The blues never had a greater champion than Dick Waterman

on February 1, 2024 No comments
By James Sullivan – Globe correspondent

In the music business, they often refer to performers as “the talent” and their recordings as “product.” Dick Waterman, the Boston-bred agent, promoter, and photographer who died Jan. 26 at age 88, saw the musicians he represented as something else — friends.

I’m deeply sorry to mark the passing of my friend, Dick Waterman, who made such a huge impact on the lives and careers of so many great blues artists, championing them as people as much as their music, booking and managing them with great care, integrity and skill. He gave me my start as well, going on to book and represent me for 15 years. He was also a renowned photographer who published a book and his wonderful photographs of some of our most legendary roots artists… He was an incredible storyteller, popular columnist in the local Oxford (Mississippi) Eagle and packed a great deal into his 88 years. We are so sorry to lose him and I am deeply grateful for the gifts he gave me and the life he lived. My sincere condolences go to his wife Cinda and all his family.

Dick published a book of rare photographs and personal recollections called “Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive” in 2003. While the book itself is out of print, you can learn more about it here: and read an excerpt (below) from the preface I was honored to contribute.

To learn more about his life, you can check out his biography, “Dick Waterman: A Life In Blues” written by Tammy L. Turner.

— Bonnie

From Preface:

My friendship with Dick developed as closely as did the ones with the many blues artists we both adored. Through his connection I received the education and gift of a lifetime, hanging and learning about life and the music from all my heroes as well as being given a job I’d love for the rest of my life. Within a couple of years, I was opening for his acts and Dick went on to manage me for the next fifteen years.

While so many mostly white, middle class Blues aficionados seem to obsess about only the actual Blues recordings, huddling around their hallowed 78s, speaking in hushed tones about this or that obscure song, the living, breathing scions of the music walk among us. Often forgotten, neglected and long occupied in jobs other than music– farmer, porter, you name it, ..having given up on the idea of recognition of making a living in music, suddenly their lives are transformed by being ‘rediscovered’ during the heralded Folk/Blues revival of the mid-1960s.

After starting his own management and booking agency, Avalon Productions, Dick knew the meaning of rent money, medical bills, proper billing and payment. How to get a person from some small town in the Delta up to the big east coast cities for the gigs and back. He knew how to help these often rural, unsophisticated geniuses fare in the alien, impossibly whirlwind world of the folk/blues festival and concert circuit.

By gathering so many greats under one roof, Dick was able to collectively bargain to ensure each artist got to play the best gigs and be paid what they deserved. He steadfastly guarded every aspect of his artists’ professional life and was often the family’s solid rock during personal crises as well.

For helping raise the quality of life for so many artists with whom he worked, for reminding the white progeny of these mighty scions wherein their debt lies, for refusing to compromise probably at the expense of his own advancement, taking the high road and loving the people as well as the music, Dick has helped shepherd the Blues to a place in history truly befitting its worth.

For this, and for the gift that are these extraordinary images and reminiscences brought together in this book, we thank you.


Dick Waterman and Son House 1969
Dick Waterman and Bonnie Raitt – Memphis Botanic Garden 2006 © Cinda Waterman

Born in Plymouth and educated as a journalist at Boston University, Waterman fell into the folk scene in Cambridge in the early 1960s. His role in rediscovering the long-lost musician Son House in 1964 led to a lifetime in the blues.

Waterman brought several living legends to the Newport Folk Festival. He befriended the Rolling Stones and shot rolls of photos of a young Bob Dylan. He got Arlo Guthrie his first gig and encouraged Bonnie Raitt to launch her career. In 2000, he became one of the first non-performers inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

After he published “Between Midnight and Day” (2003), his book of photographs of Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, and many more, Waterman told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross that he had a hard time listening to his friends’ records after they were gone.

“It’s more than music to me,” he said. “When I hear these men, I remember their after-shave lotion. I know what they drank. I know what kind of cigarettes they smoked.

“When I listen to them, they don’t come to me as musical notes. They come back to me as people.”

Waterman grew up in an affluent Jewish household. His father was a doctor: “He got up in the morning and made sick people not sick,” Waterman recalled in “Dick Waterman: A Life in Blues” (2019), a conversational biography written by Tammy L. Turner.

He wanted to be a sportswriter but found himself covering the folk scene around Club 47, the small Cambridge coffeehouse that would become Passim, for Dave Wilson’s biweekly newsletter Broadside. While covering Newport for the National Observer in 1963, he was “totally captivated” by Mississippi John Hurt, a blues singer and guitarist who had recorded in the 1920s, then “vanished” for decades.

