Monday, December 26, 2011

Any Woman’s Blues #17 – Bonnie Raitt

A happy Monday, friends.  If you were celebrating Christmas yesterday, I hope your time was merry.  If for any reason the merriness has worn off or worn thin, don’t worry: we’re here with the Monday Morning Blues!  (Sorry it's a bit late.)

Today’s post is a special one indeed: the last post of the year in our Any Woman’s Blues series (I want to stress: this series definitely will continue in the new year)—& I saved a very special musician for the year’s end: Bonnie Raitt.  Let’s face it, if you’re having a series about great blues guitarists who also happen to be women, you can’t overlook Bonnie Raitt.

Although Raitt may be best known to the general public for more commercial material that’s a step away from hardcore blues, her blues roots run deep.  She began playing guitar at age 8—& in good blues tradition, her first guitar was a Stella.  She also credits listening to the album Blues at Newport 1963 while in her early teens with piquing her interest in this style of music.  While Raitt was a freshman at Radcliffe, she met blues promoter Dick Waterman, who handled such performers as Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, Sippie Wallace, Mississippi Fred McDowell & others.  Raitt became friends with Waterman & thru him had a chance to perform with & learn from these veteran bluesmen.  In particular, Raitt learned much about bottleneck slide playing from McDowell.

While at Radcliffe, Raitt had performed local coffeehouse gigs, but she left school in her third year to devote herself to music.  At this point she was performing as an opening act for some major blues stars, & Warner Brothers signed her to a contract that led to her self-titled debut album in 1971.  This was largely traditional blues, tho it did include a Stephen Stills song & two of her original compositions.  From the very beginning, Raitt was able to present contemporary material in the mix with more traditional sounds.

Between 1972 & 1989, Raitt released eight other albums, generally to critical acclaim, & she won a solid fan base that was drawn to her great singing, guitar playing & strong material, both original & covers.  However, none of these albums really “hit”—the highest chart position any reached was number 25 by Sweet Forgiveness in 1977.

This changed with the release of Nick of Time in 1989.  Now on Capitol Records, Raitt worked with renowned producer Don Was, & the result was a number one record that won three Grammys—including album of the year—& went 5 times multi-platinum in the U.S.  Raitt built on this success with a string of three more platinum albums, Luck of the Draw, Longing in their Hearts, & Fundamental

Bonnie Raitt’s main guitar is a Fender Stratocaster, tho I have seen photos of her early in her career playing a Gibson ES-175 hollow body; & she also (as in the second video below) plays a Guild jumbo acoustic.  Raitt is a masterful guitarist & slide player.  One particular quirk—for lack of a better term—Raitt has is that she wears the slide on her middle finger.  This is quite unusual; typically people use either the pinky or the ring finger, as either of these keep the more dextrous index & middle finger free for fretting the strings.  While I can’t see any advantage in using the middle finger—& can see some distinct disadvantages to it—I have to say it doesn’t hurt Raitt’s playing at all!  I’m only aware of one other guitar player who wears the slide on the middle finger, & that’s Joe Walsh.  Again, it definitely doesn’t seem to handicap him!

Two videos today, as usual: the first is Raitt covering Elmore James’ “Coming Home,” while the second is her original composition, “Love Me Like a Man.” 

Hope you enjoy them!


  1. Ahhhhhhhhh! I was wondering when you'd get around to Bonnie! I heard her first album as soon as it came out purely by accident, and I still haven't stopped listening to her. Great post, John!

  2. I had "Nick of Time" on cassette and I wore it out! I really should look into acquiring some of her real blues albums, I think. Her father was a great singer/performer too, wasn't he?

  3. Hi Roy & Kat

    Roy: I've been considering her practically every month, & somehow today just seemed like the perfect day for it! Thanks.

    Kat: Thanks! Her dad was John Raitt who was a leading actor in Broadway musicals (Carousel, Oklahoma etc) & also appeared on TV.

  4. Bonnie Raitt, John Lee Hooker, two of the best blues poeple ever!!! Love you blog...

  5. Richard: Agreed! & thanks so much--glad you like the blog.

  6. Thanks so much for these clips. They bring back so many memories from the early years when I listened to Bonnie Raitt a lot. I;m not sue why I stopped, but thanks to this reminder, I will be listening to her again.

  7. Hi Christine: Thanks so much--very glad you're enjoying the clips! Enjoy some Bonnie Raitt!


Thanks for stopping by & sharing your thoughts. Please do note, however, that this blog no longer accepts anonymous comments. All comments are moderated. Thanks for your patience.