It was Sippie Wallace’s birthday Saturday, and Bonnie Raitt threw a party for her in Hill Auditorium.
The entire evening was a blues extravaganza, from Robert Williams to Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, 77-year-old Wallace and culminating in a fine performance by Bonnie Raitt and her four piece band.
By the time she came on stage, the audience was ready for her, and by the time she left they were in love with her —with good reason.
She sang old songs like “I’m a Fool For You Baby,” and new ones like “I’m Blowin’ Away” in her usual clear and effortless style. And it was obvious from the very start that she loved doing it.
“If I could do this every night.” she said near the end of the show, “play with friends for people like you, I’d die doin’ it.”
Her ‘friends’ consisted of Freebo on the fretless bass, Alan Hand on the piano, Dennis Whitted on the drums and Will McFarlane playing electric guitar. And all five of them together were a mesmerizing combination.
They were tight, and played excellent music without loosing their individual styles. But aside from the musical professionalism, there was none. There was an almost tangible, silent communication between them and the audience. It wasn’t just another stop in a concert tour. Bonnie and her band were playing for this particular audience, for Ann Arbor.
But Ann Arbor is a regular stop for Raitt. And on Saturday she reminisced about two of her previous visits here, the 1972 Blues and Jazz Festival and another time during that same year.
“I remember this as being the biggest concert hall I’d ever seen,” she said about Hill.
Raitt’s versatile talents were at their height. She breezed through “Love Me Like a Man,” belting it out like the demanding woman the song describes, and sang John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” with the hopeless, tired tone of an old woman.
Her newer music is still the same combination of blues, and ballad, but nowadays it’s slicker, directed at a wider audience. ‘Funk’ has made a definite appearance, especially around the piano player Alan Hand.
At one point the guitarist, Will McFarlane, went off into a long guitar solo which had clear traces of rock and roll.
But blues is still Raitt’s baby, and when the Wallace, one of grande dame’s of the blues generation sang “Woman Be Wise” with Raitt, it was a startling, but delightful contrast.
Raitt’s voice was young, vibrant, and she sang the words like a know-it-all. Sippie sang it like the wise old lady she is. Her voice was deep, sometimes gravelly, but she sang it with all the power of her 77 years.
“I just hope you see me like that when I’m 77,” Raitt said as Wallace walked slowly off stage leaning on the arm of a young man.
And if Raitt continues in the same vein, we probably will. She’s good. Her singing is excellent. But at the same time she’s different from other female vocalists of equal talent. She has something special, a disarming, engaging stage personality, tremendous wit, (“I’m smiling so hard, it’ll make my dimples bore right through to the back of my head.”) But it goes even beyond that.
Almost no women vocalists get up out of their chairs and play an electric guitar with the style and charisma of a Bruce Springsteen. Almost no women vocalists can stand in front of 3,000 people and tell a friend in the audience to zip up their fly and get away with it. But she did. Raitt is tough, slightly crass and charming, but not cute and sexy. She’s lovely, with her long red hair and freckled face, and sexual, but not cute and sexy. That’s why she’s different. That’s why she’s so likable.
Josephine Marcotty is the feature editor of The Daily’s news department.
November 19, 1975
Bonnie Raitt’s singular appeal and strength is in her roots. She reaches all the way back to the classic blueswoman of the Twenties for both her joyful bawdiness and her righteous, don’t-mess-with-me self-assurance, and has come up with a stance as modern as the diaphragm. So it was a rare thrill, not to say a near-miracle, for all concerned that Bonnie could simply turn to the wings and welcome onstage Detroit blueswoman Sippie Wallace, the direct source of much of her inspiration, who, coincidentally, was celebrating her 77th birthday that night.
Bonnie graciously explained later, “It was from Sippie that I first learned this type of song, where I didn’t always have to be on the shaft side of a relationship”, which point of view was potently set out as she kicked into her own “Love Me Like A Man”.
Apparently Bonnie, who is touring nationally with folk poet/drunkard Tom Waits, decided to take full advantage of her Ann Arbor date by arranging with UAC, campus promoters of the affair, to book country bluesman Robert Pete Williams, and Chicago blues artists Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells, in addition to Sippie.
It was an evening of musical entertainment and instruction that easily spanned divers locales, epochs, and idioms, all the while demonstrating the unbroken lineage connecting these artists.
Robert Pete Williams, whose talent was first discovered, or at least first recorded, at the Angola State Prison, played a pleasant, idiosyncratic opening set. The handsome, fiftyish bluesinger eschews the standard 8 or 12-bar forms. He’d sing a line and play his guitar simply and effectively for as long or as short as he felt like. It made for some diverting country music.
Guitarist Buddy Guy and vocalist premier harmonicat Jr. Wells have, in the past 5 years, probably performed their sweaty, boozy more often in Ann Arbor than anywhere else other than their native Chicago. This night the band was relatively subdued, at least visually. Highlights included every solo Buddy took and the band’s performance of Jr.’s greatest hit, “Messin’ With The Kid.”
When Sippie hobbled out (she suffered a bad stroke three years ago) the first thing she did was to improvise a loving tribute to Bonnie on the piano. She then sang a churchy blues, “Loving You The Way I Do,” “Mighty Tight Woman,” and the gospel tune “Stand By Me.” It was all very affecting and the crowd responded with a standing ovation and then sang her “Happy Birthday.”
Bonnie came out with a strong four-man band that was easily able to reproduce her recorded sound, minus the strings, of course (just as well, I say). She was loose and lovely and clearly moved by the affection Ann Arbor showered on her. She wove her spell from familiar material done with her usual passion, including “Everybody Cryin’ Mercy”, “Give It Up Or Let Me Go” (on which she played a beautiful slide guitar solo), “Fool Yourself,” “Angel From Montgomery,” etc.
Sippie came out and she and her protogee muscled their way through “Women Be Wise” and “You’ve Been In Love Too Long,” joined onstage by Sippie’s dancing machine of a granddaughter, Tammy. Everybody was up and rocking – the only way, after all, to end an evening of such energy and inspiration.