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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

Footnotes

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Diggin’ Deep with Bonnie Raitt
Legend, Activist, Musician

on April 26, 2016 No comments

by Maranda Pleasant

Maranda Pleasant: You’ve done so much with conservation. You’re a heroine for so many who work in conservation, and with endangered species. You donate so much of your time. Is there something that makes it personal for you?

Bonnie Raitt: There are so many people out there working with great grassroots and global and national organizations that are unsung heroes to me. And those of us with a microphone who are blessed with the gift of being in the public eye have a special opportunity to give voice to all those groups whose activism is sometimes ignored or put on the back pages with the the dumbing down of television and the tabloidization of journalism. As Ralph Nader called it, “sound barks,” not even sound bites.

Really important issues are getting lost, so I can say I’m glad to be a citizen of the planet and do my part. I think that we have a unique opportunity as performers and artists to be kind of the town criers and also to get more people to listen, so that’s a blessing and a responsibility that I take very seriously. I have to stay informed about the issues across the board, between gun control and Native American rights, women’s rights, safe food, plastic pollution, safe energy, clean air and water, our resources, and conservation and efficiency.

I don’t know if I’m a heroine; I’m just somebody that can cheer the troops by singing to folks, and have receptions after the show, and tithe a dollar of every ticket sale for all kinds of different great charities and social action groups. There are a lot of people that never get their stories told.

MP: Is there something that makes it deeply personal for you? Is there some issue that you feel really personally connected to that makes it personal?

BR: Absolutely. Part of the reason I had such a drive to be an activist, and support other activists, is because I was raised Quaker and my parents kept us very much informed and involved as kids in civil rights and the conservation movement. A dear family friend started Save the Redwoods league, up in the Palo Alto region of California, and I just remember being very much aware of the efforts to protect the water, the quality of water, and later in my adult years, the threat of oil rigs in California. It’s very personal in California to live within hours, and sometimes just a few miles, of earthquake faults when nuclear plants were being built. Between the redwoods, growing up and enjoying nature, camping on almost every vacation, and getting to go to summer camp in the Adirondacks, it was really very apparent to me that we had to preserve what we had on the earth. I learned so much from studying Native American approaches to balance with the earth, and I have to say that since I was a kid, I was raised with the blessing of being involved with peace and social justice, and the environmental movement. I have my parents to thank for that. ›

MP: Well, I love you even more! [Laughs.]

BR: Oh god. Well thank you for saying that, but when they were putting oil rigs up and down the California coast, the whole issue of safe energy and the addiction to fossil fuels really came into focus. The connection between toxicity and cancer and safe air and water and food, all of that was important all along, as were women’s and human rights issues, but the nuke issue and the safe energy movement became really important to me in the mid-’70s.

MP: What’s the new revolution now?

BR: Well, there’s so many amazing articles coming out all the time and because of the internet circulating great writing—even if the writers don’t get paid enough most of the time, unfortunately—but there’s never been a more amazing flow of information on all of the issues. I would love to see a revival of what we had against the war in the ’60s—we could do these teach-ins on the internet, live and split screen, and have real in-depth debate between people that are on the “other” side of issues—nuclear, gun control, whatever. We could really be having a much more democratically involved and exciting debate with people emailing their questions and having a virtual town meeting. I think it would be a really exciting way to re-engage and engage this new generation—many of whom are really angry and frustrated and have grown up with nothing but ineffective government and money hijacking the whole political system. They don’t know it any other way. I mean, those of us who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, we had the dream that this could be turned around, and the earth could be back in balance, and that we could level the playing field with men and women and pay, and you know, minority groups having equal opportunity. We just magically thought this was all going to happen: we were going to have clean food, and organic this, and conscious that, and it just didn’t happen. We need the people who are doing the hard work in the forefront, like Mark Ruffalo and leonardo DiCaprio. There’s so many people working to get more attention in the press and it seems to be working.

MP: Tell me about your work with women becoming more powerful and equal. Is there anything you wanted to say around that, about women’s issues?

