With its character-driven narrative and fingerpicking guitar, “Just Like That” taps into Raitt’s love of the folk ballads of her songwriting contemporaries.
Though Bonnie Raitt is best known as an interpreter, putting her indelible stamp on songs like John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love,” and Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like a Man,” she’s written some great songs along the way, too. Her writing came back into the spotlight last year with the release of Just Like That, which features (along with a few other originals) two stunning acoustic story-songs: the title track and “Down the Hall.”
The deeply moving “Just Like That” won big at the Grammy awards in February, taking home both Song of the Year and Best American Roots Song. With its character-driven narrative and fingerpicking guitar, “Just Like That” taps into Raitt’s love of the folk ballads of contemporaries like Prine, Bob Dylan, and Paul Brady.
For the album, Raitt wanted to explore writing about other people’s experiences, and in a TV news report she came across a remarkable story about the recipient of a heart transplant meeting the mother of the donor, who’d died in an accident years before. Speaking in the voice of the mother, Raitt delivers this poignant tale as if it were her own.
To play “Just Like That,” tune to dropped D. As you can see in the intro example, Raitt uses alternating-bass picking but doesn’t stick to a strict pattern the whole time. At its core this is a three-chord song—just D, G, and A—but Raitt uses subtle variations throughout, with suspensions, slash chords, and a few riff embellishments, as shown in the tab.
Through much of the song she stays off the first string, using the second string D as the highest note on D5, G/B, and A7sus4. On the G/B chords, note that sometimes the bassist plays the G root rather than the B Raitt is using. If you play the song solo, you might use a root-based voicing for G (with the bass note on string 6, fret 5) to create a similar harmony.
The key to playing this song is to keep the guitar sparse and supportive, and let the powerful story sink in.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the May/June 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 52.
When Bonnie Raitt received the Grammy Award for Song of the Year for “Just Like That” in February, her band’s longtime bass player, James “Hutch” Hutchinson, was watching on TV in Los Angeles. Raitt had earlier won Grammys for Best American Roots Song for “Just Like That” and Best Americana Performance for “Made Up Mind,” which meant her band all shared in the award.
“We were all shocked,” said Hutchinson, who has played with Raitt for 40 years and has made Maui his home for 20 years. “We were up for four awards, three of them in the Americana category. We won the first two and then the third one, Americana Album of the Year, Brandi Carlile won and she got up and said, ‘I can’t believe I won this. I thought Bonnie was going to sweep again.’
“We were thrilled to win two out of three,” Hutchinson continued. “The performance award is a band award. Then, of course, the icing on the cake was when she won for Song of the Year, which is the award she really wanted because she’s the sole composer of the tune. So it was big, a big deal.”
Heading to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center for a concert on Friday, Raitt has now won 13 Grammys, including some for her multimillion-selling albums, “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw.”
The title song of Raitt’s latest album, “Just Like That” is an emotionally wrenching song that has touched so many people. She based it on a news story about a mother who donated her deceased son’s organs. It was the first song written by a solo composer to win the award since Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.”
“‘Just Like That’ is about a woman who loses a son and organ donation, and the trials and tribulations, and the redemption that sometimes comes along with it,” said Hutchinson. “Many a night on stage, I’ve had an emotional reaction to it. She was broken up, as she is every time she sings anything that means something to her.”
The song was especially heartbreaking for Hutchinson as he lost his sister, Ann Hutchinson Tower, the week of the awards, and “she ended up saving two women. Her kidneys went to two younger, fit women in their 50s. Organ donation is important, but I didn’t think I’d be living that song the week we won Song of the Year for it. It was one of the more bizarre, surreal moments of my entire life. There’s been extreme highs and extreme lows.”
In a tough couple of months, he also lost a handful of musician friends, including David Lindley and David Crosby. Hutchinson had been getting ready to head out on tour with Crosby, and had previously recorded with him, and Crosby with Graham Nash, and with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
“I’ve known David for 50 years,” he explained. “I met him when I was 19. He was always in my life, a sort of a mentor and friend and a bandmate many times. The rehearsals in December sounded great. I’d never seen him happier. He was ready to go out and do a final tour. I just loved working with him. My proudest musical moments are anything with David Crosby. I miss him so much.”
