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After 4 decades, Raitt still keeps an ‘ear open’

on September 22, 2009 No comments


by Larry Rodgers

Bonnie Raitt won seven Grammys in the early ’90s, her “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw” topping the charts.

But the singer-guitarist had been playing her enticing mixture of blues and rock for 20 years before all that attention, and she’s been at it for nearly another two decades as things have quieted a bit.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, 59, who performs with blues-roots player Taj Mahal in Phoenix on Thursday, called to talk about her lifelong love of music and how she’s kept it fresh:

Question: Do you still feel you are learning and evolving musically after four decades?

Answer: Absolutely. I’m an avid fan first . . . . Because I don’t write all my own material, I’ve always had my ear open . . . listening to hundreds, if not thousands, of albums and songwriters, reading reviews, sniffing around the Internet.
(Before) the jewel of finding “I Can’t Make You Love Me” or any of the songs I’ve ended up recording . . . there was months of listening to stuff (that) wasn’t right for me.

It’s daunting, but it’s also a thrill when you turn over a rock and actually find something.

Q: You have a big birthday coming up in November.

A: I remember meeting Muddy (Waters), John Lee (Hooker), (Howlin’) Wolf and Sippie Wallace when I was in my early 20s, and they were the age I’m at now. And now I understand why they were so relaxed, calm and confident, and almost bemused. . . . You don’t care as much what people think.

Q: You’re part of a group of musicians who came up in the ’60s or ’70s rock world and who haven’t missed a beat as the years have passed.

A: It is brand-new territory. I look at the jazz, blues, folk and classical artists (who continue to play for decades). . . . We all have a different point of view to the same songs that we sing at 60 than when we sang them at 20.

Q: What do you respect most about Taj Mahal?

A: When I was in college, I was a big folk, blues and R&B fan, and Taj was one of the first ones who showed where the blues could go. His first two albums are real touchstones for me.

I’ve never felt that I wanted to be a musical museum piece for honoring the blues and playing it exactly as it occurred on the 78s. . . . All the permutations that Taj has taken his music to have been a real inspiration for me.

Q: Do you two share the stage on tour?

A: This is the first time many people have seen us in a while, so we have a good dose of our own shows with our bands. But the fun part for me that makes it fresh, especially because I’ve never toured with Taj, is about 45 minutes when we collaborate. We do a couple of acoustic songs in my set and then we do a big blow-out with both bands onstage for about 35 minutes.

Reach the reporter at

or 602-444-8043.

Source: © Copyright The Arizona Republic

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Rainy day blues at the Mountain Winery

on September 17, 2009 No comments
By John Orr | Bay Area News Group

RAINY DAY BLUES DEPT.: There we were at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, enjoying Taj Mahal and his excellent Phantom Blues Band (one of four different bands he tours with regularly) when a very light, misty rain began.

We could hardly feel it; but we could see it in the colored stage lights hanging from the grid above the stage.

A little rain didn’t bother the audience — everybody was too busy waving their arms and their glow sticks in the air, swaying to the music — but before too long the drops of water got bigger, and all those instruments on stage started getting wet.

Electrically amplified instruments, such as Mike Finnigan’s beautiful Hammond B3, Johnny Lee Schell’s Fender ThinLine and Larry Fulcher’s five-string bass. Not to mention the skins on Tony Braunagel’s drums and Mahal’s five-string banjo. Even Joe Sublett’s sax and Darrell Leonard’s horns were electrically amplified.

Somebody came out on stage and whispered in Mahal’s ear, and then Mahal announced they would get off stage to hurry things along. Everybody was hoping the rest of the show, which was to include a set by Bonnie Raitt and her band, then a set with Mahal and Raitt, would be able to take place if the rain abated.

The roadies laid blue tarps out over all the instruments, the musicians went backstage, then the rain hit in earnest. The audience mostly stayed for 20 minutes or more. Some umbrellas and lots of hoods came out, and some just sat, hulked over, getting soaked.

Finally, the announcement came: For safety’s sake, the show was cancelled, to be resumed on Monday night. Tickets would be honored.

All I can say is, I hope the salmon are happy. I’d read earlier in the day about how the salmon run was in danger because of the drought.

The 40 minutes Mahal played were great. He got in nine songs, ranging from Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” to the beautiful ballad “Farther On Down the Road,” by Mahal and Jesse Davis. The audience loved him, especially when he danced a bit for them. He’s a great singer and a treasure of American music. He keeps the old stuff alive and relevant, and produces new material that is likely to stand the test of time.

My wife Maria and stepdaughter Yasemin went to the Monday night make-up show (I was sweating over a hot computer in the office) and had a great time.

“She’s so tiny!” both of them said of Bonnie Raitt. Raitt, of course, is one of the greatest guitar players alive today, a fabulous singer and a treasure of music. I am so sorry I had to miss her show. I saw her once before, at a benefit (she plays lots of those) and have to say that while she may be petite physically, she is a monster of an entertainer, with a great big heart.

E-mail John Orr at

Source: © Copyright San Jose Mercury News

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Taking the long road with Bonnie Raitt
The BonTaj Roulet Tour hits the House of Blues on September 18

on September 16, 2009 No comments
by Allison Duck

It’s been more than 25 years since Taj Mahal performed on Bonnie Raitt’s album Takin’ My Time but the friends are back together again to bring the BonTaj Roulet Tour to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Friday, September 18. Concertgoers will hear each musician in an individual set, and then the pair will take the stage together for a finale with both Raitt’s and Mahal’s backing bands behind them.

