Thursday, November 24, 2022



I’m a big fan of Bonnie Raitt. Always have been, from long before her eventual break through, the one heralded, I guess by the song that entitles this piece. Before then she was a doe-eyed vixen who confused the biz as where best to place. Sure, the blues was her bag, but, in the 1970s blues was not deemed the domain for wee slip of a girls from Burbank, California. Yes, she was admired for her bluesy based formula, drawing in roots from folk, country and rock music, but nobody much bought her records. Being also, in her earlier years, a bit of a booze hound led, sometimes, to an inconstancy of performance that perhaps baffled and beguiled those responsible for her career, with any number of producers throwing different prisms her way, through which her light might get seen to shine.

Making her live debut on stage at the 1970 Philly Folk Festival with Mississippi Fred McDowell perhaps 

accentuated the quandary, the contrast between the grizzled old bluesman and the fresh faced girl somewhat remarkable. Her first solo release followed a year later, critics recognising her star, her bottleneck guitar play already to the fore, together with her distinctly yearning vocal timbre. Success, however took a while, it taking seven years, six albums and five producers before anything like a hit. And, when it came, a cover of Del Shannon's 'Runaway', it wasn't even all that typical, a, frankly, boogie by numbers chug, a very good boogie by numbers chug, mind, but it got her her hit single 


Now signed to a major deal, this should have been plain sailing, but their expectations were higher than her sales, resulting in a brutal dump, shortly after the completion of what would have been her 9th album, were it not shelved. Without a label, and despite her affinity for substance abuse getting increasingly in on the act, her profile was kept high by touring and activism: if there was an 'Aid' between 85 and 88, the chances are she was involved, so Sun City, Amnesty International, Farm Aid. But her luck outed, or maybe her determination, as, by 1987, she was clean and open again for record deals. Capitol signed her and 1989 saw 'Nick of Time', a presciently entitled LP if ever was, sweep her to overnight superstar. I guess the time was right for efficiently smooth grown up music, with enough experiential heft to be valid to a market then beginning to open the boundaries of what might be considered marketable. Her 10th record, not only did it dent the charts, it hit the top, becoming, in time, 230/500 in the Rolling Stone list of all time. With the title track her own, along with two others, the rest was a shrewd mix of songs by other artists of more pedigree than presence; John Hiatt and Jerry Lynn Williams for two. And what a stellar cast of musicians: Crosby and Nash, Don Was and the Was Not Was singers, Herbie Hancock. And the first appearance of her later near constant rhythm section, Hutch Hutcherson on bass and the ex-Beach Boy, Ricky Fataar, on drums. A great album. And let's not forget her duet, 'I'm in the Mood', with John Lee Hooker, for which they gained a Grammy, for his late life smash, 'The Healer'.

But, astonishingly, not as great as the next, the one that inspired this piece. I'm biassed, of course, but not alone, as it did even better, sales wise, than its predecessor. Why my greater love? Down, actually to the choice of songs. Again, a mix of hers and those by celebrated writers in their own right. So, with four of hers, there are another John Hiatt, a Womack and Womack, a Chip Taylor and two by fricking Paul Brady, including the title track. I should add I was on a big Brady binge at this sort of time, so for her to be playing his songs was enough to guarantee my attention. It also included the song, which has become most associated with her, much re-covered subsequently, if never quite so well, the sublime 'I Can't Make You Love Me'. She also provided a cover of Richard Thompson's 'Dimming of the Day' round about this time, for the tribute album, 'Beat the Retreat', which I habitually include as part of LotD, when I play it on my laptop. Paul Brady and John Hiatt were among guest musicians this time, as was Thompson, so getting on for being a dream team. I remember buying this disc in 1991, and it still holds up a a personal favourite. I'll bet it also Brady's, he continuing as a presence throughout the rest of his career, adding songs, having his own profile (and income) boosted as a result.

Seven albums have followed, allowing her to crest the wave of acclaim she had found. If never quite as successful as the double whammy of 'Nick' and 'Luck', she has maintained an elegant presence, a stateswoman for the blues and the older woman in rock music. I saw her live, for the first time, some time before the pandemic, 2016, actually, I discover with a shudder, and she was terrific. As was her Fataar and Hutchinson inclusive band, with the great George Marinelli her now regular guitar sidekick. Realising it was so long ago alerts me to the fact she tours the UK again next year. I should go. Before she does, to capture that skill, her effortless guitar, a slide to die for, and that voice, the elixir of smoke and honey.

Let's finish with Bonnie and Richard, hoping their day never dims.....

I can't make you love her, but....