My Playlist: Bonnie Raitt

While I previously wrote about an amazing Bonnie Raitt show I saw in 2016 and included her in a few other posts, it occurred to me I haven’t done anything related to her recorded music. Considering how highly I think of this lady as a musician and songwriter, this feels like a big miss that is overdue to be corrected.

First a bit of history. Bonnie Lynn Raitt was born on November 8, 1949 in Burbank, Calif. She grew up in a musical family. Her dad was John Raitt, an actor and acclaimed Broadway singer. Bonnie’s mom, Marjorie Haydock, was a pianist and John’s first wife. According to her online bio, Raitt was raised in LA “in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions, and a commitment to social activism,” all important influences that shaped her future life.

Raitt got into the guitar at the age of eight, after receiving a Stella as a Christmas present. According to an AP story in a local paper, she taught the instrument herself by listening to blues records – yet another example of a self-taught musician who turned out to be exceptional!

Bonnie Raitt 1969

In the late ’60s, Raitt moved to Cambridge, Mass. and started studying Social Relations and African Studies at Harvard/Radcliffe. She also began her lifetime involvement as a political activist. “I couldn’t wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements,” she notes in her online bio. “There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late ’60s in Cambridge.”

Three years after entering college, Raitt decided to drop out to pursue music full-time. She already had become a frequent performer on the local coffeehouse scene, exploring slide guitar blues and other styles. Soon thereafter, she opened shows for surviving blues legends, such as Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Word spread about her great talent, which led to her first record contract with Warner Bros.

Bonnie Raitt_Bonnie Raitt

Since her 1971 eponymous debut, Raitt has released 16 additional studio albums, three compilations and one live record. Over her now 45-year-plus career, she has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is also listed at no. 50 and no. 89 in Rolling Stone’s lists of 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time and 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time, respectively.

Like many artists, Raitt’s life wasn’t all easy peasy. She struggled with alcohol and drug abuse but became sober in 1987. “I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead,” Raitt told Parade magazine in April 2012, adding, “I was one of the lucky ones.” Yep – time to get to some music!

Mighty Tight Woman is from Raitt’s 1971 debut record – just love that tune, which was penned by Sippie Wallace and recorded in 1929.

In September 1974, Raitt released her fourth studio album Streetlights. One of the gems on that record and frankly Raitt’s entire catalog is Angel From Montgomery, a country tune written and first recorded by John Prine.

Among the early ’60s pop songs I’ve always dug is Runaway by Del Shannon, a tune he co-wrote with keyboarder Max Crook for his 1961 debut Runaway With Del Shannon. Raitt’s version of the tune, which is included on her sixth studio album Sweet Forgiveness from 1977, is a brilliant cover with a cool bluesy soul touch. Here’s a great live performance, which apparently was captured at the time the album came out.

In addition to recording songs from other artists, Raitt also writes her own music. Here is Standin’ By The Same Old Love from 1979’s The Glow, which prominently features Raitt seductive electric slide guitar work.

Can’t Get Enough just about sums up how I oftentimes feel about Raitt’s music. Co-written by her and keyboarder Walt Richmond, the track appears on Raitt’s 1982 record Green Light. I just love the cool reggae style groove of this track and the saxophone accents.

Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time perhaps is the equivalent to Carole King’s Tapestry. In fact, even though King’s music is quite different and unlike Raitt she’s a full-blown singer-songwriter, Raitt does remind me of King in another aspect. Like King, she has that warm and timeless quality to her music, a rare gift. While better known for its title track and Thing Called Love, Nick Of Time includes another track that is one of my favorites from Raitt: Love Letter. The tune was written by another Bonnie, Bonnie Hayes, who according to Wikipedia is an American singer-songwriter, musician and record producer. Here’s a cool live version that makes me want to groove along!

Oh, and did I mention Raitt also knows how to perform beautiful ballads? Here’s I Can’t Make You Love Me from 1991’s Luck Of The Draw. The tune was co-penned by country music artist Mike Reid and country songwriter Allen Shamblin. Following is what appears to be the official music video.

Another powerful ballad Raitt recorded for her 13th studio album Fundamental from 1998 is Lover’s Will. This tune is from John Hiatt, one of Raitt’s favorite writers. He recorded and released it as a mid-tempo track in 1983 on his studio album Riding With The King. It’s beautiful how Raitt slowed it down, making it her own, similar to Runaway!

Used To Rule The World is from Slipstream, which appeared in April 2012. Widely acclaimed, Raitt’s 16th studio release became her highest charting album in 18 years, climbing to no. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and hitting no. 1 on both the Top Rock Albums and Top Blues Albums charts. The tune, which is another great example of Raitt’s feel for groove, was written by Randall Bramblett, a singer-songwriter, session keyboarder and touring musician. Here’s a nice live performance.

