The blues have always been a good topic for debate.
What are they and where did they come from? The subject can keep music lovers going for hours.
Did they start on the slave ships from Africa? Or were they more influenced by the Irish and English who settled in the Southern Appalachians?
And what about the Scots? After all in the Highlands of Scotland they were singing “Frankie and Albert” (“She killed her man, who wouldn’t treat her right”) long before anyone heard about the tribulations of “Frankie and Johnny.”
Say “blues” and everyone has an opinion.
But few preconceived concepts fit Bonnie Raitt. She’s a blues singer all right but she breaks the mold.
Bonnie Raitt is only 22 years old. She’s a tiny girl and talks in a soft voice. Her face is covered with freckles and she doesn’t change her expression very often. Her eyes change though, they always seem a bit sad.
“That’s what the blues are,” she says. “They’re about hurting and feeling sad.
“They’re about being lonely and being hurt by someone. The feelings are the same for everyone. The pain is there in white middle class America just as it is anywhere.
“The blues are not about poverty,” she explained. “They’re not about being poor. Poor people don’t have a corner on sadness. They’re not about eatin’ grits; not about having a big rough voice; not about being 72 and black.”
Almost as an afterthought, she added. “The main thing is to be honest.”
The singer is alarmingly honest about her own talent and career just as she is about everything else.
About her voice she says, “When I sing I just try to come off as me. I’m not going to be what I’m not. I don’t really like my voice because it’s too thin for what I want to sing. I’d like to sound like Mavis Staples, but I can’t. It’s just not me.
Bonnie may not be pleased with her voice, but it’s obvious others are. She has been building a growing group of devoted followers in recent concerts throughout the country and has a new album out on Warner Bros. Records.
Her honesty probably causes more than just a little nervousness at Warners however, when she claims that she doesn’t want a hit record.
“The blues are about hurting and feeling sad. They’re about being lonely and being hurt by someone.”~Bonnie Raitt
“I just want to make a living and have a decent audience in each city I play. I don’t want to be this week’s top star and make a lot of money.”
The inevitable questions about her father receive the same sort of direct answers.
“Why not? He is, after all, part of what makes me what I am.”
Her father is musical comedy star John Raitt.
“Having a father who is a name performer may help some young people in show business,” Bonnie reflects. “But I’m so different from him that I don’t think it mattered.”
Musically Bonnie was influenced by her father in an offhand way. During the summer months he would play in stock theaters and send his daughter to camp.
“The atmosphere of the camps was similar to folk festivals and there I first heard the records of John Hurt, Son House, Fred McDowell and Lightnin’ Hopkins. I didn’t plan to be a musician but when I heard them I knew I had to learn to play the guitar.
“Then when I felt lonely or sad I would pick up my guitar and sing. And it came out blues.”