There’s something indescribable about Bonnie Raitt’s music. Whether it’s the stellar line-up of guest musicians in her recording sessions, or her own unparalleled playing and singing—whatever the x factor is, you can feel it from the second you queue up a Raitt song.
While many may know her top hits—”I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “Something To Talk About” and “Nick of Time” for example. There is a whole other side of Raitt’s musicality waiting to be discovered in some of her lesser-known songs.
Below, we’re going through just 5 of a long list of deep cuts from Bonnie Raitt you should add to your playlist sooner rather than later.
1. “Rainy Day Man” (From Streetlights, 1974)
Streetlights saw Raitt put her spin on a number of hits originally recorded by her contemporaries – John Prine, Joni Mitchell, and more. Raitt takes on James Taylor for the second track on the album, “Rainy Day Man.” Raitt gives the song new life with fuller production and a more rock feel.
It does you no good to pretend, child / You’ve made a hole much too big to mend / And it looks like you lose again, my friend / So go on home and look up your rainy day man, she sings.
2. “Louise” (From Sweet Forgiveness, 1977)
Though this track was penned by Paul Siebel, “Louise” has been popularized over the years through a number of cover versions—among which is Raitt’s version on her 1977 album, Sweet Forgiveness.
In the lyrics, Raitt tells the story of a woman who is used up and laughed at by those around her. It’s only after her death that they start to appreciate her: They’d all put her down / Below their kind/ Still some cried when she died / That afternoon. With only an acoustic guitar backing Raitt up, it leaves room for her stunning vocals.
3. “Under the Falling Sky” (From Give It Up, 1972)
Raitt ventures into folk rock with “Under the Falling Sky.” Written and originally performed by Jackson Browne for his self-titled album, Raitt trades in the funky synthesizer Browne uses in his version and replaces it with an acoustic guitar and a lively backing band.
4. “Any Day Woman” (From Bonnie Raitt, 1971)
Another Paul Siebel-written track, “Any Day Woman” is a slower number among the repertoire of steady rock n’ roll staples on her self-titled album. Recorded when she was just 21 years old, it proves that Raitt’s top-tier vocals and smart arrangements have been there from the start.
She sings, Love’s so hard to take when you have to fake everything in return / You just preserve her when you serve her a little tenderness.
5. “That Song About the Midway” (From Streetlights, 1974)
Raitt took on the Joni Mitchell classic, “That Song About the Midway” for her Streetlights album. The song originally appeared on JONI MITCHELL – LIVE RADIO BROADCASTS, released in 1966. While Mitchell’s version is languid, Raitt picks up the tempo a bit for hers, highlighting Mitchell’s expert lyricism while still making the track her own.
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.
“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.”
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.
Watching a human interest segment on the news in 2018, Bonnie Raitt couldn’t pull away from the story of a woman who donated her child’s organ and was about to meet the recipient of her son’s heart for the first time. The man sat with her and asked if she would like to put her head on his chest so she could hear her son’s heart. “I just lost it,” says Raitt. “It was the most moving and surprising thing. I wasn’t expecting it. I vowed right then that I wanted to write a song about what that would take.”
Riveted by the idea of how families can make the life-altering decision in one of the most difficult moments, Raitt began writing the lyrics to “Just Like That,” the corner piece of her eighteenth album.
“Every time I hear about a family donating organs when their child has been killed, or there’s some sort of sudden death—as if you’re not in grief and shock enough—to have the view and the compassion and the love to be able to pay it forward like that is so incredible,” says Raitt, “and the kindness of the recipient, and what that must feel like for them.”
In May of 2018, Raitt was also affected by a story she read in The New York TimesMagazine about a prison hospice program in Vacaville, California where inmates work as caregivers for fellow terminal convicts. Staggered by her reaction to the intimate photographs and stories of volunteers devoting their time to those incarcerated at the end of their lives, she wrote her own story on “Down the Hall,” singing from the perspective of the caretakers: I asked if they let family in / She said not really at the end / Truth is a lot don’t have someone, no friends or next of kin / The thought of those guys going out alone, it hit me somewhere deep / I asked could go sit with them, for some comfort and relief.
“I just immediately felt how many segregated, separated, polarized segments of our population out in society are reflected in microcosms in prisons,” says Raitt. “Those pictures, without any explanation, were such a beautiful testimony of how the need of one human being to have compassion from another, and empathy, and care was just so moving. I’m moved by it now. I can barely sing those songs without getting touched again.”
Drawn to these two news stories amid a flurry of hatred and inequality happening in real-time within the U.S., Raitt had the pillars of Just Like That…, a collection of humanistic stories that moved her to write and look back on previous times.
An affinity for The Gift of the Magi and early 20th century short stories by O. Henry to reflection on the loss of friend John Prine, who died on April 7, 2020, and his first songs “Donald and Lydia” and “Angel of Montgomery,” and further references to Bob Dylans’ earlier acoustic story songs, helped Raitt capture the modesty of the narratives she needed to deliver.