When it comes to an artist like Raitt with so many great tunes and such a long career, it’s hard to keep a playlist to ten tunes, but that’s the maximum I’m setting myself. I’d like to conclude with Gypsy In Me from Raitt’s most recent studio album Dig In Deep, which appeared in February 2016. The song is a co-write by Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick, two Nashville-based songwriters and musicians.

While I haven’t seen any hints about a new album, it looks like 2018 is going to be a busy year for Raitt. Her tour schedule lists a steady stream of U.S. gigs from mid-March to the beginning of July, immediately followed by various concerts in Europe. Among the highlights are an opening/special guest appearance for James Taylor & His All-Star Band during his U.S. tour from May to the beginning of July, and Paul Simon’s farewell concert in London’s Hyde Park on July 15.

Sources: Wikipedia; Bonnie Raitt official website; Bonnie Raitt discovers her roots in Scotland (AP/Lawrence Journal-World, Jul 14, 1991); Parade; YouTube

 

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Bob Seger Still Like A Rock On New Album

‘I Knew You When’ features old time rock & roll and reflective tunes

I believe Old Time Rock And Roll was the first Bob Seger song I heard in the late ’70s when I started listening to music on the radio. Together with Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp, Seger belongs to my all-time favorite American rock artists. On Friday (November 17), he released I Knew You When, his 18th studio album. While it may not include immediately obvious gems like Katmandu, Turn The Page, Rock And Roll Never Forgets and Old Time Rock And Roll, to name a few, it’s a pretty solid record that gets better after listening to it for a few times.

In addition to arena first-pumping style rockers, Seger included various more reflective tunes. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In May, the heartland rocker turned 72, and rock & roll is a tough business that certainly doesn’t get any easier with advancing age. Last month, Seger was forced to cut short his 2017 Runaway Train Tour with The Silver Bullet Band due to a back issue that required surgery. According to a recent announcement on Seger’s website, his recovery is going well and “rescheduled dates are being mapped out for a coast to coast reboot of the tour this Spring.”

Bob Seger

Seger’s new album is dedicated to his long-time friend Glenn Frey, who like Seger was born in Detroit, MI. The two met in 1967 when Fry played in a band called the Mushrooms. Seger helped him get a recording contract and also wrote and produced the band’s first single Such A Lovely Child. Together with Frey, Don Henley and J.D. Souther, Seger also co-wrote the Eagles classic Heartache Tonight, a 1979 Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit. I Knew You When also pays tribute to Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen with covers of Busload Of Faith and Democracy, respectively. While Seger isn’t known for being particularly vocal about politics, it’s safe to assume the inclusion of these two tunes is not a coincidence.

Currently, there are only clips of two songs from the new album on YouTube, and I wonder whether that’s by design. Only in June this year did Seger’s music become more widely available on streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and iHeart Radio. In a 2014 interview with Rolling Stone, Seger pointed to his manager and record company: “It’s an ongoing issue with my manager and Capitol Records. You have to talk to him about that. They agreed to something many years ago about new media and they don’t want to live up to it. The record business is 50 percent of what it was ten years ago, so they’re trying to cut costs. Until that’s resolved, we let very little out.”

The first clip is Glenn Song, Seeger’s moving tribute to Frey, which initially appeared as a free download on his website this January on the first anniversary of Frey’s death. The song is included as one of three bonus tracks on the deluxe version of the new album. “It’s obviously not meant to be a hit,” Seger told Rolling Stone. “There’s no chorus per se or title section or anything. The idea was just to honor his memory and talk, very specifically, about my impression of him in 1966 when we first met.”

The second clip I found is Seger’s cover of the Reed tune Busload Of Faith. Reed included the track on his 1989 studio record New York and also released it separately as a single that same year. Seger’s version adds muscle to the original with a great electric slide guitar, soul-sounding horns and gospel-like backing vocals. It’s a highlight of the record. According to BillboardSeger adjusted some of the lyrics. He replaced the Reed lines “You can’t depend on the churches/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” with “You can’t depend on the president/Unless there’s real estate that you want to buy” – remarkable how lyrics that were written in a different context more than 25 years ago eerily fit the situation in present day America!

Other tunes I’d like to mention are Gracile and The Highway, two rockers written by Seger. A third rocker, Runaway Train, was co-written by Seger, Tim Mitchell and Silver Bullet Band keyboarder Craig Frost. According to Wikipedia, it is one of several tunes on the album that were recorded many years ago but had remained unreleased until now. This particular song was initially recorded in 1993 and intended for Seger’s 1995 studio album It’s A Mystery. Another example is the title track I Knew You When, which Seger wrote in 1997 and considered for his 2006 album Face The Promise.

