June 19, 8 p.m. | Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Tickets and info: From $79.50 at Ticketmaster.ca
Bonnie Raitt wants to set the record straight. It seems somewhat unnecessary. When you have 10 Grammy Awards lined up in a row on your mantle and your most recent album Dig In Deep debuted at #10 on the Billboard Album Charts, does it matter if you get called a blues woman, folk rocker or roots artist or not?
“My thing is probably as much R&B as it is blues or rock ‘n’ roll and I’ve never claimed anything about folk,” said Raitt. “There are these biographies talking about my time in the Boston folk scene that really aren’t accurate. Yes, I was there, but what really shaped me was Philadelphia, musically speaking.”
Raitt isn’t talking about the orchestral soul of the city that Gamble and Huff crafted and musicians such as David Bowie embraced on albums such as Young Americans. What she is referencing is the connection she had with blues promoter Dick Waterman who was based in the city. That friendship provided the exposure and access to the living legends of American blues music undergoing a global rediscovery back in the sixties and seventies.
“He was handling everyone from Mississippi John Hurt to Junior Wells and others and I used to take the student budget commuter flight from Boston and go see them play,” she said. “It was an opportunity unlike any other and, eventually, I decided to leave my studies at Radcliffe and immerse myself in studying alongside these masters. My reasoning was I could always go back to school, but I wasn’t always going to be able to learn slide guitar from Son House.”
Born in Burbank, CA., the daughter of pianist Marjorie Haydock and Broadway musical star John Raitt, she grew up in the Quaker tradition and picked up guitar on her own. She was taken by the instrument’s capabilities and kept at it, but didn’t truly find her true love until her college years. That was the slide guitar, which she is a master of.
From the minute her self-titled debut dropped in 1971, she was acclaimed for her skills as a bottleneck player. At a time where a woman guitar hero was treated as an oddity by the boy’s club (OK, not much has changed), she was respected all around for her uniquely smooth leads, soulful vocals and good ear for material. Subsequent albums showcased her willingness to be much more than just a pigeonholed “blues rocker” or another player in the laid-back California scene she hung out in with the likes of Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne.
While her albums were critically-lauded, sales eluded her until 1977’s Sweet Forgiveness produced a hit single in her funky R&B take on Del Shannon’s Runaway. Critics were split on the track and they have been back-and-forth ever since. Raitt hasn’t paid them any mind for the past four decades, finding massive success with her tenth studio album Nick Of Time, which produced the enduring hit versions of John Hiatt’s Thing Called Love, Bonnie Haye’s Have A Heart and Love Letter. Mixing blues, soul, funk, R&B and more, the album can be seen as definitive Bonnie Raitt.
It was also her first “sober” album following a lengthy time of hard-drinking.
“When I was young touring with a lot of these blues legends, well they could drink hard and I guess I believed that that was something you needed to do,” she said. “But it didn’t really help them make better music and the negatives were many. When I looked around at friends of mine and went “well John and Warren and Stevie Ray all just put out some of the best music of their careers since they sobered up. So I did too.”
Throughout the late eighties and nineties, Raitt was in the charts, on the radio and active in the anti-nuclear movement. In 2000, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has kept on producing albums that chart (typically in the Top 20) and maintained a somewhat less hectic touring schedule. It’s been over a decade since she did a full-scale Canadian tour and the guitarist is fired up about presenting the material from last year’s Dig In Deep to fans.
Featuring her longtime band of drummer Ricky Fataar, guitarist George Martinelli, bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson and newer keyboardist Mike Finnigan, the dozen tunes follow her usual mix of originals, covers by the likes of T Bone Burnett and Cesar Rosas and, perhaps curiously, Need You Tonight by INXS. Having previously turned Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House into a favourite live number, maybe there isn’t anything too odd about her taking on the Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence hit.
“INXS is one of the most in the pocket groove bands I’ve ever heard and that song, in particular, just kicks hard,” she said. “I had been promising myself to cover it for years and the opportunity came. It’s perfect for me too, because there’s a good open spot to solo and really cut loose with the slide; it’s a thing I tend to look for.”
It’s a thing she tends to look for a lot online these days too. As someone who was around to see some of the legends of blues and R&B music when they were performing live, Raitt admits to having a near-addictive YouTube habit. Particularly, the incredibly well shot and recorded live performances that keep surfacing from the late fifties and early sixties from Scandinavian network sessions.
“It’s crazy how many amazing performances and recordings keep getting posted from Sweden and Norway and someone there has my eternal gratitude for doing it,” she said. “Like anyone else, I missed a lot of them when they were still alive and this is such an incredible gift to all music fans now. But I’ll be the first to admit that you can really get caught up, going to just watch one thing and then it’s hours later.”
She still considers herself a student in this context. Going back to watch Lightning Hopkins live often means discovering another lick to add to her impressive techniques. So many players tend to take the same note-cramming flash that makes so much guitar soloing so boring and apply it to the slide. But the style can be so subtle and, with a player like Raitt, straddle both the rhythm and lead zones of a song adding so much emotion and raw groove.
Just listen to the raw back and forth between her and Finnigan on Did In Deep’s opening song Unintended Consequence of Love and there is so much giving going on. Of course, giving underlies Raitt’s work at all levels. As in the past, she is working with the Guacamole Fund and donating one dollar of every ticket sale towards grassroots local, regional and national Canadian organizations working in the areas of safe and sustainable energy, social justice and human rights, environmental protections and — obviously — blues/music education.
Raitt tour dates for Postmedia
SAT 6/3/17 London, ON — Centennial Hall
TUES 6/6/17 Hamilton, ON — FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place) **
Kitchener, ON — Centre in the Square ** Toronto, ON — Sony Centre **
MON 6/19/17 Vancouver, BC — Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Source: © Copyright Vancouver Sun