“Those story songs, Prine and Jackson and Paul Brady from Ireland, and Bob Dylan was really what I wanted to do on those two songs,” says Raitt, “to come from that fingerpicking simplicity of just a person on the guitar.”
On Just Like That… Raitt revisits songs she’s meant to cover for years like “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” by NRBQ’s Al Anderson, which was ringing in her head for three decades. Then she paid homage to Toots and the Maytals with a cover of “Love So Strong,” a song she originally planned to duet with her friend Toots Hibbert before his untimely death from COVID in 2020. Instead, Raitt turned the song into a tribute to the reggae artist. Opening on the bluesier uptempo “Made Up Mind” by alt-country group The Bros. Landreth, who she had friended nearly a decade earlier at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Raitt also found a place for her rendition of “Here Comes Love” by the California Honeydrops, a song she initially cut during her Dig In Deep session in 2015.
Returning to work on Just Like That…when her international tour with James Taylor was halted due to the pandemic in March 2020, Raitt also continued performing for fundraising live streams around social justice, environmental issues, and the election. She then jumped at an open pocket of space to rehearse with her band for the first time in 2021.
“It’s like putting together a great meal,” says Raitt of her 10 song selections. “I’m not a terrific cook, but I appreciate why you wouldn’t want to put this vegetable with that vegetable when this one will be a better match. I want to say something new on every record, and with 21 albums, man, I’ve covered a lot of territory of what can go wrong in a love affair. Those blues guitar licks on ‘Made Up Mind,’ I could have been singing a song about a laundromat and I still would’ve cut it.”
Roused by jazz musicians like Eddie Harris, Mose Allison, Raitt tells a wicked tale of a devil sitting on someone’s shoulder with a throwback to 1970s funk on “Waitin’ For You to Blow.”
“There’s something thrilling about creating something brand new out of feelings and styles that have always run so deep in me,” she says. “I wanted to stretch on this record and do something different for me, and for the fans. To do those acoustic fingerpicking story songs was one way, and the other way was funk. I’ve always loved how funk and R&B and jazz intersect.”
Elaborating on the “Waitin’ For You to Blow” subject, Raitt, who is coming up on 35 years sober, always had this vision of a devil sitting on her shoulders, waiting for her to slip up. “It’s not even about whether you’re going to drink or use drugs, or it’s sex or exercise or whatever your drug is,” she says. “It’s every day where you don’t stay in bed and watch that movie another hour, or tell those little white lies to people, these kinds of slippery behaviors. There’s that little devil trying to urge you to ‘why not keep going.’” Raitt referenced Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, and songs like “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley to capture the essence of the track. “I love those kinds of sardonic, sarcastic point of view songs where it gets the message across much better, especially when there’s a funky beat or it’s a rock and roll song.”
The horns and breaks, and jazzier keyboard chords of a funk song were already in her head, as Raitt conceived the entire arrangement, inspired by the jazz fusion of groups like The Crusaders, the backing bands of Joe Cocker and Paul Simon. “There’s no reason to give it a name,” says Raitt, catching her band off guard after suggesting a shuffle in the bridge. “It’s as jazz as it is funk as it is blues and rock. Ray Charles had it. James Brown had it.”
Interspersed with original material and covers, Raitt offered another one of her story-songs on the contemplative ballad “Living for the Ones,” motivated by losses around the pandemic and co-written with her longtime guitarist George Marinelli. “This song was written specifically about what we’ve been going through the last couple of years,” reveals Raitt. She added that the election brought her to her knees with the “vitriol and lies and delusions” she fears are threatening democracy along with the encroachment of “fascist elements” within our society. “It’s never been as bad as it’s been now in my lifetime,” adds Raitt. “I’m incredibly inclined to go find a cabin somewhere, put my head under a pillow, and not come out again.”
For Raitt, the pain, heartbreak, stress, and anxiety centered around the climate crisis and the devastation around the world, which she says has been caused by richer nations not managing emissions or making polluters pay and being proactive and making safe energy work. The Black Lives Matter movement also moved Raitt, due to the “visceral sickening horror of watching George Floyd’s murder,” and the ensuing realization of how often this has been happening.
Adding to the massive collection of losses in her album notes, Raitt began making a list of people she wanted to honor and dedicate the album to but had to stop at 14 for fear of having paragraphs of names. “I learned about loss, how my reaction could be to it, and gaining strength to keep going,” says Raitt, whose brother, musician Steve Raitt, died in 2009 at the age of 61 after an eight-year battle with brain cancer, right before she lost another friend and many others within her age group to cancer and heart disease and even suicide in the years that followed.
Partially dedicated to her brother, “Living for the Ones” is also a dedication to the ones everyone has lost. “I wanted to sing a song about what I started to do when my brother passed away, which was live for the life he didn’t get to have every day. He went blind and he couldn’t walk in the last month of his life, and every day that I can swing my legs across the bed and stand up, every day I open my eyes and I can look out, I’m not complaining. I’m gonna make it through for the ones that didn’t get to.”
