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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

Blues artist Bonnie Raitt is our guest this hour, along with her band. She joins us in studio 4A, along with a live audience. She's a nine-time Grammy winner, known for her soul-stirring slide guitar, her commanding voice, and the famous mop of red hair. She writes some of her own songs, but often features material from blues icons, from her own band members, and from some less well-known songwriters. Her most recent album, her 18th, is called Souls Alike. Bonnie Raitt, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. BONNIE RAITT (Musician): Hi, Neal.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: This is the big-time for me, to make your show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, likewise. If you all have questions for Bonnie Raitt about her music, her career, or how those both interact with her social activism, join the conversation. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK, and the e-mail address is talk@npr.org. We want to begin with some music. What would you like to play?

Ms. RAITT: You know, I'd love to start out with what we do best, which is kind of a funky groove that's driven a lot by our keyboard player. He's a great solo artist as well, from New Orleans, Jon Cleary, who has his own band and tours all the time, and I'm lucky enough to have recorded a few songs of his. We're going to do a duet and start things out honoring our debt to New Orleans.

(Soundbite of squeak)

Ms. RAITT: That squeak (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RAITT:(singing) You're just into looking after number one. Only thing you worry about is having your fun. First sign of trouble and it's understood. You'll get going while the going's still good. You're so very unnecessarily mercenary.

Mr. JON CLEARY (Musician): (singing) You a secret agent got a hidden agenda. Got me in your sights. Think I'm a real big spender. Stick around now, baby. Pretty soon you're going to see. I ain't got no money but my love is for free. You're so very unnecessarily mercenary.

Ms. RAITT: (singing) You're a gun for hire when a war breaks out. Loving on the front lines till the money runs out.

Mr. CLEARY: (singing) Finger on the trigger, baby, pull it and see...

Ms. RAITT and Mr. CLEARY: (singing) ...if your mercenary tactics going to work on me. You're so very unnecessarily mercenary. You're so very unnecessarily mercenary. Whooo.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RAITT: (singing) He's a gun for hire when a war breaks out. Loving on the front line till the money runs out.

Mr. CLEARY: Ooo, finger on the trigger, baby. Pull it and see...

Ms. RAITT and Mr. CLEARY: (singing) ...if your mercenary tactics going to work on me. You're so very unnecessarily mercenary. You're so very unnecessarily mercenary.

Ms. RAITT: Break it down, Jon.

Mr. CLEARY: (singing) You're so very, whooo, unnecessarily mercenary. Don't you know?

Ms. RAITT and Mr. CLEARY: (singing) You're so very unnecessarily mercenary.

Ms. RAITT: (singing) You're so unnecessarily, yeah, baby.

Mr. CLEARY: (singing) Don't you worry now, baby. (unintelligible)

Ms. RAITT: (singing) You're so very, you're so very, yeah.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: All right, guys. Thank you.

CONAN: Bonnie Raitt on slide guitar. That was Jon Cleary on keyboard, James "Hutch" Hutchinson on base, and Ricky Fataar on drums. Let's not forget George Marinelli on guitar, as well, back there in corner.

Ms. RAITT: Oh, yeah, that other guitar.

CONAN: That other...

Ms. RAITT: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: This band, you've had this band together for a while now.

Ms. RAITT: Oh, yeah. They've been out on my parole...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: I don't know whose parole they've signed off on, but some of them have been with me, like Hutch, the bass player, since '83. I met Ricky back in '81, but he's been with me since Nick of Time, nonstop. And Jon Cleary came on in '98. And George was with us all during the early '90s, the Luck of the Draw period and Road Tested, and came back on in 2000. So this unit together has been rocking since 2000.

CONAN: How important is it when you're doing shows on the road all the time, every night, to have a band that knows what everybody else is doing?

Ms. RAITT: I'll tell you what's important is they know how to hang and get along with each other. That is - because of the two hours you're on stage, there's a lot more involved with being on the road 10, 11 months out of the year when you're out promoting a record. You have to be able to hang and be considerate and entertain each other and be funny and smart and good people to your family and righteous, in a way, and not too tight and not too loose.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. RAITT: So these guys fit the bill. They're really erudite. They're -musically, can play anything I want to, you know, throw at them. They're curious. They're avid. And then they, of course, get on stage, and they can do - they're like a real well oiled machine. We don't rehearse. We just let her rip.

