By Graham Rockingham
Back during the height of her career — shortly after she swept the 1990 Grammys with her breakthrough album “Nick of Time” — Bonnie Raitt found herself inundated with demo tapes from aspiring songwriters.
So much so, that Raitt used to position boxes of tapes throughout various places in her house, always near a portable cassette deck.
She had a box in her kitchen, another in her bathroom, each one containing dozens of tapes. Perhaps one would be her next hit.
One day she picked up a cassette from a Canadian singer-songwriter by the name of Shirley Eikhard. Raitt had never heard the name before. She thinks it could have been sitting in the box for a couple of years.
Nonetheless, Raitt plugged the tape into the player.
Interview with Graham Rockingham from The Hamilton Spectator - May 2017
tip: most convenient way to listen while browsing along is to use the popup button of the player.
There were four songs on it. One of them was called “Something to Talk About.” It would not only be Raitt’s next hit. It would be her biggest, winning her another Grammy for best female vocal performance in 1992.
“All four of the songs just knocked me out,” Raitt says on the phone from her northern California home. “I loved her voice and I thought it was so far and above anybody else’s tape.”
There was no Internet back then, so Raitt had to start making inquiries about this Eikhard person through her record label. Coincidently, Eikhard was signed to the same label as Raitt, Capitol. Eikhard had had some success in Canada, but was an unknown in the United States.
Eikhard had written her phone number on the tape. Raitt decided to call her up and give her a surprise.
“I waited until I recorded the song, to call up the number on the cassette,” Raitt recalls. ‘I said ‘Hey, Shirley, it’s Bonnie Raitt, listen to this.’ I pushed play and played her own song back and hung up the phone. It went over to voice messaging.
“She called us back and couldn’t have been more delighted. The rest is history. That song is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Not long after, Eikhard and Raitt met face to face at a concert. The two have maintained ties since. She would love to see Eikhard at one of her shows on her upcoming cross-Canada tour, which stops at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Concert Hall on Tuesday, June 6.
Bonnie Raitt was a little nervous before she and James Taylor played Boston’s Fenway Park in 2015, a venue bigger than she’s used to performing at. “The sound was great. I saw what a difference those high-def screens make. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house. It wasn’t alienating for people. It was such a great event, to put us two old fogies together.” This summer, the two will hit more stadiums, including Chicago’s Wrigley Field and San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Touring is just one of Raitt’s full-time jobs, which also include heavy activism for causes ranging from Standing Rock to getting musicians paid. Raitt spoke with Rolling Stone from her Northern California home about several of those topics, how to relax, her childhood growing up Quaker and what she learned from being dropped from her record label.
How do you relax when you’re at home in California?
Usually I spend the afternoon hiking. I love Marin County because there are a couple of dozen beautiful hikes within 30 minutes. Then I usually do an hour-and-a-half yoga class with one of my girlfriends – either Skyping or at one of our houses. That’s been really keeping me in shape the last five years. I also like having friends over to watch Netflix at night. I try not to watch anything too political in the evening – I don’t want to get too upset right before bed.
What did you take away from growing up Quaker?
It’s part of the reason I’m drawn to spending so much time in nature. Unlike being in a cathedral or having to look at icons – not to put anyone else’s religious practices down – being in nature is a spiritual connection for me. God – right now there’s a little squirrel in the tree looking right at me! Growing up, we worked hard to figure out what we could do to give back and to find peaceful ways to resolve conflicts around the world. A lot of my values come from that.
Your dad, John Raitt, was a legendary Broadway actor. What advice did he give you? “Make every night opening night.” It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing Topeka, Kansas, or you’re playing on Broadway – that audience deserves the very best you have.
You dropped out of Harvard to play with several classic blues artists. What did you learn from them? By my junior year I was opening for Mississippi Fred McDowell and John Hammond Jr. I was friends with the guy who booked a lot of my blues heroes. I fit on the bill because I was different and I could play a little bit of everything. I learned how to put a set together. I learned from Mississippi Fred McDowell in particular – playfulness, and passion, how to go back and forth between rock and something mournful.
What’s the most indulgent purchase that you’ve ever made? I love taking my friends out to restaurants and putting together interesting groups of people. While some might say, “That’s too many people,” it’s an extravagance and I’m happy to do it. When I go out here, it’s more with activists. But in New York or L.A., I hang out with a lot of musicians.
