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A conversation with Bonnie Raitt
All Songs Considered

on May 8, 2022 No comments
with Jewly Hight

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Jewly Hight from member station WNXP talks with Bonnie Raitt about the folk-and-blues legend’s new album Just Like That… and how she’s navigated five decades of storied music-making.

Source: © Copyright NPR – WNXP

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Bonnie Raitt: “I didn’t see anybody play slide, so I just figured it out in my room – and I put the bottleneck on the wrong finger!”

on May 6, 2022 No comments
By Alan Paul

The blues-rock master takes us inside her bold new album, Just Like That…, and charts her never-ending journey through the world of slide guitar

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bonnie Raitt returns to some of her beloved musical and lyrical themes on Just Like That…, her first new album in more than six years. Her familiar smoky voice and biting slide guitar that still manage to cut to the bone – not to mention soothe the soul. 

But Raitt also stretches out on the album, and at its emotional core are four songs she wrote herself, each of which finds her taking different musical and lyrical approaches. 

Especially noteworthy are Living for the Ones, which pays rocking tribute to the friends and family she’s lost in recent years, and Waiting for You to Blow. The latter is a jazzy funky romp that takes a humorous look at a serious subject: remembering that every sober person is living one day at a time.

“Getting sober was the biggest life change I ever had,” Raitt says, adding that, even decades later, she still feels like there’s a “little devil” on her shoulder.

“It’s just waiting for me to blow, and you’re just one step away from the whole thing caving in,” she says. “I’m not really even talking about substance abuse, but about recovery from letting yourself slip into those morasses of self-doubt and pitying and victimhood – behaviors that aren’t really righteous.“


Waiting for You to Blow takes a serious subject and comes at it from an interesting angle – and with some really cool, upbeat music.

“I always try to do something I haven’t done, and songwriters are often sending me things that are exactly like I Can’t Make You Love Me or Something to Talk About. Why would I want to repeat myself? This is my 21st album, so I’ve said a lot of things about love from different angles. 

“I wanted to do something that was out of my comfort zone, so I wrote some music that was a hybrid of funk and jazz that I’ve heard in my head. I started with a funk drum track, which I’ve never done before, then played jazzy chords over it. Then I did all these little horn parts that ended up being played on organ and guitar. 

“The whole arrangement was conceived in my head, including the shuffle bridge, which is a little unusual as well. I’ve learned from Randy Newman and Mose Allison, in particular, to write about a serious topic [with some] satirical humor, a humorous point of view. I think it gets the point across better. I also felt like I stretched out on Down the Hall and Waiting for You to Blow. Those were beyond my usual wheelhouse.”

I also enjoy the acoustic-based songs.

“Those are great, but I wasn’t worried about doing a story song with fingerpicking, which is the style of folk music that made me learn the guitar in the first place, listening to Joan Baez, Odetta and early Bob Dylan. 

“There’s an immediacy and an intimacy about those songs [that are] mostly sung with one voice and one instrument, which also takes me back to Jackson Browne and John Prine’s first albums, which I adore.”


Does that nice fingerpicked acoustic guitar come back easilyor do you have to work to get it back?

“It never went away! I’m basically a folk music artist, and I accompanied myself alone for years. Most records have had one or two acoustic songs, and fingerpicking is the only style of guitar playing I know. I don’t know how to flatpick at all. I also do a lot of benefits, and [going] through two years of Covid mostly meant being alone again. It was fun to revisit the songs in that way.”

Was there any one artist or record that swung you away from solo fingerpicking and toward electric slide? 

“I was always also into Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Smokey Robinson and Ray Charles. I didn’t really hear slide guitar till I was 14 or 15. I didn’t get to see anybody play it, so I just figured it out in my room. I taught myself to play, so my hand positions aren’t 100 percent correct – and I put the bottleneck on the wrong finger.”

There is no wrong finger!

