Between the Lines … with Bonnie Raitt
Photo by Marina Chavez
Over the course of her 40-year career Bonnie Raitt, 66, has forged a reputation as one of the most celebrated, awarded and influential artists in country music.
Or was it blues music? Or some sort of hybrid? Little help, Bonnie?
“I can’t control how people are going to perceive the record,” Raitt tells me when discussing her latest disc, Dig In Deep, the follow-up to her 2012 Grammy-winning album Slipstream. “People want to put you in a box. Is she a country artist? Is she a blues artist? I’m really none of those things although I’m influenced a lot by blues and R&B.”
Luckily Raitt takes it all in stride, grateful for both the success she’s enjoyed and the loyal (and growing) fan base that has propelled her career into its fourth decade.
“It’s been a really great two sections of my life, as a cult artist and as a little bit more well-known in the last 25 years,” she says, genuinely appreciative of those leaner early years and the eventual breakthrough in the late-1980s with the album Nick of Time, which led to her greatest successes, some of her toughest personal struggles and ultimately worldwide fandom, 10 Grammys and a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “I don’t have any regrets and I wouldn’t trade anything that happened.”
With the release of Dig In Deep, in stores and online now, and a tour that will take her across North America – including a date in Toronto on March 15 – the self-professed “gypsy” and I discussed her new album, staying fit and growing more interesting with age.
MIKE CRISOLAGO: Dig In Deep is your 17th studio album. Is it as exciting when you release an album today as it was 30 years ago?
BONNIE RAITT: It’s exciting and hairy waiting to find out if people like it or not but I do the best I can each time … There’s a lot less wrangling going on and more confidence by the time you have five or six albums under your belt. It’s more exciting [now] and we got such a great response with the last record that it’s always a little bit trepidatious wondering if people are going to say, “Well, I guess that was it. This one’s not as good.” [Laughs] It makes it particularly exciting when the good reviews start coming in.
MC: And, of course, the concerts themselves are a workout on their own.
BR: Performers are always astonished that even if you happen to have a flu or cold or some stomach problem, during the time you’re on stage all of that kind of goes away. It’s really miraculous – your adrenaline kicks in and then you can come off stage and all of a sudden your nose starts running again and you’re sneezing again. It’s a healing energy that you get as well as probably the most fun you can have. After all these years … it’s still as much fun as it looks like up there. I’ve been sober for 30 years so I’m sure that makes a big difference. If I was still partying at this age, or even 10 years ago, I don’t know if you and I would be talking right now.
MC: Well, I’m happy we are able to talk, and that you’ll be touching down in Canada on your next tour. What are your favourite memories of your time in the Great White North?
BR: I would have to say the Mariposa [Folk] Festival [in Orillia, Ont.], the Winnipeg [Folk] Festival, we played Edmonton recently, and then we added the Nova Scotia [Dutch Mason] Blues Festival a couple of times and Vancouver [Island Music] Festival … I think the audiences are able to grasp a broad range of musical styles and that’s one of the things that makes Canada really fun to play too. They’re pretty sophisticated … we can play some interesting sidelines and go into some deep places in the outdoor settings and the theatre shows are always intimate and enthusiastic. So I don’t know if I have a favourite city, but I love the Rockies out in the west so much. Because it’s close to California I go to Vancouver a lot.
MC: You’ve said, when it comes to people like your father [Broadway star John Raitt] and Tony Bennett, that, “I’m modelling myself after them. People only get more interesting and deeper as they get older.” How do you feel that you have become more interesting or deep over the years?