What do you like about hanging out with musicians? They get the joke. We call everyone else “civilians.” There’s a certain twisted sense of humor that comes with rock & roll musicians. A lot of them are professional partiers. We don’t have to go to bed if we don’t want to. So it’s constantly like going to never-never land in some ways. Even though we’re older, we still feel like we’re getting away with something.
“Not only is Father John Misty handsome, but he’s talented and hilarious.”
You were dropped from Warner Bros. in the early Eighties. What did that experience teach you? Be with a company that really likes you! [Laughs] I’ve been a pretty savvy businesswoman since the beginning – I admit that I’m probably more of a businesswoman than I am an artist. I learned by watching people get ripped off. When I got involved with the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, I found out that all my record collection – my favorite artists – had never really received royalties.
Which young artists inspire you? I’m really digging Father John Misty. I caught a couple of his late-night performances that he did recently, and I think he’s really smart and the kind of satire we really need right now. It took me a minute to realize that he’s playing a deliberate character – but the more I see him, the more I like him. Not only is he handsome, but he’s talented and hilarious. I was knocked out.
Did you have a favorite book as a kid? To Kill a Mockingbird. When you’re a kid, you don’t know so much about the history: how the “First World” took over the rest of the world, the horrifying reality of slavery, what we did to Native Americans and how we took California and Texas. To Kill a Mockingbird was key in my awakening about the way the world really works.
You’re a longtime activist for causes like safe energy and getting money out of politics. How do you keep hope alive in the Trump era? It’s a daily challenge to keep the fight going. There’s an expression that I first heard from Black Lives Matter, which is that people are “woke.” The election woke people up that we can’t be complacent. Election Day was my birthday, the last night of a nine-month tour. I’d gotten birthday cards saying, “For your present I’m giving you the first female president.” I came offstage and saw the faces of the people backstage reacting to the results. Then I went back out and sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It was good to be able to do an extremely sad song. It was hard to contain my shock and dismay. But I’m encouraged by how upset people are.
There’s just no stopping Bonnie Raitt. The level of consistency she brings to just about every album and concert is almost unparalleled in a business where so many artists of her era have ceased to create new music, opting instead to rely on their greatest hits.
Raitt has just released her 20th disc, Dig in Deep, and not only does she continue to evolve as a singer/songwriter/guitarist, but once again her music is able to mellow the most frayed of nerves.
Call her genre roots, blues, folk or rock – it doesn’t matter, largely because it’s probably all of the above – but, more to the point, the reality is that Raitt remains relevant. And at 67, there’s no sign whatsoever of depreciation.
“It’s not like playing football or something,” she cracks in a phone interview. “We get more respectable the older we get. And, you know, roots musicians can age much more gracefully in people’s eyes than the pop artists. We just get crustier and more interesting when we get older, but then again you can’t coast on your laurels.”
And no one will accuse Raitt of that.
“I love what I do and in order to keep it up, I have to keep making it interesting and find new songs, so that I’m not just retreading on comfortable ground. It seems to be worth the effort to get paid doing something and having that much fun and making that many people happy every night. It’s the reason people keep at it as long as they can.”
Green Highway Co-Creators: Bonnie Raitt & Kathy Kane.
Welcome to Green Highway !
This site is the online companion to the exciting and informative Green Highway component of Bonnie Raitt's 2005-2006 Tour.
Plan to arrive at the venue early enough to explore the information tables and displays provided by our Partners and Non-Profit friends. Come learn about how the trucks and buses on tour are running on Biodiesel, and how 30 of the 39 shows are being offset with Wind Power !
The Nuclear Information and Resource Service relies on activism and contributions from citizens across the world to support our efforts for a nuclear-free planet and a sustainable energy future.
Please join Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, the Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco, The Fray, Bob Weir, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Guster, Ed Begley, Jr., James Cromwell, Graham Nash and other well-known and lesser-known but vital NIRS supporters and contribute financially and/or with your time.
Rainforest Action Network campaigns for the forests, their inhabitants and the natural systems that sustain life by transforming the global marketplace through education, grassroots organizing and non-violent direct action.
The National Biodiesel Board is the national trade association representing America's first Advanced Biofuel. The group works to create sustainable biodiesel industry growth through education, communication, governmental affairs, technical and quality assurance programs. Serving as the coordinating body for research and development in the US the National Biodiesel Board is comprised of state, national, and international feedstock and feedstock processor organizations, biodiesel suppliers, fuel marketers and distributors, and technology providers.
Rock the Earth is a national nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending our natural resources through partnerships with the music industry and the worldwide environmental community to ensure a sustainable and healthy planet for all.