I Knew You When was recorded in Nashville and Detroit and produced by Seger himself. According to an announcement on Seger’s website, the album marks his 49th year with Capitol Records, extending his record as the longest tenured solo artist in the company’s history. The standard version of the album has 10 tracks and comes on vinyl and CD.  The deluxe version of the album includes three additional tracks and is available on CD, digital download and via select streaming services.

Seger has earned 13 platinum and 7 multi-platinum RIAA-certified sales awards, including his studio albums Beautiful Loser (1975), Night Moves (1976), Stranger In Town (1978), Against The Wind (1980), The Distance (1982), Like A Rock (1986), The Fire Inside (1991), Face The Promise (2006) and his double live albums Live Bullet (1976) and Nine Tonight (1981). Except for Beautiful Loser and Face The Promise, Seger recorded all of these records with The Silver Bullet Band. Earlier this year, his Greatest Hits album was certified diamond by the RIAA for achieving 10 million units sold in the U.S.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bob Seger website, Rolling Stone, Billboard, YouTube

Small Town Rocker Gearing Up For More R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.

Last week, John Mellencamp released the second single from his upcoming new album “Sad Clowns & Hillbillies,” which he will support with a U.S. tour this summer.

I’ve been a huge fan of John Mellencamp for many years. He’s one of my favorite rock singer-songwriters, along with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. I always enjoy checking out his new music, and so far, I like what I’ve heard from his upcoming new album.

Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which is set for release on April 28th, will be Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album. It features  country singer and songwriter Carlene Carter, the daughter of Johnny Cash’s second wife, June Carter. Carter was the opening act for Mellencamp’s last 2015-2016 tour that supported his previous studio album Plain Spoken.

On February 24, the second single from Sad Clowns & Hillbillies appeared. Grandview features country artist Martina McBride. The song is a bit more rock-oriented than much of Mellencamp’s music in recent years. It reminds me somewhat of the American Fool and Scaregrow albums from the 80s.

The first single from the new album, Easy Target, was released on January 19th. The timing on the eve of the Presidential inauguration was not a coincidence. Sung with a raspy voice, the bleak ballad touches on income disparities and mindless shootings of African Americans in the U.S. In a Yahoo! News interview with Katie Couric, Mellencamp characterized the song as “a reflection on the state of the country.”

For much of his now more than 40-year career, Mellencamp has voiced his political opinions through some of his songs, from his criticism of Ronald Reagan in the 80s to the Iraq war in 2003. Together with Willie Nelson and Neil Young, he also started Farm Aid in 1985, which raises awareness of the importance of family farms and has organized concerts almost every year since then. The organization celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015.

Mellencamp was born in the small town of Seymour, Ind. on October 7, 1951. He still lives in Indiana to this day close to Bloomington on the shores of Lake Monroe.  According to the bio on his web site, Mellencamp was attracted to music at an early age and already was performing in local bars when he was 14.

Mellencamp’s recording career started in 1976 with the release of Chestnut Street Incident under the name of Johnny Cougar. His breakthrough came in 1979 with I Need a Lover from his third studio album John Cougar. Mellencamp’s fifth studio release American Fool brought broad commercial success. It reached no. 1 on Billboard’s album chart, held that position for nine weeks, and became the best-selling record of the year. The records includes the classics Hurts So Good and Jack & Diane.

One of my favorite Mellencamp albums is 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee. It blends rock with traditional folk and country instruments, creating a warm and rich sound. It was a new style for Mellencamp, which he would continue to embrace on many of his successive records. To me the standouts are Paper in Fire, Check It Out, Cherry Bomb and We Are the People. The album became one of Mellencamp’s most successful releases worldwide.

Apart from writing great songs over so many years, Mellencamp has also done some excellent covers. Two of my favorites are the Van Morrison tune Wild Night, included on the Dance Naked album (1994), and a fantastic version of The Drifters’ hit Under the Boardwalk from 1999’s Rough Harvest. For some reason, until recently, I had pretty much ignored that collection of alternate acoustic versions of Mellencamp tunes and some covers, until a good friend pointed it out. Another highlight on Rough Harvest is an unbelievable cover of Dylan’s Farewell Angelina.

Mellencamp’s summer tour will kick off in Denver on June 5 and after more than 20 gigs conclude on July 11 in Forest Hills, NY. In addition to Carlene Carter, the tour will feature Emmylou Harris and folk pop duo Lily & Madeleine. I saw Mellencamp once about 20 years ago – I believe somewhere in upstate New York. I would love to catch the show at Forest Hills Stadium, a great venue where I also saw The Who a few years ago.

Here’s a nice clip of Mellencamp and McBride performing Grandview on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Sources: Wikipedia, Yahoo! News, John Mellencamp web site, YouTube