June 19, 8 p.m. | Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Tickets and info: From $79.50 at Ticketmaster.ca
Bonnie Raitt wants to set the record straight. It seems somewhat unnecessary. When you have 10 Grammy Awards lined up in a row on your mantle and your most recent album Dig In Deep debuted at #10 on the Billboard Album Charts, does it matter if you get called a blues woman, folk rocker or roots artist or not?
“My thing is probably as much R&B as it is blues or rock ‘n’ roll and I’ve never claimed anything about folk,” said Raitt. “There are these biographies talking about my time in the Boston folk scene that really aren’t accurate. Yes, I was there, but what really shaped me was Philadelphia, musically speaking.”
Raitt isn’t talking about the orchestral soul of the city that Gamble and Huff crafted and musicians such as David Bowie embraced on albums such as Young Americans. What she is referencing is the connection she had with blues promoter Dick Waterman who was based in the city. That friendship provided the exposure and access to the living legends of American blues music undergoing a global rediscovery back in the sixties and seventies.
“He was handling everyone from Mississippi John Hurt to Junior Wells and others and I used to take the student budget commuter flight from Boston and go see them play,” she said. “It was an opportunity unlike any other and, eventually, I decided to leave my studies at Radcliffe and immerse myself in studying alongside these masters. My reasoning was I could always go back to school, but I wasn’t always going to be able to learn slide guitar from Son House.”
Born in Burbank, CA., the daughter of pianist Marjorie Haydock and Broadway musical star John Raitt, she grew up in the Quaker tradition and picked up guitar on her own. She was taken by the instrument’s capabilities and kept at it, but didn’t truly find her true love until her college years. That was the slide guitar, which she is a master of.
From the minute her self-titled debut dropped in 1971, she was acclaimed for her skills as a bottleneck player. At a time where a woman guitar hero was treated as an oddity by the boy’s club (OK, not much has changed), she was respected all around for her uniquely smooth leads, soulful vocals and good ear for material. Subsequent albums showcased her willingness to be much more than just a pigeonholed “blues rocker” or another player in the laid-back California scene she hung out in with the likes of Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne.
While her albums were critically-lauded, sales eluded her until 1977’s Sweet Forgiveness produced a hit single in her funky R&B take on Del Shannon’s Runaway. Critics were split on the track and they have been back-and-forth ever since. Raitt hasn’t paid them any mind for the past four decades, finding massive success with her tenth studio album Nick Of Time, which produced the enduring hit versions of John Hiatt’s Thing Called Love, Bonnie Haye’s Have A Heart and Love Letter. Mixing blues, soul, funk, R&B and more, the album can be seen as definitive Bonnie Raitt.