CONAN: And since we're all on radio, we can say they're really cute.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: They are really cute.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. RAITT: And looks are important, too. But not in the long run because, as Paul Simon says on his new record, who's going to love you when your looks are gone?

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. RAITT: I will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on. Again, if you'd like to joins us, 800-989-8255. E-mail, talk@npr.org. Rory(ph), Rory's calling us from Anchorage in Alaska.

Ms. RAITT: You're kidding.

CONAN: No.

RORY (Caller): Yes. Bonnie, your looks, obviously, aren't gone. You're a very lovely woman.

Ms. RAITT: Thank you.

RORY: And I remember (unintelligible) your first albums came out, I was back in college, and I saw that red hair, and I just flipped. But it was the music that really flipped me.

Ms. RAITT: I'm so glad.

RORY: And your music all through the years has been top drawer. I mean, the soul and the feeling. Now, my question is, Bonnie, I have friends in the music industry and I was in the film industry for a number of years. And I know that it's a tough row to haul in the music industry; you're in the studio late nights and then you're out on the road, like, as you said, seven months of the year. How - and I've seen the effect, the deleterious effect it's had on relationships on my friends who have been in bands...

Ms. RAITT: Mm-hmm.

RORY: ...and struggling.

Ms. RAITT: Very true.

RORY: How hard has it been for you in your personal life?

Ms. RAITT: That's a really good question. I think that leaving your loved one at home alone for months at a time is very, very hard on both parties. And I believe in coming off the road every four weeks or so, and encouraging people if they can get their family to come and visit. But it's really important, because I grew up with a dad who was on the road and he made time to make sure that he was back for holidays. And some people aren't that easy - aren't that lucky, you know.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: A world tour will take people away, and it's just too expensive to fly the band and crew home. But the way it works for me, being a woman, is, you know, it takes a special kind of partner. A special kind of man to be able to not be threatened by someone who's getting a lot of attention, and that goes for both sexes. But, for me, it's been challenging. You know, I chose not to have children because you really can't, in my opinion, do both excellent. You know, for me, taking care of the older generation of rhythm and blues and blues artists was my kids. And believe me, having a band is like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: ...having a roomful of kids. It's like the seven dwarves.

CONAN: Much less mature.

Ms. RAITT: So, you know, it's a challenge, but I try. Over the years, and especially in the last 10 years, I made a point and a priority of making my personal life as balanced and as well nourished as my professional life.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Let me just follow up on that. What, about 20 years ago, you had a pretty well publicized falling out with alcohol and drugs...

Ms. RAITT: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: ...and re-established your life. I mean, the life leads itself -lends itself to - if you...

Ms. RAITT: Definitely. And, you know, late at night, whether it's DJs, or bartenders, or rock critics, or, you know, late night DJs and radio stations, it's just the music business works at night. And when you get off work at four o'clock in the morning, you're not going to the health clubs, so...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: ...it does catch up with you; and the same things that I got away with in my 20s, and were a lot of fun in my 30s, ended up just being sloppy and dysfunctional. So I was lucky, like a lot of my peers. And I think a lot of us grow up in this business and put aside more childish things.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: Much to our dismay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: I wonder, at some point, did you have to think about changing the culture of the band?

Ms. RAITT: No, because I think it just naturally divides itself into people. The people that are lucky enough to get - admit that they have an addiction problem and they get help, as long as they don't have a problem continuing to be on the road with people who are - as we call -normies, you know.

CONAN: Normies?

Ms. RAITT: But - yeah. Most of my - the musicians I know who have either been able to handle it, just cut back. Or I sit on the sidelines and watch them get their IQ lowered.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Rory, thanks very much for the call.

I think Rory has gone back, in Anchorage. Here's an e-mail question. We have time to at least address this. "Bonnie, you're my idol. I have all 18 albums; think there's a jewel on each one. Do you have a favorite creative period you felt was your strongest or best?" That's from Madeline(ph) in St. Louis.

Ms. RAITT: Some of these are great. Did somebody screen these questions?

CONAN: Yes.