“You can play more if you have it on your ring finger. Fred McDowell used his little finger, but by then I was already down the road with it on my middle finger. I heard Robert Johnson and just tried to make myself sound exactly like whatever he was doing.”


Was he the first guitarist who made you pick up a slide?

“I heard John Hammond’s slide guitar first, then Little Red Rooster and Elmore James. The Rolling Stones were my first exposure to real slide guitar, but the blues guys really fired me up.”

Let’s talk about how some different slide players influenced you, starting with Ry Cooder.

“Ry is still a god to me. Ry and Lowell George are the biggest influences on my playing. I love the Delta blues: Son House, Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson, Johnny Shines, John Hammond. But Ry wrote the book on making it sound like your voice, which is what I try to do. He and Stevie Ray Vaughan are the greatest guitar players I’ve ever heard.”

How did Lowell impact you?

“He showed me how to use a compressor to let the note last longer, and that really impacted my slide style. I already kind of had my own style and was playing electric, but I wanted to know how he got the note to hold. Lowell was just remarkable. I can’t come close to Ry or Lowell, but their lyricism has continued to be an incredible inspiration to me. 

“I had never heard anybody like Little Feat when a friend played me Sailing Shoes – and I just about fell over. I loved them so much. And the first two Taj Mahal records are right up there in the pantheon of people that have taken blues and reinvented it and pushed it someplace new.”


That first Taj record inspired Duane Allman to learn slide. Was he a big influence?

“Not really – it’s a totally different style of slide playing. But I really loved what he did. I loved the English guys, and Johnny Winter was terrific. There was a lot of slide playing at the time, and I’ve always gone crazy for it.” 

What about David Lindley?

“Oh, he’s great. Another different style of slide: lap slide is a different instrument. I mean, there’s so many I love: Sonny Landreth, Roy Rogers, John Mooney. Derek Trucks is taking [slide guitar] to a whole other level now.”

In what way?

“His cuts, and his facility to go anywhere, including Indian ragas. He will play such inventive notes. It’s almost like when bebop first started. Not that he plays that style, but he’s reinvented a lot of the ways that guitar can be used. He just goes places where I never heard anybody take it. To me, he has endless creativity and soul – and his tone is ridiculous.”

Alan Paul is the author of three books, Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan, One Way Way Out: The Inside Story of the Allman Brothers Band – which were both New  York Times bestsellers – and Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing, a memoir about raising a family in Beijing and forming a Chinese blues band that toured the nation. He’s been associated with Guitar World for 30 years, serving as Managing Editor from 1991-96. He plays in two bands: Big in China and Friends of the Brothers, with Guitar World’s Andy Aledort.

Source: © Copyright Guitar World

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Learn to Play Slide Like Bonnie Raitt

on May 3, 2022 No comments
By Jeff Jacobson

An in-depth look at the subtle artistic and technical elements behind her celebrated and highly emotive slide playing.

Looking back on the years I spent developing as a guitarist, I often kick myself for having taken certain musicians for granted – guitarists who always sounded so good but whose style I dismissed as “easy” to play.

While I was focused on learning solos crowded with notes, another musical world was passing me by. This is not to say that playing a lot of notes isn’t musical; it all depends on when and how you do it.

But that’s a lesson for another day.

I save one of my hardest kicks for when I think of Bonnie Raitt.

From listening to Raitt and players like her, I learned that being a good guitarist requires playing with an emphasis on musicality and tasteful note choices, along with a dedication to making a solo serve the song.

This requires a different kind of technique, one that is more subtle and surely not easy.

I’m going to try to make up for all that lost time by exploring Raitt’s unique approach to music, and more specifically, the guitar.

Bonnie Raitt circa 1994 in Los Angeles, California. © Lester Cohen /Getty Images

It’s almost as if Raitt has two voices. When listening to her songs, her smooth and soulful vocal style is immediately apparent. But when she lays down some of her signature open-tuned slide guitar licks, it becomes clear that she is a musician of great depth.

