Flame haired bottleneck blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt dropped into town to meet up with a full house of friends on Sunday night at the Olympia reminding us how this stranger to commercial success for two thirds of her career, is no stranger in the hearts and minds of her loyal Irish following devoted to this American Blueswoman since her arrival on the scene in the early seventies.
This LA woman has been playing guitar for fifty years since she first became enthralled by the wood and wire at eight years of age.Since then Bonnie has fused together her unique blend of laid back bottleneck saturated traditional blues and rock&soul music and has released ten albums before she broke massive in 1989 with Grammy Award winning compositions like Nick of Time and continued up to her current total of eighteen albums with some of the most subtly ingratiating blues music of recent years as well as appearances on another one hundred albums.
This lady blazed a trail for the emotionally conflicted rock chick long before it became a genre for adult female sensibility, and now is regarded as one of the most contented sensible touring acts on the road with a healthy off stage work life style balance producing music that is diverse and challenging.
“You gotta do stuff that stretches you,” says Bonnie Raitt. “I would hang up my spurs if I didn’t have something new to play.”
It’s a night duty life style where day time is recreational time, sleep walking to the Hotel room at 6am in the morning after a tour bus drive through the night to avoid traffic gridlock, and Bonnie believe quiet rightly that a healthy balance of good organic food, sleep and meditation makes for a more happier and effective life as a strolling minstrel. She likes to get to the local parks and exercise or just relax with friends like she intimated on Sunday with a pleasant walk with Irish friends in the Botanic Gardens.
It’s the music that makes it all worthwhile as Frank Zappa once said: ”Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid”.
When you’re in your twenties and living the life of a touring musician you can get away with tearing it up at the backstage parties and mood altering substances, but when you get on in years the road will throw you off kilter, curve balls zooming at you from all directions, you hurt a lot longer and you heal a lot slower so common sense must prevail if you are to succeed and more importantly survive.You don’t want to be a slave to the backstage, you need to semi detach yourself and have a life outside that keeps you grounded.
During the day on the road, she connects with her world of friends, musical cohorts and political causes through e-mail being as well known for her solid commitment and lobbying skills to environmental protection movements like No Nukes in ’79 and anti apartheid featuring in the Mandela concerts, causes like Forest policy that have got her arrested twice, alternative energy and Native American and American foreign policy awareness, and numerous other causes more recently her tireless efforts on behalf of the many musicians left homeless and without instruments following Hurricane Katrina’s brutal assault on New Orleans and surrounding States in America last year.
Her Band includes Nashville bases George Marinelli on Guitar and vocals who has also worked with Bruce Hornsby, Vince Gill and Joe Ely. James Hutch Hutchinson on Bass&Vocals who played with The Neville Brothers opening up for headliners like the Rolling Stones and was introduced to Bonnie by Ian Mc Lagan of Small Faces fame back in 1982 and has stayed with her since. Jon Cleary Keyboards has worked with Taj Mahal and BB King and has been writing and making great music with his own band The Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
Ricky Fataar Drums originally from South Africa has played with the Beach Boys, Ian Mc Lagan and Crowded House before joining up with Bonnie. Vance Foy is the opening act on this tour and he warmed everybody up nicely with a selection of his own songs on acoustic and keyboards and is certainly a talent to watch with rich melodic numbers easy to hook onto and strong vocal range that makes you feel like there is something inside so strong.
Bonnie and the Band hit the stage and its one thrill after another switching various Strats in different opening tunings and sending spinechilling slide riffs into the sweet embrace of her audience hanging on every spoken word and gesture. The relationship with Jon Cleary is superb sharing vocals on Jon’s own Unnecessarily Mercenary and swapping musical phrasing with Hutch, George and Ray as they weaved support around each song seamlessly.
I Will Not Be Broken is her powerful anthem to survival off her new
Album and a classic already as Bonnie introduced it by saying,” She can bend but she will not be broken.”She launched into a Fabulous Thunderbirds twelve bar ordering the band to smoke it on Kim Wilson’s I Believe I’m in Love with You.
Bonnie’s credentials are impeccable having mastered her stagecraft in the commercial wilderness in the early years in the physical shadows of blues masters like Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Sippi Wallace and Mississippi Fred Mc Dowell and of course contemporary rock bottleneck guitarists and songwriters like Little Feats Lowell, George, Richard Thompson, Rory Gallagher and John Hiatt. She is the face of the memorable melody and the infectious funky blue groove represented superbly in her hugely successful collaboration with John Lee Hooker in the early nineties and on Ray Charles final album Genius. My own introduction many years ago to Bonnie Raitt was through the raunchy Chris Smither song Love Me Like a Man which she made her own with a laid back blues mama sassy tease.