Mary Chapin Carpenter once said a concertgoer asked her if her guitar was a prop. Did you deal with any of this same curiosity about female musicians early in your career?

I got asked about it a lot, especially in the beginning, because it was unusual for a woman to play a bottleneck guitar and play styles of guitar that mostly men were doing… I came out of folk music and all those women were great accompanists. It’s about the song and about accompanying yourself and not about chops. It probably set me apart and helped me in a way. I don’t want to say it was a gimmick, but it was something that was unusual and made people pay attention.

What was it like recording albums for nearly 20 years when you were getting critical praise but not as much commercial success?

Well I had my core following, which I amassed from many, many years of staying out on the road… I was so lucky to get a record deal early on, right out of college. It didn’t really matter to me that I didn’t sell a lot. All I cared about was that my record company, which was Warner Bros. at the time, at least put enough records in the store to cover the people who I just worked hard to play to and win over with my concerts. Sometimes it would be frustrating not to get airplay on the FM stations to the levels of my friends like Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou [Harris] when we were all friends and peers and they all seemed equally good.

After the long road to commercial success, what was it like receiving your first Grammy Award?

Of course, it made it really sweet to get that sort of career validation from my peers when I won the Grammys in 1990. Having a record shoot to no. 1 on the charts was a miracle. It was a fantastic opportunity to get a raise for my band and have tremendous repercussions with the political causes that I help. I could actually raise money and bring attention to the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which I had helped found a few years earlier. That kind of financial windfall and validation is a big weight of responsibility as well as a great joy. I was really glad, as I said in my acceptance speech, that I got it at the age I was, which was 41. A lot of people, when they have that kind of success in their early 20s, they just blow it.

Bonnie Raitt sees the blues as “both healthy and in a precarious state.”
Bonnie Raitt sees the blues as “both healthy and in a precarious state.”

It’s been awhile since you released Souls Alike. When can we expect a new album?

I’ve been on the road non-stop and I had a very serious illness in my family that took a lot of time for me to be with my brother who was suffering from brain cancer for the last eight years. After the planning for this tour and touring all last year for the Senate races, trying to get people out for the vote and promote safe energy and raise some money for those groups, and taking care of my brother, I’m taking a break. I don’t have any plans. After 19 albums in 40 years, I think I get a little break. Am I retiring? No. But I’m just going to take a break.

Do you have a favorite song that your band and Taj Mahal’s have performed together during the stops on this tour?

It’s kind of like picking your favorite kid. They are all different. We’re doing a song that’s really hard to do live, because I’ve needed a whole large band with horns to do it. That is a Calypso Rose tune from my third album, Takin’ My Time. It was done in 1973 and I actually had Taj as my special guest on it and he helped co-produce it. It’s called “Outside Man,” better known as “Wha She Go Do.” That’s probably my personal favorite just because we’ve never gotten to do it live. If you’re familiar with Sippie Wallace or Ruth Brown, it’s kind of the rhythm and blues tradition of women really telling it… It’s that point of view of really strong women telling their man what they will and won’t put up with.

How did you decide to include “I Will Not Be Broken,” written by Gordon Kennedy, Wayne Kirkpatrick, and Tommy Sims, on Souls Alike?

The trio who wrote that song also wrote a single that was on my previous album called “I Can’t Help You Now” and they also wrote Eric Clapton’s hit, “Change The World.” The reason I picked their song is they have incredible musicality and the lyrics really say something a little deeper. “I Will Not Be Broken” is especially poignant for me because of what I was going through personally having lost my folks and my brother’s illness. Also as a person working for the environment and social justice, it’s been a very rough last eight years. It was a terrific rallying cry and it had a lot of resonance for a lot of people. People who were fighting cancer were using it for their marathons and people were playing it and teaching it to kids in school. It had a lot of impact on people, and I’m really proud of it.

Can you tell me a little about the BonTaj Collective Action Fund?

I’ve long been a political activist and a social activist, so I’ve sort of married my career with doing concerts for different causes over the years, because that’s kind of how I was raised as a Quaker. What we did with this particular tour is very exciting. We’ve invited Ticketmaster and Live Nation to kick in and do matching funds along with Taj and myself and the audience. We’ve raised a lot of money, over $100,000 with donations from the concert proceeds and people can go online and vote for which of the four categories they want their donations to go to. We have vetted them very carefully so there is no misuse of funds; they are tried and true groups.

How do you feel about the current state of the blues music scene and what do you think needs to be done to promote it to younger generations?

The scene is both healthy and in a precarious state, and part of that is due to just the economy and the music business in general… People are preferring to download their music and the question then becomes making sure that people know that musicians need to get paid and songwriters need to get paid for their work. I’m one of those artists, like a lot of artists, who makes a living touring, and from what I hear, the blues club scene has a big drought of places to play… On the other hand, with the blues festivals and Bonnaroo, there’s a whole new generation of people who are flocking to see this music. There is really a tremendous number of younger artists who are falling in love with the blues.

Source: © Copyright Las Vegas Weekly and Las Vegas Sun

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