Friends

Bonnie Raitt Looks Back on a Lifetime of Texas Friends

on November 1, 2022 No comments
by Jesse Sendejas Jr.

Receiving a lifetime achievement award might lead to some introspection, a look back at the milestones which made a person worthy of recognition. For Bonnie Raitt, who earned such honors from the Recording Academy earlier this year, it allowed for a recollection of the many friends and acquaintances who helped her build and maintain a legendary career in music. Many of those folks, she said by phone recently, were Texans.

Raitt is touring Texas this week, a swing through a favored state which includes a Houston-area stop at Smart Financial Centre at Sugar Land this Friday. Although the Grammys recognized her past artistic contributions with its Lifetime Achievement Award in January, Raitt’s been delivering new music to audiences all year. Songs from her 21st album, Just Like That…, continue a tradition of killer songs crafted from blues, rock, funk, R&B and pop sounds, all delivered by a voice as familiar as a family friend’s.

Some of the strongest songs on the album – the title track and the album closer, for instance – allow Raitt to slip into storyteller mode.

“I had kind of mined my personal life to the extent that I really didn’t have anything else I wanted to say. I really wanted to be able to write about topics of other people that are going through something that moves me. I was inspired in great part by singing ‘Angel From Montgomery’ every night, from one of our greatest storytellers,” she said of the late John Prine. “At the time when I wrote these lyrics to ‘Down the Hall’ and ‘Just Like That,’ of course John hadn’t passed away from COVID, but it was very apparent to me when I went to put the music to the lyrics I wrote I really had him in my heart.”

The album naturally reflects on the tenor of American life over the past couple of years, so there are ruminations on loss and grief, like the afore-mentioned songs. One of the best tracks on the album is a guitar-cruncher called “Livin’ for the Ones.” It’s a bit of a lesson learned about life from COVID times.

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“’Livin’ for the Ones’ is the fourth rocker I’ve done with my longtime guitar player George Marinelli. When I’m getting ready to put a record together I always ask him for what kinds of rockers he’s got and he sent me the track to it and, like I did with the other ones, I put my own spin on, I put the lyrics on top of his music. And I really wanted to say something not as a forlorn, sad ballad. I wanted to deliberately sing about the last couple of years and all the loss I’ve been through, all of us have been through, I wanted to put it on a rocker on purpose because it’s really cathartic,” Raitt said.

“Those kinds of topics, like living for the ones who didn’t make it, those are kind of serious topics. But when you put them in this kind of rocker feel, it’s a really cathartic kind of outlet. So, I was happy to be able to find something that would express the depth of the emotion that I’m feeling, the frustration and the loss and the pain, and to be resigned to not be whining about stuff in the future.”

The first time I saw Raitt live was in 1990 at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. She was touring big venues on her commercial breakthrough album, Nick of Time, the Grammy Album of the Year which put her on the radar of many music fans. It was her tenth album and she’d spent a lot of her career to that point playing club dates, including many here in Houston.

“I have a lot of fond memories of Rockefeller’s and Liberty Hall years before that,” she said. “Knowing that so many bands that I loved came out (of Texas) – whether the blues scene of Austin with Hubert Sumlin and Clifford (Antone) and all the friends I had, Derek O’Brien, the House Band, Sarah Brown and the Vaughan brothers and Lou Ann Barton, my buddies in Austin. I always left a bunch of days off after Austin so we could recover because we weren’t going to get any sleep.

Raitt was an underground favorite for nearly two decades before the commercial success of Nick of Time Photo by Susan J. Weiand, courtesy of Shore Fire Media

“I just remember Houston and Austin being a kind of a double step. We always had the week through Texas and for many years our drummer Tony Braunagel, who’s been in the Phantom Blues Band and won Grammys with that band and now he’s producing people, he was in our band for a long time and we used to go have Thanksgiving with his family in Houston. You know, I got to see the inside view of the city and the music scene.”

She connected Houston to Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a triangle filled with great musicians like Delbert McClinton, Glen Clark, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker and Alejandro Escovedo, and of course Houstonians like Charles Brown and one of her great influences, “The Texas Nightingale,” Sippie Wallace. All friends who formed what she called “the roadhouse, R&B, rock and roll, country nexus.”

