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The blues never had a greater champion than Dick Waterman

on February 1, 2024 No comments
By James Sullivan – Globe correspondent

In the music business, they often refer to performers as “the talent” and their recordings as “product.” Dick Waterman, the Boston-bred agent, promoter, and photographer who died Jan. 26 at age 88, saw the musicians he represented as something else — friends.

I’m deeply sorry to mark the passing of my friend, Dick Waterman, who made such a huge impact on the lives and careers of so many great blues artists, championing them as people as much as their music, booking and managing them with great care, integrity and skill. He gave me my start as well, going on to book and represent me for 15 years. He was also a renowned photographer who published a book and his wonderful photographs of some of our most legendary roots artists… He was an incredible storyteller, popular columnist in the local Oxford (Mississippi) Eagle and packed a great deal into his 88 years. We are so sorry to lose him and I am deeply grateful for the gifts he gave me and the life he lived. My sincere condolences go to his wife Cinda and all his family.

Dick published a book of rare photographs and personal recollections called “Between Midnight and Day: The Last Unpublished Blues Archive” in 2003. While the book itself is out of print, you can learn more about it here: http://tinyurl.com/yduhh6sa and read an excerpt (below) from the preface I was honored to contribute.

To learn more about his life, you can check out his biography, “Dick Waterman: A Life In Blues” written by Tammy L. Turner. https://www.upress.state.ms.us/Books/D/Dick-Waterman

— Bonnie

From Preface:

My friendship with Dick developed as closely as did the ones with the many blues artists we both adored. Through his connection I received the education and gift of a lifetime, hanging and learning about life and the music from all my heroes as well as being given a job I’d love for the rest of my life. Within a couple of years, I was opening for his acts and Dick went on to manage me for the next fifteen years.

While so many mostly white, middle class Blues aficionados seem to obsess about only the actual Blues recordings, huddling around their hallowed 78s, speaking in hushed tones about this or that obscure song, the living, breathing scions of the music walk among us. Often forgotten, neglected and long occupied in jobs other than music– farmer, porter, you name it, ..having given up on the idea of recognition of making a living in music, suddenly their lives are transformed by being ‘rediscovered’ during the heralded Folk/Blues revival of the mid-1960s.

After starting his own management and booking agency, Avalon Productions, Dick knew the meaning of rent money, medical bills, proper billing and payment. How to get a person from some small town in the Delta up to the big east coast cities for the gigs and back. He knew how to help these often rural, unsophisticated geniuses fare in the alien, impossibly whirlwind world of the folk/blues festival and concert circuit.

By gathering so many greats under one roof, Dick was able to collectively bargain to ensure each artist got to play the best gigs and be paid what they deserved. He steadfastly guarded every aspect of his artists’ professional life and was often the family’s solid rock during personal crises as well.

For helping raise the quality of life for so many artists with whom he worked, for reminding the white progeny of these mighty scions wherein their debt lies, for refusing to compromise probably at the expense of his own advancement, taking the high road and loving the people as well as the music, Dick has helped shepherd the Blues to a place in history truly befitting its worth.

For this, and for the gift that are these extraordinary images and reminiscences brought together in this book, we thank you.

Bonnie

Dick Waterman and Son House 1969
Dick Waterman and Bonnie Raitt – Memphis Botanic Garden 2006 © Cinda Waterman

Born in Plymouth and educated as a journalist at Boston University, Waterman fell into the folk scene in Cambridge in the early 1960s. His role in rediscovering the long-lost musician Son House in 1964 led to a lifetime in the blues.

Waterman brought several living legends to the Newport Folk Festival. He befriended the Rolling Stones and shot rolls of photos of a young Bob Dylan. He got Arlo Guthrie his first gig and encouraged Bonnie Raitt to launch her career. In 2000, he became one of the first non-performers inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

After he published “Between Midnight and Day” (2003), his book of photographs of Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, and many more, Waterman told “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross that he had a hard time listening to his friends’ records after they were gone.

“It’s more than music to me,” he said. “When I hear these men, I remember their after-shave lotion. I know what they drank. I know what kind of cigarettes they smoked.

“When I listen to them, they don’t come to me as musical notes. They come back to me as people.”

Waterman grew up in an affluent Jewish household. His father was a doctor: “He got up in the morning and made sick people not sick,” Waterman recalled in “Dick Waterman: A Life in Blues” (2019), a conversational biography written by Tammy L. Turner.

