Interview

Before stop at Orpheum in Sioux City, Bonnie Raitt says the secret to longevity is being willing to ‘prove yourself every night’

on July 30, 2022 No comments
by Bruce Miller

In the world of music, Bonnie Raitt considers herself a “character actor.”

“I never wanted to be No. 1 or No. 2,” she explains. “You’d watch so many artists flame out after one or two hits. I wanted to be like a character actor who would continue to work.”

Something to talk about? How about Bonnie Raitt’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award? She’s one of the most celebrated performers in the music industry. © Ken Friedman

Now on her first tour since the coronavirus pandemic, Raitt is promoting her 21st studio album, “Just Like That,” and, yes, enjoying every minute.

“I’m having a blast,” she says by phone. “But that first concert back was very emotional. I could see the joy in everyone’s faces, their eyes glistening.”

The multiple Grammy winner knew it wouldn’t be easy – particularly since she has been on the road since her 20s – so she did up-tempo songs to start. “By the time I got to the ballads, I was so vulnerable.”

People, moments, music rushed into her head.

“Living for the Ones,” a new cut, addresses those who died. In all, Raitt lost 14 friends, including John Prine, a longtime collaborator.

To stay fresh during the break, she participated in Zoom concerts and fundraisers, “watched a lot of British television series,” hiked, meditated and listened to as many podcasts as possible.

When concerts started returning, she reassembled her band and figured out how they could go on. The secret was maintaining a bubble. That meant no meet-and-greets, no after-show visits, no extra-curricular activities. “If you’re in a city where you have relatives, you can’t see them. So I’d ask them to take a hike with me so we could stay 12 feet away.

“Traveling in a tight bubble lets a basketball team play its full season, so that’s what we’re doing.”

The music – and the reaction it gets — is what makes that isolation worthwhile.

“If you put in too many new things in a row,” she advises, “it lays there flat. I want a balance of old and new. People aren’t going to come and see you if you don’t play the hits. They want to hear (a song) close to the shape they came to it. You can add interludes and put in a different kind of a solo but, basically, those songs are hits because they were really thought out.”

As much as the 72-year-old loves Bob Dylan’s music, she knows he enjoys mixing things up. At a concert, “I had to ask his band, ‘What the heck was that?’ If you’re spending 90 bucks or 60 bucks for a ticket, you want to hear the song you know.”

Still, she knows why Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones and others are still hot-ticket performers.

“It starts with the music,” she says. “Then, there’s the people – you have to have the kind of soul and personality and dedication to being excellent. If you’re doing a show that’s coasting, you’re past where you should be. You’ve got to prove yourself every night. As my dad (actor John Raitt) used to say, ‘Make every night opening night.’”

Bonnie Raitt’s 21st studio album, “Just Like That,” addresses issues close to her heart–including the loss of friends due to the coronavirus pandemic. © Marina Chavez

While Raitt says she still gets excited before going on stage, “live TV used to be very nerve-racking. A show like ‘SNL’? That countdown was terrifying. If you mess up on ‘The Tonight Show,’ you can always retape, but not something live.”

Interestingly, Raitt holds the record for most performances on the Grammy Awards – one of those nerve-racking live shows. She also has enough Grammys to fill several shelves and a lifetime achievement award that confirms her longevity.

Always learning, she says she and Mavis Staples (who opens for her on this tour) have been “texting like mad” and talking about everything from politics to music when they’re together. “We love the same kind of music and she turns me on to great gospel stuff. Her last three albums were the strongest in her career, which is an inspiration for me. I’m 10 years behind her and I see the vibrancy she has.”

Raitt also believes it pays to have been that diligent performer in her 20s – the kind of musician who would perform even during a blizzard at small colleges across the country.

“Nobody else would come, but I’d be there with my guitar,” she says. “We’re now reaping the rewards of playing all those colleges.”


Bruce Miller is editor of the Sioux City Journal. He has covered entertainment for more than 40 years and teaches newswriting at Briar Cliff University.


Source: © Copyright Sioux City Journal

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How does Bonnie Raitt ease the pain in fraught times? By singing songs and watching animal videos

on July 28, 2022 No comments
By Jon Bream

The pain in Bonnie Raitt‘s voice was palpable over the phone. Not the I-Can’t-Make-You-Love-Me agony, but the life-as-we-know-it-is-getting-so-hard suffering.

The reversal of Roe v. Wade for women’s rights, the war in Ukraine, voting rights restrictions, the murder of George Floyd, climate change and the surge in gun violence, among other things, have rankled the longtime activist for progressive causes.

Raitt speaks out in interviews, on social media and at countless benefit concerts, but she doesn’t jump on a soapbox at her own shows.