“None of us wanted to be put in a box and that’s one of the reasons I always felt so comfortable in Texas,” she said. “It was just really the home of some of the funkiest music and some of the most soulful songwriting.”

In Houston, it was also home to the late music writer Bob Claypool. Claypool wrote for the Houston Post and was an early champion of Raitt’s and a favorite writer of mine. His articles on Raitt’s local stops sent me in search of her music. What I found were gems like “Guilty,” “The Glow” and “My First Night Alone Without You,” songs which preceded Nick of Time by a decade or more.

“I have Bob and so many other great writers to thank, because I never had big commercial success but sometimes even in cities where the A-level of rock critic didn’t find me significant enough to talk about, they would send the B-team to come and review me, but they were often times very, very much more into the kind of music I was doing, which we would call Americana today,” she noted. “They would be covering Little Feat and Ry Cooder and John Hiatt and John Prine, and they would be the ones sent to those concerts. I have so much gratitude to the journalists and the deejays that played me that were not in the mainstream.

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Writers like Claypool “would do these interviews and write great reviews where they would single out songs like the ones you mentioned. They really got me and I have so much debt that I owe for my longevity with all the people that found out about me through the great rock journalism and FM deejays that played me that weren’t beholden to some kind of commercial entity that told them they had to play a certain number of hits an hour.”

Of course, it’s more than fellow artists and keen music writers who’ve made Raitt an American music treasure. Besides her quality output, she’s been a role model for women who play guitar and women in general, someone who’s actively advocated for gender equality and women’s empowerment. She’s been an example for people in recovery, having gone sober 35 years ago. She’s a steadfast social activist, an artist who proudly uses her platform to promote awareness of environmental issues, social justice, human rights and music education.

“I was quite surprised to get a lifetime achievement award at this point and I was very proud to be able to, without anything related to record sales. You know, my big sales were 30 years ago, really, but it’s a question of being a role model, for being a lead guitar player and music director of my band and having my own record label and being an activist and combining activism with my music. That part of it makes me really proud, to be held up for that and acknowledged for that, and if I can inspire the next generations and the current generation, that would be great.

“If it inspires other people to mix activism and music and to stand up for what they want musically and not be pushed around by record companies or managers or any idea of what a babe should look like or how you have to bend yourself into shape musically or physically to make it in the business – I think those days are gone. There’s just too many strong women and men.”

Grammy Lifetime Achievement honoree, Bonnie Raitt Photo by Shervin Lainez, courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Including Raitt, who celebrates her 73rd birthday next week and is not resting on the laurels of lifetime achievement awards anytime soon.

“I’m on tour two months with Mavis Staples at 83 and as she says every night, ‘I’m not tired and I’m not going anywhere.’ I’m hoping I could be up there with Mick and Keith. Look how long Willie and Tony Bennett went. My dad was touring ‘til he was 85. I’m hoping that I get to still be effective and interesting and make a difference and raise a lot of ruckus and a lot of great music and funds and attention for the causes that definitely need help.”

We close by remembering Claypool, who died in 1989, just as Nick of Time was set to send one of his favorite artists into music’s stratosphere. I told her our interview felt like a continuation of his work or maybe a full-circle moment and she told me to keep alive his tradition of touting unheralded but worthy musicians, those who deliver songs that connect us, the artists who might one day also be Grammy lifetime achievers.

“I hope Bob Claypool’s smiling down on us from heaven,” she said. “He was one of the greatest. I mean it, I’m partly able to talk to you because of people like him sticking their neck out and writing about somebody that wasn’t that famous and didn’t sell that many records. Thank God for the 40 years of rock journalism that covered people like me that weren’t in the number one lane. That’s why I’m still here.”

Bonnie Raitt, with special guest Marc Cohn, 8 p.m. Friday November 4 at Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington Boulevard in Sugar Land. $49.50 to $99.50.


Source: © Copyright The Houston Press

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Duke Levine – Bonnie’s New Guitar Man

on September 1, 2022 No comments
by Bob Dragich

After 29 years on the road, Bonnie Raitt guitarist George Marinelli decided to take a break. Stepping into the role will be Boston native Duke Levine.

