By Joe Belanger, The London Free Press
Forty-seven years later and Bonnie Raitt is still rocking.
The 67-year-old blues, rock and roots star whose music, voice and guitar prowess continue to inspire new generations of performers, is at Centennial Hall Saturday with special guest Royal Wood.
Hers is a career bolstered by several hit singles — Something to Talk About, Love Sneakin’ Up on You and the ballad I Can’t Make You Love Me. She can also boast 11 Grammy Awards for her rock, pop, blues and Americana efforts, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Raitt, who has performed on stage with the world’s blues and blues-rock royalty for most of her career, said there’s no secret to her longevity.
“It’s easier to survive if you’re doing roots and blues,” she said in a telephone interview.
“There are talented people in music who have success with one big hit and then can’t repeat it and are known for only one thing. In blues and roots, you sell less but you can last a lot longer and age gracefully. If the music excites you, you keep growing and stay interesting and find new ways of saying things in the grooves you love.”
Her most recent album for which she’s on tour, Dig in Deep released a year ago, topped the Americana charts.
Known for her inspiring and unique treatment of cover tunes, Raitt matches the success of her Grammy-nominated 1997 live recording of the Talking Heads’ Burning Down the House with another riveting cover — the INXS hit Need You Tonight.
“I have loved that song since the first time I heard it,” said Raitt. “I’ve always heard it in my head with slide guitar and a woman singing it. It’s a sexy song and that makes it a lot of fun to play.”
Raitt has long been known for her activism, which began long before her name was heard on radio and before her career catapulted her into stardom with the release of Nick of Time in 1989.
Raitt was a founding member of Musicians United for Safe Energy in 1979 and has long been a supporter of the anti-nuclear movement and other environmental issues. She also appeared in the video of Sun City, the anti-apartheid record written and produced by guitarist Steven Van Zandt, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and participated in Farm Aid and Amnesty International concerts
Raitt has taken shots at U.S. presidents, including 2004 when she dedicated Your Good Thing (Is About to End) to George W. Bush, which did not prove prophetic. He was re-elected later that year to a second term.
On U.S. President Donald Trump, Raitt pulled no punches.
“Oh, well, it’s a challenge to get out of bed in the morning and find you need time and fortitude to open the newspaper and see what he’s done now,” said Raitt, noting how Trump has inspired widespread activism.
“There are so many more people (politically) active now than ever — people who are watching our regulations and protection for the environment, jobs and a free press threatened. … He’s doing a good job of digging a hole.”
Raitt said it’s important for artists to speak out.
“You should always speak from your soul and your own conscience if you see people starving, or unfairness or a threat to our environment — that comes way before what I do for a living,” Raitt said.
“We have to reflect our culture back to ourselves. We’re the town criers of the arts to rally, inspire and educate. I do feel we have a responsibility if we’re going to take the microphone, although I don’t preach at my shows.”
Not surprisingly, when asked if there’s a song she wished she’d written, she names Randy Newman’s I Think It’s Going To Rain Today, a lament to the disenfranchised poor and homeless.
Her favourite song to perform? There are two, both ballads: John Prine’s Angel from Montgomery and I Can’t Make You Love Me from her hit 1991 album, Luck of the Draw.
Raitt was born in Burbank, Calif., and is the daughter of Broadway musical star John Raitt (Carousel, Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game) and pianist Marjorie Haydock.
Rolling Stone has listed Raitt as the 50th greatest singer of all time, and 89th on their list of greatest guitarists, which she picked up at summer camp. She then started playing slide guitar.
“I think the slide guitar is so evocative of the human voice and I just love that way of expressing myself,” Raitt said.
Asked if there are any artists she’d love to share the stage with, Raitt hesitated.
“I’ve got friends in Ireland and Africa I haven’t had a chance to play with,” Raitt said.
“I’ve played with so many great artists over the years, including the Rolling Stones. But I’ve never had a chance to play just with Keith Richards. I’d like that, I’ve just never had the chance.”
Finally, when asked why the world isn’t hearing from more female guitar players, Raitt becomes somewhat defensive.
“There are lots — Susan Tedeschi, Rory Block — there’s a whole slew of great women guitarists out there today, everywhere we go,” Raitt said, later adding “blues music is alive and well.”
IF YOU GO
What: Bonnie Raitt concert
Also on the bill: Royal Wood.
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Centennial Hall, 550 Wellington St.
Tickets: Ranging from $79.50 to $99.50 (plus service charges and fees), available at the box office, online at centennialhall.london.ca, or by calling 519-672-1967 or 519-672-1968.
Source: © Copyright The London Free Press