John Raitt has played leading roles in musicals more often than anybody in history, crows his daughter, blues-pop-rock singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt.
And Bonnie thinks she has played in more cities more times than contemporaries with hit records.
“I got that gypsy blood from my dad,” she says. “He loved to take beautiful shows to the hinterlands, where people weren’t going to go to New York and didn’t have $55 for a ticket.”
The Raitts, dad and daughter, were in New York recently for his induction into the Theater Hall of Fame. His name is now chiseled into the marble wall of the Gershwin Theater.
John Raitt, 77, was Curly in the first national tour of “Oklahoma!” in 1944. He made his Broadway debut as Billy in “Carousel” in 1945 and followed that as Sid in “The Pajama Game” on Broadway in 1954 and the subsequent 1957 movie.
Raitt’s brown hair is white and wavy now. Women wonder if it’s a wig. It’s real.
Bonnie Raitt, 44, dropped out of Radcliffe College to sing the blues. She moved west and became a booster of numerous causes, along with other Southern Californian mellow-rockers.
Winning four Grammy Awards in 1990 shot her to a prominence she’d never known.
Her next album, “Longing in Their Hearts,” will be released in March. For the title song, she set to music a poem by her husband, actor Michael O’Keefe, now on TV’s “Roseanne.”
When she was 7, Bonnie loved a live TV special that her father and Mary Martin did of “Annie Get Your Gun.” And she loved her father’s taking her to the set of “The Pajama Game” where Doris Day refused makeup to cover her freckles. Embarrassed then about her own freckles, red-haired Bonnie says, “It was a big self-esteem boost for me.”
John Raitt and his first wife, Marjorie, were married from 1942 to 1971 and had two sons and a daughter. He remarried in 1972.
Bonnie says that she and her family were never estranged, but adds, “They couldn’t have been thrilled with my rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.”
When she was 18, she says, “I was singing blues and hanging out with old Delta blues musicians. They might drink a little. These guys (her parents) were not drinkers. I adopted a blues lifestyle.”
Her father, she says, “was incredibly patient. And so was my Mom. It didn’t make any sense to berate me. Came time for me to have love affair breakups or when I’d done myself in emotionally or physically, they were always there with open arms.”
Bonnie stopped drinking in the late 1980s, later, she says, than most of her friends.
John Raitt didn’t aim for opera because there aren’t enough good parts for high, lyric baritones. In musical comedy, he considers good acting even more important than good voice.
He hasn’t seen the revival of “Carousel,” now in London and opening on Broadway in late March.
Asked what she has learned from her father, Bonnie Raitt says, “One thread I’m proud of is his integrity, how much he cared, how he makes each performance as good as it possibly can be. I like to think some of that rubbed off.”
John Raitt, who has toured in every state, made his most recent tour in “Man of La Mancha” two years ago. Since then, he has been giving concerts of 23 big numbers from 16 shows he has been in, plus anecdotes.
As a child, ”I used to wish he was home more,” Bonnie says. “I say, ‘Now I understood.’ At the time, I remember being sad because I loved him so much and I didn’t want him to be gone.”
Her “Nick of Time” album brought Bonnie Raitt Grammy Awards in 1990 for album of the year, female rock vocal performance and female pop vocal performance. She also won a Grammy for traditional blues performance, for a duet with John Lee Hooker on his album “The Healer.”
“The biggest thing now,” Bonnie says, “is I can pay my band more; maybe they can afford earthquake insurance. And it’s kind of fun to be international. I played concerts in a lot of countries for the first time two years ago.”
She smiles at her father and says, “I’m threatening to kidnap him and take him out on tour with me this summer, bring him to Radio City a couple of nights.”
John Raitt smiles back. He also has another ambition, to sing “Soliloquy” at next year’s Tony Awards, on the 50th anniversary of “Carousel.”
“I still can do it,” he says.