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Falling in love with Bonnie Raitt for the first time

on November 10, 1971 No comments
Photo © Terry McGovern / written by Harry Viens

In 1971 The Cellar Door, a nightclub in Washington DC, was on a roll, discovering and booking fresh new musical talent virtually every week. That year alone The Eagles had made their first public appearance at “The Door;” Emmy Lou Harris had been “discovered” at The Door; Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert had written and performed Country Roads with John Denver at The Door and their song was a breakout national hit.

As the year was winding down, all of us working at The Cellar Door were energized. We felt like we were living on the leading edge of the music scene and wondering who Jack Boyle (who owned the club and booked all the talent) would bring in next. It was a heady time, and we were not disappointed when Jack announced that he had booked John Prine for the week of November 8th. John had been recently been discovered by Kris Kristofferson and released his first album to critical acclaim, not to mention ours. Being located in DC had turned us all onto the country and folk music scene, and The Cellar Door was a premier venue for country artists in those days. After Jack had finished briefing us on the schedule for the month one of the waiters, Dave “The Dude” Sless (now a professional sound engineer in Washington DC) pointed out that we had missed the biggest news of all: Bonnie Raitt was opening for John Prine. We all looked at each other and shrugged. The truth is none of us had a clue who she was. Dave stood up, and proclaimed, “Bonnie is going to blow John Prine right off the stage,” waving his arm across the room for emphasis. We’d seen a lot of talented musicians over the year, so Dave’s proclamation set a pretty high expectation. Two weeks later we met Bonnie.

She showed up early Monday afternoon for the stage setup and sound check with a single back up musician, a bass player who went by the name of “Freebo.” None of us ever learned his real name, but he was a very talented musician and had a seemingly endless supply of hashish. He became very popular with the waiters very quickly.

I’ve met musicians with egos, musicians with an attitude and musicians who were just “plain folk.” Bonnie turned out to be something special; probably one of the most sincere, genuine people I’ve ever met. She was sweet, soft spoken and funny. She played a mean guitar and sang with conviction. Her most remarkable trait was simply paying attention to you and making you feel like she really cared about you and what you had to say. I can say this with some conviction, Bonnie is a “real” person, and she cares deeply about the people and world around her.

By the end of the afternoon we’d had a preview of her songbook and were excited and impressed with what we’d heard. Oh, and we were all in love with her, and looking forward to her first show that evening at 7:00 PM, which is when Freebo let it slip that today, the 8th, was her 21st birthday.

After the show that night the waiters, the cook and I conspired with Freebo and planned a surprise party for her the next night. Most of us were working our way through college so we had classes to contend with but we managed to get everything pulled together in time. By four o’clock we were at work in the Cellar Door’s modest kitchen (this was not a club known for its food) whipping up a vegetarian birthday buffet for Bonnie. It was one of those meals where everybody cooked something they loved; for me it was stuffed mushrooms; one of the waiters whipped up some baked zucchini, one of our doormen made a pasta dish and a couple of the waiters actually baked a birthday cake with vanilla frosting. Amazing what a bunch of college boys can do in a pinch.

Freebo somehow delivered Bonnie to the dressing room a couple of hours early where we had assembled most of the waiters, doormen, the assistants, even the club accountant. When Bonnie walked in we all yelled “surprise” and started singing Happy Birthday. She put her hands to her face, bent over a little and then came up with a huge smile. We spent the rest of the afternoon just eating, talking and getting to know this lovely, talented woman. That evening, during the first show she told the crowd what had happened and dedicated a song to us. I think the birthday party may have been the high point of the week for Bonnie. John Prine’s audiences were more folk and country oriented, and Bonnie was singing the blues at that point in her career. The audience was receptive, and sometimes enthusiastic, but they were really there for John. Dude’s prediction wasn’t far from the mark for us though; Bonnie blew us away with her music and her personal warmth.

Harry Viens, a former advertising executive and author of the novel Virgin Logic resides in New Hartford, Connecticut and is currently writing a novel about his years at The Cellar Door. He can reached through

Source: © Copyright Bonnie Raitt-The Unofficial Site But wait, there's more!

