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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Flashback: Bonnie Raitt

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Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Flashback: Bonnie Raitt

By Mike Duffy

Simply put, Bonnie Raitt is a true and longtime trailblazer for female musicians worldwide.

The fiery redhead burst onto the scene with four Grammy Awards in 1990, but Raitt had been making a name for herself since the early 1970s – setting a standard for not only her genre, but her gender, as well.

It had been a while since we’d heard from Raitt, though. 

The first female artist to lend her name to a Fender signature model, Raitt just recently got back into touring mode after taking time off following the death of her older brother, Steve Raitt, from brain cancer in 2009.

It was her first time off in more than a decade.

Slipstream was released on April 10, 2012.

“All of the caretaking and worry and stress and pain around Steve’s illness and before that my parents and also a good friend who was going through a cancer fight, that was really draining,” she told The Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I really needed to come off the road and allow myself the time to feel all of that pain.”

During her downtime, Raitt turned inward, practicing yoga, hiking, biking and just checking out other artists as a fan.  For Raitt, it was refreshing to not have to sit in every time she was near a stage.

“For somebody who’s on the road all the time, just being home is really the vacation you want to have,” Raitt recently told Premier Guitar.  “So I got to balance some of the other aspects of my life and be with my family and friends and really enjoy some time at home, watching what fours seasons look like changing in a row from the same place.”

Now, the 2000 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee is back in the swing of things, with the April 2012 release of Slipstream, an effort that American Songwriter praised as “one of the best of her 40-year career.”

Raitt’s first offering since 2005 – and the initial release off her own Redwing Records label –  is stocked with several adult-contemporary cuts that are classic Bonnie.

Raitt tabbed several sources for Slipstream, including R&B producer Joe Henry, Nashville songwriter Al Anderson, and even Bob Dylan, two of whose tracks get the cover treatment from Raitt.

Additionally, Slipstream boasts a reggae-inspired remake of Gerry Raffery’s 1978 hit “Right Down the Line” that is a definite highlight.

The mix of sweet ballads and bluesy rock hearken back to her musical upbringing.

Raised in Los Angeles by her Broadway musical-starring father John Raitt, Bonnie Raitt began playing guitar at an early age, picking up a style based on classic country bluesmen like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and John Hammond.

When Raitt went to college at Radcliffe in Boston, she happened to meet promoter Dick Waterman, who managed many of the blues artists coming out of the Cambridge, Mass., scene.

It didn’t take long for Raitt to develop her soulful voice and passionate guitar licks.

Playing in the folk and R&B clubs in and around the Boston area, Raitt established herself as a must-see solo act and powerhouse slide guitarist, while also performing alongside legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

Sippie Wallace, the revered singer/songwriter who was one of the top female blues vocalists of her era, also became a guiding force for Raitt.

Thanks to an article in Newsweek in the fall of 1970, Raitt began to garner the interest of major labels.  Signing with Warner Bros., Raitt released her self-titled debut album in 1971 and eventually made eight records with the label.

She also continued to develop her sound, dabbling in a poppier direction while still remaining true to her blues roots.

Streetlights (1974) and Home Plate (1975) built Raitt’s audience, but she really broke out with 1977’s Sweet Forgiveness, which featured a cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” that became a commercial hit.

Still, it wasn’t until Raitt went to Columbia Records that she became the household name that she is today.

Nick of Time (1989) was the smash that filled Raitt’s mantle with her first Grammys.  The album reached the top of the charts exactly one year after its release.

“Thing Called Love,” “Nick of Time” and “Have a Heart” were all big-time cuts off that record, which was named Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female) and Best Rock Vocal Performance (Female).  She also won Best Traditional Blues Recording that year for “I’m In the Mood,” a collaboration with John Lee Hooker.

Despite the success of Nick of Time, however, Raitt did not rest on her laurels.  Her biggest achievement came with Nick of Time’s follow-up, 1991’s Luck of the Draw.

Nick of Time was a force of nature. 

Luck earned Raitt three more Grammys, and its tracks “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and “Something to Talk About” still can be heard on airwaves today. In fact, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” has been covered by the likes of Prince, Adele and Bon Iver.

Raitt logged another Grammy three years later, with 1994’s Longing in Their Hearts taking home gold for Best Pop Album.

Raitt’s stocked trophy case is only part of the reason why she was inducted into the Cleveland shrine to rock.  Her soulful guitar talents – with a heavy emphasis on her slide work – paved the way for women in a genre that is generally considered an ‘Ol Boys Club.

“One of the great things about slide guitar is that I found I could go to Cuba and play with musicians there, and then I went to Mali, Africa, where the blues was born, and within a day I was playing with those musicians – because it doesn’t matter whether you know all the chords if you know your way around with a slide,” Raitt said.  “It’s such a monophonic instrument: You can sit in with the Chieftains on slide as well as you can Cuban and African music. When your own lungs literally run out of air, you can take the slide guitar and add that other voice.”

Raitt is so respected as a guitarist that she was one of only two females (along with Joni Mitchell) to make Rolling Stone’s 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, checking in at No. 89.

“When guitar was still considered a man’s game by many, Raitt busted down that barrier through sheer verve and skill,” wrote the venerable music mag.

To this day, Raitt continues to be a voice for women musicians everywhere, holding strong to her musical upbringing and always giving fans something to talk about with her heartfelt songwriting.

For more information, visit Raitt’s official website

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