More than just a best-selling artist, respected guitarist, expressive singer, and accomplished songwriter, Bonnie Raitt has become an institution in American music. Born to a musical family, the nine-time Grammy winner, who Rolling Stone named one of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time," is the daughter of celebrated Broadway singer John Raitt (Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game) and accomplished pianist/singer Marge Goddard. She was raised in Los Angeles in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism. A Stella guitar given to her as a Christmas present launched Bonnie on her creative journey at the age of eight. While growing up, though passionate about music from the start, she never considered that it would play a greater role than as one of her many growing interests.
In the late ’60s, restless in Los Angeles, she moved east to Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a Harvard/Radcliffe student majoring in Social Relations and African Studies, she attended classes and immersed herself in the city’s turbulent cultural and political activities.
"I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements," she says. "There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge." Also, she adds, with a laugh, "the ratio of guys to girls at Harvard was four to one, so all of those things were playing in my mind."
With the release of her 19th album, Slipstream, Bonnie Raitt is starting anew. The album marks her return to studio recording after seven years; it’s coming out as the launch of her own label, Redwing Records; and it delivers some of the most surprising and rewarding music of her remarkable career, thanks in part to some experimental sessions with celebrated producer Joe Henry.
The years before and after Raitt’s last album, 2005’s acclaimed Souls Alike, weren’t an easy time for her, with the passing of parents, her brother, and a best friend. So after following that album with her usual long run of touring -- winding up with the "dream come true" of the "BonTaj Roulet" revue with Taj Mahal in 2009 and a triumphant appearance at the all-star Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th anniversary concerts the same year -- she decided to step back and recharge for a while.
"I took a hiatus from touring and recording to get back in touch with the other part of my life," she says. "On the road, under stress, it’s hard to stay in balance and move forward." Excited to have time at home and with her family and friends, she could go to the symphony, check out live jazz and Cuban shows, and so much else. She continued her ongoing political work, helping to organize NukeFree.org in 2007 and supporting her favorite non-profit organizations. "I didn’t have to be the professional version of myself for a long time," she says. "It wasn’t so much a vacation as a chance to take care of a lot of neglected areas of my life, a lot of processing after all that loss and activity."
When she started thinking about making music again, Bonnie knew she needed to try something out of the ordinary. "I was really interested in working with different people, and someone I had always been drawn to was Joe Henry," she says. "I’m a big fan of his writing and albums and love the work he’s done producing Allen Toussaint, Solomon Burke, and others. I thought it would be really intriguing to see what we could come up with. Coincidentally, he had been wanting to call me as well. Our first phone call lasted over two hours."
Where Raitt’s last several albums concentrated on material from lesser-known and younger songwriters, Slipstream draws from more of her contemporaries, including Paul Brady and Michael O’Keefe’s "Marriage Made in Hollywood" and a reggae-fied version of Gerry Rafferty’s "Right Down the Line." Her longtime friend Al Anderson, formerly of NRBQ, contributes three songs and plays on four; his hard-bopping guitar work adds to the general sense of six-string gunslinging throughout the album.
"One of the new things about this record is that we let the guitar jams go on for a while," says Raitt. George and I got into some rockin’ back and forth like we do live, and I had a ball going head-to-head with Al Anderson, one of my all-time favorite guitarists, on his ’Split Decision.’
Now, Raitt is re-energized and excited to strap her guitar back on and get to work. After spending her career split between Warner Bros and Capitol Records, she is venturing out on her own with a label called Redwing Records. (Slipstream will be distributed by RED in North America and Proper Records for Ex North America.)
The album’s title is very significant for Bonnie -- Slipstream isn’t just a beautiful sounding word, but an indication of her place in the music community. "I’m in the slipstream of all these styles of music," she says. "I’m so inspired and so proud to continue these traditions, whether it’s reggae or soul or blues. I’m in the slipstream of those who came before me, and I’m leaving one for those behind me. I’m holding up the traditions of the music that I love."
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