He wanted to be a sportswriter but found himself covering the folk scene around Club 47, the small Cambridge coffeehouse that would become Passim, for Dave Wilson’s biweekly newsletter Broadside. While covering Newport for the National Observer in 1963, he was “totally captivated” by Mississippi John Hurt, a blues singer and guitarist who had recorded in the 1920s, then “vanished” for decades.

Waterman began helping Hurt, McDowell, and others land engagements in and around Boston, including a packed weeklong run for Hurt at Cafe Yana near Fenway Park, which serendipitously took place just days after Hurt appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.” A few years later, Waterman would name his burgeoning agency Avalon Productions after Hurt’s hometown.

In June 1964 Waterman joined fellow blues enthusiasts Phil Spiro and Nick Perls on a drive to Mississippi, in pursuit of a tip that Son House — a contemporary and friend of Charley Patton, the “Father of the Delta Blues” — was alive and well and had been spotted in Memphis. House had given up music in the 1940s and was using his given name, Edward.

Traveling in a Volkswagen Beetle with New York plates, they picked up a local minister who was an old acquaintance of House. On the backroads they encountered some hostility, as Waterman recalled in Eric von Schmidt and Jim Rooney’s “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down” (1979), the definitive book about the Cambridge folk years. This was the Freedom Summer, when white students from the north were volunteering in Mississippi to encourage Black citizens to register to vote.

When the Reverend Robert Wilkins got out of the car to ask for directions to a connection’s home, Waterman recalled, two “big, heavy, beefy, red-faced guys” stared at him, and then “spat straight down in contempt.

“They just looked at him, full of loathing and hatred. The air just crackled. They finally said, ‘Third farm down,’ and they turned and walked away.”

The day the group cracked the code about House’s whereabouts — he was actually living in Rochester, N.Y. — was the same day the activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Those parallel stories were told in “Two Trains Runnin’,” a 2016 documentary from director Sam Pollard that aired on PBS.

Dick Waterman and Film subject Dave Dennis attend the “Two Trains Runnin'” intro and Q&A during the 54th New York Film Festival at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater on October 13, 2016 in New York City. © Michael Loccisano /Getty Images

Though House in his younger years had been an influence on both Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Waterman soon learned that he’d forgotten how to play his own songs. He enlisted his friend Alan Wilson, the blues-crazy Arlington native who would soon cofound the band Canned Heat, to work with one of his heroes.

“They sat knee to knee with their guitars,” Waterman told Terry Gross. “So really, Al Wilson taught Son House to play Son House.”

During his Cambridge years, Waterman was known as the man to see if you were hoping for an audience with the masters of the folk blues. He’d grown up, as Turner points out in her biography, in a house “with a pineapple, the symbol of hospitality, ornamenting the front door.”

In his 2020 book “Looking to Get Lost,” the music historian Peter Guralnick recounts his awkward visit with Skip James at Waterman’s apartment.

James, another historic figure who’d just been rediscovered, made music that “struck me as unfathomably strange, beautiful, and profound,” Guralnick writes. Despite the fact that the shy 21-year-old had never interviewed anyone before, “I felt an obligation to seek him out.”

Waterman introduced Raitt, who was similarly mesmerized by the elder bluesmen, to House, McDowell, and Howlin’ Wolf. In fact, the two blues fans, Waterman and Raitt, kissed for the first time in a car outside MIT’s radio station, where they’d taken Buddy Guy for an interview. Their romance didn’t last long, but their professional relationship carried on for years.

Over time, Waterman had plenty more adventures in music. In the early 1970s he booked the acts at Joe’s Place in Cambridge, where a young, all-but-unknown Bruce Springsteen became a regular. Van Morrison once asked Waterman to be his manager. (He declined.) When John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were forming the Blues Brothers, they consulted Waterman for help in putting the band together.

For Waterman, who lived his last decades in Oxford, Miss., it always came back to the blues. Driving back east from California with Son House during a 1965 tour, he found WBZ’s 50,000-watt broadcast on the dial somewhere in the Midwest and tuned into Jefferson Kaye’s Sunday folk program. When the DJ played House’s newly recorded version of “Death Letter,” Waterman had to explain to his passenger that he was hearing himself on the radio.

“I had a surge of just being elated,” Waterman recalled. “It was like the greatest three minutes of my life.”

About The Author


Source: © Copyright The Boston Globe
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Review: Goosebumps, hankies and a standing ovation for an emotional but tired Bonnie Raitt in Minneapolis
It was the first theater appearance in the Twin Cities in this century for the longtime Minnesota favorite.

on October 12, 2023 No comments
By Jon Bream

Bonnie Raitt is one of us. Well, almost. We sure treat her like she is. And she reciprocates.