Waterman began helping Hurt, McDowell, and others land engagements in and around Boston, including a packed weeklong run for Hurt at Cafe Yana near Fenway Park, which serendipitously took place just days after Hurt appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” A few years later, Waterman would name his burgeoning agency Avalon Productions after Hurt’s hometown.

In June 1964 Waterman joined fellow blues enthusiasts Phil Spiro and Nick Perls on a drive to Mississippi, in pursuit of a tip that Son House — a contemporary and friend of Charley Patton, the “Father of the Delta Blues” — was alive and well and had been spotted in Memphis. House had given up music in the 1940s and was using his given name, Edward.

Traveling in a Volkswagen Beetle with New York plates, they picked up a local minister who was an old acquaintance of House. On the backroads they encountered some hostility, as Waterman recalled in Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” (1979), the definitive book about the Cambridge folk years. This was the Freedom Summer, when white students from the north were volunteering in Mississippi to encourage Black citizens to register to vote.

When the Reverend Robert Wilkins got out of the car to ask for directions to a connection’s home, Waterman recalled, two “big, heavy, beefy, red-faced guys” stared at him, and then “spat straight down in contempt.

“They just looked at him, full of loathing and hatred. The air just crackled. They finally said, ‘Third farm down,’ and they turned and walked away.”

The day the group cracked the code about House’s whereabouts — he was actually living in Rochester, N.Y. — was the same day the activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Those parallel stories were told in “Two Trains Runnin’,” a 2016 documentary from director Sam Pollard that aired on PBS.

Dick Waterman and Film subject Dave Dennis attend the “Two Trains Runnin'” intro and Q&A during the 54th New York Film Festival at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater on October 13, 2016 in New York City. © Michael Loccisano /Getty Images

Though House in his younger years had been an influence on both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Waterman soon learned that he’d forgotten how to play his own songs. He enlisted his friend Alan Wilson, the blues-crazy Arlington native who would soon cofound the band Canned Heat, to work with one of his heroes.

“They sat knee to knee with their guitars,” Waterman told Terry Gross. “So really, Al Wilson taught Son House to play Son House.”

During his Cambridge years, Waterman was known as the man to see if you were hoping for an audience with the masters of the folk blues. He’d grown up, as Turner points out in her biography, in a house “with a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality, ornamenting the front door.”

In his 2020 book “Looking to Get Lost,” the music historian Peter Guralnick recounts his awkward visit with Skip James at Waterman’s apartment.

James, another historic figure who’d just been rediscovered, made music that “struck me as unfathomably strange, beautiful, and profound,” Guralnick writes. Despite the fact that the shy 21-year-old had never interviewed anyone before, “I felt an obligation to seek him out.”

Waterman introduced Raitt, who was similarly mesmerized by the elder bluesmen, to House, McDowell, and Howlin’ Wolf. In fact, the two blues fans, Waterman and Raitt, kissed for the first time in a car outside MIT’s radio station, where they’d taken Buddy Guy for an interview. Their romance didn’t last long, but their professional relationship carried on for years.

Over time, Waterman had plenty more adventures in music. In the early 1970s he booked the acts at Joe’s Place in Cambridge, where a young, all-but-unknown Bruce Springsteen became a regular. Van Morrison once asked Waterman to be his manager. (He declined.) When John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were forming the Blues Brothers, they consulted Waterman for help in putting the band together.

For Waterman, who lived his last decades in Oxford, Miss., it always came back to the blues. Driving back east from California with Son House during a 1965 tour, he found WBZ’s 50,000-watt broadcast on the dial somewhere in the Midwest and tuned into Jefferson Kaye’s Sunday folk program. When the DJ played House’s newly recorded version of “Death Letter,” Waterman had to explain to his passenger that he was hearing himself on the radio.

“I had a surge of just being elated,” Waterman recalled. “It was like the greatest three minutes of my life.”