Ms. RAITT: Thank God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: A favorite period. Oh, boy. You know, I would have to say the last two albums with this band. And I'm not just saying it because they're in the room with me. But I did a lot of work on myself, came through a tricky period, romantically. And the thrush of success and sobriety and marriage and all of that that came with the 90s was incredibly heady and very exciting. But it was very stressful.

So I kind of stepped back in 2000 and took stock, and rearranged things and did some work on myself internally. And so I've been able to be more free, and more balanced, and more healthy, and consequently, have a much better time. And I got the band that's - to just really - that's why I call it Souls Alike. So I think this period of time and the last two albums have been my favorite.

CONAN: We'll call it the blues period, anyway. We're talking...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: I got to get the blues.

CONAN: We're talking with Bonnie Raitt. We'll be back after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: They can applaud if they want to. We're joined here today in Studio 4A today by singer/songwriter/guitarist and nine times Grammy Award winner, Bonnie Raitt, along with her band. That's James "Hutch" Hutchinson on bass, John Cleary on keyboards, George Marinelli on guitar, and Ricky Fataar on drums.

Of course, we want to hear from you. If you have questions about the new album, music, or the career of Bonnie Raitt, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Let's talk with Kathleen(ph). Kathleen is calling us from Kansas City.

KATHLEEN (Caller): Bonnie, you are great. Let me just start off by saying that.

Ms. RAITT: Thank you.

KATHLEEN: I - recently, I saw your show in October when it came here to Kansas City. And you're right. Your band is hot. You're hot. Y'all look like you're having a great time. My question is kind of two-fold. I've heard you do so many duets with people through the last, you know, through the last 20 or so years. And one of my favorites is when you were on Ray Charles' CD, and did the duet with him. I just - my question is who are some of the people that you did duets with that you enjoyed, and you kind sat there and said, wow, I'm really singing here with Ray Charles.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. RAITT: Yeah, it, you know...

KATHLEEN: Or...

Ms. RAITT: It's one of the big gifts and continual surprises for me to find myself in a pair of headphones, looking across. I mean, one of the first times I recorded with a real legend was B.B. King.

KATHLEEN: Uh-huh.

Ms. RAITT: And, you know, even though we'd been friends for years, it was still just remarkable that I hit the big time enough to be asked to do that. And we recorded two or three songs together. Willie Nelson was after that. And then, since then, it's just been an unbelievable one after the other of legends I've been waiting on my list: Toots Hibert from Toots and the Maytals, Tony Bennett, Aretha...

KATHLEEN: Wow.

Ms. RAITT: You know, Ray Charles was a pinnacle for me, as was recording with my dad. Back in the mid 90s, we toured a lot together. He's always come out and stolen the show in California.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. RAITT: Come out at the end of the night, sing Oklahoma with the whole audience on their feet. But we finally got to go and record Hey, There, and some songs from Annie Get Your Gun. And, you know, what it's like? It never, ever gets old, and it never gets more - anymore of a Christmas gift that opens up every time I get there with one of my heroes.

CONAN: Hmm.

KATHLEEN: Well, you're blessed. And I'll take this next question off line. And I again, it's just a treat for me to visit with you. But besides your father, because I know he was a great influence, who are some of your earlier, earlier inspirations when you were a kid? And anyway, thank you so much.

Ms. RAITT: Thank you, Kathleen. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Thanks for calling.

Ms. RAITT: We love Kansas City. I'd say, in early on, Joan Baez probably moved me to learn the guitar and become a political activist. She was -like our family was Quaker...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: ...and was there at the civil rights marches and the peace marches, when I was in my early pre-pubescent years. And everybody was playing guitars, but she was it for me. So she was great. And when I saw John Hammond, Jr. play slide guitar and blues guitar, and he, like myself, was a white middle class white kid that fell in love with the blues, it seemed to, at 15, when I saw his album cover and realized that he was doing a passable job of not making a fool of himself...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: Of course, the Stones turned so many of the rest - so much of the rest of the world on to Chicago blues. People like Slim Harpo, and Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf. I mean, like everybody else, as a teenager, I got my exposure through the Stones and through the British blues invasion. But I'd have to say John Hammond. And then later when I toured with Mississippi Fred McDowell and Muddy Waters, and the great Sippie Wallace, they were absolute mentors for me.

