Being immersed in blues music, Bonnie Raitt represents a segment of the culture that is rooted in slower, simpler times. But talk to this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who performs tonight at Pompano Beach Amphitheatre, and there’s a sense of things spinning rapidly.
Tours are tied in with albums, favored causes and fundraisers. The scheduling of anything more time-intensive than lunch — public appearances, interviews, recording sessions — can require a year’s advance notice.
Raitt also has suffered personal losses in this decade: the deaths of her parents, both musicians; and a brother, who succumbed to cancer in April. Her work life didn’t stop while she was tending to loved ones; it just became more complicated.
So it’s not a surprise to hear the Grammy-winning singer and guitarist, who turns 60 next month, say in a telephone interview that she’s looking forward to some time off. What’s more unexpected is how much time off: It could be a good long while.
“I’m going to be taking a break, an extended break, after basically 10 years of much illness and nonstop working,” she said. “So I’m looking forward to a hiatus where I get to do what I want to do, and not necessarily be obligated to … go on tour to raise … money and get people out for the elections or take care of anybody who’s very, very ill. So it’s just going to be a time when I get to really have my first hiatus in a long time.”
Raitt does not anticipate a total retreat from the world. “My day job running my political-activist life, that never goes away,” she said. But she is clearing sections of her calendar. “I’ve already had to turn down at least half a dozen things that I would have given my teeth to do if I wasn’t needing this break.”
“I’ll stay busy with my — the world isn’t going to lose all the different causes that I’m involved in,” she said. “But I don’t need to make another record. I don’t need to win any more awards. I don’t need to tour to make a living. After 40 years of always having another record in the back of my mind when I finished a tour, this is the first time I’m going to regroup.”
She called this “a good time … to be able to wait and plan my next move.”
There’s no sense of disengagement when Raitt talks about her circumstances. She’s aware of the changes technology has wrought in the music industry. She is trying her hand at digital products, such as GarageBand, that have put music-making within almost everyone’s reach. She views the Internet as capable of both destruction and creation.
“I think’s it’s this really exciting, multi-tentacled kind of a beast, the Internet, in the music business today,” she said. “And a lot of people have lost their jobs. … But out of that, out of those ashes, some new ways of communicating are being devised.”
At the same time, she has hung on to some pre-revolution habits. Her recordings, for example, have not done second duty as advertising jingles.
“I haven’t licensed a song for commercials. It’s sort of not my thing,” she said. “I don’t have any judgment on other people that do; it’s a great way to get your stuff out there. And I wouldn’t rule it out if it was a really good marriage [with] something that I believed in.”
A bona-fide guitar hero, her songs do not appear in any editions of Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the popular play-along video games. Granted, she said, “They haven’t approached me.” Nor has she campaigned for placement in those game-console catalogs.
(Also, would electric slide guitar, a Raitt signature, translate to a game environment? Slide playing calls for voice-like pitch bends and the sustaining of single notes across a song’s intervals. Rock Band and its ilk, by contrast, tend to fling notes at players in bunches, and in ever-accelerating staccato bursts, as the difficulty level rises.)
While the world decides whether a digitized Bonnie Raitt game avatar is in the works, she is focused on the rewards of playing music live and in person.
“The touring part is the fun part,” she says, adding, “The exam period is making a record. That’s a lot harder. … We travel in great tour buses and it’s like a big family. It’s a lot of fun for 40 years or I wouldn’t be able to still be doing it.”
She described her set list as a kind structure with “scaffolding” designed to keep it aloft through changes in mood and tempo, and to account for the variety in her audience.
“There’s people that are coming to see me that haven’t seen me since their college days in the ’70s. There’s younger people that have never seen me live, that maybe have heard about me through ‘Nick of Time’ and ‘Luck of the Draw’ and those albums that sold millions of copies. … I want to get around in the course of the hour and 45 or whatever we play … to a good combination of different kinds of music so … everybody gets a little flavor of what they came to hear. Some people wish there was more blues. Some people wish there was more pop. But there’s some cornerstone songs that were hits that I’ve got to put in there because they’re important to me as well as the fans.”
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