BR: I have been really heartened by how much coverage there has been about inequality of pay across the board, between the entertainment industry and almost every industry worldwide. And just the problem of young women not getting an education, not being able to have an equal position in the cultures all around the world. There’s been just a fantastic explosion of articles that I haven’t seen in many, many years and films coming out like Suffragette. There’s a lot of synchronicity that’s blowing open the issue and I think it’s engaging across the aisle politically— whatever religion or political affiliation you are, whatever race you are, whatever age you are, everybody is concerned about it. So I think people speaking out on all levels in every different profession is really helping out. I’m encouraged by it.

MP: What is something that you’ve struggled with in your life and what’s something that really helped you work through it or transform it? I’m all about vulnerability and suffering.

BR: Yeah, well in my case I’ve been sober for 30 years. You know, a lot of people feel that sobriety is about just stopping using whatever it was that you appeared to be addicted to, but it really has to do with a way of looking at your life and taking accountability. The big turning point for me was being unconscious to the way that my behavior was impacting myself and other people. I tended to think, “Oh, if only this person would act better this way or the record company would do this,” putting that focus on an explanation or the blame outside of myself, that was a lot of my story, a lot of the self-pity involved—it led to my feeling that I needed comfort or I needed to vent or this or that. But I started to understand that the kinds of personalities and backgrounds that lead you to have a little bit more of something, whether it’s a dependency on overworking, or sex, or gambling, or substance abuse. understanding how we become unbalanced that way and addicted, and what that personality is, has been a real eye-opener for me. The challenge of course is in sobriety and that’s been the blessing, to realize, to take accountability for the ways that your own thinking impacts your happiness, and your serenity, and your ability to be a productive and a loving, giving member of your family and society. So the same thing that was my problem has become a silver lining, really.

MP: My personal mantra. I think sometimes I slip into that, not realizing how much I’m responsible for the energy I bring into a room or a situation.

BR: Yeah, exactly, and we become those personas, you know. Whatever role we were in our family of birth, we take on this persona and in your 20s and 30s in particular, you end up thinking that’s you and that isn’t necessarily you. You’re all kinds of things: you’re still eight years old, you’re still the 90-year-old along with the current 66-year-old, so there are all these playful and cranky and flawed and magnificently strong and vulnerable . . . all those things at the same time and just learning how to be realistic and not let yourself coast too much and go numb, and abusing whatever it is that makes you go numb to not deal with stuff. It’s a lot harder to be clear-headed, but the good stuff is when you start realizing who’s really you. I don’t want to sound like a self-help book, but it really has been transformative for me to take a look at my relationships in a new way and see my part in them. Everybody’s going through that.

The women’s movement resurgence of standing up for so many things that were kind of sleepy there for a decade or so, there’s been a reawakening and I think the consciousness movement in general is dovetailing with a lot of recovery and self-empowerment. There’s so much power and support in a support group of any kind, whether it’s your closest friends or an actual group you attend because you had a problem and you want fellow people that are as twisted as you are, or whatever. The fact is that this conversation is going on at every level at every age, we’re all going, “God, what a jerk I’ve been,” “How could I have married that guy?” or “How could I have done this or that?” With time, this is the gift of being older, that you get to look back and say, “It wasn’t all about them.” ›

Bonnie Raitt, queen of the modern blues. © Marina Chavez

MP: And have you noticed sometimes where you’re in a spiral and you really put too much energy on what they did and it’s becoming more and more like, “Wow, what role did I play?”

BR: I wrote a song on my new album that’s all about that. That’s the last song on my new record.

MP: What’s it called?

BR: “The Ones We Couldn’t Be” and that’s what it’s all about. That’s exactly what this is about. It’s the last song on record and it’s one I wrote.

MP: I’m going to replay that as soon as we get off the phone. I think you’re kind of like a cult figure for a lot of women.

BR: Well, thank you, I’m glad I present that but I’m hoping people can really see what I sing about and who I am in public. There’s lots of flaws and frailties and cracks in the armor, and nobody wants to put themselves out there as some kind of Joan of Arc because none of us can live up to that, but I’m grateful to be a role model and be respected because I have a whole slew of people, men and women, that I feel the same way about. And I’m happy to have been a positive influence.

MP: I think it’s your vulnerability that really allows us to connect to you because we can see our own vulnerability. Is there a truth that you know for sure?