At the heart of Seva''s vision is a growing perception that western technology and skills must be used in ways that are sustainable and that can be shared with those who do not have access to capital and resources. We call this compassionate capitalism.
The mission of Farm Aid is to keep family farmers on their land. Family farmers are our only guarantee for fresh, local food. Our goal is to bring together family farmers and citizens to restore family farm-centered agriculture. Family farmers ensure safe, healthful food, protect natural resources, and strengthen local economies.
REVERB is a non-profit organization and creates and executes comprehensive, custom programs to green the tour itself while engaging concertgoers to take action for the environment. Bonnie's work with Green Highway served as a major source of guidance and inspiration in Reverb's early days. We take a positive “work-with” approach and believe that being green is not all or nothing; many people doing some things will have more impact than a few people doing everything. All of us can be active participants in protecting the environment and creating real, large-scale, and measurable change.
The Guacamole Fund is a non-profit organization with a 501(c)(3) tax status. It assists environmental, social change, cultural and service organizations by facilitating, organizing and producing benefit concerts, rallies, special ticket sales, receptions and media campaigns.
These activities serve to publicize and raise consciousness about issues that are important and timely to the social change and environmental process, as well as raise funds.
We research organizations that are actively involved in these issues and bring this information to the attention of members of the entertainment community.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants.
Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction.
We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive.
SOLARTOPIA! Along with wind, solar and bio-fuels, Solartopian energy comes from the waves, currents, rivers and tides; from the geothermal heat beneath the earth's crust; from the interplay of solar-heated water at the oceans' surface and the frigid deep.
In August 2007, musicians Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash, along with longtime energy activists and colleagues, Harvey Wasserman and Tom Campbell, helped organize NukeFree.org as an on-going grassroots campaign and website working to defeat up to $50 billion in proposed loan guarantees for building new atomic reactors. Had these guarantees gone through, there would be virtually no chance of stopping the construction of dozens of new atomic reactors all over the United States.
Bonnie: "How unthinkable that, in a country of such bursting plenty, so many people are facing ongoing hunger and poverty. If we are truly each other's keepers, let's support school lunches, food stamps, neighborhood garden projects, and so many other wonderful programs working to put an end to this cruel and needless blight once and for all."
The mission of Dream Foundation is to enhance the quality of life for individuals and their families during the end of life’s journey.Dream Foundation helps adults find peace and closure with the realization of a final wish.
Dream Foundation works with hundreds of volunteers and more than 600 hospices and healthcare organizations nationwide.
'I support Public Citizen -- I hope you will, too. Bonnie Raitt'
Public Citizen serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital. Since our founding in 1971, we have delved into an array of areas, but our work on each issue shares an overarching goal: To ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power.
I know that the work Public Citizen is doing today is critical to our future. Please join me in supporting Public Citizen and make a generous contribution now. -- Bonnie
Our Mission: The mission of Women's Bean Project is to change women's lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise.
Women's Bean Project employs chronically unemployed and impoverished women through transitional employment and helps them earn the job readiness, interpersonal and life skills to create a new future - for themselves, their families, our community and our economy.
Bonnie was one of Little Kids Rock’s earliest supporters, lending her name, time, and musical expertise when Little Kids Rock was just a small, nameless program in San Francisco in the 1990′s. Since then, the blues legend has visited classrooms, met with students at her soundchecks, and been a proud member of our honorary board.Bonnie: “Little Kids Rock does a great job getting kids excited about music, picking up the slack from budget cuts to put music programs in our schools. They deserve our support.”
The Plastic Pollution Coalition mission is to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, the ocean and the environment. PPC was founded in 2009 as a platform to amplify a common message through strategic planning and communication. Our more than 400 member organizations and a growing coalition of individuals seek to increase awareness and understanding of the plastic pollution problem, and to find sustainable solutions. We aim to empower more people and more organizations to take action to stop plastic pollution and to live plastic-free.
MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares' services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. MusiCares also focuses the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community.
MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares' services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality.
M.U.S.E supports organizations worldwide working to promote safe, alternative, non-nuclear energy.
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Jason Mraz, The Doobie Brothers, Tom Morello, John Hall, Kitaro, Jonathan Wilson, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and special guests have joined together for a special bene t event on Sunday, August 7, at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA. Proceeds from the concert will be distributed to Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) to support Japan disaster relief efforts, and organizations worldwide working to promote safe, alternative, non-nuclear energy.