There’s just no stopping Bonnie Raitt. The level of consistency she brings to just about every album and concert is almost unparalleled in a business where so many artists of her era have ceased to create new music, opting instead to rely on their greatest hits.
Raitt has just released her 20th disc, Dig in Deep, and not only does she continue to evolve as a singer/songwriter/guitarist, but once again her music is able to mellow the most frayed of nerves.
Call her genre roots, blues, folk or rock – it doesn’t matter, largely because it’s probably all of the above – but, more to the point, the reality is that Raitt remains relevant. And at 67, there’s no sign whatsoever of depreciation.
“It’s not like playing football or something,” she cracks in a phone interview. “We get more respectable the older we get. And, you know, roots musicians can age much more gracefully in people’s eyes than the pop artists. We just get crustier and more interesting when we get older, but then again you can’t coast on your laurels.”
And no one will accuse Raitt of that.
“I love what I do and in order to keep it up, I have to keep making it interesting and find new songs, so that I’m not just retreading on comfortable ground. It seems to be worth the effort to get paid doing something and having that much fun and making that many people happy every night. It’s the reason people keep at it as long as they can.”
To support the new album, Raitt kicks off a North American tour with a stop in Montreal – one of her favourite cities on the continent – at L’Olympia on May 31. And the 10-time Grammy winner – cited in both Rolling Stone’s lists of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time – is pretty much guaranteed to make her Montreal fans happy again. She was last here in 2013.
Nor does the Burbank, Calif. native take anything for granted. She knows that she is fortunate to have overcome obstacles early in her career, almost 35 years back, in a business that can be most brutal. She had to deal with battling drink and drugs and being dropped by record labels, but she persevered.
“I had a lot of help from my great band, and I have generations of people who have inspired me. There’s no reason to think that you have to trash yourself (to be creative). That really went out. Maybe in your 20s or early 30s, you can get away with it.
“I just made a lifestyle change. I hadn’t been feeling good. I just wanted to get healthier. And I discovered you could play as badass as you want and not have to feel bad the next day. Looking before me at the folks that got sober, and (observing) they were playing even better than they did before … well, there went my last excuse.
“A lot of us are trying to keep up with Keith Richards, but there’s just no way to do that,” she quips.
Raitt is also most mindful of the fact that it takes more than talent to survive. Security didn’t come easy for her dad, John Raitt, a Broadway veteran.
“He would always have to wait until somebody put together a Broadway show. He did a lot of concerts as well, but as an actor he always had to wait (and it wasn’t easy). So it’s really nice (for me) to be able to self-generate and to have such a loyal fan base. There’s always a chance that the promoters won’t be interested in booking me, but because we keep selling out every time we come through, it’s like a self-generating battery re-charged.”
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Raitt writes many of her songs. On Dig in Deep, she penned five of the 12 tunes. Curiously, it may be one of the songs she didn’t write, Gypsy in Me (by frequent collaborators Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick), that best sums up what keeps Raitt going:
“When I’m in one place for too long
I don’t know why. But I’m
Like the wind and I just keep blowing free
The gypsy in me, the gypsy in me …”
Raitt states she can easily relate. “They wrote the song for me and couldn’t have put it more succinctly. It was the perfect song for me.
“My dad was on the road till he was 86,” Raitt says, noting that all of her heroes – “B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Ella Fitzgerald, John Lee Hooker” – kept on going for as long as they could. “If you’re lucky enough to keep your voice and chops together and you do your absolute best every time, your fans are going to stay with you — they can tell if you’re just not into it any more … I get bored if I’m not moving around. I love travelling.”
The following cut on Dig in Deep, The Comin’ Round is Going Through, whose lyrics were penned by Raitt, speaks to another side of her persona, her social activism:
“You got a way of running your mouth
You rant and rave, you let it all out
The thing about it is, little that you say is true
Why bother checkin’, the facts ‘ll be damned
It’s how you spin it, it’s part of the plan
“I’m here to tell you that your sicken loan is coming due …”
So raise your hands, if you think Raitt wrote this after Donald Trump was elected president. Wrong!
“It could apply, but I wrote that three years before the election. But that could also apply to a lot of those guys. That song was really written in response to how sickening it is to have so much money determining so much of what passes for democracy. It’s about a whole system, about the lack of equity and justice and the denying of climate change. There is nothing sacred any longer. But I think when voters wake up, they’ll have what they call buyer’s remorse.
“After the election, I was afraid to wake up most days,” Raitt says, before quickly adding: “Canada is looking mighty good to a lot of us now … Still, I am really encouraged by how activated people are becoming, even if it took this election to make it happen.”
AT A GLANCE
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