For Bonnie Raitt to be one of the few people to make Rolling Stone's lists of both the 100 greatest singers and guitar players demonstrates her unique abilities. In the midst of an extensive tour that takes the blues-rock legend to the Broward Center tonight, Raitt spoke with New Times about her placement on those Rolling Stone lists, her new album, Dig in Deep, and how she thought she would grow up to be a social worker.
New Times: When did you first fall in love with music?
Bonnie Raitt: As the daughter of a Broadway leading man, John Raitt — he did Oklahoma and many other shows — I grew up listening to musicals. My brothers and I would listen to everything from Nat King Cole to Ella Fitgerald. But from the time I was born, I listened to my mom and dad rehearse in the house.
Was there a moment when it clicked that what you wanted to do was be a musician?
No. I always loved singing show tunes and the popular songs of my generation. I was born in 1949, so I grew up listening to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino and later Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I fell in love with folk music, R&B, and Motown. But I thought of music as a hobby. I went to college to become a political activist. Ironically, I ended up bringing more money and attention to the causes I care about as a musician than I would have as a social worker.
When did you realize you had made it as a musician?
When I was 19 and I was opening for these great blues artists, these country blues and Chicago blues artists which I loved. I happened to play the bottleneck guitar, which was unusual. I happened to fall into it, and to my lifelong surprise, I learned I could make a living out of it.
Rolling Stone included you on both its 100 greatest singer list and its 100 greatest guitarist list. Which inclusion do you take more pride in?
That was great. Any time you make a list you're never going to include everybody. I'm very proud to inspire a lot of women guitarists, but I can't really separate. It's the same thing for me, singing and playing.
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What does a typical day look like for you while on tour?
Every night is a blast; we treat every night like opening night. We travel at night, and we don't usually leave the venue until we do a bunch of meet and greets. We say hello to friends and family and do fundraising campaigns for things I care about. About 1:30, we check into the new hotel. At 10:00, I wake up and do about an hour and a half of yoga. If the weather's good, I get outside and ride my bike. Then we go to sound check at 4. We have an early dinner and go out to the show. That's pretty much the routine.
What was the inspiration for the songs you wrote and the songs you covered on your new album, Dig in Deep?
A lot of people want to know why I chose the INXS song ["Need You Tonight"]. My answer is: I love good music. When you hear a song by a band, it has one kind of feel, and then you put it in your own kind of style. What I look for is to try something new from the nineteen other records I have out. There's a couple specific grooves on this record, like "What You're Doin' to Me," that I wrote on piano. It is a song I wrote about love. It's about right when you're about to hang it up, someone shows up. "The Ones We Couldn't Be" is a very heart-wrenching, personal song about accepting years later, after relationships are over, that you tried the best you could to be there for the other person and them for you, and you fell up short sometimes.
Are there songs from your past that you feel you can no longer relate to?
There's certain songs from my early days that just don't hold up for me live. It doesn't mean they're not worthy. It's just that I've outgrown them or they're no longer my taste. But the lion's share from that first record in '71 we're still doing. I try to do songs from every record in every set. We do some songs from the new record, but we do a lot from the Nick of Time era when I won a lot of Grammys. I try to play what the fans want to hear.
Bonnie Raitt: Dig in Deep Tour. 8 p.m. Tuesday, November 1, at Au-Rene Theater at the Broward Center, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-462-0222; browardcenter.org. Tickets cost $40.50-$100.50 via ticketmaster.com.