Bonnie Raitt Turns to Uplifting Stories When Writing Songs in Difficult Times

An average person will live 2.2 billion seconds in their lifetime – and in just one of those, everything can change. It’s one of life’s great mysteries that got Bonnie Raitt thinking while writing her latest masterpiece, “Just Like That…”

“I know the word unprecedented has been used a lot lately, but there’s never been a five- to six-year period in my life as devastating as this,” Raitt said, reflecting on the many influences of news behind his 21st album.

The 10-song stunner was released in April on Redwing Records, around the time Raitt received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy as well as the Icon Award at Billboard’s Women of the Year 2022 ceremony, recognizing the illustrious 50-year career of a renegade who showed a woman could kill a guitar and write a song as well as her touring mentors and contemporaries like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and James Taylor. She remains one of music’s greatest crossover artists who has blurred the boundaries of blues, rock and pop.

Of course, the pandemic, the election, Black Lives Matter and climate change all weighed heavily on Raitt as the “Just Like That…” material sprouted. These are issues that have often preoccupied the 72-year-old artist-activist, as evidenced by her seminal work with MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), Vote For Change, and various social justice causes advocating for women, Native Americans, and people. Black. creators.

Yet despite all the downtrodden news, Raitt has also seen some upsides. As Mr. Rogers used to say, she “sought the helpers”. And when Raitt found them, she wrote about them, discovering the story of two families affected by organ donation that became the title track of the new album, and the story of a palliative care program in prison that inspired “Down the Hall”.

“These stories moved me so much. I just burst into tears and realized how much I hurt for moving and uplifting stories of love and action,” Raitt said.

Recently, she’s also suffered a number of personal losses (an experience shared on the song “Livin’ for the Ones”), including the death of her friend John Prine after a battle with COVID. The moving “Angel From Montgomery” – Prine’s song that Raitt recorded for her 1974 “Streetlights” album – is one she still loves to play almost every show, and its style influenced the storyteller’s narrative on ” Just Like That…”

“I wanted to go back and sing about other people’s stories, not just always take from my own life,” Raitt explained, though his confessionals like “Can’t Make You Love Me” are still among his most prized.

As she delivers the songs live, another artistic hero from Raitt will be part of the celebration, with Chicago’s Mavis Staples guest at her Ravinia show on Wednesday.

“Mavis meant a lot to me because of her inspiring political stance as well as her spiritual guidance, positivity and incredibly funky voice,” she explained.

Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples perform at the Chicago Blues Fest in Grant Park in 2003. Staples will join Raitt on the Ravinia stage on July 27.

Raitt and Jackson Browne worked with Pops Staples on one of her solo albums, and she and Mavis quickly became “soul sisters.” The relationship was further cemented when The Staple Singers received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, an organization Raitt helped co-found in the ’80s to reconcile better royalties and more recognition for early music pioneers. R&B that were often overshadowed and undercompensated.

“We must rectify the injustice and institutionalized racism in the case of rhythm and blues, jazz and soul artists who are still living and their descendants,” Raitt said. It continues to be an important cause in her career that has allowed her to use her voice in so many ways, ever grateful that 30 years ago she had her own “Just Like That” moment that changed everything.

“It was 1990 when I won three Grammys for ‘Nick Of Time,'” Raitt said, recalling the circumstances of her breakthrough commercial album that sold 5 million copies and catapulted her to stardom after being an underground artist for almost 20 years. This year the Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry.

“I didn’t expect the response. It really meant a lot to me and uplifted other people too. I got letters from artists in their 40s and up saying, ‘I’m going to try again.’ you can drill, maybe I can too.”

And with so many of his contemporaries still going strong, Raitt said: ‘There’s a tremendous amount of creativity that happens in your 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s not your grandparents’ 70s, I can tell you. say as much.


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Grace D. Erickson