Interview

An audience with Bonnie Raitt

on March 20, 2020 No comments
by Richard Burnett

Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bonnie Raitt always wanted to play into her 70s like her jazz and blues heroes. “I figured if I kept my chops,” Raitt told me some years ago, “maybe I’d be lucky to be an old blues broad.”

Well, Raitt turned 70 last November and not only has she kept her chops, but Raitt remains one of the most enduring artists of her generation. The music legend’s 12-city Canadian tour with headliner James Taylor was supposed to stop in Ottawa (April 24), Toronto (April 27) and Montreal (April 29), but due to coronavirus, the concert has been postponed to a later date.

A MESSAGE FROM BONNIE

The Canadian tour may have been postponed, but we can still enjoy some time with James. Join us on Sunday March 22 at 11am PT / 2pm ET for “A Socially Distant Visit With James Taylor” on FB! Chat with James and spend some “virtual” quality time #AtHomeTogether.

Born to a musical family (her father was Broadway musical legend John Raitt and her mother was pianist Marjorie Haydock), the 10-time Grammy winner was named by Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” Raitt sat down for a candid Q&A about her family, activism, the music business and her treasured LGBTQ fans.

It’s great to see road warriors like yourself selling out shows. Where does your commitment to live performance come from?

Bonnie Raitt: From watching my dad since I was a little girl. He performed in three big shows, the musicals Carousel, Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game. I watched him from backstage, and every night no matter where he was on a tour, he treated it like opening night.

While it’s an honour to perform for a living, it’s as much fun for us onstage as it for the people in the audience. There’s nothing like it. There is no recording that can capture the feeling. The opening-night feel and the work ethic of making every show as good as we possibly can, I really think that’s why people come back to see me and my band year after year.

You, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris used to hang out together in L.A. in the 70s. What was that like?

We used to hang out with Jackson Browne and The Eagles, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. It was an incredibly rich scene which we likened to what Paris must have been like in the 1920s. Everybody was young and there was a cross-fertilization of artists, filmmakers and photographers, fashion people and political activists. The musician singer-songwriter community was so much fun. You’d go to The Troubadour and hang out. We inspired each other. Tom Waits came up soon after, and Rickie Lee Jones. L.A. was a real musical hotbed. We were in our early twenties, there was no AIDS and we’d just gotten birth control. There was drinking and drugs, of course, but we were young and innocent and able to take it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I’ve interviewed many great women Rock & Rollers and always ask for their take on the music business today. Is it still a boys club?

I never experienced it as a boys club because I was accepted as a female guitar player. I think that got me a bit more respect in the studio from male musicians. But I don’t think Linda, Emmylou or I – there was no svengali telling us what to dress like. It wasn’t that era anymore. It wasn’t the 40s, 50s or 60s. In the 70s, Joni Mitchell and Carole King, Aretha, they were captaining their own ships, and I wouldn’t have put up with anybody at a record label telling me what to wear or what to record. I didn’t experience it the way many in the pop world did. I think they had a lot less control. 

I think these days when you look at Taylor Swift using her vast social network, stars have a lot more power today to control the means of production and hire and fire their own management and lawyers. So I think the music business has changed for the good in terms of women.

One of my favourite albums is True Love by Toots and the Maytals that features your wonderful duet with Toots, True Love is Hard To Find. 

I love that record! Thank you! It sounds like we love the same kind of music. I am a huge Toots Hibbert fan. I first heard Toots and the Maytals when I was just out of college. In Boston, The Harder They Come played at our local theatre. I loved Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, everyone on that soundtrack. But Toots is my absolute favourite and I cut True Love is Hard To Find on my Nine Lives album in 1985. I had already met Toots, and years later after we played at some festivals, I told him, “One day we have to record together.” Then his duets record came up years later. I love him so much, I’m just so glad to talk to somebody who even mentions his name!

What was it like for you after your parents passed away in 2004-2005?

I appreciated them when they were alive and, like all of us, as we watch them get older and are lucky to have them in their elder years, you’re basically caught up helping them deal with getting older, whether they have dementia or arthritis or require surgeries. After they passed away, who they were as younger people, in my childhood and young adulthood, all those eras came back to me more. Now that they’re gone, they live in me. I am so appreciative of the gift they gave me.

