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MUSICIANS ON MUSICIANS Bonnie Raitt & Brandi Carlile

on November 2, 2019 No comments
By Patrick Doyle

“She illuminated the path I could have,” Carlile says as she sits down with her hero for the first time. “She taught me I could lead and not apologize.”

On a recent L.A. afternoon, Brandi Carlile is talking about the moment when everything changed for her. It was the 2019 Grammys, when she played her ballad “The Joke” live and took home three awards. “I was 39, kind of an outlier underdog character,” says Carlile. That week, her sixth album, By the Way, I Forgive You, went to Number 22. She recently sold out Madison Square Garden. “I went on vacation, and never put down my phone,” she says of the award show’s aftermath. “I was obsessed.”

“I’ve been there,” says Bonnie Raitt, sitting across from her. In 1989, Raitt released her 10th album, Nick of Time. It sold more than 5 million copies and won the Grammy for Album of the Year, making her a superstar at age 40. “You’re in hyperspace after that,” Raitt says.

Hard-won success is only the beginning of the similarities between the two artists. In addition to building cult followings, both have used their music as a platform for activism. (Raitt has campaigned for clean energy, Native American rights, and more over the years; Carlile has raised money for kids affected by war and for imprisoned women.) “Bonnie illuminated the path I could have,” says Carlile.

Before the interview is over, Carlile has one request: “If you could just teach me one or two slide-guitar licks.” Raitt responds: “It would be my pleasure. I get so much acclaim for doing stuff that just sounds like ‘whooo,’ ” as she slides up an air guitar. Carlile is ecstatic: “You’ve got to be shitting me.”

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Brandi, how did you first hear Bonnie’s music?

CARLILE I remember singing “Something to Talk About” all the time as a kid. One of my most significant times was when I moved out of the house and in with my first girlfriend, Jessica. I was 17 and we were huge fans, and we wanted to go listen to you play and we couldn’t get a ticket, so we sat outside the fence and listened to your voice reverberate around Washington state. It was a big moment, a beautiful memory.

RAITT That is so sweet. I would have let you in if I had known. I’m gonna be a mess in this interview, because I’ve never been with anyone that talked about me before. I haven’t ever heard anyone say they were influenced by me.

CARLILE We get together and talk about you all the time. Do you ever hear yourself in my voice?

RAITT Well, I hear the attitude. I wish I could have the range and sing like you do. But if I could, I would sing like you.

CARLILE The song that speaks to me the most is “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The empathy is just unbelievable. I feel really vulnerable when I sing it, in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with.

RAITT Is it because you’ve been through that situation yourself?

CARLILE I think it’s because I am not strong enough to go through that situation myself. So when I put myself there, I almost can’t handle the thought of being that person.

RAITT I’m so grateful for the writers that sent me that song. Every night, I’m reminded of being left when someone was not in love with me anymore. I think it was even worse to have to be the one to break somebody’s heart because you don’t love them anymore. I’ve been through both sides of that. I always dedicate it to someone going through a heartache. I’ve gotten letters from people saying, “I’ve never seen my husband cry except when you sing that song.” Now I’m gonna cry.

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Bonnie Raitt talks back

on October 25, 2016 No comments

Bonnie Raitt scooped up her tenth overall career Grammy award, for best Americana album, with 2012’s Slipstream, her first studio release since 2005. Celebrated by critics as one of the finest in her 40-year career, the project followed a tough string of personal losses: Both of Raitt’s parents passed away in 2004 and 2005, followed by her older brother in 2009. Energized by the two-year Slipstream tour and the album’s overall success, the veteran guitar slinger emerged from the studio in February of 2016 with her latest, Dig In Deep, a triumph of rock-and-soul energy and heart-cracking intimacy that includes five original compositions, including a co-write with her longtime running buddy Jon Cleary. Raitt got on the phone with OffBeat in advance of her November 5 show at the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans.

You’ve been coming to New Orleans for a long time. A few years ago—introducing you at Jazz Fest—Quint Davis pointed out that you were the first non-Louisianan to play the festival.

I’ve been touring nationally since ’74, so we hit pretty much all the big cities, including New Orleans, but the Festival started right around that time, and then it became wonderful to be able to play this great new thing that Quint and all the people in New Orleans had come up with. It was thrilling to be able to celebrate the Meters and the Nevilles and Allen Toussaint, and get to meet and hang out with so many great musicians all at one time.

And over the years, you’ve worked with a lot of New Orleans musicians and had the chance to spend some time and really dig into the city and its culture, too.

Absolutely. I’ve been playing there since the ’70s, and I was very good friends with Allen Toussaint. My ‘in’ with the city was through his eyes, and Marshall Sehorn, his musical partner that ran his company. They hosted me for a week years ago, and I was on Warner Brothers with both the Meters and Allen Toussaint, and then sang on Allen’s records, and recorded a couple of his songs. Then, in the early ’80s, Ivan Neville was in my band, so after already knowing the Neville Brothers, I knew them really well once Ivan was in the band. We got to see New Orleans through that. Then my friendship with the Radiators, and John Mooney, and a lot of different other local artists—and then Jon Cleary I met when he played with Taj Mahal on a recording session, and when I needed to switch keyboard players, he was available, and was interested in working with me, so we had 10 years of him being in the band.

