Rock me pretty baby, rock me all at once
Rock me for a little while, rock me for a couple of months
You know honey I’ll rock you too
Well I try to get closer
But I’m still a million miles from you
In 1967, Bonnie Raitt moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts to go to college, specifically Radcliffe, which at that time was the “women’s college” at Harvard. As the daughter of Broadway singer John Raitt, she already had a musical pedigree. She later said, “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements. There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.”
The album Blues at Newport 1963 kindled her interest in blues and slide guitar and she checked out that scene in local coffeehouses. (Near as I can tell, this was centered around Club 47 and Jack’s in Cambridge. 47 became Club Passim, a folk club still in Harvard Square; Jack’s, alas, is long gone).
While at Radcliffe, Raitt met Dick Waterman, a local promoter who either promoted or booked blues acts such as Skip James, Junior Wells and Mississippi John Hurt. (Waterman was one of the few non-performers nominated into the Blues Hall of Fame.) He took her under his wing, and Raitt was schooled by, and performed alongside, some of her musical heroes.
Raitt gives Waterman much credit for introducing her to, and encouraging her to be part of, the blues scene. And as everybody I think knows, Bonnie plays a mean slide guitar. Her principal touring guitar is a customized Strat which became the basis for a signature model in 1996.
|“My brown Strat—the body is a ’65 and the neck is from some time after that. It’s kind of a hybrid that I got for $120 at 3 o’ clock in the morning in 1969. It’s the one without the paint, and I’ve used that for every gig since 1969.”||”|
Having made the decision to go professional, success for Raitt did not come easily, especially being a woman in the rough n’ tumble, macho world of the blues. But she kept at it and slowly she started to get acclaim from magazines such as Rolling Stone and Newsweek. (Critical acclaim, of course, does not necessarily translate into putting food on the table).
But like a lot of blues artists, she felt that, “I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead.” She cleaned up her act, in part because she saw Stevie Ray Vaughn play better sober than drunk.
Here’s a sizzlin’, sexy, smokin’ tune called “Million Miles:”
The world caught up with Bonnie in the late ’80’s when she won three Grammys including Album of the Year for Nick of Time. Interestingly she said it was her first sober album. A couple of years later she did it again with Luck of the Draw, also Album of the Year. In addition to her blues playing and singing, she’s also a fine balladeer. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is maybe one of the saddest unrequited love songs ever.
Of the song, she said playing it is “no picnic. I love that song, so does the audience. So it’s almost a sacred moment when you share that, that depth of pain with your audience. Because they get really quiet, and I have to summon … some other place in order to honor that space.”
Raitt has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is listed as number 50 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and number 89 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In March 2000 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Blues Hall of Fame – wake up!)
Sources: Wikipedia, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bonnie Raitt web site