CONAN: Hmm. there's a - I think it's common that, no matter how accomplished you are, sometimes you feel as if you've been faking it all this time. And pretty soon, you're going to get caught.

Ms. RAITT: Oh, you too, huh?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And I wonder, if you find yourself in one of those situations where you're there with, you know, Tony Bennett, or...

Ms. RAITT: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: ...or, you know, Ray Charles.

Ms. RAITT: I know.

CONAN: You know, do you get the feeling that, you know, your fourth grade teacher is going to come in a haul you out by the back of your neck?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: Absolutely. Absolutely. It's like the exam - I mean, the night before, I'm rarely able to sleep because I still can't believe it. I mean, you know, with John Lee Hooker, that was...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: ...such a love affair that we've had as friends, and for so many years. We lived in the Bay Area together. That was more natural, although the erotic charges of that duet we did was much of - was a surprise to me to find out that some guy - that's when I found out that men in their 70s and 80s don't lose it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: And I went good, great, because the rest of my life is going to be a lot more interesting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: Because he was just nail - I mean, friendships or not friendships. So - but the other ones, you know - I - it's always nerve-racking; live television, and not live radio, thank God.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: But it does make you feel like what that one moment you're going to have the, you know, the Wizard of Oz moment where you don't...

CONAN: Right. Yeah.

Ms. RAITT: ...pay any attention to the man behind the curtain.

CONAN: And you're going to be whisked away somewhere.

Ms. RAITT: And you dream it. You have those anxiety dreams. But luckily, in reality, when I hear them back on record, it seems like I did an okay job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Patrick. Patrick is calling from Longmont in Colorado.

PATRICK (Caller): Hello, Bonnie. You have a lovely voice. What I'd like to know is what it was like for you playing in the Roy Orbison band, and how that event came about, please?

Ms. RAITT: Boy, that was a real memory. I, like a lot of us, idolized Roy, and he was such a - it was the first time I got the chance to hang out with him when we rehearsed. And, you know, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen. And the backup singing section was K.D. Lang, Jennifer Warnes, and myself. Jackson Browne, John David Souther, and Steven Soles. And so, to rehearse these songs with that super group, and a lot of whom had played with Elvis, was really extraordinary. Because a lot of these benefits and super getting together for, you know, rallies, or whatever special recording projects, half the fun is the preparation.

And so, I don't know who actually picked the band, but I have a feeling it was Roy and his wife, and the producer of the event. And, ironically, that night when we shot it, right afterwards, we all got home. And at six o'clock in the morning there had been an earth - there was an earthquake.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. RAITT: And if had we still been filming, because we filmed until three o'clock in the morning, we would have all - that building had already been condemned....

CONAN: Wow.

Ms. RAITT: ...to be pulled down. So that was what I remembered was that we made it out okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: But I'm so glad you enjoyed that, because I know they play it all the time, and what a giant Roy Orbison was.

CONAN: Patrick, thanks very much for the call.

Here's an e-mail question we have. This from - I've got to hit F9 to hang up on Patrick, my apologies for that. And this an email question from Philip(ph) in Honolulu. What are Bonnie's thoughts about what happened to The Dixie Chicks?

Ms. RAITT: Well, I thought it was a shame when people can't speak out, and have that kind of corporate drive to condemn. You know, I mean, the cruelty and the vindictiveness, and the evilness that they've said. And they did a beautiful interview on Larry King.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: The death threats and all that, I mean, come on. This is America. You know, give us a break. So I thought they stood up, and were very dignified and articulate in the way that they responded. And I just thought it was a shame. But, again, if, you know, as George W. said the other day, if you're going to speak out, you got to be expecting that people won't buy your records.

So that's not the problem. The problem was the absolute, you know, death threats, and all that. And just the volume of hate mail, and the corporate squashing of their records, I though was over the top.

CONAN: What - you've never made a secret of your politics. And I wonder, have you ever gone under any sort of, you know, official or unofficial ban of your material from radio or from play lists?

Ms. RAITT: Only because I wasn't a sex dolly, probably.