About The Author

Source: © Copyright The Boston Globe
INFO: Two Trains Runnin’

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“Bonnie allows you to play what you feel and solo the way you like – there’s room for that, and it’s really refreshing”
Meet Duke Levine, the latest guitar ace in Bonnie Raitt’s formidable live lineup

on September 2, 2023 No comments
By Bob Hewitt ( Guitarist )

A player who found his thrill on the Telecaster, Levine is a fine instrumentalist in his own right, who has honed his chops with a number of major artists – not least Otis Rush

Bonnie Raitt has been a constant presence on the international music scene for over 50 years, collaborating with many – from Sippie Wallace to Mavis Staples, John Lee Hooker to John Prine – and boasts a long list of best-selling albums, with 13 Grammy Awards from 30 nominations to her name, as well as the honour of receiving the Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2022. Not bad for someone who was discounted earlier this year as “an unknown blues singer” by a certain UK tabloid… 

Her own core band has been by her side for over 30 years, including guitarist and sometimes co-writer George Marinelli, Ricky Fataar on drums and James ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson on bass, while keyboard player Glenn Patscha joined the band a few years back in 2018. When George Marinelli decided to take a break from touring, Boston-based guitarist Duke Levine stepped up seamlessly into the role.

Getting His Groove

Having grown up in a house full of musical siblings during the ’60s, Duke’s history with the guitar is a long one. “I have three older brothers and a sister, so I benefited from their record collections,” he tells us over the phone from a tour in Hawaii, “and a lot of it was good stuff: The Beatles, Stones, The Band, Paul Butterfield – but also Merle Haggard and Doc Watson.

“[My older brothers] all played guitars, so they showed my sister and I some chords to get us going – and at the same time my brother Rick had a country rock band that rehearsed at our house most every day, so that was pretty cool to experience.”


As time progressed, Duke extended his musical tastes, listening to the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Ry Cooder and, ironically, Bonnie Raitt. He also expanded his interest in jazz music. 

By the time he was 14, Duke had taken on a part-time job in a local guitar store near his home in Worcester, Massachusetts, and he also took the opportunity to study with a guitar teacher, the brilliant jazz guitarist Rich Falco who instilled a love for jazz standards that would stand Duke in good stead for his future ambitions and virtuosity. 

Duke went on to study at the world-renowned New England Conservatory Of Music in Boston, and following graduation took a dive into the deep end by hooking up with blues legend Otis Rush for a European tour. 

“I always feel I had no business playing alongside Otis Rush at that age,” Duke admits. “I just wish I’d known as much about him then as I do now. Otis was super-gracious, really cool and had a great rhythm section. It was one of those things whereby the piano player put the touring band together, and we did the European circuit of festivals like Montreux, North Sea and all that. It was the most amazing experience for me.”


Tours followed with Leon Thomas, ‘the John Coltrane of jazz vocalists’, and jazz drummer Bob Moses in the band Mozamba before Duke joined Boston rockers The Del Fuegos on tour and began to explore the city’s session scene during the early ’90s. 

“There were so many singers and songwriters around Boston in those days,” says Duke. “People were moving in from outside the area to be in Cambridge [Massachusetts] because it was such a cool scene. Producers needed musicians to make records, so it was a great time to be right there and involved.

“I also met my friend Mason Daring, who’s a film composer, and started working with him on a bunch of movie sets he was scoring [including John Sayles’ Lone Star, Passion Fish, Sunshine State and Limbo]. This was a really important time for me because he ended up putting out my first three records on his label – Nobody’s Home [1992], Country Soul Guitar [1994] and Lava [1997]. About this same time, there was still a little bit of jingle and advertisement business, too, so it was a busy time to be working around there.”


Duke continued his band and touring work during this time, playing with major label folk-rock duo The Story, which also connected him with five-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, with whom he played until the early 2000s. He then joined The J Geils Band’s Peter Wolf in the studio and on stage until he got the call from Bonnie Raitt.

There’s a ton of personality in George’s playing, and we’re pretty different as players, but I love learning what he did

Raitt Hand Man

“It’s been a trip,” says Duke, who started rehearsals back in January 2022. “Everyone has been so appreciative and supportive, welcoming the way someone new plays. It was a little daunting to come in after George [Marinelli] who has been with Bonnie for 30 years, but it’s such a great band with Ricky [Fataar, drummer] and Hutch [bassist James Hutchinson] who have been there even longer. I’ve learned a lot and I love playing alongside these guys.

“Bonnie allows you to play what you feel and solo the way you like – it’s never been a case of the artist wanting you to play the exact same thing every night – so there’s room for that, and it’s really refreshing. There’s a ton of personality in George’s playing, and we’re pretty different as players, but I love learning what he did.