BR: We create our own happiness. The one thing I know is that if you’re not paying attention, it will come back to bite you. Whether you should be spinning in a sort of toxic swirl of drawing people to you that feed that story that you keep telling yourself and them, and you re-create your own pain and your own excuse, whether it’s procrastinating, or not living up to your own potential, or pulling your wings in because you don’t want to look too powerful. You create the happiness and the balance that you have, and your own power. This is one thing that I know to be true. You know, it was something that I came to realize more and more—when I recognize something is not working, I pull myself out of it. Then I can go, “Wow, I’m a lot happier.” I learned by experience that you can change your circumstance. It’s as simple as the serenity prayer; it’s a very, very real thing.

MP: Beautiful. “Pulling in your wings.” I’ve never actually heard someone phrase it like that. As you evolve as a woman and as a being, does your music evolve with you? Is this album different than what you’ve done in the past for you emotionally?

BR: I don’t go into any album with a concept or a deliberate direction. It’s more letting the best music that really appeals to me at the time, the best songs that I find after many months and years of search and sifting through my collection, and asking radio people and journalists. It’s really an ongoing search that’s as much daunting as it is somewhat exciting. I mean it’s always enjoyable to listen to a friend’s work, but if it doesn’t resonate with you, then you can just appreciate it and it inspires you in its own way. But going into this record, it’s really a matter of finding 11 or 12 songs that really speak to me at the time. This time I was able to co-write three and write two of my own. I hadn’t written in a long time, so it was really based on grooves that I wanted to play in my show that were kind of missing. You know, one was a gospel shuffle and that was “What You’re Doing to Me.” Some of them were thematically things that I wanted to say. So my tunes were things that I wanted to express musically and lyrically. The other songs, they find their way to me, and when there’s a good fit, I know they’re right for me. It takes a long time, and when I get enough, that’s when I have the record. So it isn’t any different, the process isn’t any different than any of the other records I’ve made. But hopefully people will just hear 12 more great new songs, played with my wonderful band.

I’m so happy to be held in the respect that you’re clearly holding me in and I have a forum to say what’s important. usually I’m talking about guitar strings. Most of the time I am talking track by track and people ask about the band and stuff like that, so it’s really nice for me to be able to stretch out a little bit and talk about bigger issues.

MP: I think people love you as a whole person. I think people love your music, but I also think people are in love with the vulnerability and rawness you exude. You’re so down to earth, there’s no way to separate you from your music.

BR: Well that’s the best review I’ve gotten.

MP: You’re one of those in-your-bones musicians. You make people feel it in their bones. To me, I don’t know a guitar riff, but I know that I’m not alone in this world, I know I’m going to get through it. That’s what you give people and that’s why I’m excited about this album.

BR: What a wonderful thing to say. I called it Dig in Deep because that happens to be a lyric from the first song. The band and I have been together, some of us for over 30 years, and you know, you get into a telepathy with each other and a soul connection and are able to go deep. We have an unspoken way of digging and a way of playing together that can only happen really when you are so attuned and that comes with experience. And then Dig in Deep was also a nod to some of the topics that I wrote about and am singing about—not just my songs, but other people’s songs on the record, so it was a double-edged meaning, as they often are on my albums’ titles.

MP: Your work on this album is rich and there’s so much texture and there’s so many layers. Anyway, thank you so much.

BR: Thank you, Maranda.


ORIGIN Magazine 27 – Published on Apr 26, 2016

Does Our Culture Hate Women? Fems, CEOs, Revolutionaries, Rose McGowan, Bonnie Raitt, Breastfeeding Backlash, Intimate Interview with Ben Harper, Vegan Fashion, Climate Champions: Richard Branson, Gisele, Mark Ruffalo, Vivenne Westwood, Ian Somerholder, Nikki Reed, Moby. GMO horror, worse than you think.

Footnotes

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Headstock – Bonnie Raitt
The queen of slide on the revelation of acoustic blues, finding the right guitar and why it pays to know when you’ve had enough

on April 1, 2016 No comments

Words Julian Piper  Portrait Marina Chavez

“Early on, I knew if I could keep my act together, not die from taking drugs or drinking too much, then I might have some hope of a long career.
All the people I looked up to, like Muddy [Waters] or jazz players, they’d all been in it for the long haul – that’s what I wanted.”

   Now in her fifth decade of performing, Bonnie Raitt’s wish has certainly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And like fine wine, she just goes on getting better.
When you watch Bonnie gliding around on stage, a lithe, diminutive figure pulling out slide lines on her battered Fender Strat ‘Brownie’, she plays with the kind of fire that might fool you into thinking she’d only just got the hang of the thing.

