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Bonnie Raitt is the queen of blues-flavoured country rock

but there’s an acoustic side to her playing, too…

on November 1, 2015 No comments

Words: David Mead   /  Portrait: Marina Chavez

Jay Lichty – Chechen Small Jumbo Guitar G76

Every concert Bonnie Raitt plays features at least one acoustic performance – check out her mesmerising duet with Richard Thompson singing Dimming Of The Day, for instance – and so, with a new album due in February, we thought it was high time to talk about her acoustic influences. To begin with, it occurred to us that, like so many other great players, Bonnie probably started her guitar playing career on a flat top guitar…

“ I absolutely did. I got a guitar when I was eight years old for Christmas, at my request.
I idolised my folk-singing counsellors in the summer camps I would go to and there was a folk revival craze in the late 50s, early 60s and I caught the bug. My heroes were Pete Seeger and The Weavers, Odetta, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary… they all were having great success. The Kingston Trio had a number one record with Tom Dooley and on TV, Peter, Paul and Mary were singing Bob Dylan songs. Joan Baez was the darling of the folk revival, the star of Newport and she was on the cover of Time. She was my hero and, because she was a Quaker and of Scottish and Mexican extraction and I was from California like her – and we were Quakers and Scottish as well -so I was indelibly a Joan Baez fan and I taught myself guitar from her records.”

It’s Interesting that you were attracted to folk first -it seems that folk and blues were very closely related back in the 60s…
“In the sense that they’re roots music.
There was as much interest in bluegrass and English/Scottish Child Ballads as there was in the blues artists being rediscovered in the South. Newport ’63 was an album on Vanguard that introduced me to the folk artists and the one from ’64 was my first blues introduction, with Mississippi John Hurt and Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry and John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, Dave Van Ronk and Rev Gary Davies. Those were the first acoustic blues musicians that I had heard and I fell in love with Mississippi John Hurt and taught myself how to play Candy Man.
That was the first blues song I ever played.
But before that I think there were some blues artists mixed in with the folk, but the folk music revival was all kinds of roots music.”

Was it the early blues records that drew you towards playing slide?
“Well I was only 14 when I heard slide guitar and there was no YouTube or nobody teaching blues guitar at that point, so I was just learning from records and reading Sing Out magazine.
I figured out I would have to try and find a bottleneck and the closest I could get was a Coricidin bottle and I soaked the label off and used my middle finger – that’s the one I could hold on my hand with the adjacent fingers. But. years later, when I actually met a lot of the blues artists or saw them on TV, I realised it was an impractical finger to be using. I was totally self-taught and just making it up in my room without any advice. I didn’t have the wherewithal to buy guitar magazines or take lessons or any of that stuff.”

But wait, there's more!

Talking with Guitarist Songwriter Will McFarlane

on November 2, 2009 No comments
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Talking with Guitarist Songwriter Will McFarlane – Part 1

It’s hard to imagine how many 12 year old young men watched the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 and were inspired to pick up the guitar saying, “I want to do that”. Many, I’m sure. Voice lessons at six years old and piano a year later, young Will was clearly better primed than most.

Motown’s R&B captured Will’s imagination in High School while growing up on Long Island, which helped him develop as a fine rhythm guitarist.

Bonnie Raitt enlisted the 23 year old college escapee McFarlane as a member of her band one night when she heard him play at a Cambridge, MA night club. He toured with her band from 1974 – 1980 before leaving the road to move into the studio.

Bonnie Raitt, John Hall, Will McFarlane © Nick Busco

Will McFarlane, Bonnie Raitt, John Hall © Nick Busco

Freebo Bonnie and Will

Freebo Bonnie and Will

While with The Bonnie Raitt band, Will shared stages with living blues and folk legends. That’ll do wonders for your playing but more importantly, Will learned to listen for what guitar licks to leave out to best play up the band.

But wait, there's more!