Bonnie Raitt, Indigo Girls Appear on ‘No More Pipeline Blues (On this Land Where We Belong)’

on April 20, 2021 No comments
By ANGIE MARTOCCIO Angie Martoccio

“The song and the music video are also like prayer offered in ceremony, asking for strength, justice, and preservation,” says activist Winona LaDuke


Bonnie Raitt and the Indigo Girls are among the many voices featured on “No More Pipeline Blues (On this Land Where We Belong),” out on Earth Day (April 22nd) via Rock the Cause Records.

The track supports the ongoing fight against Minnesota’s “Line 3” tar sands oil pipeline, which cuts through more than 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River. The resistance is heavily led by indigenous women, including activist Winona LaDuke — who has spent the last eight years trying to prevent the construction of Line 3.

In addition to Raitt, the Indigo Girls, and LaDuke, the song also features the first Native American poet laureate, Joy Harjo, as well as Waubanewquay, Day Sisters, Mumu Fresh, Pura Fe, Soni Moreno, and Jennifer Kreisberg. It was produced and composed by Larry Long.

The accompanying video, directed by Keri Pickett, shows indigenous peoples protesting on the front line, holding signs, and confronting the police. Proceeds for the song will be donated to Honor the Earth, a nonprofit founded by LaDuke and the Indigo Girls.

” ‘No More Pipeline Blues’ beautifully illustrates in music, singing, spoken word, and images the threats of a totally unnecessary tar sands pipeline at the end of the age of Big Oil,” LaDuke said in a statement. “But it also illuminates the sacredness of our environment, and yet more destructive, historical impacts to indigenous culture. Still, the song and the music video are also like prayer offered in ceremony, asking for strength, justice and preservation.”

“I’ve been involved with Honor the Earth and their work protecting Native lands and water since the early Nineties,” added Raitt. “With the climate crisis beyond its tipping point, the movement to stop these destructive and unnecessary fossil fuel pipelines is crucial and deserves more attention than it’s getting. We can join the worldwide shift to developing renewables, ensuring the protection of our environment, the creation of thousands of jobs, and lessening the risk and trauma to both Native communities and the whole Great Lakes region. I’m hopeful ‘No More Pipeline Blues (On This Land Where We Belong)’ will bring more awareness about the need to stop Line 3 and capture the attention of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz as well as President Biden, who have the authority to stop construction of the pipeline until ongoing environmental litigation is settled.”

Tell President Biden to #Stopline3

The headwaters of the Mississippi flows for millions downstream. Why would we want to pump 915,000 barrels a day of tar sands oil through her?

We set up a way to send a letter to President Joe Biden (goes to the White House directly) asking him to #StopLine3.

You can share your own story why Biden needs to Stop Line 3 now securely and safely.

We appreciate your support.
Together we will Stop Line 3

Source: © Copyright Rolling Stone and Pine Journal
More info:
Stop Line 3
Honor The Earth
Honor The Earth on FB
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Bonnie Raitt Bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Off The Road – HPR’s All Things Considered

on February 12, 2021 No comments
By Dave Lawrence
James “Hutch” Hutchinson © Matt Mindlin /Courtesy of Redwing Records

Today our Off the Road series welcomes longtime Bonnie Raitt bassist, and sometime Maui resident James “Hutch” Hutchinson. All Things Considered Honolulu Host Dave Lawrence continues the interview series, which features hours of interviews and exclusive musical performances connecting with artists around the world during the pandemic.

Hutch has a long career that has included working with John Cipollina, the Neville Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others, through session work and live performances. Since the early 1980’s he’s been the bassist for Bonnie Raitt, and still an active contributor to other projects.

We hear about how the pandemic impacted the tour and album plans for Bonnie Raitt, who Hutch was rehearsing with in the San Francisco Bay Area when the crisis began. He also tells some great stories of connecting to several of the music luminaries who we’ve lost to the virus: Manu Dibango, Toots Hibbert and Ellis Marsalis among them. Hutch also shared some stories connecting to both his time with the Neville Brothers and experiences working with Jerry Lee Lewis. 

Hear the complete interview:


Bonnie Raitt bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson Off the Road with HPR’s All Things Considered – February 2021

Off the Road started in April 2020 when the pandemic led to a halt in the touring entertainment industry. Connecting with artists around the world since, we’ve offered intimate conversations and many exclusive musical performances with some of the biggest names in music, spanning many genres, eras and styles. Some of the highlight artists we’ve welcomed so far include Linda Ronstadt, Al Di Meola, 10,000 Maniacs, Soul Asylum, The Moody Blues, John McLaughlin, Deep Purple, Third World, George Benson, Heart, Joe Satriani, Jack Johnson, Peter Frampton and System of a Down.