The youngest of five, Levine had older brothers with Stones and Beatles records along with Paul Butterfield albums featuring Michael Bloomfield on guitar. One brother, Rick, had a band that rehearsed in the basement almost every day. His parents were supportive and didn’t mind the sound of equipment being loaded into the house at midnight after a gig.

Levine’s first guitar was a Yamaha FG75 his dad bought for $42 when Duke was nine. Three years later, he and his Gibson SG Special were in their first band, Landslide, with a bus, a manager, professional sound and lighting, and an abundance of friends serving as roadies.

After high school, he toured for four years with Walter and Valerie Crockett, playing a newer Les Paul and a ’70s Strat. On the recommendation of his teacher, Rich Falco, Levine attended the New England Conservatory of Music. Following graduation, he worked with jazz drummer Bob Moses for four years in the world-beat band Mozamba, and started playing sessions with the multitude of singer/ songwriters in Boston. He did two European tours with Otis Rush, then toured with the Del Fuegos for two years.

Next came a stint with Jonatha Brooke and Jennifer Kimball, a folk-rock duo known as The Story. In 1992, film composer Mason Daring released Levine’s first album, Nobody’s Home, a collection of country and roots songs, followed by two more on Daring Records.

In 1994, working with The Story brought Duke to the attention of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s management, and the following year, he joined her band.

“I had never done anything on that scale before,” he said. “It was her first headline tour, playing arenas.”

Duke has played on seven Carpenter albums, including A Place in the World, Party Doll, Time Sex Love, and, most recently, The Dirt and The Stars. At her encouragement, the end of the record has a three-minute guitar solo.

In 2002, Levine stopped touring with Carpenter and began working with Peter Wolf, doing shows supporting Sleepless. Backing Wolf has been his main gig since.

Prior to becoming part of her band, Levine had played with Raitt once, sitting in on “Angel from Montgomery” when she and Carpenter were on the bill for the 1997 No Nukes concert in Washington, D.C.

James “Hutch” Hutchinson, who has been Raitt’s bass player for 40 years, is a good friend, and when the position became available, Hutch and others recommended him to Raitt. In September of ’21, he got a call during which Raitt assured him that she doesn’t expect anyone to play exactly what someone else played all the time.

After eight January rehearsals in a small Northern California studio, full rehearsals moved to Southern California in March. Levine and Marinelli worked well together; Marinelli will play a number of shows and at times they’ll both be onstage, Levine says, “We’ll figure it out when it happens.

“I love being a side man,” he adds. “Leading my own band helped me as a side man because it gives insight to what someone you’re working for is going through.” With Bonnie, “In general, there’s a lot of leeway and the song doesn’t have to be the same from beginning to end every night.”

Summarizing his career so far, he says, “I never had a plan. You’re just playing with people and one thing leads to another.”

Duke Levine, solo guitar on a ’70s country stalwart!

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Here, Duke grabbed his ’60s Teisco SS2L to play a crazy-cool rendition of the 1975 Freddy Fender crossover smash “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” through a ’66 Princeton Reverb.

Levine’s main guitar for the tour is a blond ’63 Tele supplemented by a Supro Duo Tone with the neck pickup removed, a ’50s Relic Strat, and a recently acquired 70s Greco Spacey Sound he calls “a find.” His amp is an early-’60s AC30 head through a Vox cab with two Eminence hempcone speakers. Effects are a Mad Professor Deep Blue delay and Royal Blue overdrive, a Rattler distortion, a Harmonious Monk tremolo, a Waterfall chorus/vibrato from JAM Pedals, and a Source Audio Nemesis delay.

Last year, he released Left to My Own Devices, an EP of solo-guitar arrangements that started as Youtube videos produced in his basement during the pandemic. – Bob Dragich

Vintage Guitar Magazine – September 2022


Source: © Copyright Vintage Guitar Magazine – September 2022

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A Call from Bonnie Raitt: A story of love, loss and inspiration | GUEST COMMENTARY

on June 23, 2022 No comments
By Paul G. Pinsky

My wife Joan deeply loved Bonnie Raitt, as a musician and as a role model. Joan always saw Bonnie as a wonderfully strong, outspoken and progressive, independent woman.

Growing up, I admired Bonnie Raitt as well, for her social justice advocacy and activism. My early musical passions, on the other hand, leaned more male heavy, to musicians like Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne.