More than 50 years since Raitt debuted with her self-titled album, four decades on from Green Light, and the superfluous anniversaries that come with more than five decades of music-making, Raitt doesn’t have any far-fetched aspirations. She just wants to play live again. She comes from a lineage of lifers, working till the end, like her father, actor and singer John Raitt, who continued to perform through the age of 86.
“I come from some stock [of artists] in blues and jazz and Broadway world where people didn’t retire,” says Raitt. “Everybody’s always saying that they’re going to retire. Why should I retire? What would I do? I’d be bored to death.”
She adds, “I’m in a world of other musicians that I think are doing their best work now. Mick [Jagger] and Keith [Richards] and Paul McCartney… these people don’t show any signs of flailing or losing their jobs. People are just getting richer and deepening if you’re blessed enough to have good health and not coast on your laurels and do less good material. You have to keep being excellent and caring, or it doesn’t work.”
Now 72, Raitt feels lucky, alive, and grateful to still have something to say, and the ability to share it with the world again. “We all hope we stay in good health,” says Raitt. “I hope I can still sing. If not, I’ll just stand up at the side of [the] stage and watch. I’ll get some YouTube person to win a contest and sing my parts for me and give them a Bonnie Raitt wig.” Raitt adds, “I’ll just keep shape-shifting and watch on the side of the stage, or maybe I’ll play my slide guitar sitting in a chair, or be in the band and dress up as the person that’s dressed up as me.”
Thinking of the reality of her life and career with some jest, Raitt honestly doesn’t see the end of her musical road anytime soon.
“I hope I get to do it another 15 years,” shares Raitt. “I really do. I just keep looking at Keith and Mick and go ‘all right, I’ll keep doing it.’”
Jazz and blues fests are everywhere now, and Americana is going strong on college radio. What I'm hearing is an appreciation of real music.
I speak my mind and come from a place of conscience, as well as have fun as a musician.
I don't know if I'm a heroine; I'm just somebody that can cheer the troops by singing to folks, and have receptions after the show, and tithe a dollar of every ticket sale for all kinds of different great charities and social action groups.
Quakers are known for wanting to give back. Ban the bomb and the civil rights movement and the native American struggle for justice - those things were very, very front-burner in my childhood, as were the ideas of working for peace and if you have more than you need, then you share it with people who don't.
The consolidation of the music business has made it difficult to encourage styles like the blues, all of which deserve to be celebrated as part of our most treasured national resources.
I think my fans will follow me into our combined old age. Real musicians and real fans stay together for a long, long time.
I grew up in Los Angeles in a Quaker family, and for me being Quaker was a political calling rather than a religious one.
I just play the music that I love with musicians that I respect, and fortunately, I'm in a position where people are willing to play with me, and perhaps I can do something to help them.
I never saw music in terms of men and women or black and white. There was just cool and uncool.
Solar power is the last energy resource that isn't owned yet - nobody taxes the sun yet.
Religion is for those who are scared of hell, and spirituality is for those who have been there.
Life gets mighty precious when there's less of it to waste.
Bandana Blues is and will always be a labor of love. Please help Spinner deal with the costs of hosting & bandwidth. Visit www.bandanablues.com and hit the tipjar. Any amount is much appreciated, no matter how small. Thank you.
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2, the anticipated new John Prine tribute record from Oh Boy Records, is out today. Stream/purchase HERE.
Created as a celebration of Prine’s life and career, the album features new renditions of some of Prine’s most beloved songs performed by Brandi Carlile (“I Remember Everything”), Tyler Childers (“Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”), Iris DeMent (“One Red Rose”), Emmylou Harris (“Hello In There”), Jason Isbell (“Souvenirs”), Valerie June (“Summer’s End”), Margo Price (“Sweet Revenge”), Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”), Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (“Pretty Good”), Amanda Shires (“Saddle in the Rain”), Sturgill Simpson(“Paradise”) and John Paul White (“Sam Stone”). Proceeds from the album will benefit twelve different non-profit organizations, one selected by each of the featured artists.
Bonnie Raitt - Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues
60 years anniversary celebration of Arhoolie
December 10, 2020
Arhoolie Foundation celebrates it's 60th anniversary (1960-2020) with an online broadcast.
Bonnie Raitt - Shadow of Doubt
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
October 3, 2020
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass celebrates it's 20th anniversary with an online broadcast titled “Let The Music Play On”.
Bonnie Raitt & Boz Scaggs - You Don't Know Like I Know
Farm Aid 2020 On the Road
Sam & Dave classic written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
Sheryl Crow & Bonnie Raitt - Everything Is Broken
[Eric Clapton’s Crossroads 2019]
Eric Clapton, one of the world’s pre-eminent blues/rock guitarists, once again summoned an all-star team of six-string heroes for his fifth Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019. Held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, the two-day concert event raised funds for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, the chemical dependency treatment and education facility that Clapton founded in 1998.
'A Tribute To Mose Allison'
Celebrates The Music Of An Exciting Jazz Master
Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New York City.
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album.
Recorded on tour June 3, 2017 - Centennial Hall, London - Ontario Canada