My mom and I were at odds with each other sometimes. She was frustrated. She was from a generation that gave up her career to raise the kids and she never really got credit for all of her contributions as music director for my dad. They divorced when I was about 19. They both remarried and were very happy, but who they were as young people and what they meant to me with their political activism, that has stayed with me.

My dad took me to my first BB King concert when I was 15 and 30 years later I brought my dad to his first Bonnie Raitt concert. Sitting next to my dad was this young gay teen who was absolutely thrilled with your performance. I realized that night just how big an LGBTQ following you have. 

I meet a lot of gay women, especially at receptions after my shows and for various political things. But I wasn’t aware I had a big following in the community. That’s fantastic to hear. I’m thrilled! As the daughter of a Broadway performer, I grew up around dancers and singers backstage. So the guys I had crushes on were not interested in me! My best friends were always gay guys and I completely understood the Judy Garland connection. When I was a young feminist, I also had tremendous interplay with the lesbian community in the gay women’s movement.

I must ask you about your personal style, from the boots to the suits. You wear it well.

(Beaming) Oh my god thank you so much! I actually work with a stylist. I take a little bit from here, and a little bit from there, this makes my butt look good, and this makes my boots look good. I almost never go (retail) shopping because I need something that allows me to play the guitar and that’s not too hot. Working with a stylist has become so creative. We have a great Armenian tailor in L.A. who creates the shirts that we design together. It’s been one of my great creative outlets that folks don’t know about. As you get older you also lower your heels and accommodate. Thank god for shapewear, that’s all I can say!

You were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 by Melissa Etheridge. What was that night like? 

I had to compose myself. Melissa hit it out of the park. It was a great honour, and to receive it from Melissa and then perform together, it really meant the world to me.

Your cross-Canada tour with James Taylor is a dream concert bill. Will you and JT sing a song or two together?

We do! He comes out at the end of my set, and then I’ll do a couple with him, and then one of my favourite moments ever is at the end of the show. I won’t spoil it.

How does it feel to be called a living legend? Because you are.

I don’t think of myself that way. I just feel like someone who went into my dad’s line of work. That I’ve reached this point and lasted this long – I’m 33 years sober and that really helps. That living legend stuff, I’ll take the living part. 

For more Bonnie Raitt tour dates, visit bonnieraitt.com.

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MUSICIANS ON MUSICIANS Bonnie Raitt & Brandi Carlile

on November 2, 2019 No comments
By Patrick Doyle

“She illuminated the path I could have,” Carlile says as she sits down with her hero for the first time. “She taught me I could lead and not apologize.”

On a recent L.A. afternoon, Brandi Carlile is talking about the moment when everything changed for her. It was the 2019 Grammys, when she played her ballad “The Joke” live and took home three awards. “I was 39, kind of an outlier underdog character,” says Carlile. That week, her sixth album, By the Way, I Forgive You, went to Number 22. She recently sold out Madison Square Garden. “I went on vacation, and never put down my phone,” she says of the award show’s aftermath. “I was obsessed.”

“I’ve been there,” says Bonnie Raitt, sitting across from her. In 1989, Raitt released her 10th album, Nick of Time. It sold more than 5 million copies and won the Grammy for Album of the Year, making her a superstar at age 40. “You’re in hyperspace after that,” Raitt says.

Hard-won success is only the beginning of the similarities between the two artists. In addition to building cult followings, both have used their music as a platform for activism. (Raitt has campaigned for clean energy, Native American rights, and more over the years; Carlile has raised money for kids affected by war and for imprisoned women.) “Bonnie illuminated the path I could have,” says Carlile.

Before the interview is over, Carlile has one request: “If you could just teach me one or two slide-guitar licks.” Raitt responds: “It would be my pleasure. I get so much acclaim for doing stuff that just sounds like ‘whooo,’ ” as she slides up an air guitar. Carlile is ecstatic: “You’ve got to be shitting me.”

Brandi, how did you first hear Bonnie’s music?