Bonnie spent fifteen years on the road with Sippi Wallace and paid tribute to this major inspiration with a feel and authority that comes from a well-served apprenticeship with her essential rendition of Women Be Wise.
“Women be wiser, keep your mouth shut
Don’t advertise your man
Now don’t sit around girls
Telling all your secrets
Telling all those good things
He really can do
Cause if you talk about your baby
Yeah you tell me he’s so fine
Honey I might just sneak up
And try to make him mine
Women be wise, keep your mouth shut
Don’t advertise your man”
Bonnie dedicated Nick of Time to her folks, who made her what she is, she went on to say that people live on in our hearts and memories and her dedication to the legacy her musical parents and her blues heroes handed down to her, will keep the flames of love alive in her music in a most perfect tribute to their memories. Bonnie Raitt’s religion is gratitude and represents the strength of the human spirit, taking life one minute at a time, living in the moment having lost both her parents in recent times and helping her brother recover from stage four cancer.
Over the years Bonnie Raitt’s greatest challenge has been to make the music she loves appeal to the new generation of music listeners and strike an often-critical balance that solves the commercial nature of the business with exciting, evolving and vital embellishments and improvisations to the traditional form.
It’s a no win situation facing many talented artists working the blues form like Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton, you either remain puritanical and stay poor and frustrated or you reach out to the mass music markets and upset the comparative sensitivities of the ethnomusicologists standing at the pearly white gates of judgement.Bonnie had commanded huge respect for navigating these waters, freely mixing road ready, tightly knit classic blues with her own stellar, powerful sassy brand of rock and soul music honed into a sleek bull’s eye performance.
She holds our own Paul Brady in the highest regard and cites the marriage of Irish Traditional music with popular trends as a major inspiration. Luck of the Draw the title of her 1991 album is given a passionate rendition in the Olympia with excellent lead guitar flourishes from George Marinelli.She turns her capable hand to a variety of grooves, its mature soul satisfying a range of strengths from low down blue to jazzy, chilled out for most chilled out, sophisticated ballad that’s big and bouncy and is rocking and rolling across all the state lines of musical influence.
She knows what she it and it is what it is, good songs in the hands of the diamond cutter, refined and polished by years of tough road tested craftsmanship, shining bright like a nightlight.Regarded as an honest hard working musician, she connects with her audience in ways other artists can only dream about.
There is an atmosphere of accessibility in the air, no barriers because for her fans Bonnie is a beacon of hope and guidance, her own life and experience shaped from having to draw on every last reserve of hope and determination she had at times. There is only one other singer can do that for me to that extent and that is Honor Heffernan a lady with a voice that calms stormy waters, who was sitting a few seats in front on me and its always so good to see her because she left an indelible imprint on my memory many years ago with her performance on a bitter cold winters night with Louis Steward down in the basement of the old Clifton Court Hotel on Eden Quay. As evidenced several times throughout Bonnie Raitt’s performance in the Olympia, it’s the power of the human voice and personality to cast a spell of absolute magic at times in our lives as we pass each other along the way.
The atmosphere was buzzing by the time Lets Give Them Something to Talk About, brought the main show to a close followed by several encores all given a massive reception by the audience before finally Bonnie sent everyone home on a soul satisfying high note with Angel from Montgomery written by another favourite on Irish soil John Prime.Bonnie Raitt’s performance fuses together a cohesive harmonic unity, excellent interpretations of finely crafted songs, given that signature trademark of hypnotically sexy drenched vocal and her electric exceptional raunchy command of slide tone and emotion from the neck of large wine bottle caressing the electrified metallic strings.
Inspired by her uncle’s Hawaiian lap steel initially and having the rare privilege as an aspiring young white slide guitarist to play with, talk to and be around the real deal her style encompasses the technique of the first half of the 20th Century, matured along the way to drive the new blues music of the later half with modern soul and a funky New Orleans ambiance.
It was a must hear mesmerizing performance from an artist comfortable in her surroundings forging sexuality and sensuality together with grit and gutsy style backed by a top class, dynamic aggregation of rock steady musicianship.
Bonnie Raitt’s is now my official definition of class and style.