Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Bonnie Raitt always wanted to play into her 70s like her jazz and blues heroes. “I figured if I kept my chops,” Raitt told me some years ago, “maybe I’d be lucky to be an old blues broad.”
Well, Raitt turned 70 last November and not only has she kept her chops, but Raitt remains one of the most enduring artists of her generation. The music legend’s 12-city Canadian tour with headliner James Taylor was supposed to stop in Ottawa (April 24), Toronto (April 27) and Montreal (April 29), but due to coronavirus, the concert has been postponed to a later date.
A MESSAGE FROM BONNIE
The Canadian tour may have been postponed, but we can still enjoy some time with James. Join us on Sunday March 22 at 11am PT / 2pm ET for “A Socially Distant Visit With James Taylor” on FB! Chat with James and spend some “virtual” quality time #AtHomeTogether.
Born to a musical family (her father was Broadway musical legend John Raitt and her mother was pianist Marjorie Haydock), the 10-time Grammy winner was named by Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” Raitt sat down for a candid Q&A about her family, activism, the music business and her treasured LGBTQ fans.
It’s great to see road warriors like yourself selling out shows. Where does your commitment to live performance come from?
Bonnie Raitt: From watching my dad since I was a little girl. He performed in three big shows, the musicals Carousel, Oklahoma! and The Pajama Game. I watched him from backstage, and every night no matter where he was on a tour, he treated it like opening night.
While it’s an honour to perform for a living, it’s as much fun for us onstage as it for the people in the audience. There’s nothing like it. There is no recording that can capture the feeling. The opening-night feel and the work ethic of making every show as good as we possibly can, I really think that’s why people come back to see me and my band year after year.
You, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris used to hang out together in L.A. in the 70s. What was that like?
We used to hang out with Jackson Browne and The Eagles, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. It was an incredibly rich scene which we likened to what Paris must have been like in the 1920s. Everybody was young and there was a cross-fertilization of artists, filmmakers and photographers, fashion people and political activists. The musician singer-songwriter community was so much fun. You’d go to The Troubadour and hang out. We inspired each other. Tom Waits came up soon after, and Rickie Lee Jones. L.A. was a real musical hotbed. We were in our early twenties, there was no AIDS and we’d just gotten birth control. There was drinking and drugs, of course, but we were young and innocent and able to take it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’ve interviewed many great women Rock & Rollers and always ask for their take on the music business today. Is it still a boys club?
I never experienced it as a boys club because I was accepted as a female guitar player. I think that got me a bit more respect in the studio from male musicians. But I don’t think Linda, Emmylou or I – there was no svengali telling us what to dress like. It wasn’t that era anymore. It wasn’t the 40s, 50s or 60s. In the 70s, Joni Mitchell and Carole King, Aretha, they were captaining their own ships, and I wouldn’t have put up with anybody at a record label telling me what to wear or what to record. I didn’t experience it the way many in the pop world did. I think they had a lot less control.
I think these days when you look at Taylor Swift using her vast social network, stars have a lot more power today to control the means of production and hire and fire their own management and lawyers. So I think the music business has changed for the good in terms of women.
One of my favourite albums is True Love by Toots and the Maytals that features your wonderful duet with Toots, True Love is Hard To Find.
I love that record! Thank you! It sounds like we love the same kind of music. I am a huge Toots Hibbert fan. I first heard Toots and the Maytals when I was just out of college. In Boston, The Harder They Come played at our local theatre. I loved Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, everyone on that soundtrack. But Toots is my absolute favourite and I cut True Love is Hard To Find on my Nine Lives album in 1985. I had already met Toots, and years later after we played at some festivals, I told him, “One day we have to record together.” Then his duets record came up years later. I love him so much, I’m just so glad to talk to somebody who even mentions his name!
What was it like for you after your parents passed away in 2004-2005?
I appreciated them when they were alive and, like all of us, as we watch them get older and are lucky to have them in their elder years, you’re basically caught up helping them deal with getting older, whether they have dementia or arthritis or require surgeries. After they passed away, who they were as younger people, in my childhood and young adulthood, all those eras came back to me more. Now that they’re gone, they live in me. I am so appreciative of the gift they gave me.
My mom and I were at odds with each other sometimes. She was frustrated. She was from a generation that gave up her career to raise the kids and she never really got credit for all of her contributions as music director for my dad. They divorced when I was about 19. They both remarried and were very happy, but who they were as young people and what they meant to me with their political activism, that has stayed with me.
My dad took me to my first BB King concert when I was 15 and 30 years later I brought my dad to his first Bonnie Raitt concert. Sitting next to my dad was this young gay teen who was absolutely thrilled with your performance. I realized that night just how big an LGBTQ following you have.
I meet a lot of gay women, especially at receptions after my shows and for various political things. But I wasn’t aware I had a big following in the community. That’s fantastic to hear. I’m thrilled! As the daughter of a Broadway performer, I grew up around dancers and singers backstage. So the guys I had crushes on were not interested in me! My best friends were always gay guys and I completely understood the Judy Garland connection. When I was a young feminist, I also had tremendous interplay with the lesbian community in the gay women’s movement.
I must ask you about your personal style, from the boots to the suits. You wear it well.
(Beaming) Oh my god thank you so much! I actually work with a stylist. I take a little bit from here, and a little bit from there, this makes my butt look good, and this makes my boots look good. I almost never go (retail) shopping because I need something that allows me to play the guitar and that’s not too hot. Working with a stylist has become so creative. We have a great Armenian tailor in L.A. who creates the shirts that we design together. It’s been one of my great creative outlets that folks don’t know about. As you get older you also lower your heels and accommodate. Thank god for shapewear, that’s all I can say!
You were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 by Melissa Etheridge. What was that night like?
I had to compose myself. Melissa hit it out of the park. It was a great honour, and to receive it from Melissa and then perform together, it really meant the world to me.
Your cross-Canada tour with James Taylor is a dream concert bill. Will you and JT sing a song or two together?
We do! He comes out at the end of my set, and then I’ll do a couple with him, and then one of my favourite moments ever is at the end of the show. I won’t spoil it.
How does it feel to be called a living legend? Because you are.
I don’t think of myself that way. I just feel like someone who went into my dad’s line of work. That I’ve reached this point and lasted this long – I’m 33 years sober and that really helps. That living legend stuff, I’ll take the living part.
For more Bonnie Raitt tour dates, visit bonnieraitt.com