More than 40 years after scoring her first hit with 1977’s “Runaway,” Bay Area music legend Bonnie Raitt is still making some of the most intriguing and engaging music of her career.
That’s pretty clear from listening to the recent offering “Dig in Deep,” which finds Raitt taking the album’s title to heart — and digging in very deep — on a dozen solid tunes that range from blues rockers to big ballads.
Overall, it’s another great edition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s catalog, which also includes such multiplatinum albums as 1989’s “Nick of Time” and 1991’s “Luck of the Draw.”
Raitt is supporting the new platter with a quick run through California, which kicks off March 15 at the City National Civic in San Jose. The singer-songwriter-guitarist and her talented sidemen — guitarist George Marinelli, drummer Ricky Fataar, bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson and keyboardist Jon Cleary — also perform March 20 at the Fox Theater in Oakland in a benefit for Tipping Point’s Fire Relief Fund.
I recently had the chance to chat with 10-time-Grammy winner about “Dig in Deep,” her great band and other topics.
Q: Hi, Bonnie. Thanks so much for calling me. Where are you today?
A: I am calling you from Northern California. I am right over the (Golden Gate) bridge. I live in Marin County most of the time. I go to L.A. as well, but mostly I’m up north.
Q: I knew you had a house in the Marin area, but I wasn’t sure if you spent more time there or in Los Angeles. After all, you are a SoCal native.
A: For the last 25 years, I’ve spent a good portion of my time in this part (of California) when I’m not traveling. And then, I’d say, about a third of my time I’m in Los Angeles.
Q: While I was waiting for you to call today, I had the chance to spin the new album again and I have to say you sound great on it. Take me a little bit behind the creation of “Dig in Deep.”
A: The process I use to make my albums is pretty much the same. We tour two or three years off of each album. And it takes about a year to get the promotion and the sets and the rehearsals and the website designed and the artwork. So, all together, it’s almost a four-, five-year process.
After my last (tour in support of 2012’s “Slipstream”) finished, I set about figuring out what I wanted to say — because it was going to be album No. 20 and I have covered a lot of material, lyrically and musically. So, this time, I was able to co-write and come up with about five songs — a couple by myself and three that I co-wrote, to try to add some different grooves into my live show, primarily.
Q: There is indeed no shortage of styles and feels on the album.
A: There’s a gospel shuffle on piano — I wanted to play the piano. There’s a personal ballad that I close the record with. Then there’s just a whole mix of great R&B and rock ’n’ roll and different flavored songs that I tend to gravitate toward.
There’s a pretty political song that I wrote with my guitar player (Marinelli) called “The Comin’ Round Is Going Through.” Great Los Lobos cover — “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” — and the usual funk and R&B. So, hopefully, people got a good dose of what they like about me and some new stuff as well.
Q: The band also sounds amazing on the record. I don’t think guys like Hutch and George always get the type of appreciation they deserve.
A: I definitely agree with you. And I think the more discerning of the people who I get to do interviews with and who review the record (know about the band). I know that the fans are really aware — from the kind of mail we get and the feedback we get. When I announce the guys (onstage), they are legendary in the audience’s mind as well. So, I am always happy to talk with someone who appreciates just how important the band is.
Q: And it seems like you’ve been playing with these guys forever.
A: Ricky was actually on my “Green Light” album (from 1982), when I was still on Warner Brothers. I met him then and then he moved to Australia for 10 years and came back just in time to come on the road to play on “Nick of Time.” He’s been with me ever since. Hutch has been with me the longest — in ’83, I started playing with him on tour. And then George joined in ’93 for the “Longing in Their Hearts” tour. Those guys have been the basis of the band.
We had Jon Cleary for 10 years. We had Mike Finnigan for another seven. I’ve been really blessed with having some of the greatest musicians I’ve ever played with to be in my band.
Q: One of my favorite numbers from the new album is “Unintended Consequence of Love,” the big blues-rocker you penned with Cleary. I just love hearing the two of you work together.
A: Me too. And we’re (touring) together for the first time in a long while, because he’s been focusing on his solo career and doing some touring as well with John Scofield. His latest album (2015’s “Go Go Juice”) won a Grammy Award for best regional roots music album. He is thrilled to be able to support his new record coming out and they are going to be opening for us on this tour in March in California.
Q: So, we get a double shot of Cleary – his own group opens the show and then he plays keyboards in your band. I’m guessing that your recommendation for fans is that they definitely arrive on time to see the opener.
A: Absolutely. He’s a musician’s musician. He’s an incredible showman and one of the greatest singers as well as keyboard players. Rightfully, he got that Grammy – it was overdue. He’s beloved around the world now. We were honored to have in the band, and on a bunch of records of mine, for 10 years. It’s going to be a wonderful reunion.
Q: I wanted to bring up one more song off the new album — that cool cover of “Need You Tonight.” It’s very different — and satisfyingly so — from the original. What made you decide to paint up the INXS classic in the blues?
A: I don’t even put a label on what I do. I’m a music fan. On the previous record, I did a kind of a reggae version of “Right Down the Line,” which was a hit for Gerry Rafferty back in 1977, when I had my first radio hit with “Runaway.” I’m a big Gerry Rafferty fan.
One of things I love to is rearrange songs in my own style. We do “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads, Jr. Walker’s “(I’m a) Road Runner.” The INXS song — ever since I first heard it on the radio back on the ‘80s, I said, “Man, I am going to cover that one day.”
It just lends itself perfectly to the way that I play guitar and the way this band plays. I love George’s lick that he came up with in the beginning. That’s another highlight for me off the new record. That song is one of the sexiest songs you could ever play.
Q: The last concert you performed in the Bay Area, I believe, was that big show with James Taylor at AT&T Park in San Francisco last summer. So, it’s nice to see you back in concert again so soon.
A: Even though we’ve played California a couple of times on the Dig in Deep Tour already, I wanted to do a little tour of California that hits the markets that we didn’t play.
Also, I am doing a big concert for the fire relief efforts up in the northern part of the state — in Santa Rosa area — where so many people lost so much. We are donating all the profits from the Oakland show.
Q: That’s got to be a cause that hits very close to home for you.
A: Absolutely. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got four friends who lost everything. The wonderful organization Tipping Point — which was instrumental in organizing a big benefit show at AT&T Park with Metallica and Dave Matthews a while back — has been doing some great work with some underserved parts of the community that don’t have access to psychological counseling and legal advice with how to get through the maze of insurance companies and seeing what type of options they have.
I’m really glad to be able to do something, because we are facing a lot of drought and extreme weather. People have to pull together. So, I’m glad we can contribute something.
Q: It should be another great show — and you’ve had no shortage of them in the Bay Area over the years.
A: A lot of the concerts that are so memorable for me in the Bay Area are the benefits, whether it’s for the Seva Foundation or Bread & Roses or the Rainforest Action Network. It’s really a hotbed of standing up for grass roots groups that are really working hard for so many issues of the environment and human rights and equality. I am very proud to be able to play for my home team here.
When and where: 8 p.m. March 15 at City National Civic, San Jose; $80; 8 p.m. March 20 at Fox Theater, Oakland (a benefit for Tipping Point’s Fire Relief Fund); ticketmaster.com.