“I get emotional when I’m here,” she said on Wednesday night at the sold-out State Theatre in Minneapolis.

Then the memories started flooding in.

“The Triangle Bar, the Joint, the Cabooze,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer said, naming some of her old West Bank haunts. “They’re in my Rolodex of the trouble I caused. I came to roll around in joy for the five decades I’ve been coming here.”

By now, you’ve probably heard the back story. Ever since recording her debut album on Lake Minnetonka in 1971 with producer Willie Murphy, the California singer/guitarist has been a regular visitor to the Gopher State. Especially when her late brother Steve, an engineer/producer, lived here for three decades. She would come here to water ski, hang out and listen to live music.

On Wednesday, the chatty Raitt conducted a roll call of all her musical friends who were at the State Theatre: Maurice Jacox, Bobby Vandell, Melanie Rosales and Ricky Peterson, who has toured in her band.

Raitt, 73, has performed dozens of times in the Twin Cities — from her debut at the Whole Coffeehouse at the University of Minnesota to big gigs at Xcel Energy Center and the State Fair (eight times at the grandstand, 1990-2016). Last summer, she rocked the new Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park, near St. Cloud.

Bonnie Raitt performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Bonnie Raitt performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Bonnie Raitt performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Glenn Patscha performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.Duke Levine performs at the State Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023 in Minneapolis.

© Tony Nelson /Special to the Star Tribune

Surprisingly, the road warrior hasn’t appeared at a Twin Cities theater in this century. The last one was the Orpheum in 1998, not counting a 2013 charity gala at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The ever-popular star’s concert Wednesday at the 2,200-seat State Theatre sold out well in advance. (She probably could have filled it for a second night.)

It was the penultimate show on a two-year tour, and, frankly, Raitt seemed a little tired. While she was emotional in her conversation, she was maybe less so in her singing.

There were winning moments, though, including a bluesy and brooding treatment of Bob Dylan’s “Million Miles,” the bluesy, jazzy, Mose Allison-evoking “Blame It on Me” with Glenn Patscha’s crying organ, and her own acoustic guitar ballad “Just Like That,” a rivetingly poignant true story about a woman who lost her 25-year-old son but got to hear his heart transplanted in another man. (Raitt did not mention that “Just Like That” won the Grammy in February for song of the year and the Americana Music Award last month for best song.)

By contrast, Raitt’s version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” (which she dedicated to the TC Jammers band at Bunkers) lacked its usual lusty vibes, and she and her four-man band’s timing was off during “Something to Talk About,” her frisky 1991 hit. However, the group found its groove when Raitt and veteran Boston guitarist Duke Levine, who signed on just last year, jammed briefly on the reggae-flavored “Have a Heart,” another early ’90s tune.

The 13-time Grammy winner explained that she gets verklempt whenever she sings “Angel From Montgomery,” John Prine’s remarkable reflection of an older woman stuck in a bad marriage that she recorded in 1974. On this night, it was seasoned with Levine’s mandolin and Patscha’s elegantly mournful piano before Raitt delivered the last vocal line with a hauntingly painful ache in her voice. Goosebumps, hankies and a standing ovation.

To change the mood, Raitt and her band — with its terrific and longtime rhythm section of bassist Hutch Hutchinson and drummer Ricky Fataar — tore it up on Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House.”

For the encore, Raitt downshifted to the ultimate heartbreaker, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” her momentous 1991 piano ballad. When she raised her voice on the final chorus, the crowd cheered loudly. Patscha offered a sorrowful piano passage with a little classical flourish for the coda.

Raitt was so overcome that she told her band, “I can’t sing another sad song, guys.” So she skipped the planned piece on her set list and instead moved into the hard-charging 2003 boogie “Gnawin’ on It,” featuring opening act Roy Rogers on acoustic slide guitar. Finally, some genuine guitar fireworks as the two friends exchanged smokin’ slide passages.

For the finale, “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” a Crusaders tune made famous by B.B. King, Raitt brought out Ricky Peterson from the audience. Currently part of Stevie Nicks’ band, Peterson unleashed some seriously funky organ that prompted Raitt to start dancing and jamming on guitar with Rogers. The giddy redhead looked like she was having as much fun as she did on the West Bank back in the day.

“I wish I could stay here for a month,” Raitt declared during the encore. Alas, she has one more show on the tour — “Austin City Limits,” television’s long-lived live music program.

