Bonnie Raitt – VH1 Behind The Music – Season 1: Episode 31 – Air Date: June 7, 1998
Produced, Written & Directed by Jason Goodman
Narrator: James Jude Forbes, often credited as James Jude or his better-known name, Jim Forbes.
When I got the assignment to do Bonnie Raitt’s Behind The Music, I didn’t really know a lot about her. But as I did my homework, I fell totally in love with both her slide guitar playing, and with her back story. Bonnie started playing guitar as a teen, but only started taking it seriously when she went to Radcliffe, and fell in love with a local music promoter who was also the manager of Son House. It wasn’t long before Bonnie left college and started a masters course in the blues at the feet of the men who had invented it. She is very much the real deal.
This was also my first Behind The Music where the other interviews were equally famous performers. Thanks to Bonnie, I got to meet and spend time with one of my childhood heroes, Jackson Browne, Ruth Brown (really loved her, RIP, Ruth), David Crosby, Melissa Etheridge and Don Was. Just writing that down reminded me of how much fun it was to hang with them.
I got into a pretty heated conflict with the network execs over this act. VH1 came to think that Behind The Music’s success was based on the excesses of the Rock ‘n Roll life style, not interest in the actual artist. In Bonnie’s case, she’d had a lull in her career, and during that lull she drank too much, and slept with some people she wouldn’t have slept with if she hadn’t been drinking. I gave it the focus I thought was appropriate – it is my favorite act in the show – but the network wanted a lot more wretched excess, and ultimately my boss told me the show was a miss because it was too soft. Silly me, I thought my job was to tell Bonnie’s beautiful and moving story, not to try to create controversy when it wasn’t really there. I guess that really does sound naïve, doesn’t it?
Two little things about Bonnie. First, regardless of what VH1 thought, Bonnie loved the show. And when she found out I was making a film the following summer in Indianapolis, where she was coming through on a tour with Jackson Browne, she invited me to the show and to a barbecue backstage afterwards. They both really made me feel like we were old friends, and I really wish I was. They are very cool people.
The other thing is about her marriage to Michael O’Keefe. Usually when you get to the relationship part of the interview, particularly when you’re talking to a married couple, you expect to get a lot of shiny happy talk. But both Bonnie and Michael were quite open that neither was finding their marriage that easy, and I wasn’t exactly surprised when they announced their divorce less than a year after we taped the interviews.
Jason Goodman is a Peabody Award-winning Director/Writer/Producer specializing in long-form television documentary and reality programming. He is based in New York City.