Talk with Hutchinson and he will regale you with 50 years of encounters with a myriad array of famous musicians, from recording with the Rolling Stones in Ireland to rock ‘n’ roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis. His remarkable list of recording credits includes Ringo Starr, B.B. King, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Al Green, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks, Ziggy Marley, Jackson Browne, the Doobie Brothers, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, Garth Brooks and Neil Diamond.
What was it like playing with the Beatles’ legendary drummer?
“Ringo is great. He’s funny, and he’s great to be around,” Hutchinson said. “He’s just a fantastic musician, and he loves music and he loves people. I worked with Ringo a number of times. I love people who are easy and fun to work with.”
Proclaimed “The Groove King” by Bass Musician magazine, Hutchinson can comfortably fit into any genre.
His local collaborations include recording with other musicians on Maui like Grammy winner Peter Kater, Pat Simmons Jr. and Gail Swanson. He toured the Mainland with Hapa and was also a regular at Shep Gordon’s Wailea benefit shows. Teaming with John Cruz, he played on a star-studded “Playing for Change” video of “The Weight,” and was filmed in Haiku with Pat Simmons in a marvelous updating of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.”
Back on the road with the “Just Like That Tour 2023,” Hutchinson said the Maui show will include “at least four songs” from the latest album.
“The set list changes,” he said. “We know a lot of tunes and you can only play so many per night, and there’s some we have to play. People expect ‘Something to Talk About’ and ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’ People want to hear those songs.”
The Maui leg of Raitt’s Just Like That Tour 2023 takes place on Friday at the MACC’s A&B Amphitheater. John Cruz will open. The show begins at 7 p.m. and gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets are $60, $80, $100 and $140 Gold Circle, plus applicable fees, at MauiArts.org.
There was a twist at the end of this year’s Grammy Awards. After a parade of youthful and spangled pop stars rose to the podium for various honours, the Song of the Year prize went to one Bonnie Raitt, the veteran singer-songwriter and guitarist with a distinguished 50-year career behind her, including, among other things, a previous Grammy for album of the year.
But that didn’t stop some second-tier news outlets from wondering who the hell had beaten out Lizzo, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift.
“Unknown Blues Singer Wins Song of the Year” blared several sites. The headlines soon went viral.
“That was a big surprise,” Raitt, 73, admits. “I was overwhelmed with appreciation.”
She produced the album, Just Like That…, her 18th, herself. She wrote a big chunk of it, too, and it was released on her own record label, Redwing. She’s been doing this for a while, but this time, two tracks, the title song, and the album’s closing tune, Down the Hall, connected with fans, and the larger world, in an unexpected way.
Both songs are wrenching, not because they contain sensitive personal revelations, but because of their unusual stories.
Down the Hall is told from the point of view of a prisoner who ends up working in the jail’s hospice ward, sitting with terminal inmates who have no one else. Just Like That, the Song of the Year winner, is a gentle, luminously presented tale about a woman who lost her son. But the son’s heart had been donated to someone who needed it. The recipient visits the mother and invites her to lay her head on his chest, so she can feel her departed son’s heart beating.
“Organ donation and prison hospices are not songs people generally write songs about,” Raitt says. “I think it has something to do with reaching people at such a time, with COVID and the shutdowns and the political animosity. These songs are about uplight and grace and redemption. I didn’t write them for those reasons but I think that’s why they landed this time.”
In the post-’60s wave of ’70s singer-songwriters, featuring everyone from Jackson Browne to Randy Newman to Cat Stevens, Raitt stood out. There was that redwood voice of hers. Plus she was a guitarist, self-trained and steeped in influences stretching back into deep folk and blues. Raitt is not a tall woman and the image of the diminutive singer displaying her mastery of her large and beloved Gibson hollow-body guitar became iconic.
“I still have that guitar!” she exclaims.
She was unusual in other ways. Not all her fans knew her father was an icon, too: Broadway legend John Raitt. Bonnie learned to play guitar at the family house in the Hollywood Hills and went to university at Radcliffe, at the time the women’s college of Harvard.