“All that being said, Bonnie was very welcoming and realised that we’re not the same players with the same sound. For about half of the 2022 tour dates, it was the two of us in the band together, and it was great because I love playing alongside George. It was brilliant to see first hand the stuff that I’d be taking over on some of the songs. It was a real privilege to be on stage together – and I’ve made a great new friend.”


When it comes to tools of the trade, Duke is devoted to his Telecasters. “My main guitar is a ’63 Tele and I use a ’53 relic as well on stage, as I’ve left my real ’53 at home,” he laughs. “My Telecaster is the guitar I can play [pretty much] anything on – and I feel I’ve developed a sound of my own to some degree with that guitar. All the other stuff is great, and I’ve got some nice Les Pauls, an Epiphone Casino and some Gretsches, too. 

“It’s cool on a session to have a bunch of different guitars. But, more and more, I just feel it’s a distraction to have more than a couple of guitars on a gig. I do enjoy lap steel, too, for textural sounds when required – a friend got me into a cool tuning, so I’m working on that to figure out some cool licks.

“On the current tour, I have this Supro Dual-Tone that I love and I’ve had it for a long time,” he continues. “It’s kept in open tuning with heavy strings for a couple of tunes. I have a Strat, too, for a couple of things. But, really, the Tele is the guitar, and I can get whatever I need out of it. I also play mandolin and mandola on a couple of Bonnie’s songs.”


For his backline, it’s a British influence with a twist as Duke’s favourite guitar amp is a Blockhead – a copy of the early Marshall JTM45. But on this tour he’s opted for the real thing with a late-’70s Marshall JMP 50-watt master volume head, which fits in and suits the sound of the band, he says: “I’m just playing it through a 1×12 cab, which is isolated because we use in-ear monitors, and although my cab is on stage, it’s baffled so I don’t get it too much.” 

As for pedals, Duke’s ’board includes a Mad Professor Royal Blue Overdrive, the Jam Rattler overdrive and Jam Harmonious Monk harmonic tremolo pedal, plus a T.Rex Replica and Source Audio delay pedal. There’s also the Ethos TWE-1 from Vermont-based Custom Tones, who created a pedal based on Ken Fischer’s famed Trainwreck amplifier. 

Instrumental Moves

When he finds time between his busy touring commitments, Duke performs instrumental arrangements with his band, the Super Sweet Sounds Of The 70s, alongside longtime friend and Berklee College assistant professor Kevin Barry, who has recorded with Paula Cole, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Susan Tedeschi, and played with Ray LaMontagne and Rosanne Cash.

I always wanted to have tunes that were just more melody based – instrumental guitar music without having all the licks

Finally, there’s Duke’s solo instrumental work, on which you’ll hear the hi-fidelity sounds and tones he created for albums such as 2016’s The Fade Out. “I loved Hank Marvin on those Shadows records, so there could well be an unconscious influence for my instrumental recordings. But my early records had a lot of picking on them and country stuff as I was eager to show off what I could do as a younger person. 

“I think at a certain point, even then, I always wanted to have tunes that were just more melody based – instrumental guitar music without having all the licks – so on my last couple of records, I think we’re more in that direction.”  

Source: © Copyright Guitar World – Guitarist

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How To Play Guitar Like Bonnie Raitt

on August 13, 2023 No comments
By Mitch Wilson

By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

There are a few different musical eras of the singer-songwriter and guitarist Bonnie Raitt. Some know her for her early folk and slide blues hits; in the early ’90s, she had a number of adult contemporary pop rock ballads, and she even recently won a Song of the Year Grammy in 2023! One of the reasons she is still going strong is because of her songwriting and guitar approach. If you want to learn how to play guitar, she is one of the best to emulate! Here are some tips on how to play guitar like Bonnie Raitt.

Musical Influence

When you are learning how to play guitar like another artist, it is best to look at their influences. Bonnie Raitt gravitated towards folk and beatnik music that was socially conscious and focused more on the topic of the song. Some of the biggest influences on her were blues greats like Muddy Waters and folk heroes such as Pete Seeger. Both Mississippi blues and New York City-folk had songs with meanings and messages.

That is one nice aspect of these genres and the guitar playing of Bonnie Raitt, they are not overly technical and accessible to most players. The chord progressions, strums, and rhythms she uses aren’t too difficult, the hard part becomes getting the right feeling and sound. Her power is in her storytelling, vocals, and emotive guitar abilities. As far as guitar influencers go, not many women are represented, but Bonnie Raitt surely fills the role with her career!