CONAN: Hmm.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: No, let me explain that. Looks matter a lot. And sometimes whether you get played or not has more to do with age or looks or a powerful manager. But my politics have never - I've basically been kind of a roots, public radio, kind of a college - you know, whatever you call the alternative FM...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: ...radio market, that's sort of been my niche. But I would imagine if I had more conventional approach to the business, I would have made it farther. But I don't think my politics got in the way. I think it was more just a musical thing.

CONAN: Hmm. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Vicky(ph). Vicky is calling us from San Antonio.

VICKY (Caller): Yes. Hi, Bonnie. My question is, speaking about the Dixie Chicks and everything, I just feel like you're in a very bluesy type of genre. I just love your music. You inspired me to pick up the guitar; and not that I'm very good, but I try. But you've been a real inspiration. I'm just curious, do you find that you've, like, people are jealous because of your success, like from within your music genre?

Ms. RAITT: Wow, that's a - no, I haven't ever come across that. I mean, nor if they are, they haven't said anything. I think it's more people were really genuinely happy for me when I won the Grammys and...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: I think it's more good news, unless somebody who was just very angry at me for my politics. In which case, they just don't come to my concerts. So I probably don't run into people that are too negative very often, luckily. Thank you for the compliment. And keep playing. We need more women guitar players.

VICKY: Yes. Well, thank you. Thank you. You're great.

Ms. RAITT: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Vicky.

Here's another email question. This from John(ph). "As a child growing up in Santa Ana, California, I would walk past your grandfather's dental office everyday. And we would remark on the fact that his son, John Raitt, was the famous actor and singer of stage. What was it about that era and geographical area in Orange County that produced so many talented people such as - to name a few - Tim Buckley, Jackson Browne, John McEwen(ph), Bill Medley and Bob Hatfield, the Shanties, Diane Keaton and Steve Martin?” Did you ever...

Ms. RAITT: Wow, I didn't even - I knew Jackson was from there. Actually, my grandfather was a YMCA secretary, not a dentist, because it would have been great to have free dental work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: But yeah, there's a street named after him, and my dad's very proud, we're very active in Fullerton and Orange County. And, you know, I really don't know. I think that sometimes people are surprised that Rye Cooter and Lowell George...

CONAN: Mm hmm.

Ms. RAITT: ...from Little Feet and myself are from Los Angeles. It's almost like you have to overcome the lack of culture out there to find one. So you tend to latch on to, you know, Los Lobos and the Latino culture is incredibly rich in Los Angeles. When I came back as an adult, I realized there was all kinds of wonderful opportunities, but it was always a surprise to me when people came out of Orange County.

CONAN: Mm. Take a question from the audience here in Studio 4A - Karen.

KAREN (Audience Member): Hi, Bonnie.

Ms. RAITT: Hi.

KAREN: I think one of the reasons that we all love your music so much is that there's an honesty in it, there's an authenticity in it, and it's also - it seems like there's a wholeness in your life. You're not afraid to be a fine woman, a bad woman, and to show your power, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAREN: And I think that...

Ms. RAITT: Takes one to know one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KAREN: Thank you, thank you. And I think that one of things I'm wondering is what keeps you centered now. I know all of the - we've talked about some of the influences you had earlier - but what things, you know, give you - where do you get that strength from, you know, and keep it going?

Ms. RAITT: Well, thank you for honoring me with that wonderful compliment. I don't always keep it together, because that's part of being authentic and human is that you are stressed out and snap at people that you love that don't deserve it. And you get - you lose sight of the goal.

And I'm really working, in my mid '50s now, to try to keep focused on what's in front of me and not try to - even though I can multitask really, really well, I know that it doesn't serve my purpose and I get too scattered. And sometimes I compartmentalize my friends and my loved ones and put work ahead.

And especially if you're a political activist and you're doing it for the quote/unquote "greater good," you'll end up working until one o'clock in the morning on those e-mails figuring out how to say no in a diplomatic way and end up, you know, not going to yoga. Next thing you know, you snap at your family, you don't call your relatives for a month, and it's all because of the greater good, and that's all (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: So, you know, it's been a constant battle for me to try to prioritize my spiritual and emotional and physical health, my family and friends - because if you don't nurture those relationships, they will fade and go away. And my band is trying to convince me to spend more time at my music. And I call it my day job.

