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Q&A: Bonnie Raitt

on May 28, 1998 No comments
By David Wild

OF THE COUNTLESS ARTISTS WHO OWE A DEBT TO THE BLUES, no one has repaid that debt with more amazing grace than Bonnie Raitt; she has consistently given credit where credit is due. That’s fitting, since the blues was a fundamental part of Raitt’s musical education. The blues spirit is still alive and well on Fundamental, Raitt’s latest album, an eclectic gem that follows a series of career-altering smashes produced by Don Was. Fundamental includes an authentic yet contemporary take on J.B. Lenoir and Willie Dixon’s “Round and Round,” as well as “Cure for Love,” a fantastic song from Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo and Louis Perez that Raitt delivers with undeniable blues power.

Has it been meaningful for you to give something back to the blues?

Oh, yeah, that’s probably what I consider to be my job in music: to focus attention on some of the people who often didn’t get the recognition. Then I discovered that those same artists also had crummy royalty rates. Blues artists deserve justice — royalty justice. They should be recorded again. The people that I idolize — Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf — only got better with age. They had more to say and more depth to say it from.

How did you first get the blues jones?

I didn’t learn country blues until I was about fourteen, when a lot of those blues artists got rediscovered and brought to the Newport Folk Festival. But like everyone else, I was a fan of Fats Domino and Little Richard and Ray Charles. I always like the original versions of rock & roll. I never thought of myself in the tradition of my dad’s [Broadway star John Raitt] music. My music is the music of the age group I grew up in, and that’s early rock & roll and folk music.

What was it like when you actually started to meet some of these blues greats?

If someone had told me at fourteen — when I was slaving away trying to figure out how to play bottleneck up in my room here on Mulholland Drive, in L.A. — that I was going to eventually hang with and become close friends with Mississippi Fred McDowell, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I had entry to them because the man who managed them and booked them, Dick Waterman, was a good friend of mine. It was an unbelievable education. It was a great life experience, in terms of how they dealt with love and how they lived their lives. I was, like, twenty, and I just wanted to hang with them. I would try to keep up with them drinking, and I hadn’t really learned how to drink yet. I wanted to be authentic right away.

Having seen so many greats die off over the years, do you still see the blues as healthy and relevant?

I think it’s more vibrant now than it ever was. I’m just sorry so many of the great originals of this music didn’t live to see it, or even the tremendous upsurge that happened around the late Sixties. And then the white blues artists from England and people like Janis Joplin kind of eclipsed all the black artists. I mean, look at Etta James, who should be a god for the American public now. She’s just the baddest thing that walks. Yet these blues artists do not get the money or attention they deserve. Case in point: Every year when they do the Rhythm & Blues Awards, I appreciate the exposure Late Night and The Tonight Show give us, letting us come on. But if I don’t come — even with The Arsenio Hall Show — they generally won’t put these people on. You have to have a “current headliner” appearing with the “legendary traditional artists.” They’d be great without me.

Is your connection to the blues any different now that you’re in a happier time of your life?

Why do you think I am happier now? Happiness doesn’t have anything to do with Grammys or whether you’re married. It doesn’t mean you weren’t in love before. I don’t know anybody that’s happy all the time. I’m a lot more evolved and wise at forty-eight than I was in my twenties. But I’m still as tortured as anybody by the things that torture me. Usually the space between my ears is the one that gives me the most problems.

My external circumstances are more complicated now than they were before I had commercial success. Does rock-star whining give them a reason to sing the blues? I suppose not. But the blues come from such a deeper place and come from being mistreated and not heard. In that sense, I’m a lot better off than people singing about being exploited. But my personal life and my relationship with my family are as equally problematic as everybody. I’m the first to say that when I heard Koko Taylor sing the blues and I hear Eric Clapton sing the blues, it seems like Koko Taylor is going to have a lot more authenticity. Relative to her friends, she’s probably doing a lot better than someone who’s living in a shack. So I don’t associate the blues with income.

Source: © Copyright Rolling Stone

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Bonnie Raitt: The Rolling Stone Interview
After losing her label and beating the bottle, the singer-guitarist returns to record ‘Nick of Time’ and win four Grammys

on May 3, 1990 No comments
By James Henke

“It’s the Grammy lady! It’s the Grammy lady!”


Bonnie Raitt hadn’t even made it out of the parking lot and into the terminal at the San Francisco International Airport when one of her nightmares suddenly became real. Like most performers, Raitt suffers from a couple of recurring anxiety dreams. In one, she’s being pushed onto a stage with her father, actor and singer John Raitt, and she doesn’t know the words to any of the songs she’s supposed to perform. In another, she finds herself in the middle of a crowd of people who recognize her and won’t leave her alone, and there’s no one around to help her: no road manager, no security people. And that’s exactly what happened on a recent night when Raitt went to the airport to pick up her new paramour, Michael O’Keefe.

“People were running up to me and yelling,” Raitt says the next day. “Even little kids.” She’s curled up on a couch in the living room of a small, Hobbit-like house, filled with candles, crystals and carved trolls, that she’s renting in the Northern California redwoods. “I panicked,” she continues, “because Michael’s plane was late, and I didn’t have any place to go and I didn’t have anybody with me. I really got scared.”

