BONNIE RAITT is thrilled to be returning to Australia as she has done on every album cycle since 1992. Back then she was shocked to see that her music made it all the way to our shores. Indeed it did. My elder siblings were huge fans – even as a child of the late seventies growing up in a tiny town in rural Victoria, I was singing along to my sister’s rendition of Raitt’s ‘Louise’ – it wasn’t until many years later that I understood the depth and beauty of the song’s tragic story.
She’s been around so long that you’d be forgiven for not knowing how well you actually know her! With songs like ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, ‘Gamblin’ Man’, ‘Something to Talk About’ and the list goes on. Raitt has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is listed as number 50 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and number 89 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
When she was a child, Raitt recalls her own early influences with her parents exposing her to an eclectic group of musicians, including two of her favourites, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. At age nine, she remembers sitting around the fire with her summer camp leaders when she was introduced to the folky strains of Joan Baez. Her father was a performer on Broadway, so Rogers and Hammerstein classics formed the backdrop of her early years too. This mix of influences gives some insight into why every album of hers is such a mix of genres. Depending on what you read, you’ll see her described as country, folk, rock and roll, blues and more. But really, she is all of those things and this is what makes her so accessible. She says that she’s been told in the past to ‘just pick one’ genre and then she’d be more successful. But Raitt admits that she would rather make the music that she wants to make than reach a ‘Beyoncé level of fame’.
Given her father’s influence, I ask her if she has any interest in writing for Broadway – as done recently by Edie Brickell and Bruce Hornsby, who she describes as a “good friend and one of the most important artists of our time”: “It’s not out of the running for me [to write for Broadway], but more likely that I would sing one of Bruce’s songs.”
When I ask her to share a positive memory of Australia with me, she shares this great one: “One year when I had just arrived in Australia, I was jetlagged and wandering around outside my Melbourne hotel room – admiring the beautiful flora and fauna. And there were these giant seed pods hanging in the trees – I had never seen anything like them. Suddenly I got such a fright as they all expanded and took off into the sky! They were fruit bats! I was alone and I thought I was hallucinating!”
This consummate storyteller is also an activist for the environment. I ask her what she is most passionate about at the moment. “Well like every American I know, I am absolutely aghast over the future of what we call free press – that the truth and science and the things that we count on, like the law and the constitution, are in so much trouble by the election of an unqualified person as president. I am still too much in shock on too many levels to speak articulately on it. But I am passionate about my political causes.”
Bonnie is as known for her lifelong commitment to social activism as she is for her music. She has long been involved with the environmental movement, doing protest concerts around oil, nuclear power, mining, water and forest protection since the mid ‘70s. She works with The Guacamole Fund on issues of safe and sustainable energy, environmental protection, peace and justice. I speak to Bonnie via Skype in the midst of a week of heavy rains that have resulted in flooding around her home in California. “But Mr. Trump says there’s no such thing as global warming – go figure.”
Bonnie Raitt appears a down-to-earth person who despite decades of success in the industry, finds great joy in the simple pleasures of her life, including the beauty that surrounds her home, and time with good people, which includes a daily yoga practice with her friend, either in person or via Skype.
Bonnie speaks highly of her Australian friends including Renee Geyer and the Finn Brothers, who she enjoys time with when coming here. She also speaks highly of the new generation of musicians including The California Honey Drops, The Alabama Shakes and Sarah Siskin. And she’s really looking forward to meeting our own Liz Stringer on her Australian tour.
These days Bonnie creates her Australian tours around Byron Bay Bluesfest, which she just loves. It’s been a while since she’s been in the Capital – so grab your ticket and let’s make her feel welcome!
BONNIE RAITT plays at Canberra Theatre Centre on Saturday April 7 at 7pm. Tickets are available at canberratheatrecentre.com.au.