“I’m very cognizant that people are there to hear a concert and not to be preached or convinced of one position or the other,” said the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, who returns to her beloved Minnesota on Friday at the Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park.

“I try to mention at the end of the show: ‘Don’t be discouraged and I won’t be. We’ll help each other stay active,’ ” continued Raitt, a child of the ’60s who was raised as a pacifist Quaker.

In these fraught times, the singer-guitarist has found a special, unexpected way to chill out: watching videos of animals, like pandas sneezing or cockatoos dancing.

“The ones that get me the most are the unlikely pairings of friendships of animals,” she said, citing a morning-news report about the Funny Farm Rescue & Sanctuary in New Jersey, where animals roam free and bond. “By the end of it, my oxytocin level was up to the level of what Grateful Dead fans must feel like at the end of the show.”

She giggled, like a giddy Deadhead.

Stretching on new album

Raitt returned to the road this past spring to promote “Just Like That,” her 18th studio album since her 1971 eponymous debut was recorded in a barn on Lake Minnetonka. The new project is her most daring work, tapping new sounds and new forms of songwriting after all these years.

“Waitin’ for You to Blow” showcases her in a jazz jaunt as she discusses the challenges of recovery.

“That was the biggest stretch for me,” said Raitt, who has been in recovery for 34 years. “I told the band I have this idea for a stutter funk rhythm track with this kind of jazzy Les McCann/Eddie Harris chords with this kind of sardonic Randy Newman/Mose Allison lyric.

“It’s probably the most satisfying, scary jump I’ve made musically.”

Recovery is one of the themes of the album — along with grace, redemption and mortality.

“Those are the four horsemen of the apocalypse,” Raitt said.

“Livin’ for the Ones,” a Stonesian rocker, doesn’t have a new sound, but it talks about living life to the fullest. It was inspired in part by her brother Steve Raitt, a longtime Twin Cities sound engineer/producer who died of a brain tumor in 2009.

“I’m going to live for the life he didn’t get to live. That’s how I got through his death,” she said this month from her home in Northern California.

She talked about Steve not veering from his macrobiotic diet for seven years and outliving the Mayo Clinic’s prognosis by six years. “When he went blind and couldn’t walk the last few months of his life and was still fighting and thought he was going to recover — I’m breaking up talking about it.”

She paused to regain her composure.

“And I said, ‘I’m never going to complain again every day I can open my eyes and stand up and walk.’ “

Never a prolific songwriter, Raitt also tried a different kind of writing this time — storytelling based on a real-life incident, a style she’d always admired in the works of Bob Dylan, John Prine and Jackson Browne. She composed two tunes based on news stories.

“Down the Hall” is a tale of redemption about a convicted murderer who works as a prison hospice aide. Raitt discovered the details in a New York Times piece by Suleika Jaouad.

The album’s title song, “Just Like That,” was drawn from a true story about an organ transplant connecting two families struck by tragedies.

Healing with ‘Angel’

Released in April on Raitt’s own Redwing label, “Just Like That” was No. 1 on the Americana charts for several weeks. Maybe that’s proof that music is healing in times of trouble.

“We have to keep turning our face to the sun and finding a way to bring joy to each other and ourselves,” said the feisty redhead with a distinctive streak of white hair. “I’ve got a big job.”

She heals herself and her audience every time she sings her signature songs in concert.

Before she utters the first words of the gut-wrenching “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” she takes “a spiritual deep breath and I just surrender to the emotions of the song.”

She’s been on both sides of the situation depicted in Mike Reid’s tortuous lament — no longer loving someone and hearing that message herself.

“In one case, they begged me to still do the family Christmas. Auch! It was really brutal. I sing it for anybody that’s gone through that. And that’s probably everyone in the hall.”

When it comes to Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” Raitt gets choked up these days because they duetted twice shortly before he died of COVID-19 in 2020.

“Now it’s all I can do to not break down when I’m singing,” she said. “I think of him the entire time I’m singing and I’m honoring him this time.

“In years past, I’ve sung it especially for my mom [pianist Marge Goddard], and I’ve been dedicating it the last couple of tours to all the women who don’t have the choice to not get married or can’t leave a marriage, can’t have an education, can’t drive a car, can’t wear a short skirt. I think about all those women around in the world trapped in situations they can’t get out of.

“In my mom’s case, she never got the credit for the incredible contribution she made to my dad’s career. My mom’s generation sacrificed to raise the kids. I made a decision not to saddle someone else to support me.”

At 72, Raitt shows no signs of slowing down. Her father, Broadway star John Raitt, performed until he died at age 88. Tony Bennett, despite dementia, was singing at 95 and remembering the words, she pointed out.