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Source: © Copyright StarTribune

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Roots legend Raitt runs emotional gamut
Grammy-winning guitarist delivers the blues, ballads and banter at the Burt

on October 1, 2023 No comments
By Eva Wasney

It started with a standing ovation.

And by the end of Bonnie Raitt’s sold-out concert at Burton Cummings Theatre Saturday night, the excited crowd had risen three more times for the acclaimed roots artist.

Raitt, 73, is on the tail end of a two-year international tour in support of Just Like That…, an award-winning 2022 album that has further cemented the American entertainer’s legendary status.

Sporting a sparkly green top and her signature hairdo — big red curls with a shock of grey — the commanding vocalist grooved her way through a playful and wide-ranging hour-and-40-minute set.

Before getting into the music, Raitt took a moment to call attention to the orange “Every Child Matters” banners hanging in front of the drum kit. She had visited the Canadian Museum for Human Rights earlier in the day and described feeling heartened by the local turnout for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Many in the audience were wearing orange.

Winnipeg was well represented on the Burt stage Saturday.

Raitt kicked things off with Made Up Mind and some effusive praise for local roots act the Bros. Landreth. The song — a jammy cover of a Bros. original — earned Raitt the Grammy Award for Best Americana Performance last year. Brothers and bandmates Dave and Joey Landreth were unfortunately not in attendance due to their own touring schedule.

Concert Review

Bonnie Raitt

with Royal Wood

Saturday, Sept. 30

Burton Cummings Theatre

Attendance: 1,600,
approximately

★★★★ out of five stars

Winnipeg-born keyboardist Glenn Patscha, one-fifth of Raitt’s tight backing band, also got plenty of time in the spotlight — and deservedly so.

As a teen, Patscha moved to New Orleans to study piano under jazz icon Ellis Marsalis, and has recorded and toured with the likes of Levon Helm and Sheryl Crow. The headliner remarked several times how lucky she was to have him in the ensemble.

Sporting a sparkly green top and her signature hairdo — big red curls with a shock of grey — Bonnie Raitt grooved her way through a playful and wide-ranging hour-and-40-minute set © Dwayne Larson

Raitt is an artist who wields compliments freely and frequently. She spoke highly of everyone on stage and behind the scenes — at one point giving a peck on the cheek to a somewhat bewildered stagehand — and gave props to the many artists and songwriters who have inspired her career.

The setlist was an emotional rollercoaster, ranging from spicy, uplifting anthems to mournful bluesy ballads. “I can’t stay in the pit too long,” she remarked.

Shredding on the slide guitar in front of a backdrop made to look like a blue sky, Raitt played nearly as many covers as she did originals, including songs by Bob Dylan, Chaka Khan, INXS and others.

She reminisced about the late John Prine, a longtime friend and collaborator who died of complications from COVID-19 in 2020, before launching into Angel From Montgomery. The song and Prine’s death served as inspiration for the title track of Raitt’s 21st studio album.

Just Like That is a fictionalized account of a real-life story about a mother who meets the recipient of her late son’s donated heart. There were at least a few tears in the audience during the narrative-rich song, which earned Raitt two Grammys for best American roots song and song of the year. She beat out the likes of Beyoncé, Lizzo, Taylor Swift and Harry Styles to win the latter, proving that 52 years after the release of her debut album, Raitt continues to transcend.

Bonnie Raitt kicked things off with Made Up Mind and some effusive praise for local roots act the Bros. Landreth. © Dwayne Larson

Following an enthusiastic encore, the headliner closed with a cover of Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time, accompanied by opener Royal Wood.

Wood, 44, a “Juno-losing” (his words) Toronto singer-songwriter, was also present during Raitt’s last Winnipeg appearance at the Burt in 2017. (She was scheduled to play Canada Life Centre with James Taylor in 2020 but the concert was cancelled owing to the pandemic.)

Wearing an orange T-shirt and with his salt-and-pepper hair tightly cropped, Wood was joined on stage by a pair of dreamy vocalists and a stand-up bass player. His set was full of charming anecdotes about his wife and two young sons, as well as slow, sad love songs old and new; including the perennial wedding tune I’m So Glad, and Armour from his latest album, What Tomorrow Brings.

Royal Wood — yes that’s his real name — returns to Winnipeg next March for a show at the West End Cultural Centre.

Bonnie Raitt in front of a sold-out crowd – Burton Cummings Theatre, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – Sept. 30, 2023 © James “Hutch” Hutchinson

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Source: © Copyright The Winnipeg Free Press

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