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Bonnie Raitt among the first American rockers (and only female guitarist) to perform in an historic U.S./U.S.S.R. music blowout

on July 31, 1987 No comments
By JONATHAN TAKIFF, Daily News Staff Writer

Launch into a conversation with Bonnie Raitt and you’ll be amazed where it can lead: From the new Russian spirit of Glasnost (openness) to the CIA-drug- smuggling scandal to her latest musical collaborations with the Purple Wonder, Prince.

Bonnie Raitt – Three Time Looser – A Rock “n” Roll Summit – Russia 1987

Bonnie Raitt performing Three Time Looser

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 1) – Warm Welcome at the North River Terminal

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 2) – Press Conference, Walking through Red Square

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 3) – Making a Circle on Red Square, Concert Setup and Interviews

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 4) – Interviews and Concert Negotiations

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 5) – Interviews and Marching in Moscow

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 6) – Peace Vigil and Other Interviews

Arriving in Moscow USSR (part 7) – Culminating Walk and Concert Kick-Off

Come Together: The 1987 American Soviet Peace Walk

Carlos Santana Moscow 1987

Headlining Thursday at Valley Forge Music Fair, Bonnie Raitt was among the first American rockers (and the only female guitarist) to perform in an historic, July 4 U.S./U.S.S.R. music blowout at Moscow’s Dynamo Stadium. Celebrating the conclusion of the Soviet-American Walk for Peace from Leningrad to Moscow, the show also featured the Doobie Brothers (minus Mike McDonald), Santana and James Taylor along with the top Russian group Autograph. Come fall, a video of the event will materialize here, first on Showtime pay cable.

“It was a real soulful type of day,” recalls Raitt. “At the end, the Western and Soviet bands were all trading lyrics on ‘Midnight Hour’ and ‘Johnny B Goode’ and ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ and everybody was in tears. For an old peace activist like myself to be there, it was like a dream come true.”

Bonnie Raitt with RoseMary Butler in U.S.S.R. 1987

Raitt jokes that her brief stay in Moscow “was like four days at the Moscow Department of Motor Vehicles” – as the troupe was hearded en mass from hotel to stadium to a gawking session at Red Square, “where some of us beatniks – especially (long haired) guitarist Lee Sklar – got some really strange looks from the locals.”

As Billy Joel is now discovering, Raitt says the Russian concert audience is “more reserved than we’d have liked. There was room for 40,000 people in the stadium, but the officials only let 20,000 in because they were scared of violence. They also had too much security. And the way the free tickets were doled out was suspect. Some portions of the audience were much more into the music than others.

Show Schedule

Bonnie Raitt was among the first American rockers to perform in a historic U.S./U.S.S.R. music blowout at Moscow’s Dynamo Stadium. July 4, 1987

In 1987 two hundred Americans were given permission by the Russian government to enter the “Iron Curtain” and take an anti-nuclear walk from Leningrad to Moscow. Bill Graham was asked to produce a show commemorating the end of the walk; he got Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak to pay the bill. The show took place on the 4th of July with four Russian bands and four American bands sharing the stage.

“But it ended up being fine. The people who cared moved down front, and the girls were sitting on the guys’ shoulders, and people were bouncing up and down, just like here. I had to pinch myself to remember where I was. If not for the Hungarian food and the Swedish sound and lights and the Russian stagehands, we could just as well have been performing in the States.”

Did Raitt feel shortchanged by the brevity of her visit? “Not really. back when I was in high school, I spent a whole month touring the Soviet Union and another month in Eastern Europe. Coincidentally, James Taylor went on the exact same trip, the summer after I did.”

On other liberal fronts, Raitt says she and Jackson Browne have just finished a month of benefits for the Cristic Institute, a California-based fact finding organization which has a law suit pending to draw out “the connection between C.I.A.-condoned drug smuggling and the Iran-Contra affair. It goes back to the U.S. shadow government which has been using drug money since the Bay of Pigs to support covert operations,” asserts Raitt. “And it’s a shame the facts are coming out so slowly. All these ‘Olliewood’ supporters would be shocked to discover that their ‘patriotic’ man is partly responsible for the heroin and cocaine that’s getting into our neighborhoods.”

Seguing to apolitical matters, Raitt confirms that she has, indeed been recording music under the supervision of Prince. “We had some friends in common in Minneapolis, and I think his girlfriends turned him on to me,” says the bluesy belter. “At the start of the year, he called up and said he’d like to produce and write an album’s worth of songs with me. Then I got sidelined with a ripped ligament in my thumb. Then he got tight for time. But he did find time to write three songs for me which we recorded before he went off to Europe.

“The guy’s a genius,” says Raitt of Prince. “It’s scary how fast he works, and how many ideas he comes up with. I think it’s safe to say the recordings came out sounding more like me than like him. He really dug into my rhythm and blues roots. You still hear my slide guitar, though some of his idiosyncratic signature sound is also evident.

“But I’m not changing my name to Bon-E.,” she promises. “I’m not flouncing around in underwear. And I haven’t been offered the opening slot in his show.”

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