What are some of your favorite New Orleans memories?

Well, it’s a toss-up between the music and the food, I suppose. The atmosphere and the culture—knowing about the history of New Orleans music, and all the different tributaries of ethnicities and historical backgrounds, I was always fascinated with New Orleans music, since I started out as a kid. Ernie K-Doe and Fats Domino were some of my favorite records of all time. I got to hang out in the club scene, and go to Tipitina’s and Jimmy’s, and got to go to a lot of different neighborhoods for soul food, New Orleans home cooking. Not as much the Antoine’s or Brennan’s side but the neighborhood side, which is the wonderful thing about having friends that are actually living in New Orleans, because they can take you around to their special favorite places.

Years later, Jon invited me to come in and hang out and go to Indian practice. I came in before Mardi Gras, and I learned some more aspects of the preparation and the history of everything—what the second line means, and everything about the history of Mardi Gras and all that. I got to see an insider view that a lot of the public, I don’t think, gets access to, so I felt really blessed to be able to see the historic side of New Orleans, as well as celebrate the living culture … the living and breathing interaction of all the different musical influences, and culinary influences.

I remember that when we spoke a few years ago, right after your 2012 album Slipstream, we talked about the challenge of wading through the sheer volume of music being released these days and finding things you like. You said then that you were about to go on the “song hunt,” for your next project.

Exactly, that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since the first record. I love looking under lots of different rocks for music that’s not necessarily above the radar. It’s daunting, but it’s also fun. It’s like a treasure hunt. The volume is daunting, but the discovery when you find something—through either a journalist friend or another artist or just in the circles that I move in, or sometimes just going to YouTube and following a tributary of that… all different corners of the earth, really. I have friends in so many places that turn me on to things. Because of the internet, I can see a link to somebody where they said, ‘I think this person’s going to knock you out,’ and sure enough. That’s how I discover a lot of great music. I delve into styles of music from so many different areas. As you get into 19 or 20 albums, you’ve covered a lot of different topics and musical styles, so it becomes more challenging to come up with something new.

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Dancing A Deep Circle

Bonnie Raitt finds lyricism in life’s loves

on August 16, 2016 No comments

By Web Behrens,

© Marina Chavez

Regardless of the genre they ultimately become associated with, most musicians worth their salt can cite a varied list of influences that helped create the performer they’ve become. And surely Bonnie Raitt’s list is as eclectic as they come.

Considering the wide array of labels used on her music—from blues to pop, roots to rock—the 10-time Grammy winner and multiplatinum powerhouse could
easily teach a course on the history of 20th-century American music. Of course, rather than talk about it, she’d probably rather teach by playing slide guitar
and singing. Ravinia audiences can expect to be well schooled September 3, when her Dig in Deep tour arrives at the festival.

 

Each decade, you look back at relationships and you see them in a different light than when you were younger.

 

© Matt Mindlin

That moniker comes from her 20th album, released in February. Showcasing her signature robust blues-rock blend, Deep has earned Raitt some of the best reviews of her storied career, and that alone is no small feat.
Of its 12 tracks, Raitt wrote five, which range lyrically from enthusiastic embraces of love and passion (“What You’re Doin’ to Me”) to wistful reflections on heartbreak and later-in-life regrets (“The Ones We Couldn’t Be”).
Meanwhile, never one to shy away from covering other artists, Raitt and her crackerjack band attack popular tracks from two very different groups:
INXS’s “Need You Tonight” gets a deliciously dirty roots treatment, while Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes” grooves and boogies like always.
Those two covers of late-’80s hits provide a gleeful glimpse into the voluminous music encyclopedia in Raitt’s head.

   Naturally, her music education started early. “I remember listening to the radio and early records of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry,” Raitt says during a phone interview with Ravinia magazine. “When I was 7, my neighbor and I turned her doll house into an Elvis shrine,” she adds with a chuckle.
The British Invasion and Motown were also a big part of her youth, and she fell in love with folk music at summer camp. “My counselors would lead songs around the campfire,” she recalls. “That’s when I wanted a guitar, to learn to be like Joan Baez.”

© Marina Chavez

   Undergirding those divergent influences was a foundation that came from having two parents steeped in the arts.
Born in 1949 to a Broadway-star father and a pianist-singer mother, Bonnie grew up surrounded by the songs of American musical theater. Known for his booming voice and dashing looks, John Raitt starred in a series of popular shows, including Oklahoma, Carousel, Annie Get Your Gun, and The Pajama Game. Naturally, those compositions were key parts to the soundtrack of her childhood.