See a live video of Hutch in action with Bonnie Raitt from 2019:


Bonnie Raitt performs “Thing Called Love” (originally by John Hiatt) at Farm Aid 2019 at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, on September 21.

See Hutch live with Bonnie Raitt performing live in 2016:


Bonnie Raitt performs live, for Amazon Front Row 2016

Source: © Copyright Hawaii Public Radio But wait, there's more!

‘I’m a song catcher’: 60 years of Arhoolie Records, the label for a lost America

on December 9, 2020 No comments
Garth Cartwright

Now 89, one-time refugee Chris Strachwitz presides over one of the greatest US labels, having removed the stigma from working-class music like blues and zydeco to give a voice to the ignored.

The ripple effect of Chris Strachwitz in the world is immeasurable in preserving this music. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have heard those records. This music that without his care and watering would have withered probably. It didn’t matter what country he was from. This is somebody that was born to do this for the music that he loves.

– Bonnie Raitt


Bonnie Raitt – Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues (Fred McDowell)

Ross Lahey – video/audio recording / Ryan Freeland – audio mixing / Derek Williams – video editing

Arhoolie website
Arhoolie YT channel

This year, 3 November saw two momentous events take place in the US: American voters chose Joe Biden for president and Arhoolie Records turned 60. I put this conjunction to Arhoolie’s founder, Chris Strachwitz, who laughs. “Well, that may have been the day of the invoice from the pressing plant when they shipped the first albums,” he says, underplaying quite how seminal the release of Mance Lipscomb’s 1960 LP Texas Sharecropper and Songster would prove to be. He pressed only 500 copies of Lipscomb’s album to begin with, but one of America’s greatest record labels has grown from those humble beginnings.

The recording of Lipscomb, who had rarely sung beyond the cotton plantation he lived on, came about after Strachwitz, a San Francisco Bay Area high-school teacher (“I was lousy”), had spent his 1960 summer vacation in Texas failing to record Lightnin’ Hopkins. The blues musician insisted on being paid upfront for every song recorded, rejecting Strachwitz’s offer of a small advance plus future royalties. Strachwitz was directed towards Lipscomb instead, and while initially reluctant – Lipscomb was a “songster”, his music far gentler than Hopkins’ razor-sharp blues – he agreed to make the recording.

Fortuitously, the album’s release rode a wave of interest in folk music then under way across North America and Strachwitz found that by booking concerts for Lipscomb and selling the album (alongside trading in rare 78s) he could earn enough to quit teaching. Now aged 89 “and a half”, he has never retired and Arhoolie Records (named after the sound of a field holler) stands as the world’s foremost repository of American vernacular music: alongside blues, Strachwitz would record Cajun, zydeco, all manner of Mexican American music, New Orleans jazz and brass bands, klezmer, polka, hillbilly, gospel, street and outsider musicians, free jazz, bluegrass, sacred steel and more. Arhoolie captured the sound of myriad American communities and, in doing so, has preserved a remarkable kaleidoscope of music.

‘Songster’ … Mance Lipscomb with Chris Strachwitz at Ann Arbor blues festival, 1971. Photograph: Tom Copi

“I don’t see myself as a producer, more a song catcher,” says Strachwitz when I inquire as to his recording technique. “When I heard Lightnin’ in that Houston tavern in 1960, he was playing electric guitar, backed by a drummer, and he kept up these stream-of-consciousness raps, singing anything that passed through his mind. It was so exciting, and that’s what I wanted to record. Folklorists had recorded him playing acoustic guitar as they disdained electric, but I wanted to capture what I experienced in his neighbourhood bar.”

He adds: “I’ve always been very attracted to what you might call ‘honky tonk’ type music; I just find so much value in what gets called ‘low class’. There’s always been this stigma attached to it and people try and make it ‘respectable’, but I don’t see any value in that.”

Arhoolie’s albums, then, are “snapshots”. “It’s nothing permanent. Classical musicians can play the same way every day, but this vernacular music can change so quickly. And this is what we like about it – it’s so quirky!”

