Mistaken Identity topped the charts worldwide, spending four weeks at No. 1 in the U.S. and earning an Album of the Year Grammy nomination. “Bette Davis Eyes” would win a pair of those golden gramophones, for Record and Song of the Year.

While her place in music history was already secure, Carnes followed Mistaken Identity with Voyeur, another Grammy-nominated collection that showcased the singer-songwriter’s gift for both hard-charging rockers and passionate ballads. Her hitting streak, spread across the pop and adult contemporary charts would continue, and she earned her second Grammy for “I’ll Be Here Where the Heart Is,” featured on the blockbuster Flashdance soundtrack in 1984. Co-producing her 1985 LP, Barking at Airplanes, Carnes landed another worldwide Top 15 hit with “Crazy in the Night (Barking at Airplanes),” also becoming the first woman to ever produce a synth-pop album. That same year she made chart history yet again when three hits featuring her – a solo recording, a duet and a trio – all occupied the Hot 100 simultaneously. They were, respectively, “Invitation to Dance,” from the That’s Dancin’ soundtrack, “Make No Mistake (He’s Mine,” the Top 10 AC hit with Barbra Streisand, and “What About Me,” the Top 15 pop, No. 1 AC smash with Kenny Rogers and James Ingram. A frequent contributor to soundtrack albums, she performed “Ring of Fire,” a duet with Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges, for his film, The Contender, and has contributed music to a variety of films, including Spaceballs, Valentino: The Last Emperor and many others.

In 1985, Carnes was among the superstar collective invited to contribute vocals (as U.S.A. for Africa) to the charity single and music video, “We Are the World,” which sold 20 million copies worldwide. In 1988, she reunited with producer Jimmy Bowen and, inspired in part by her love for Rosanne Cash’s 1981 Seven Year Ache LP, recorded the well-received View From the House, which featured a pair of John Prine covers, along with her Top 10 hit, “Crazy in Love.” Continuing to perform and write songs, Carnes relocated with her family to Nashville full-time in 1994.

The writer of three No. 1 country songs, including “The Heart Won’t Lie,” a smash duet for Reba McEntire and Vince Gill and “Make No Mistake (She’s Mine),” recorded by Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers, Carnes’ Music City experience has paired her with other top tunesmiths including (to name but a few) Kim Richey, Greg Barnhill, Al Anderson, Jeffrey Steele, Matraca Berg, Tim Nichols and Connie Harrington. To date, her songs have been covered by country superstar Tim McGraw (to whose songs she has also added background vocals), as well as Matraca Berg, Deana Carter, Sawyer Brown, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Tanya Tucker, Suzy Bogguss, Pam Tillis and many others.

In 2011, a pair of songs she wrote for (and with) the husband-and-wife duo O’Shea topped the charts in Australia, and in 2014, she participated in a BBC songwriter special hosted by esteemed British broadcaster Bob Harris, while also contributing duet vocals to an album of songs written by acclaimed tunesmith Frankie Miller, co-writing songs for a pair of albums by Americana singer-songwriter Dana Cooper and covering the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb” for a Brazilian recording project. Until the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, she routinely shared intimate “in-the-round” stages in Nashville with the likes of Michael McDonald, Lori McKenna, Barry Dean and many of her frequent collaborators, while also continuing to take her full band out for shows, special events and TV in the U.S., Paris, Rome, Berlin, Spain, Chile, Argentina, and other destinations worldwide. Recently, during lockdown, Carnes recorded a song with Tim McGraw for the Paramount Network series, Yellowstone. “Bette Davis Eyes” made a memorable return to screens this year, featured in the opening scene of the premiere episode of the 2022 Australian thriller series, The Tourist, with star Jamie Dornan driving and singing along to the now-iconic tune.

–Stephen L. Betts