She put out her first record, Give It UpBonnie Raitt, in 1972 1971, the songs almost uniformly marked by her strong blues and rock licks. Her interpretation of John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery became her signature song, and a cover of Del Shannon’s early 60s chestnut Runaway gave her an unexpected hit single in 1977. “The ’70s were a blast,” she says.
Then she was dropped by her label. Follow-up albums didn’t do well. She fought drug and alcohol addiction.
But she came roaring back in the 1990s. The aptly titled Nick of Time sold five million copies and won that Album of the Year Grammy. A popular MTV video saw her canoodling with actor buddy Dennis Quaid to the song Thing Called Love.
Gracious and quick, Raitt crisscrosses her history, mentioning friends, mentors, artists gone and others still around, people she played with and those with whom she conspires to this day, from Bruce Springsteen, Linda Ronstadt, Browne and Prince to Muddy Waters and Emmylou Harris.
But the friend she remembers the most is the late Prine, the quirky, much-loved Chicago singer-songwriter who never quite rose to mass public attention. “That type of songwriting was so inspired by John,” she says.
These days, you can hear in that voice her own life’s journey mixed in with those of her blues heroes. It’s suggested that she did not so much grow into her voice but see her voice grow into her.
“That’s great,” she agrees. “After I hit 50 I could get other ranges and other colours and reflect other experiences I’ve had. I’m 73, and it shows!”
Bonnie Raitt plays Palais Theatre, Melbourne on April 5, ICC Sydney on April 7, Bluesfest, Byron Bay, on April 9 and 10.
Bandana Blues is and will always be a labor of love. Please help Spinner deal with the costs of hosting & bandwidth. Visit www.bandanablues.com and hit the tipjar. Any amount is much appreciated, no matter how small. Thank you.
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 2, the anticipated new John Prine tribute record from Oh Boy Records, is out today. Stream/purchase HERE.
Created as a celebration of Prine’s life and career, the album features new renditions of some of Prine’s most beloved songs performed by Brandi Carlile (“I Remember Everything”), Tyler Childers (“Yes I Guess They Oughta Name A Drink After You”), Iris DeMent (“One Red Rose”), Emmylou Harris (“Hello In There”), Jason Isbell (“Souvenirs”), Valerie June (“Summer’s End”), Margo Price (“Sweet Revenge”), Bonnie Raitt (“Angel From Montgomery”), Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (“Pretty Good”), Amanda Shires (“Saddle in the Rain”), Sturgill Simpson(“Paradise”) and John Paul White (“Sam Stone”). Proceeds from the album will benefit twelve different non-profit organizations, one selected by each of the featured artists.
Bonnie Raitt - Write Me a Few of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues
60 years anniversary celebration of Arhoolie
December 10, 2020
Arhoolie Foundation celebrates it's 60th anniversary (1960-2020) with an online broadcast.
Bonnie Raitt - Shadow of Doubt
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
October 3, 2020
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass celebrates it's 20th anniversary with an online broadcast titled “Let The Music Play On”.
Bonnie Raitt & Boz Scaggs - You Don't Know Like I Know
Farm Aid 2020 On the Road
Sam & Dave classic written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.
Sheryl Crow & Bonnie Raitt - Everything Is Broken
[Eric Clapton’s Crossroads 2019]
Eric Clapton, one of the world’s pre-eminent blues/rock guitarists, once again summoned an all-star team of six-string heroes for his fifth Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2019. Held at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, the two-day concert event raised funds for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua, the chemical dependency treatment and education facility that Clapton founded in 1998.
'A Tribute To Mose Allison'
Celebrates The Music Of An Exciting Jazz Master
Raitt contributed to a new album, If You're Going To The City: A Tribute To Mose Allison, which celebrates the late singer and pianist, who famously blended the rough-edged blues of the Mississippi Delta with the 1950s jazz of New York City.
NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to Bonnie Raitt about her friendship with the Mose Allison. They're also joined by Amy Allison — his daughter, who executive produced the album — about selecting an unexpected list of artists to contribute songs to the album.
Recorded on tour June 3, 2017 - Centennial Hall, London - Ontario Canada