Before we dive into her guitar work, let’s talk about Raitt’s tone.

She doesn’t require anything elaborate or wildly expensive to achieve her warm, sustaining sound. Her main electric guitar, Brownie, is a Fender Strat that pairs an unpainted 1965 body with a neck from an unknown year.

It has long been her faithful onstage companion, and she hasn’t played a show without it since the late night in 1969 when she bought it for a whopping $120. The price was right, and she loved how it sounded.

Raitt strings the guitar with a custom set of GHS Boomers, in gauges .013, .017, .020w, .032, .042 and .052.

Bonnie Raitt during the filming of “Storm Warning” circa 1994 in Los Angeles, Ca.
© Lester Cohen /Getty Images

For amplification, Bonnie plugs her Strat into a Bad Cat Black Cat 30R 1×12 combo, while ultimately achieving her warm, overdriven tone with the simple addition of a ProCo Rat distortion pedal. She recently replaced her Boss CS-2 compressor with yet another classic, the MXR Dyna Comp, which provides all the sustain she needs to conjure the long-lasting notes that are a hallmark of her style.

Add in her Dunlop bottleneck slide and custom Dunlop molded-plastic fingerpicks, and that’s it!

So let’s turn our focus to how she plays, as this is what contributes most to her unique blend of rock, R&B, blues, and soul.

Chicago blues giant Muddy Waters was a major influence on Raitt, with his electrifying guitar style and ability to sustain a long career, something she was determined to achieve for herself. Other influences include a host of blues artists such as Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Furry Lewis, all of whom, like Waters, played fingerstyle blues guitar and incorporated slide work.

But Raitt was also drawn to the early rock and roll of Elvis Presley and Fats Domino, as well as the 1960s folk movement led by the likes of Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary. Their emphasis on activism resonated with Bonnie, and she would soon begin an earnest dedication to environmental and human rights causes that she continues today.

Bonnie Raitt and John Lee Hooker (1912-2001) sing and play their guitars on stage during a concert on Nov 22, 1994 in Santa Barbara, Ca. © Lester Cohen /Getty Images

An important element of Raitt’s playing is her use of open tunings and capos.

She most often plays in open A tuning (low to high: E, A, E, A, C#, E), but she also uses open G, which is the same tuning scheme transposed down one whole step (low to high: D, G, D, G, B, D). (All slide guitar examples in this lesson are presented in open G.)

Raitt often employs open strings in her rhythm and slide playing, and will often use a capo based on a song’s key, most often at the 3rd or 5th frets. For example, if her guitar is tuned to open A and the song is in the key of C major, she will often place her capo at the 3rd fret.

This will cause the open strings to produce a C chord – the tonic or “home” chord – giving her the opportunity to incorporate any “open” string she likes. 

When it comes to playing slide guitar, Raitt isn’t in a hurry.

For example, when playing a melodic theme or guitar solo, she’ll often include a long, slow slide to create a mix of anticipation and plaintive longing.

(Image credit: Future)

Ex. 1 illustrates this approach with a phrase in the style of “Unintended Consequence of Love,” from 2012’s Dig in Deep. (For ease of reading, all music examples that require a capo are written in the key of G major, instead of the actual sounding key. The capo-ed fret is “0” in the tab.)

 Another signature slide move of Bonnie’s is to slowly slide a note down the neck.

(Image credit: Future)

Ex. 2 is reminiscent of a phrase she plays in “Thing Called Love,” from her breakthrough 1989 album, Nick of Time.

Notice how the first note is left to simply hang in the air.

Like other great guitarists, she has a sublime vibrato, but she knows when not to use it.

Raitt also employs another subtle approach when sliding into a note from above, as she sometimes uses a quick slide starting from a whole step, or two frets, higher.

(Image credit: Future)

Inspired by “Love Letter,” also from Nick of Time, Ex. 3 demonstrates how this snarky little slide move can inject some attitude into your playing.

