After more than 50 years of recording, a dozen Grammy Awards and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Bonnie Raitt has plenty of laurels to rest on.
But that didn’t make the pandemic shutdown easy to live through.
“You can imagine how we all are — we’re so thrilled to be back playing live after two, two and a half years,” Raitt, 72, says by phone from her home in California during a break in her current tour supporting her latest album, “Just Like That…” “I mean, I did some recording, some remote (performances), a lot of fundraisers. It was fun to go back to playing by myself, but I really missed playing loud and playing with drums.
So, yeah, I’m excited to be back. Godwilling we’ll stay safe and be able to play all these shows the rest of the year.”
Even with five and a half months left in the year, however, Raitt has had a pretty fulfilling 2022.
“Just Like That…,” her 18th studio album and first in six years, came out April 22 and spent 12 weeks at No. 1 on the American Radio Album Chart, with her rendition of the Brothers Landreth’s “Made Up Mind” holding for 17 weeks near the top of the Americana Radio Singles Chart. That was just the start, however.
Earlier this year Raitt received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as an Icon Award at the Billboard Women in Music Awards. And her Grammy-winning 1989 album “Nick of Time” was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
“And none of that was expected,” says the Burbank-born Raitt, whose father John Raitt was a Broadway actor and her mother, Marge Goddard, a pianist. Raitt studied at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College and became part of the Boston folk club scene before being signed to a recording contract in 1970. In addition to the music — and hits such as “Something to Talk About,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love” — Raitt also built a history of political and environmental activism that included co-founding Musicians United for Safe Energy (M.U.S.E.) in 1979.
“It’s like, wow, just the timing of it all. I knew I was gonna release the record after the Grammys, and all of a sudden they called me in December, and it was unbelievable. And then the other stuff…
“I mean, listen, none of us expected when we were 20 that we’d be rocking this hard when we were in our 70s. And then I look at Tony Bennett and B.B. King and Mick (Jagger) and Keith (Richards) and Paul McCartney…There’s no sign of slowing down, artistically and energetically. We all got the message that if we were lucky enough to be taking better care of ourselves…we could keep doing this.”
Raitt adds that the long interim between “Just Like That…” and 2016’s “Dig In Deep” should not be interpreted as any kind of slowing down, either. Since the mid-90s she’s routinely taken three and seven years between albums, gaps that she pointed out included lengthy tours and careful song selection processes, writing her own and finding others’ that she felt inspired to record.
“We’re really on schedule,” Raitt explains. “It takes five or six years ’til I’m ready to put a record out and tour again and commit to two years on the road. And this one was a little longer because I added two years (touring) with James Taylor, ’cause I knew that wasn’t going to happen again.
“The opportunity to play to 16,000, 18,000 people a night with one of my oldest friends, and we’d talked about touring together for so long, I couldn’t pass that up. And it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had.”
That, in turn, gave Raitt more time to conceive “Just Like That..,” which she waited to record until vaccines became prevalent during 2021 to allow her and her band to hit the studio together. She came well-armed, too; she had “Made Up Mind” on her list since hearing the original version in 2013, while Jonah B. Smith’s “When We Say Goodnight” had been on her list since 2009. Then there’s “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” a song by NRBQ alumnus Al Anderson that Raitt says she’s been wanting to record for 30 years. “I just hadn’t found the right record to put it on,” she says.
“It’s a matter of which songs I love the most and which songs fit together and give me something fresh and some musical grooves I haven’t been doing lately,” Raitt adds. “Then I’ll write my songs according to feels I think are missing from the record or the live shows, like if I need a new blues shuffle or I need a new kind of electric, open-tuning thing.”
Her rocking “Livin’ For the Ones,” meanwhile, came from guitarist George Marinelli and was lyrically inspired by losses in Raitt’s life — from her brother Steve to brain cancer in 2009 to the passing of more recent friends such as John Prine and Toots Hibbert, whose “Love So Strong” she also covers on “Just Like That…”
“I really wanted to write about what we’ve been through the last two years,” says Raitt, who dedicated the record to 14 people who died during the past two years. “I was just stunned by how much loss of significant people in my life the last couple years has brought.
“When my brother passed away…I just said: ‘I’m never gonna whine again. I’m gonna open my eyes and be so grateful I can see and I can stand up and walk any time I want to and just live for the people who aren’t here. I don’t take that for granted.”
Raitt laughs when asked if the next album is yet in the works. She plans to tour into 2023 for “Just Like That…” and is particularly stoked about the next leg, with longtime friend Mavis Staples opening shows. And she maintains a high bar for whatever she does, which means nothing will happen until the timing and quality are right.
“My level of standards does not diminish as I get older,” she says. “As long as I still have my marbles and my chops I’m gonna stay out there on the road, ’cause it’s just too much fun.
“And it’s wonderful to represent all these different genres of music, especially roots music, and also to be a optical activist and a woman lead guitar player and a band leader — those four things all together are part and parcel of why I think people are recognizing me, not just ’cause I sing. I think it has to do with who I am as an artist and a person, and that makes me feel really good.”
Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples perform at 8 p.m. Friday, July 22 at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills. $30.50 and up. 313-471-7000 or 313Presents.com.