Interview

“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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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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The Blues Show with Cerys Matthews – BBC Sounds

on June 5, 2023 No comments
Cerys Matthews

Cerys’ weekly round up of the blues you need to hear, from all around the world and in all shapes and sizes!

This week Cerys chats to 13-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt. Raised in Los Angeles, Bonnie started playing guitar when she was eight years old. Her interest in blues music was piqued aged 14 by a Blues at Newport album, and Bonnie learnt how to play slide guitar.

At the start of her career, she opened for legendary Mississippi blues artists Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.

Her eponymous debut album was released in 1971. Fast forward to 1990 and Bonnie won four Grammy Awards, including one for her duet with John Lee Hooker. Bonnie has recorded with Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Ben Harper, Norah Jones, Keb’ Mo, B.B King, Aretha Franklin, to name a few. More recently, Bonnie picked up Song of the Year at the 2023 Grammy Awards for her track Just Like That.

tip: most convenient way to listen while browsing along is to use the popup button of the player.

Tracklist

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BBC Sounds

Source: © Copyright BBC Radio 2 Sounds

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Grammy-winning song hits close to home for Bonnie Raitt’s bassist
Maui resident James Hutchinson knows firsthand the meaning of ‘Just Like That’

on March 30, 2023 No comments
Jon Woodhouse | For the Maui News

When Bonnie Raitt received the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for “Just Like That” in February, her band’s longtime bass player, James “Hutch” Hutchinson, was watching on TV in Los Angeles. Raitt had earlier won Grammys for Best American Roots Song for “Just Like That” and Best Americana Performance for “Made Up Mind,” which meant her band all shared in the award.

“We were all shocked,” said Hutchinson, who has played with Raitt for 40 years and has made Maui his home for 20 years. “We were up for four awards, three of them in the Americana category. We won the first two and then the third one, Americana Album of the Year, Brandi Carlile won and she got up and said, ‘I can’t believe I won this. I thought Bonnie was going to sweep again.’

Bonnie Raitt with James “Hutch” Hutchinson 2019
© Maike Schulz /Gruber Photographers

“We were thrilled to win two out of three,” Hutchinson continued. “The performance award is a band award. Then, of course, the icing on the cake was when she won for Song of the Year, which is the award she really wanted because she’s the sole composer of the tune. So it was big, a big deal.”

Heading to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center for a concert on Friday, Raitt has now won 13 Grammys, including some for her multimillion-selling albums, “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw.”

The title song of Raitt’s latest album, “Just Like That” is an emotionally wrenching song that has touched so many people. She based it on a news story about a mother who donated her deceased son’s organs. It was the first song written by a solo composer to win the award since Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.”

“‘Just Like That’ is about a woman who loses a son and organ donation, and the trials and tribulations, and the redemption that sometimes comes along with it,” said Hutchinson. “Many a night on stage, I’ve had an emotional reaction to it. She was broken up, as she is every time she sings anything that means something to her.”

The song was especially heartbreaking for Hutchinson as he lost his sister, Ann Hutchinson Tower, the week of the awards, and “she ended up saving two women. Her kidneys went to two younger, fit women in their 50s. Organ donation is important, but I didn’t think I’d be living that song the week we won Song of the Year for it. It was one of the more bizarre, surreal moments of my entire life. There’s been extreme highs and extreme lows.”

In a tough couple of months, he also lost a handful of musician friends, including David Lindley and David Crosby. Hutchinson had been getting ready to head out on tour with Crosby, and had previously recorded with him, and Crosby with Graham Nash, and with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“I’ve known David for 50 years,” he explained. “I met him when I was 19. He was always in my life, a sort of a mentor and friend and a bandmate many times. The rehearsals in December sounded great. I’d never seen him happier. He was ready to go out and do a final tour. I just loved working with him. My proudest musical moments are anything with David Crosby. I miss him so much.”

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Player’s Pick Podcast #63 – James “Hutch” Hutchinson – December 2020

Talk with Hutchinson and he will regale you with 50 years of encounters with a myriad array of famous musicians, from recording with the Rolling Stones in Ireland to rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis. His remarkable list of recording credits includes Ringo Starr, B.B. King, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Al Green, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks, Ziggy Marley, Jackson Browne, the Doobie Brothers, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, Garth Brooks and Neil Diamond.

What was it like playing with the Beatles’ legendary drummer?

“Ringo is great. He’s funny, and he’s great to be around,” Hutchinson said. “He’s just a fantastic musician, and he loves music and he loves people. I worked with Ringo a number of times. I love people who are easy and fun to work with.”

Proclaimed “The Groove King” by Bass Musician magazine, Hutchinson can comfortably fit into any genre.

His local collaborations include recording with other musicians on Maui like Grammy winner Peter Kater, Pat Simmons Jr. and Gail Swanson. He toured the Mainland with Hapa and was also a regular at Shep Gordon’s Wailea benefit shows. Teaming with John Cruz, he played on a star-studded “Playing for Change” video of “The Weight,” and was filmed in Haiku with Pat Simmons in a marvelous updating of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.”

Back on the road with the “Just Like That Tour 2023,” Hutchinson said the Maui show will include “at least four songs” from the latest album.

“The set list changes,” he said. “We know a lot of tunes and you can only play so many per night, and there’s some we have to play. People expect ‘Something to Talk About’ and ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’ People want to hear those songs.”

The Maui leg of Raitt’s Just Like That Tour 2023 takes place on Friday at the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater. John Cruz will open. The show begins at 7 p.m. and gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $60, $80, $100 and $140 Gold Circle, plus applicable fees, at MauiArts.org.


Source: © Copyright The Maui News

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