Bonnie Raitt’s Equipment

Her main guitar is a Fender Stratocaster that she calls “Brownie,” and it is very fitting for her early blues folk style. However, she uses a variety of instruments in all her songs, so in this case, copying her playing style can be done on most any guitar with steel strings (for the slide!). The power of her music comes less from the equipment and gear and more from the lyrics and chords!

If you are going for her slide blues sound, you will want to use compression, overdrive, and a little bit of distortion for guitar pedals. Just keep these elements to a minimum, as blues and Americana still want an overall clean sound; the chords and licks need to stand out, but we want to avoid heavy overtones. Often when playing a bluesy vibe tune, we want it to sound like an overdriven tube amp.

She is seen using a slide on her middle finger and molded plastic finger picks instead of flat picks. This can be a difficult guitar technique to master, so put three finger picks on your thumb, index, and middle finger and get to plucking! When you are learning this technique, you need to play slower to be certain you are hitting the right strings. You will likely make a lot of mistakes at first; it is not easy!

The Guitar Playing of Bonnie Raitt

Her playing style varies depending on whether she is using a slide or fingerpicking her melodies. The secret to slide playing is to dampen the strings behind the slide; this will keep unwanted squeaks away. Open tunings are usually the best when dealing with slide guitar, so you have a better chance of hitting the right notes.

Mixing the slide and finger fretting can also be a difficult step for some beginners; in that case, just learning the song’s chords and basics before attempting the slide. Once you know the chord progression, it will be easier to add that slide in. You may also find it helpful to try another finger; go with what works for you.

Her fingerstyle is often Travis picking, which is where you alternate between the bass and treble strings, a common pattern for many country, folk, and Americana songs. In some songs, she uses more strums and less picking; in the end, it depends on the genre she is playing. Like many singer-songwriters, she takes advantage of her ability to tell a good story over some catchy chords.

The Songs of Bonnie Raitt

The best way to learn songs from Bonnie Raitt is to listen to her past hits and start to play along. Use chords, sheet music, tabs, or videos to watch what she is doing and copy it! Play her songs over and over as you attempt to flesh out the chords and get the rhythmic strums right. And, of course, her singing is a huge part of her talent and fame, so be sure to learn the words as much as the guitar part!

“Angel from Montgomery” is written by John Prine, and Raitt’s version from 1974 is a wonderful mix of rhythm and blues with a country swing. Here she uses a capo, and while the chord progression consists of the shapes of D, G, A, and C, it is the fingerpicking that is more difficult. Her staccato notes and blues licks are played so smoothly that it even feels funky at times.

“Love Me Like a Man” is a more classic blues country song; it will take a lot of trial and error and practice to get these licks played right. If you are familiar with other blues hits, it will be easier, but once you have this song down, you will have a lot of future blues riffs to use!

“Thing Called Love” has a rockabilly vibe that mixes a rock progression with a simple I-IV-V chord chorus. It has some great blues slide moments, but remember that in the original version, one guitarist is playing the basic rhythms, while she is doing much of the slide work. So if you find yourself alone, you need to mix the parts, which can be tricky. As always, slowly build through the verse and chorus until you have the parts down.

“Something to Talk About” is perhaps the most famous hit from Bonnie Raitt; it is Americana, blues, country, pop, and even has a Doo Wop progression! And the rhythmic strum is even reminiscent of a Caribbean guitar skank; it’s no surprise the song was such a hit. It’s during the solo of this song that you will see how she plays slide guitar so effortlessly.

And the Grammy hit “Just Like That” uses a nice Travis picking technique with a very simple chord progression of D-G-A. This song is a great example how her style isn’t overly complicated but still very powerful. Many Harry Styles and Taylor Swift fans were surprised she won the Grammy, but a simple song can sometimes have a lot more pull over the audience.

There are many other great songs of hers that mix blues, country, and even funky rhythms, and of course, there are also many more tunes written for social causes. Probably one of the best ways to play guitar like Bonnie Raitt is to pick up a guitar and write a song about a passionate topic, as that is her style!

If you want to become a better guitarist and songwriter, learning to play and sing like Bonnie Raitt is a great step. Her music varies, and she has several hits that are suitable for those from beginning to advanced playing. If you want to get better at any style that she excels in, trying out some online guitar lessons can also be a great step. Whether you are writing an original tune or doing a cover, Bonnie Raitt knows how to do both! So follow her lead, and you will learn a lot about the guitar!

Source: © Copyright Guitar Girl Magazine

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