Raitt finally ducked into one of the gift shops, bought a huge hat to conceal her familiar mane of red hair and managed to survive intact until actor O’Keefe (The Great Santini, Caddyshack) arrived. “I didn’t realize I was going to have to start wearing disguises,” Raitt says with a sigh.

The need for disguises is about the only negative side effect of the sudden fame that has befallen Raitt after 20 years in the music business. To the surprise — and delight — of music fans everywhere, Raitt dominated this year’s Grammy Awards, winning in four categories: Album of the Year; Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female; Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female; and Best Traditional Blues Recording (with John Lee Hooker). Three of the awards honored Nick of Time, Raitt’s latest album, which is made up of her usual mix of blues, R&B and pop ballads. The LP makes no ostensible concessions to current popular tastes, and it addresses such grown-up concerns as having children and coming to terms with old age. Nonetheless, the album, produced by Don Was, managed to sell a million copies by the time the Grammy ceremonies were held in Los Angeles on February 21st. Since then, more than 700,000 additional copies have been sold, and at press time the album had skyrocketed to Number Three on the Billboard chart. (The fourth Grammy was for “I’m in the Mood,” a duet on Hooker’s new album, The Healer.)

Born 40 years ago in Burbank, California, Bonnie Lynn Raitt is the antithesis of the overnight sensation. Her father became a major Broadway star in the Forties and Fifties as a result of his roles in such musicals as Oklahoma!Carousel, The Pajama GameAnnie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate. Her family (including her mother, Marjorie Haydock, and two brothers) spent most of Bonnie’s early years shuttling between the two coasts until 1957, when they settled in Los Angeles after her father landed a role in the film version of The Pajama Game. Despite his popularity, the Raitts, who were practicing Quakers, kept a fairly low profile on the Hollywood scene (one of their only celebrity friends was Hugh Beaumont, who played the father on Leave It to Beaver).

When she was eight, Bonnie got her first guitar, a $25 Stella, as a Christmas present. At the time, her instrument of choice was piano, but within a few years she changed her mind. Her maternal grandfather, a Methodist missionary who also played Hawaiian lap steel guitar, taught her a few chords on the guitar, and her counselors at a Quaker summer camp in the Adirondacks turned her on to the emerging folk and protest music. In addition, Raitt was exposed to the blues via an album recorded at the 1963 Newport festival and a batch of Ray Charles recordings a family friend had given her.

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Bonnie Raitt Ain’t Gonna be Your Sugar Mama No More
On new album ‘Home Plate,’ she sings a woman’s blues to the victims of a man’s world

on December 18, 1975 No comments
By Ben Fong-Torres | Photographs by Michael Dobo
Rolling Stone 202 December 18, 1975

It is Alice Doesn’t Day, October 29th, a day to show the system how much it depends on women. Women are urged by the National Organization for Women to refuse to work, in or out of the house, in or out of bed.

It’s 1:30 on Alice Doesn’t Day, but Bonnie Raitt is hung over and doesn’t know what day it is — she is in downtown Nashville, using Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge as a backdrop for a photo session. As she wanders past a few stores, past a few Nashville cats striding by with their guitars in grip, something, or someone, is bothering her. In a minute she’s back at Tootsie’s. A few steps behind are two urgent-looking young men. She looks annoyed. “This jerk” — she motions to the bearded one behind her — “comes up and starts telling me, ‘I was in jail and I let Jesus Christ come into my life, and he forgave me all my sins.’ He wouldn’t stop. If I was a minister the guy wouldn’t have let up enough to let me tell him.”

The two young men are back, hovering. They do not recognize Bonnie, who will be headlining this evening at the new Grand Ole Opry. They just want her to show up at a revival meeting that night. Bonnie stops posing, nods an irritated head toward the two. “I don’t want these turkeys behind me,” she tells the photographer. The two men hear and seem puzzled, but move off toward a parking meter. Bonnie shoots a glare: “Would you please not watch? I’m already self-conscious as it is.”

She has given them a perfect opening and one of the JC freaks — the one who was forgiven — takes advantage of it: “Jesus,” he soothes, “will free your soul.”

Raitt squints, rolls her eyes. “Jesus Christ,” she mutters, “this town is out to lunch.”

Just past three on Alice Doesn’t Day, she returns to the Spence Manor Motor Hotel just in time to climb aboard the tour bus (called Kahoutek I and featuring chrome mag wheels) to go to the Grand Ole Opry for the sound check. For Nashville, John Prine has been added to the Raitt/Tom Waits bill, and Prine looks like he got good and warmed up the night before. Electric hair, Manchurian moustache, undersized denim outfit, green socks, black tennies. He is tossing a drink around. Tom Waits, as always, is hunched over, outfitted in grimy newsboy cap, slop-dash black suit, soiled white shirt, thin tie and thinner cigarette.

“…and I think I got married to the bartender”…Bonnie is talking…”That’s what happens when you don’t get served your dinner till eleven. I only wanted one screwdriver and I wind up drinking eight of them.” She and Waits and Prine had jammed till 5 a.m. the night before and an entire party had collapsed in her suite. She turns to Tim Bernett, her road manager. “Did you leave that cherry in my bed?” Prine fingers his maraschino and delivers the obvious punch line: “I’ve never left a cherry in bed.”

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