   Bonnie was raised on a diet of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Jack Daniels, but has managed to juggle her passion for gutbucket blues alongside Californian schmaltzy ballads such as I Can’t Make You Love Me, a song recorded by Adele and still a staple of any Bonnie Raitt live set. Her last album, 2012’s Slipstream, was her first release in seven years, but now Bonnie’s been in the studio again, and her new album, Dig ln Deep, once again delivers the familiar Raitt magic – a bucketload of rock, R&B and blues, all topped off with slide guitar guaranteed to raise the goosebumps.

Always Dig In Deep
“I was voraciously interested in all kinds of music, and still am. I grewup listening to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and even loved Gilbert and Sullivan. But it was the early days of rock ’n’ roll that really grabbed me – Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino on my radio – and the folk music revival, catapulting people like Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul & Mary into the charts. Folk and blues were just offshoots of all this musical excitement.

   “I’d never have found out about people like Slim Harpo and Muddy Waters without The Stones records, but it was the Vanguard album, Blues At Newport [1959-1964], that was the first acoustic blues album I got to hear. It was a revelation.”

Know Your Limits
“I met Son House when I moved to study at Harvard, through Dick Waterman who was acting as his manager. Son had been living for years in total obscurity, in Rochester, New York. But he was great and playing really well. Like a lot of older musicians, there’s a point where you wonder if they’re going to be able to remember their lyrics. In Son’s case, if he had just the right amount of alcohol he’d be fine, but if he drank too much, he wouldn’t be able to! There was a sweet spot that Dick Waterman was very aware of and would monitor.

   “Like a lot of the blues singers invited to play at the college campuses, the kids thought it would be just great to party with these guys. But people like Son were at a delicate age and had problems with alcohol, so it was a really daunting thing to have to manage them. They were thrilled to be there, but Dick had to be careful with the celebratory aspect backstage.”

Follow Your Passions
“At the age of eight or nine, I was a huge Joan Baez fan – I just wanted to be her [laughs], and sat in my room for hours learning guitar. Then, because Vanguard was Joan Baez’s label, I somehow managed to get hold of that [Blues At Newport] record. Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, John Lee Hooker and John Hammond, were all on it, and I fell in love with John Hurt the moment I heard his fingerpicking style.

   “[Fingerpicking] is still the only way I know how to use a guitar – I’ve never been able to play guitar with a flatpick.
I taught myself Candy Man, and Key To The Highway from Brownie McGhee, and to this day, some of the songs on that album are still my absolute favourites.”

Soak Up The Scene
“I got the chance to travel a lot with Sleepy John Estes, Johnny Shines, Hammie Nixon, Furry Lewis. There were all these festivals happening, and although I wasn’t playing, I was a fly on the wall and got to hang out. I still pinch myself when I think about it and realise how lucky I was. I took a break from college, intending to go back in a year, but after I opened up a show for Fred McDowell, I got offered a record deal and never went back to school. If it hadn’t been the fascination of the British and Europeans, falling in love with the blues, I don’t think a lot of these regional blues artists would have met each other.
You wouldn’t have had Skip James on a [festival] bill with someone from Detroit or Chicago, but they all delighted in playing for each other and it was a wonderful thing to witness backstage.”

Work With What You’ve Got
“Right after I heard Blues At Newport and heard that John Hammond played what he called ‘bottleneck guitar’, I did a little bit of research on the back of albums and saw it also said ‘bottleneck’. As my folks didn’t drink, I took it literally and soaked the label off a Coricidin cold medication bottle, and put it on my middle finger. When I was younger my grandfather, who was a Methodist minister, had taught me to play some hymns on a Hawaiian lap-steel guitar, using a tuning. But I didn’t make the connection with Delta blues until a lot later – I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is the same instrument, just held differently.’

   “That was about the time they’d just brought out Robert Johnson King Of The Delta Blues Singers, and to hear that guy play was exquisite, an amazing influence on everybody – as well as being incredibly intimidating. But I taught myself to play as best I could, and when I finally got a chance to see someone live, I realised that I should have learnt to play with the slide on my ring finger, but it was probably too late.”

Footnotes

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