But after Joan and I met, fell in love and married, I found myself coming to share her intense passion for Bonnie Raitt’s music. In our household, I had the chief responsibility for keeping tabs on upcoming concerts, and I made sure to buy tickets whenever Bonnie came through our Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Over 35 years, we must have seen Bonnie Raitt in person at least 10 times, at venues that ranged from the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland and Wolf Trap in Virginia to Constitution Hall and the Kennedy Center in the District.

Our two daughters, now in their early and mid-30s, went through a musical evolution as well. They went from captive audience, forced to listen to Bonnie ‘s music on long car rides, to big fans.

Throughout all these years, Joan’s career in education was getting ever more demanding. She rose to a top administrative position in Special Education for one of the nation’s 20 largest public school systems, with responsibility over a mega-million dollar budget. In such a large system, not surprisingly, Joan ran into some bitter “office politics,” and she could take efforts to put roadblocks in her way, personally. Bonnie’s song, “I Will Not Be Broken,” would become Joan’s personal anthem.

We would end up able, by and large, to handle all the ups and downs of career and family life, at least until we faced the challenge of a gut-punch we had never expected: Joan’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in March 2019. At the time, Joan had just about reached her 63rd birthday.

Music — from Bonnie Raitt and anyone else — would quickly fade from our focus. Appointments with oncologists and chemotherapy treatments would soon fill our schedules, followed by proton therapy from our home outside Washington to trips to Baltimore’s University of Maryland Medical Center. Eventually, our treatment path led to the “Whipple procedure,” a surgery that aims to double the chances for a better five-year survival rate.

The doctors warned us beforehand that even initially successful surgery can go south. In Joan’s case, unfortunately, it did. Which brings me back to Bonnie Raitt.

What could I do for Joan in those final days? How could I lift her spirits when her life was ebbing away? I thought about Bonnie Raitt and, with some wonderful help, I tracked down email addresses and contacts for people close to her. Her personal assistant would soon prove invaluable. I had one question: “Would Bonnie be willing to call a lifelong supporter to lift her spirits in a most difficult time?”

The answer would be yes.

We had a few predictable fits and starts in setting the contact up, but finally, early in February 2020, we had everything all ready. About an hour before the scheduled call, I gave Joan some warning. I told her she’d be receiving a call from the West Coast. Was our friend Sharon, Joan asked, going to be calling? No, I replied, “Bonnie.”

“Bonnie who?” Joan asked.

“Bonnie Raitt,” I said.

Joan went into total shock. For just a moment, she could forget all about her oppressive prognosis.

At the scheduled time, Bonnie called. She and I spoke briefly. I told her about Joan and how much Bonnie’s music had always meant to her. I explained that I had been working for economic and social justice as a Maryland state legislator since the 1980s. Her response: “Keep on fighting.”

I then went upstairs and gave Joan the phone. Bonnie would be friendly, affirming and inquisitive, particularly about Joan’s lifelong commitment to children with disabilities. After almost 15 minutes, the call ended, leaving Joan in semi-shock, still trying to process that she had just spoken to the Bonnie Raitt.

Joan passed away six weeks later. I can only hope she had sweet dreams after the call strong enough to banish — if only for a few nights — the end she knew was coming. Bonnie Raitt frequently sings the great John Prine song, “Angel from Montgomery.” That evening of the call and ever since, Bonnie Raitt has been that angel for our family.

Early this June, my daughter, some friends, and I saw Bonnie Raitt perform for the first time since Joan’s passing over two years earlier. What with COVID, Bonnie hadn’t been touring for several years.

Her set and music turned out to be, as always, outstanding. She became particularly emotional explaining the roots of her new song, “Just Like That,” the story of a man who seeks out the mother of the young man who gave him a new heart — and life. Bonnie’s love and compassion came through deeply throughout the concert. But I already knew that. I knew her caring amounted to much more than mere performance.

Only one of my daughters attended that night, the other had an out-of-town commitment. She missed a great concert. I enjoyed it immensely.

It just wasn’t quite the same.

Paul Pinsky (paul.pinsky@senate.state.md.us), a former teacher, currently serves as a senator in the Maryland state legislature.


Source: © Copyright The Baltimore Sun

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