CARLILE I remember singing “Something to Talk About” all the time as a kid. One of my most significant times was when I moved out of the house and in with my first girlfriend, Jessica. I was 17 and we were huge fans, and we wanted to go listen to you play and we couldn’t get a ticket, so we sat outside the fence and listened to your voice reverberate around Washington state. It was a big moment, a beautiful memory.

RAITT That is so sweet. I would have let you in if I had known. I’m gonna be a mess in this interview, because I’ve never been with anyone that talked about me before. I haven’t ever heard anyone say they were influenced by me.

CARLILE We get together and talk about you all the time. Do you ever hear yourself in my voice?

RAITT Well, I hear the attitude. I wish I could have the range and sing like you do. But if I could, I would sing like you.

CARLILE The song that speaks to me the most is “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The empathy is just unbelievable. I feel really vulnerable when I sing it, in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with.

RAITT Is it because you’ve been through that situation yourself?

CARLILE I think it’s because I am not strong enough to go through that situation myself. So when I put myself there, I almost can’t handle the thought of being that person.

RAITT I’m so grateful for the writers that sent me that song. Every night, I’m reminded of being left when someone was not in love with me anymore. I think it was even worse to have to be the one to break somebody’s heart because you don’t love them anymore. I’ve been through both sides of that. I always dedicate it to someone going through a heartache. I’ve gotten letters from people saying, “I’ve never seen my husband cry except when you sing that song.” Now I’m gonna cry.

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Pop Quiz: Bonnie Raitt reveals the song that makes her shiver

on March 17, 2018 No comments

By Aidin Vaziri

Bonnie Raitt – Tipping Point Fire Relief Benefit – Fox Theater Oakland CA 2018-03-20

Bonnie Raitt, whose hits include “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Something to Talk About,” will spend most of this year away from her Marin County home, playing a mix of solo shows and stadium co-headliners with James Taylor. But the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer plans to make time for a couple of benefit concerts along the way, like the one she’s doing for the Tipping Point’s North Bay Fire Relief Fund at the Fox Theater in Oakland. The Chronicle caught her on the phone while the 68-year-old star was taking a breather in Los Angeles, where she had slipped out from tour rehearsals to sit on a bench overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Q: Were you home when the Wine Country fires happened?

A: I was there for the first four days and it was devastating. I have four friends who lost everything. With this benefit, I wanted to try to raise some funds for the more underserved communities in the North Bay that don’t have as much access to legal rights; or they’re immigrants afraid to file claims. I also want to be able to help the clinics that are dealing with the ongoing emotional trauma that people are going through. There’s a lot more support that’s going to be needed down the line.

Q: You did a stadium tour with James Taylor last year and now you’re doing it again. Did you enjoy playing in ballparks more than you expected?

A: Wrigley Field and Fenway were a real honor. Most of the shows we did last year were in sports arenas, so when we finally got outside it was like a big party. But if I even think about how many people are going to be out there, it freaks me out.

Q: It must feel good that so many people still turn out to see you.

A: Honestly, the fact that so many legacy artists are retiring or passing away, I think people know it may be an important chance to see people they have developed a longtime relationship with. I feel the same way they do. I want to get it while we’re at the top of our game. For people who love playing live as much as James and I do, that’s where the magic happens.

Q: You have been opening your set with a cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight.” How does that go over?

A: Oh, my God. When I first started to do it, it made me shiver a little bit. It’s a pretty sexual song. When I started opening shows with it I was like, “Whoa, I’ve got to match this for the next two hours!”

Q: Has it been hard to avoid getting political onstage this year when you see so much of your work undone?

A: It’s a challenge every day to know what happened while we were asleep. You can’t even make up how absurd and painful this is. As far as I’m concerned, we have to get money out of politics — this isn’t a democracy. That’s about as far as I’ll go. A lot of people aren’t necessarily in agreement with my politics, so I don’t hit them over the head with it. I’m just really glad I have an electric guitar to turn up when I’m pissed off.

Bonnie Raitt and Her Band: 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 20. $55-$500. The Fox Theater, 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. http://thefoxoakland.com


Source: © Copyright San Francisco Chronicle

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