While playing a song in a major key, Raitt will frequently (and slyly) borrow notes from its parallel minor pentatonic scale, which is built from the same root.

For example, if a song is in the key of G major, she’ll often be inclined to use notes from G minor pentatonic, which is spelled G (the root), Bb (the minor, or “flatted,” 3rd), C (the perfect 4th), D (the perfect 5th) and F (the minor, or “flatted,” 7th).

The “blue” notes here – the b3 and b7 – are her targets, as the three remaining notes are duplicated in the G major scale (G, A, B, C, D, E, F#).

(Image credit: Future)

Ex. 4 is reminiscent of Raitt’s playing in “Something to Talk About,” from her 1991 Grammy-winning album, Luck of the Draw.

We’re again in the key of G major here, and, if you look at the music notation, you’ll see how Bb (the b3) and F (the b7) are borrowed from the G minor pentatonic scale. But notice how they’re prevented from coming across too harshly by quickly moving on to diatonic notes from the G major scale right next door (A and E, respectively).

This creates a sound that is as soulful as it is bluesy.

Raitt will take advantage of this approach often, and in such a way as to make it always sound fresh.

(Image credit: Future)

Let’s take a quick detour to discuss Raitt’s rhythm guitar style, when she’ll often give her slide a rest. If you’re unfamiliar with her earlier albums, you might be surprised to hear her playing in a more traditional blues style.

Ex. 5 brings to mind “Love Me Like a Man” from her 1972 album, Give It Up.

Played without a slide, and in standard tuning, it offers up a classic fingerstyle blues, played with a triplet, or “shuffle,” feel. Be sure to use your pick-hand thumb on the third beat of bar 3, as indicated.

(Image credit: Future)

Raitt is especially masterful when interpreting ballads.

A great example is her cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” from 1974’s Streetlights. In it, she uses both strumming and fingerpicking in the vein of Ex. 6.

The guitarist strums with the tips of her plastic fingerpicks, but if you don’t own a set, you can use the tips of your fingers in much the same way.

Note the use of drop-D tuning here, where the low E string is tuned down one whole step, to D, and a capo at the 2nd fret. Raitt will often alternate between overtly stating a song’s groove and sneakily playing her rhythm parts tucked into the band.

(Image credit: Future)

Ex. 7 is reminiscent of “Ain’t Gonna Let You Go” from her 2012 Grammy-winning album, Slipstream, where she lays down a funky blues groove, without using her slide.

In these situations, Raitt will often wear it – on her middle finger, as always – to give her the option to use it if she wants to.

Bonnie most often chooses to perform music by other songwriters and will commonly invest three to four years into sorting through songs in order to find an album’s worth of material to record.

However, she does perform her own songs as well. “Give It Up or Let Me Go,” a song she wrote for her album Give It Up, features her plucking fretted notes, then switching to slide partway through, making its entrance a welcome surprise.

(Image credit: Future)

Ex. 8 is inspired by her unaccompanied intro on this track. Raitt loves to let notes ring a tad longer than you think she might.

To accomplish this, she gently coaxes them along with a wide vibrato.

(Image credit: Future)

To give this a try, see Ex. 9, which is based on “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” from 1994’s Longing in Their Hearts.

Summon a wide vibrato by quickly wiggling, or “wagging,” your slide back and forth, covering the area between the adjacent frets on either side.

This technique, combined with the use of a compressor pedal, gives the guitarist the sustain she needs to wring everything out of each note, a hallmark of her style.

Bonnie Raitt’s phrasing and touch are what place her among a select group of soulful and expressive guitarists who make you sit up and listen even though it can be confounding to figure out just what makes them sound so good.

There’s a lot going on “behind the scenes” of Raitt’s seemingly effortless approach to music that has enabled her to achieve the Muddy Waters-like longevity she envisioned for herself over 50 years ago.

To her credit, she has consistently done it in her own self-effacing, understated way – all the while making it look “easy.”

Source: © Copyright Guitar Player

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