She is B.B. King’s favorite slide guitarist. Adele and Bon Iver perform her hits. In 40 years, Bonnie Raitt has never gone out of fashion. Now the 62-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is releasing her first album in seven years, Slipstream, with covers of two Bob Dylan songs and a sultry, bluesy vibe. “There’s a little something for everybody.” she tells Roger Friedman as she gears up for a tour starting in May.
You and Alicia Keys performed a tribute to Etta James at the Grammys, singing “A Sunday Kind of Love.” What’s your Sunday kind of love?
The part I can talk about in a family magazine? [laughs] Well, a nice leisurely morning, reading the papers, then out into the country. I live in Northern California, in Marin County, and there are many beautiful choices of hikes to take. Or my boyfriend and I go for a bike ride. We make dinner at home, watch 60 Minutes and a movie.
Who is your boyfriend?
We’ve been together seven years now. He’s great, but that’s all I can say. You know, [it’s like] the Sippie Wallace song that goes, “Don’t advertise your man.”
“WHEN JANIS JOPLIN AND JIMI HENDRIX DIED, I SAID, THAT’S NOT GOING TO BE ME, I’M SMARTER THAN THAT.”
Your red hair and its streak are one of your signatures. Is it natural?
The silver-white streak is natural. I was 24 [when it came in] and you can sort of see it on album covers. By 1981 it was expanding and my red was fading, so I started dyeing my hair [around the streak]. No one else in my family has it. I’ve been told it means you’ve been kissed by an anqel.
Slipstream is on your own label, Redwing Records. Why did you put it out yourself?
Because I can! I have a pretty solid base of fans. I like the control, and this way if we’re messing up, at least it’s our own fault. I used to say I didn’t want to talk weasel [deal with the business end]. But I’m really driving my career. It’s not like someone else picks the songs or the looks.
You made it a point to cut out drinking a while ago.
I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead. I recently had my 25th anniversary of sobriety. I was one of the lucky ones. Seeing Whitney Houston pass away, and Amy Winehouse—everyone smiled at her “Rehab” song, but for me it was heartbreaking to hear her sing that because it just looked like she was on a slippery slope.
Do you like touring?
I love it. But when I went through a lot of loss [Raitt’s parents died in 2004 and 2005, and she lost a brother to a long battle with cancer], I took a hiatus. I’m just watching the pace, keeping a nice balance. If my memory serves me well, I’ve already made it. [laughs]
How do you get comfortable on the road?
Our tour bus becomes a second home. Email really helps me stay in touch with friends and save my voice. But I have to remember to get off the laptop and onto the yoga mat.