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How Bonnie Raitt Fine Tuned Her Style With ‘Give It Up’

on September 10, 2022 No comments
by Allison Rapp
Bonnie on the telephone – Give It Up 1972 © Michael Dobo

Stardom was never on Bonnie Raitt‘s radar. From the beginning of her career, she was mostly concerned with the craft of live performance.

“I personally don’t have any ambition to be any big hot stuff,” she told Sing Out! in 1972. “I like to play. I could play second act, or play at Jack’s [a bar and music venue] in Cambridge for the rest of my life. And that’s what I’m trying to do now, to build a base on live appearances rather than on records.”

She took to music from a young age, with parents who encouraged her interests. Raitt’s mother was a pianist and her father was a musical-theater actor who appeared in productions of Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game. Raitt first began to hone her skills on guitar while still a teenager at summer camp, then as a young adult on the campus of Harvard, where she majored in social relations and African studies.

In Cambridge, she met Dick Waterman, a leader of the then-growing blues revival movement. Not long after, she decided to leave school and move with him to Philadelphia. She began performing there locally, as well as in Cambridge and New York City. “It was an opportunity that young white girls just don’t get,” she recalled in 2002, “and as it turns out, an opportunity that changed everything.”

A 1970 at the Gaslight Cafe found Raitt opening for John Hammond Jr., son of the legendary Columbia Records executive. The New York City venue was once a haven for up-and-coming folk artists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, but was then turning its ear toward blues. Word began to spread about the exceptionally talented young guitarist, whose slide work in particular stood out from others.

Raitt eventually accepted a record deal with Warner Bros., and she released her first self-titled album in 1971. A collection of mostly covers with a few originals, the LP sold only modestly but was generally well received by critics.

At that point, Raitt described the notion of becoming a star based on albums alone as “superfluous.” Still, when it came time to record Give It Up, she was grateful for the “complete control” Warner Bros. allowed her. “They just give me the money and I give them the tapes,” she said. “And I do respect Warners for the fact that they’d take an unknown artist like me and give me unlimited artist control.”

Listen to Bonnie Raitt Perform ‘Love Has No Pride’

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This second studio effort was recorded in Woodstock, N.Y., where Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Studios was just beginning to become a retreat of sorts for musicians looking to escape the bustle of big city studios. Raitt was already accustomed to this — she recorded her debut album at an empty summer camp just outside Minneapolis — but this time, she had new musicians to work with including Paul Butterfield, T.J. Tindall and Chris Parker, among others. (Many were from around the Woodstock area.)

She also had a new producer in the up-and-coming Michael Cuscana, then mainly known for his jazz-radio programs and writing. He’d heard mention of Raitt through Waterman, but knew nothing else when he first heard Raitt perform in Philadelphia. “I didn’t even know she played guitar or sang,” he told Joe Maita in 2019. Cuscana said he was “knocked out” by her performance.

Michael Cuscuna, Bonnie, Eric Kaz, John Payne, Freebo – Give It Up 1972 © Michael Dobo

Like Bonnie RaittGive It Up arrived in September 1972 dotted with mostly covers. They included songs written by elder blues women Raitt admired — Barbara George’s “I Know” and Sippie Wallace/Jack Viertel’s “You Got to Know How” – as well as the then-recently released “Under the Falling Sky” by Jackson Browne. The heavy presence of covers didn’t bother Raitt.

“I’m not a songwriter,” she insisted in 1976, “and besides, that I didn’t write a song like ‘Love Has No Pride’ myself, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like I wrote it myself. There is no difference whether I spread it using other people’s words or my own songs.”

Raitt recognized that a new era of interest in blues music was taking shape, but that the Black musicians who pioneered it might still get left behind. “Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, they have no faith in white kids,” Raitt told Sing Out. “They know that even if white kids happen to like blues this year, they would still rather see Johnny Winter. They know that Janis Joplin was making a certain amount of money, and that Big Mama Thornton was making maybe a fifth of it – and that’s why Junior Wells does James Brown songs.

“White people have been fickle before,” Raitt added, “and the next year blues might not be their thing: That’s why a lot of blues singers don’t work anymore, why all those clubs closed down.”

Listen to Bonnie Raitt Perform ‘You Got to Know How’

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Through the ’60s and into the ’70s, countless rock ‘n’ roll bands like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers Band had often benefitted greatly from inspiration taken from older blues musicians and albums. Raitt wanted to bring these artists — especially if they were still living — closer to the forefront.

“It’s also true that people would rather see me or John Hammond do blues than Fred McDowell. It’s ridiculous,” she added. “Eventually, it would be real nice to put some of the older blues people on the bill with me and try to educate people. I think it’s really important.”

That’s exactly what Raitt did once Give It Up began attracting more attention. Sales were again moderate, but this became her first charting album at No. 138 and it garnered widespread critical praise. She brought along Buddy Guy and Junior Wells as her support act in 1975. Two years later, John Lee Hooker opened her shows. She also subsequently befriended Sippie Wallace.

Bonnie – Freebo – Michael Cuscuna – Kendall Pacios – Bearsville Recording Studio – Give It Up 1972
© Michael Dobo

They may have initially found it somewhat strange that a young woman raised in a Quaker family from Los Angeles could find such meaning in their music – but Raitt soon won them over. “They thought her interest in the blues was some kind of freakish quirk,” Waterman told Rolling Stone in 1975, “but she’s proud that Buddy and Muddy [Waters] and Junior and [Howlin’] Wolf now regard her as a genuine peer. Not ‘she plays good for a white person or a girl,’ but ‘she plays good.'”

In her eyes, continuing the momentum she started with Bonnie Raitt was an accomplishment. Give It Up offered a lot of what fans and critics liked about Raitt’s first album – her earthy style of singing and first-class guitar playing – but with a more polished, professional sound. “It’s a great collection of songs,” Raitt said in 1976, “it had the same funky feeling of the first album – only much better recorded, on six tracks.”

Listen to Bonnie Raitt Perform ‘Love Me Like a Man’

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Especially in the early days of her career, Raitt inherently stood out amongst her male counterparts. How she fit in among her female predecessors was still a point of debate, too.

“Could Bonnie Raitt be the woman to fill the gap left by Janis Joplin’s death?” one New York Times critic asked in a 1972 review of Give It Up. “Not that Raitt sounds like Joplin, but she’s a talented singer who exudes a captivating energy.” (By the way, Raitt held a considerably different opinion about her vocals on Give It Up: “I sound like Mickey Mouse,” she said in the 1995 biography Bonnie Raitt: Just in the Nick of Time.)

Raitt grew up with two brothers, so she was used to proving herself. Still, her aim was to do so in an understated way – and female fans related to that attitude.

“I think women like me because they don’t have to be jealous,” she told Rolling Stone in 1990. “I’m one of them, you know. I’m not ridiculously beautiful, and I’m not wealthy, and I’m not intimidatingly talented. I’m probably as close to a normal person as you’ll find in the music business.”

They kept buying Give It Up, which eventually reached gold certification in 1985. Raitt was probably on stage at some intimate gig, doing what she always had. “I’d rather play in little places that only charge a dollar, be on the bill with people I really like,” she told Sing Out. “That’s the only thing that matters to me, that it’s not a rip off for the people coming in, and that I have a good time.”


Source: © Copyright Ultimate Classic Rock

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5 Deep Cuts From Bonnie Raitt You Should Be Listening To

on September 7, 2022 No comments
by Alex Hopper

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Source: © Copyright American Songwriter

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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.’ “

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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.

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“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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