Bonnie Raitt: Ready to create new memories

MusicFest’s Saturday headliner had a career-changing experience in 1990

Bonnie Raitt in concert

Bonnie Raitt in concert

Bonnie Raitt has been to Vancouver Island before.

“I was there in the ’70s once. We ended up sleeping on Long Beach once and I woke up to a washed up horse’s head,” she said, with a chuckle. “It had flies all around it and I opened my eyes and went ‘whoooaa’. Then we found out I had locked the keys in the car so when the sun came up, my boyfriend, with just flip-flops and his bathing suit on, he had to walk, like, two miles to try to get AAA. So that’s my memory of the Island.”

Here’s hoping she takes home better memories this time around.

Raitt will be closing the show on Saturday, July 12, at the Vancouver Island MusicFest. The Saturday night slot is often reserved for the biggest act of a multi-day festival, and if ticket sales are any indication, this one is no exception.

The Saturday tickets were the first to go in what is now a completely sold out festival.

Little wonder.

Raitt’s music covers such a vast audience, it would be an injustice to label her as simply folk, or blues, or rock and roll.

The fact that she is an inductee in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame is testament to her far-reaching sound.

That said, it took a while to reach the masses.

One could say it took Bonnie Raitt 20 years to become an overnight sensation.

She gained worldwide recognition with her Nick of Time album, which won four Grammys in 1990, including Album of the Year. Those were her first four Grammys ever, and the vast majority of fans introduced to her music at that time were dumbfounded to discover that Nick of Time was her 10th album.

That’s not to say she was struggling before. Raitt was enjoying life as a touring and recording musician. She had a loyal and steady following, and although the ’70s and ’80s weren’t as commercially successful for her as they were for some of her peers, Raitt has no regrets.

“It wasn’t as frustrating as the folklore goes,” she said. “Yeah, I saw my friends, like Linda Ronstad, Emmylou Harris and Maria Muldaur having more radio play and hit records and I would be out there slogging away on the college circuits. I thought there were at least one or two songs that deserved more radio play, but I didn’t have the drive to get the management, or change the way I look, or change my sound.

“I was always a bit too eclectic. People didn’t know what place to put me – was she a blues artist, or a country artist, or this, or that?”

More accurately, all of the above. And then some.

“To tell you the truth, I built my following slow and steady and I knew if I did that, and based it on live performances and just put the records out so I could tour … that I probably would be able to have a long career like the blues and jazz and Broadway artists, like my dad (John) who was still performing when he was 87 years old,”she said. “So in terms of the national awareness of me, that didn’t bug me too much, because I knew I had my solid cult fan base.

“So, I was frustrated, but I knew that my name was still getting on the front of records and I knew I was still playing to 3,000 people and my fans were staying with me, record after record, hit or no hit.”

From an industry standpoint, the 1980s were not a friendly decade for Raitt and others with the folk/blues/acoustic sound.

The music business became more about the business and less about the individuality.

Labels weren’t interested in anything less than mainstream sounds, and that left little room for a lot of incredibly talented artists.

“People that were album-oriented artists were pushed to the wayside,” said Raitt. “It wasn’t until the end of the decade, where college radio, and stations like VH1 would play music from older artists.

“Then I saw that Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians and Tracy Chapman, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Robert Cray were four of the bands that had hit records and I said ‘you know, this is the kind of music that I do and I think that I could come back and actually get some airplay now.’”

Queue Nick of Time.

And queue the life-changing experience –February 21, 1990.

That night, at the 32nd annual Grammy Awards in her hometown of Los Angeles, was a turning point in Raitt’s career.

“That show made more of a difference in my career than I think any other artist in the history of the Grammys,” she said. “It (Nick of Time) went to No. 1 in a couple of weeks and most of the world hadn’t even heard of me before then.

“Everybody loves a Cinderella story. I think there was a lot of residual affections and respect for what I did, but people were just waiting for me to make a better record. I can’t blame anyone for it (taking so long) – it was just the right time, the right synchronicity, and a good song, in Nick of Time.”

She has had 19 nominations and has won six Grammys since, the latest being Best Americana Album in 2013, for Slipstream.

Raitt is one of the most highly regarded performers in her profession. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked her 50th overall in the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time (Nov. 27, 2008) and No. 89 in the Top 100 Guitarists.

Her story is the stuff of movies.

So, Bonnie … who gets that lead role, when the Bonnie Raitt movie is written?

“Oh my God, I have never been asked that,” she said, laughing – then gave it some thought. “When they asked me who I wanted to induct me into the Hall of Fame, it was really daunting, because how do you pick that? [Melissa Ethridge did the honours.] But there’s a woman now who is absolutely knocking it out of the park by the name of Rachael Price with a band call Lake Street Dive. Her, Susan Tedeschi and Joan Osbourne – I don’t know if they’d want to play me. Maybe if they dyed their hair red and put in a little white streak…”

Raitt is a big fan of Canadian music, and has collaborated with a few Canuck notables.

Canadian Shirley Eikhard penned Something to Talk About – Raitt’s most commercially successful single to date.

Bryan Adams has written a couple of tunes for Raitt – (Keep This Heart Alive and Rock Steady).

And she has had a long-standing musical relationship with Colin James, dating back some 25 years. She was featured on his second album, recording a great summertime beach-sound duet, Give it Up.

Was it a case of an established star helping out an up-and-comer, or something more?

“Actually, I think it was just a case of mutual fans,” she said. “I don’t know if I was helping him by doing it, but my cool factor went way up by doing it, as far as I’m concerned.”

A lot of people would say so did his.

Raitt and James have been known to hook up on stage from time to time at each other’s gigs, when one or the other is in the area – and interestingly enough, James just happens to be “in the area” on the weekend of the Vancouver Island MusicFest.

He is playing in Victoria the night before Raitt plays in Courtenay. Could there be an impromptu appearance by the Canadian blues icon on Saturday night?

We will have to wait and see.

Raitt is hoping to experience more of the Comox Valley than just the stage at the Courtenay Exhibition Grounds. She’s booked a few days off and plans to take in some of what Canada’s rainforest wonderland has to offer. And who knows? She might even stay a little while longer. Canadians aren’t the only ones who look upon B.C.’s west coast as an ideal place to retire.

“I have a lot of friends up there – Colin, and Sarah (McLachlan), and John Lee Sanders – a bunch of my pals live up there, in that area, and I’ve said ‘save me some room; my place is getting nuts down here.’”

Another international talent in the Comox Valley? Yeah, we’d be OK with that.


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