Quirky is an appropriate description of Strachwitz himself, a friendly, happy man who is also restless and extremely opinionated. Ain’t No Mouse Music, Maureen Gosling’s 2013 feature documentary about Strachwitz, captures his idiosyncrasies – at a festival he berates a lemonade vendor for not using enough lemons – and enthusiasms. “Mouse music” is, in Strachwitz parlance, anything he dislikes, ie almost all popular music across the spectrum. As for the music he does like, he’s devoted his life to ensuring it gets heard.

Age has slowed him of late. He’s now in an assisted living home, the pandemic having stopped him from commuting to Arhoolie’s El Cerrito headquarters (and then off to hear live music), but remains mentally sharp. “We had a great ride,” says Strachwitz of Arhoolie. “Kids these days don’t value music like we once did and have so many other things to spend their money on. I hope we can last a few more years because I’m uninterested in golf.”

Strachwitz was born into an aristocratic family in Lower Silesia, Germany (now part of Poland), and, as the advancing Soviet troops drew near, they fled to allied-controlled Germany. Here they lived as refugees in a ruined mansion until prominent American relatives enabled the Strachwitzes to enter the US in 1947. Chris, a lanky, lonely teenager who spoke fumbling English with a strong accent, found solace in music.

I ask whether being a teenage refugee led to his embracing music from marginalised communities, but Strachwitz dismisses the suggestion. It was, he says, simply the power of the music he heard on the radio: jazz and blues on a Los Angeles station with black DJs while “border blasters” – radio stations situated just across the Mexican border – played the music of the southern working class, be they black, white or brown.

Strachwitz tried to play some of his 78s to his classmates “and they called me ‘a damn hillbilly’!” He laughs, then adds: “I remember when I was listening to Bunk Johnson, my father said in German, ‘They are playing off key.’ And I said, ‘Doesn’t matter to me – it’s got soul, it’s got feeling.’ So I was always going against the mainstream.”

An avid record collector, he became part of a loose network that included Harry Smith, John Fahey, Robert Crumb and others. These young white men shared a huge passion for blues, jazz and hillbilly records of the 20s and 30s and, in doing so, helped open ears to the remarkable, largely ignored vernacular musical culture. While his contemporaries were happy to collect, reissue (in Smith’s case his celebrated Anthology of American Folk Music) and even attempt to play this “lost” music, Strachwitz knew from visiting the south that the music remained alive there. So off he went, at the height of the civil rights struggle, a blond man with a reel-to-reel tape recorder, heading into African American neighbourhoods.

Inevitably, he ran into problems with racist police in Texas and Mississippi who suspected Strachwitz to be either an activist or a junkie. Strachwitz laughs about such encounters now, but they must have been terrifying at the time. He survived unscathed and says the hassle was worth it because he found musical treasure.

Arguably, the greatest of all was Clifton Chenier, a Louisiana Creole (French-speaking African American) who played accordion and sang. In 1964, Lightnin’ Hopkins took Strachwitz to hear Chenier in a Houston bar where he was playing “this very pure Creole French blues. It almost sounded like Haitian music.” Strachwitz arranged to record Chenier only to find he wanted to cut R&B, believing no one would be interested in Creole music. Eventually Strachwitz recorded Chenier performing what is now known as zydeco for the 1965 album Louisiana Blues and Zydeco. The record stunned listeners – almost no one other than habitués of the bayou bars of Texas and Louisiana had heard this powerhouse sound – and Chenier would go on to tour the world and win a Grammy.

Powerhouse sound … Strachwitz with Clifton Chenier.

Around the same time, Strachwitz began recording the music of Chenier’s white neighbours, the Cajuns. “When I initially went down there, asking for Cajuns was like asking for Gypsies in Europe – the response I’d get was along the lines of, ‘What do you want those people for?’ They were considered just the scum of the earth. I finally found a Cajun band playing. One guy was singing in English and one guy was singing French verses; people were dancing around in circles, counter clockwise; the men were tiny and the women were huge. The first time you encounter something like that it really hits you.”

Strachwitz never stayed still, always seeking out new artists to record and, having long collected Mexican American border records, in 1970 he began championing corrido and norteno musicians (alongside reissuing, as he did for every genre that engaged him, the 78-era recordings, and paying royalties). Through his efforts both Lydia Mendoza – the 12-string guitarist who had first recorded in the 20s – and accordionist Flaco Jiménez would win audiences beyond their core, Spanish-speaking communities. Ry Cooder, who accompanied Strachwitz and film-maker Les Blank to Texas when they were filming Chulas Fronteras (a documentary on the Mexican musicians of the US south west), would go on to work closely with Jiménez. Blank and Strachwitz’s documentaries stand as some of the finest music films ever made.