Suddenly Raitt shifted into a frail voice of an elderly woman.

“I’ll be making music till I drop,” she creaked.

Then, returning to her regular voice, she was full of her usual unstoppable spunk: “I’m going to come out at the end with white hair — and a red streak.”

She laughed.


Jon Bream has been a music critic at the Star Tribune since 1975, making him the longest tenured pop critic at a U.S. daily newspaper. He has attended more than 8,000 concerts and written four books (on Prince, Led Zeppelin, Neil Diamond and Bob Dylan). Thus far, he has ignored readers’ suggestions that he take a music-appreciation class.


Source: © Copyright StarTribune

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Bonnie Raitt looks to the uplifting stories when writing songs in a trying time
Classic hits and new compositions will be part of the crossover artist’s Ravinia concert — as will old friend Mavis Staples.

on July 24, 2022 No comments
By  Selena Fragassi – For the Sun-Times
Bonnie Raitt | Ken Friedman Photo

An average person will live 2.2 billion seconds in their lifetime — and in just one of them, everything can change. It’s one of life’s great mysteries that gave Bonnie Raitt pause while writing her latest masterpiece, “Just Like That …”

“I know the word unprecedented gets used a lot lately, but there’s never been a five- to six-year period in my life as devastating as this,” said Raitt, reflecting on the many topical influences behind her 21st album.

The 10-song stunner was released in April on Redwing Records, around the time Raitt was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Recording Academy as well as the Icon Award at Billboard’s Women of the Year 2022 ceremony, recognizing the illustrious 50-year career of a renegade who showed a woman could slay a guitar and write a song as well as her touring mentors and contemporaries like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and James Taylor. She remains one of music’s greatest crossover artists who has blurred the lines of blues, rock and pop.

Of course, the pandemic, elections, Black Lives Matter and climate change all weighed heavily on Raitt as the “Just Like That …” material was germinating. They’re issues that often have concerned the 72-year-old artist-activist, as evidenced through her fundamental work with MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), Vote For Change and various social justice causes advocating for women, Native Americans and Black creators.

Yet, in spite of all the downtrodden news, Raitt also saw some silver linings. Like Mr. Rogers used to say, she “looked for the helpers.” And when Raitt found them, she wrote about them, uncovering the story of two families impacted by organ donation that evolved into the title track for the new album, and the story of a prison hospice program that inspired “Down the Hall.”

“These stories moved me so much. I just burst into tears and realized how aching I was for some heart-blasting, uplifting stories of love and action,” said Raitt.

Recently, she also was dealt a number of personal losses (an experience shared on the song “Livin’ for the Ones”) including the passing of friend John Prine after a battle with COVID. The poignant “Angel From Montgomery” — Prine’s song that Raitt recorded for her 1974 album “Streetlights” — is one she still loves to play nearly every show, and its style influenced the storyteller narrative on “Just Like That …”

“I wanted to go back and sing other people’s stories, not just always take from my own life,” Raitt shared, even though her confessionals like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” are still some of her most prized.

As she offers the songs live, another artistic hero of Raitt’s will be part of the celebration, with Chicago’s Mavis Staples guesting at her Ravinia show on Wednesday.

“Mavis has meant so much to me because of her inspirational political stance as well as her spiritual guidance, positivity and unbelievably funky voice,” she explained.

Raitt and Jackson Browne worked with Pops Staples on one of his solo albums, and she and Mavis quickly became “soul sisters.” The relationship was further edified when The Staple Singers received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, an organization Raitt helped co-found in the ’80s to reconcile better royalties and more recognition for early R&B pioneers who were often overshadowed and undercompensated.

“We have to rectify the unfairness and institutionalized racism in the case of rhythm and blues, jazz and soul artists who are still alive and their descendants,” said Raitt. It continues to be an important cause in her career that has let her use her voice in multiple ways, still ever-thankful that 30 years ago she had her own “Just Like That” moment that changed everything.

“It was 1990 when I won three Grammys for ‘Nick Of Time,’ ” said Raitt, remembering the circumstances of her commercial breakthrough album that sold 5 million copies and catapulted her to stardom after being an underground artist for almost 20 years. This year, the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.

“I was not expecting the response. It really meant so much to me and lifted up other people too. I got letters from artists in their 40s and older saying, ‘I’m going to give it another shot. If you can break through maybe I can too.’ ”

And with so many of her contemporaries still going strong, Raitt reflected, “There’s tremendous creativity that’s happening in your 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s not your grandparents’ 70s, I can tell you that much.”


Source: © Copyright Chicago Sun-Times

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