   It’s easy for Raitt to share fond memories of theater life—especially the times when she and her brothers got to visit their dad for a week each summer while he was touring: “I just remember hanging out backstage, the smell of the makeup and the sound of the orchestra warming up. It was really a thrill. I knew everybody’s parts, not just my dad’s, and all the songs.”

© C.Elliott

Long categorized by most of her fans as a master of blues, roots, and/or Americana, Raitt began performing when she was just a Radcliffe College student with a guitar. All she wanted was to earn a little extra cash, she says, to “hang out with some blues guys that I really idolized. I didn’t have any plans to do it for a career! That just fell into my lap when I happened to do something that other people weren’t doing, which was playing blues guitar in a way that most women weren’t.”

   Meeting those blues legends turned out to be not just personally fulfilling, but the first step in slowly building a lifelong career she says she hadn’t really dreamed about. One year after opening for blues giant Mississippi Fred McDowell at a small New York venue in 1970, Raitt released her first album on Warner Bros.
Still, the kind of success that turned her into a household name took nearly two more decades, when the smash-hit album Nick of Time topped the charts and won her the first of her Grammys.

   Raitt has no regrets about her career’s slow burn. “I had no interest in worrying about whether my records were hits or not,” she says. “The folk, blues, and roots community—now you can put it in the format of ‘Americana’—isn’t impacted by record sales, or looks, or how old you are. Once you develop your fan base and find critics that like you, as long as you continue to grow and keep doing good music, your fans are going to stay with you.

   “I set my sights on the long run and deliberately avoided doing anything that would give me commercial success,” Raitt continues. “For me, to be able to have nine albums and pack 2,000-seat, 3,000-seat places during my 20s and 30s—that’s what I was banking on.”

   It was a wise decision in many ways. For one thing, the kind of crazy success she experienced at age 40 with Nick of Time can lead a person in their 20s down a particularly self-destructive path—one that’s only harder to navigate for being played out in public. (Raitt gave up alcohol and other drugs in the late 1980s, and she refers to Nick of Time as “her first sober album.”) But more than that, her pursuit of her musical passion, rather than commercial success, meant that she could perform with some of her musical heroes, many of them African American and little known to the general public. It’s one of her life’s blessings that she most cherishes.

One of those heroes was the great blues singer Sippie Wallace, whom Raitt met in the early 1970s.
“We brought her out of retirement,” Raitt says, “and she toured with me off and on, as well as with her own group, until she was in her late 80s.” The two recorded a duet together before Wallace died in 1986. And there’s also McDowell, the man she regards as one of the world’s greatest slide guitar players. “We were very close, as I was with Sippie,” she says. “We toured a little bit, but he passed away, unfortunately, in 1972, right before I was going to do a duet with him on my second album.
But I learned a lot from him. I just adored him.”

Broadway star John Raitt making his sole appearance at the Ravinia festival for a celebration of Richard Rodgers, also leading a master class for the fellows of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute – 2002

   Of course, there’s another famed musician, now gone, whom Raitt is grateful to have eventually collaborated with: her father. She recorded three duets with him on his Grammy-nominated 1995 release, Broadway Legend. “I really was thrilled to sing with my dad,” she reminisces.

   She mined their complex relationship in her songwriting. “Circle Dance,” from her 1994 release Longing in Their Hearts, addresses the love and the longing, recalling a child’s conflicted feelings about his frequent, career-driven absences. “I played it for him,” she recalls, “and he was quiet for a moment. He was very moved by it. It’s one of those things, as you get older—even if you had a great relationship, as I did, with your parents—you look back and you say, ‘You know, they did the best they could. They could have been this, they could have been that.’
But you get wiser with age, and each decade, you look back at relationships and you see them in a different light than when you were younger.”

   On her new album, “The Ones We Couldn’t Be” returns to a similar emotional well. “It’s as much about my family as it is about romance,” she says. “One verse is about a romantic relationship; the other one is about my family. Regret—about what to do when a relationship goes stale. That’s something that seems relevant whether you’re 21 or 61.”

   And if the different kinds of relationships blend in the listener’s mind, that’s okay, too. Raitt notes with a chuckle, “Ironically, Stevie Nicks started performing ‘Circle Dance’ live, and she had no idea it was about my dad. I think she was singing it about Lindsey [Buckingham].”

   Perspective and humor, it seems, remain two of Raitt’s trademarks. When asked about her frequent touring, she reveals how much she loves Ravinia, especially after a long spring touring to indoor venues, but she quickly makes another gently self-deprecating joke: “Some of my favorite gigs have been at Ravinia! … That’s just such a celebration, to be able to play under the open sky like that. It can sometimes get super hot and muggy, but you just get used to it.
Whatever hair style your hair gets into, at this point, at our age, we’re just glad we have hair.”

Bonnie Raitt made a thrilling Ravinia debut in 2002.


Source: © Copyright Ravinia Magazine

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