“Mexicans in the US live a totally backwater existence,” says Strachwitz. “People see them as cheap labour and little else.”

Mexican culture tends to get looked down upon, treated as a joke. People like their food and nothing else. It’s sad as their culture is very rich, but there’s almost no recognition of it here.

– Chris Strachwitz

Inevitably, such albums didn’t sell in large quantities and Arhoolie survived largely through Strachwitz’s good fortune in music publishing. In 1965, he recorded Country Joe McDonald’s song I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag, unexpectedly cashing in when it was used in the Woodstock documentary. Then the Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers featured You Got to Move, a gospel blues tunes they (eventually) credited to Mississippi Fred McDowell, an Arhoolie artist. “We got in contact and said, ‘Pay us the royalties’, and their lawyer said, ‘The Rolling Stones only perform their own songs.’ So this went on for a while until they finally agreed to pay. This meant I got to give Fred the biggest cheque he had ever seen in his life. When I did so he said, ‘I’m glad them boys liked my music!’ He was a wonderful human being.”

Smithsonian Folkways, the non-profit record label run by the Smithsonian Institution, acquired Arhoolie in 2016 from Strachwitz and his business partner Tom Diamant – they continue to oversee the label, but no longer have to concern themselves with its finances. The Smithsonian has made more than 300 standout titles from the roughly 650-album catalogue available digitally (with some on CD and vinyl) and is focused on ensuring the remaining titles become available. Strachwitz notes, “Arhoolie never sold a lot of albums and, once people stopped buying CDs, things got rough.”

Strachwitz in 2001. Photograph: © Alain McLaughlin/courtesy Arhoolie Productions

Now Arhoolie Records is safely ensconced in the Smithsonian, Strachwitz’s great passion is the Arhoolie Foundation, whose board of advisers includes Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Waits. He established it a quarter of a century ago, initially to document his collection – the world’s largest – of Mexican and Mexican American recordings, photos and more. This and other material relating to vernacular music are now part of UCLA’s online archive. Los Tigres del Norte, one of Mexico’s most popular bands, were so impressed by the material that they donated $500,000 to protect it. Strachwitz proudly notes that the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities have also helped, “as they agree this is really significant stuff that has never been documented”.

The Arhoolie Foundation is active on several fronts: it gives grants to educators and artists, digitises hundreds of hours of recordings and interviews, puts on concerts and does its best to continue Strachwitz’s mission of ensuring people get to hear beautiful music. On 10 December, a prerecorded livestream concert will celebrate both Arhoolie’s 60th and the foundation’s 25th anniversaries. Alongside noted Cajun, sacred steel, bluegrass and norteno artists, such marquee names as Bonnie Raitt, Billy Gibbons, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and Charlie Musselwhite are also appearing.

“I’ve always admired the complete honesty of Chris and honesty in the music of Arhoolie,” says Musselwhite, a Memphis blues musician who recorded for Arhoolie in the early 70s. “Chris is a great fellow, and I love it when he don’t mix his words telling you what he thinks. He’s always correct, so I always listen.”

“Without Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records I probably never would have found Cajun music,” says Ann Savoy, matriarch of the Savoy Family Cajun Band, also performing at the concert. “One of his Old Timey series of Cajun 78s won my heart, and led me to a life of mystery and awe on the Cajun prairie. Chris has always done what he wants with no concern for fame or commercial success. It is his passion and hard work that saved much of the American rural songbook.”

Strachwitz chuckles when I relay the compliments to him but shrugs them off. “Lady Luck has always been with me,” he says. “I’ve dealt with a lot of people who have had very little luck in their lives and my philosophy has always been, ‘The world will never be fair but you can try and help by being nice.’ I hope I have helped some people.”

He laughs, and his joy is infectious. “It’s been an amazing journey and a never-ending lesson – I learned so much!”

60 Years of Arhoolie: An Anniversary Celebration streams online on Thursday 10 December, 8pm EST / 5pm PST (1am GMT on Friday 11 December).

Source: © Copyright The Guardian
See also:
Arhoolie website
The Mercury News
The Kitchen Sisters Present – The Passion of Chris Strachwitz or The Goethe Institute’s Big Pond series – The Passion of Chris Strachwitz

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