Friday, January 3, 2014

The #57 Female Artist of the Rock Era: Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie picked up the guitar at an early age.  She graduated from Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie, New York and enrolled in Harvard University in 1967.  She met blues promoter Dick Waterman, who relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the next year.  Many local musicians went with him, including Raitt, who saw it as a great opportunity.

In 1970, while performing at the Gaslight Cafe in New York, Raitt was spotted by several record company scouts.  Bonnie signed with Warner Brothers Records and released her self-titled debut album in 1971.  The press took notice, especially of Raitt's ability as a guitarist.

 Raitt was also respected by her peers, but the general public knew little of her.  She released the album Give It Up in 1972, and many critics believe it to be her best album.  But she couldn't break through because she lacked a strong single--the key to reaching a large number of people.  The album Takin' My Time met with similar lackluster sales.

Raitt was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1975, but now album reviews were mixed with Streetlights in 1974 and Home Plate the following year.

Then in 1977, Raitt recorded Sweet Forgiveness, which featured a cover of "Runaway".  The song only reached #57, but it was her biggest hit to date, and it led to a bidding war between Warner Brothers and Columbia.  James Taylor had just left Warner Brothers for Columbia, and Warner had signed Paul Simon away from Columbia, so Warner Brothers didn't want to lose Bonnie.

The 1979 album The Glow was met with poor reviews and modest sales.  But Bonnie received attention when she was nominated for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female for "You're Gonna' Get What's Coming".

Later in the year, Raitt helped organize five MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  The shows featured co-founders Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, John Hall and Raitt, as well as Bruce Springsteen, the Doobie Brothers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, James Taylor, Carly Simon and many others.  The shows led to a three-record Gold album for Warner Brothers as well as the feature film No Nukes.

In 1982, Raitt attempted to go back to the sound of her earlier music on the album Green Light. But many compared the record to New Wave music.  The album received the best reviews Raitt had gotten in years (and earned her a second Grammy nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance--Female for the album).

But sales did not improve and Warner Brothers was not pleased.  After finishing work on the album Tongue & Groove (which was shelved indefinitely) in 1983, Raitt was dropped from the label.

Despite her problems, Raitt continued touring and sang and appeared in the video of "Sun City", the anti-apartheid song written by Steven Van Zandt.  Bonnie continued her political activism by performing in Farm Aid and Amnesty International concerts, and traveled to Moscow, Russia in 1987 to perform in the first Soviet/American Peace Concert.

Raitt was nominated again at the Grammys for Best Rock Vocal Performance, this time for "No Way To Treat A Lady".

Later in the year, Raitt sang backing vocals for Roy Orbison's television special, then began writing new material for a Disney tribute album, Stay Awake.  She enlisted the help of production wiz Don Was at Capitol Records.  Bonnie loved the results, and hooked up with Was for her next album.

After 20 years, that would be the one that clicked.  Raitt released Nick of Time in 1989 and it rose to #1 after Raitt received critical respect at the Grammy Awards.  Bonnie captured three Grammys for Nick of Time (for Album of the Year, and she won Best Rock Vocal Performance--Female and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for the album).  She achieved all of this notoriety despite the lack of hits, although several songs on the album are underrated.  Her first single from the LP was "Have A Heart", which reached #49.

The title song was a #10 song on the Adult Contemporary chart, but was extremely underrated overall at #92.

"Thing Called Love" was another fine cut on the album, which has now sold over six million copies in the United States.

We'll also feature "Love Letter" from the album.

Raitt also won a fourth Grammy (Best Traditional Blues Recording) for her work with John Lee Hooker on "I'm In The Mood".

Raitt followed up the success with three more Grammy Awards for her work on the album Luck of the Draw.  She won the honor for Best Rock Vocal Solo Performance which recognized the entire album, and another (Best Female Pop Vocal Performance) for the song that achieved what still is the only Top 10 song of her career--"Something To Talk About".

"Something To Talk About" was also nominated for Record of the Year.  Together with Delbert McClinton, Raitt captured the Grammy for Best Rock Group Vocal Performance for "Good Man, Good Woman.

Bonnie reached #18 with "I Can't Make You Love Me".

Raitt's outstanding back-to-back albums earned her the nomination for Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist at the American Music Awards.  Another outstanding track on the eight-million seller Luck of the Draw that was nominated for Grammy Album of the Year was "Not The Only One", which peaked at #34.

In 1994, Raitt won Best Pop Album for Longing In Their Hearts, which became her second #1 album.  She was nominated for Album of the Year and earned three nominations for the song "Love Sneakin' (sic) Up On You".  It was nominated for Record of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Rock Vocal Performance--Female, but was only ranked #19. 

"You" is another great reason to buy the album.  The red-hot period of commercial success between 1990 and 1995 was over, but as pointed out several times, this ranking isn't just about hits and top-selling albums.  In 1995, Raitt recorded the song "You Got It" for the movie Boys on the Side, nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammys.

Also that year, Raitt released the live album Road Tested, which gave her three more Grammy nominations (and one win) as well as an Emmy nomination for mixing on the album.  Road Tested was nominated for Best Rock Album, with her collaboration with Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan earning Raitt the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

"Burning Down The House" was also recognized at the Grammys with a nomination for Best Rock Vocal Performance--Female.

The 1998 album Fundamental went platinum, and the following year, Bonnie and Jackson Browne were nominated for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals at the Grammy Awards for "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine".

In 2000, Bonnie was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Raitt's next effort, Silver Lining, earned her two more nominations from her respectful peers at the Grammys.  The first came for another Best Rock Vocal Performance--Female for "Gnawin' On It".

"Time Of our Lives" also was nominated in the same category the next year.

The hits may have dried up, but the nominations kept coming.  In 2005, Raitt released the album Souls Alike, which gave her another Top 20 album and the Best Female Pop Vocal Performance nomination for "I Will Not Be Broken".
Raitt went seven years before releasing the album Slipstream, and it won a Grammy for Best Americana Album at the Grammys. It is her best work in years and one of the best albums of her career. This is "Used To Rule The World".

Bonnie delivered an excellent remake of the Gerry Rafferty hit "Right Down The Line".

Raitt has six career Grammys to her credit, and another 17 nominations. Few artists in history have been that recognized.

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