Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


RAITT, Bonnie

(b 8 November 1949, Burbank CA) White blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, often with country-rock feel. Father John Raitt (b 19 January 1917, Santa Ana CA; d 20 February 2005, L.A.) starred in the first production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel '45; on stage in Pajama Game '54 and in the film '57, etc; later he duetted with his daughter on stage. She left college '69 to play the blues in East Coast clubs, touring as an acoustic duo with Freebo on tuba/fretless bass, who later played on some of her albums; she joined ex-Little Feat Paul Barrere in Bluesbusters. Her success in Boston and Philadelphia led to signing by Dick Waterman, who had her sharing bills with Sippie Wallace, Fred McDowell, Son House (all abiding influences); her gravelly, emotionally mature voice belied her years, while her fine guitar technique (especially on slide) marked her as one to watch.

Bonnie Raitt '71 mixed blues and ballads, sidemen including Chicago bluesmen Junior Wells, A. C. Reed on tenor sax; Give It Up '72 was produced by Michael Cuscuna and included Woodstock musicians; Takin' My Time '73 was produced by John Hall, Streetlights '74 by Jerry Ragavoy, Home Plate '75 and Sweet Forgiveness '77 by Paul Rothchild: the latter including a cover of Del Shannon's '61 hit 'Runaway', her nearest to a hit single in top 50 USA, but her albums all did well, going as high as top 25. The Glow '79 was produced by Peter Asher, including a sexy slowed-down sex-change treatment of the Little Richard hit 'The Boy Can't Help It' (written by Bobby Troup), but the LP's gloss didn't suit (she was not another Linda Ronstadt) and was deliberately missing from Green Light '82 (including Ian McLaughlin on keyboards).

Each LP contained good things: she wrote songs herself, chose others by Allen Toussaint, James Taylor, Sippie Wallace, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, J.D. Souther, Eric Kaz, etc; she helped blues friends by hiring them as support, was active in the MUSE anti-nuclear campaign with Jackson Browne. Her singing was intimate and knowledgeable, but she changed producers too often, as though unsure of her niche; after a hiatus, on Nine Lives '86 she'd completely lost it: overproduced, unswinging music and undistinguished songs were totally unlike her best work. She switched from WB to Capitol and came back with a bang: Nick Of Time '89 was not as good as her best stuff, but it was such a relief to hear her on form again that she got a fistful of Grammys she'd deserved for years. Luck Of The Draw '91 was followed by Longing In Their Hearts '94 with guests like Richard Thompson, Levon Helm and Charlie Musselwhite; but Road Tested '95 (live at the Paramount Theatre in Burbank) had among many guests Bryan Adams, who isn't qualified to carry her guitar case. Fundamental '98 was a studio album produced by Mitchell Froom with songs by Souther, John Hiatt, Paul Brady, J. B. Lenoir, Willie Dixon etc. Silver Lining 2002 was followed by by Souls Alike 2005; then Decades Rock Live 2006 was a CD/DVD set, with guests such as Alison Krauss, Ben Harper, Keb' Mo' and Norah Jones: the live show on the DVD caught her soulful voice better than many of the studio albums. Slipstream 2012 was followed by Dig In Deep 2016, which got some of her best reviews in years: her honesty and her song styling were undimmed.