I spend a lot of time being Bonnie Raitt and managing who I am in this -the lucky position I'm now in and have been. But one of the things I don't get to do is play music for fun. And so my aim, after this cycle of touring for Souls Alike is over, is to find the joy and the bliss of just sitting down with my guitar and my instruments and listening to records and learning the song just for the sake of learning it, not because I got a gig coming up.

So I have to really focus on it, and I have an incredibly supportive, great crew and staff and circle of friends and family, as well as my great band. And without them, I literally would not be sitting here today, because they're the ones that keep me on course.

And without - and that the pressure that we're under to be excellent all the time, and my pressure put on myself, without somebody reminding me that there is such a thing as a sense of humor...

CONAN: There is?

Ms. RAITT: ...and that you can stumble and fall. And I'll tell you, the good thing about sobriety is once you admit that you messed up in public and you had a problem, you can just do it the rest of your life and people will just say, hey, me too you know. I gained 10 pounds too over Christmas. And I snap at my family and I don't call my relatives, you know? It's just real. And if that doesn't - if that comes through in your music, people will stay with you, because you're always going to be there the same as now.

CONAN: Karen, thanks very much.

KAREN: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking today with Bonnie Raitt, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Ms. RAITT: Should we play another song?

CONAN: That was just what I was going to say.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: Well, we could do an old song from my first album, which I think would be really fun.

CONAN: That would be great.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: Thank you. This is written by the great Sippie Wallace, who was a very famous blues singer back in the era of Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey in the 1920s. I didn't even know she was alive when I cut this song. I just found an old record, fell in love with her feminism - you know, you can make me do what you want to do, but you've got to know how, you know.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: And even at 21, I knew if you talked about your boyfriend, that somebody was going to nab him out from under you. So I rarely talk about whoever I'm seeing.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RAITT: Take Sippie's advice. So here's from our first album, reshaped by this miraculous band I have, Women Be Wise. Why don't you start us off, Jon?

(Soundbite of song, "Woman be Wise")

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Oh, women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don't advertise your man. Don't kid around gossiping, explaining what your good man can do. Some women nowadays, Lord they ain't no good. They'll laugh in your face, try to steal that man from you. Women be wise, keep your mouth shut, don't advertise your man.

You know your best girlfriend, oh she's such a highbrow, she got to change three times a day. What do you think she's doing now, while you're so far away? She's loving your man, that's what she's doing, in your own damn bed. You better call up a doctor mama, something wrong with your head. Got to be wise, keep your mouth shut, don't advertise your man. Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of musical interlude)

Ms. RAITT: Oh, yeah. Women be wise, keep your mouth shut...

(Commercial break)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, for six and a half years, Jeffrey Dvorkin has been your voice and watchdog inside NPR as Ombudsman. He weighed in on everything from bad grammar to bias. NPR's Ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin is leaving and stops by Studio 3A for an exit interview tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Today, though, the music of Bonnie Raitt - she's with us in Studio 4A along with her band: Hutch Hutchinson on bass, Jon Cleary on keyboard, George Marinelli on guitar, Ricky Fataar on drums - the new CD is called Souls Alike. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

And let's get right back to the music, Bonnie.

Ms. RAITT: Here's a song from the new one called God Was in the Water.

Unidentified Man: One, two, three, four.

(Soundbite of song, "God Was in the Water")

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) God was in the water that day, picking through the roots and stones. Stepping over sunken logs, trying not to make his presence known. God was in the water that day, wading in careful steps, bubbles rising from his feet, coming up from the muddy depths.

Casting out a line, casting out a line into the shadows. Casting out a line, but no one's biting.

(Soundbite of guitar solo)

Mr. RAITT: I am at a pitiful desk, staring at the colorless walls -wishing I was anyplace else, down into a dream I fall. Sitting in a tiny boat, drifting on a mindless sea, if I disappear, at least I'm floating free.

Casting out a line, casting out a line into the darkness, casting out a line but no one's biting.

(Soundbite of guitar solo)

Ms. RAITT: God was in the air that day, breathing out a haunted breeze, trying not to make a sound, shuffling through the dried up leaves. God was in the air that day, circling like a drunken hawk, sweeping with a hungry eye. Over ground I walked. Casting out a line. Casting out a line into the shadows. Casting out a line, but no one's biting. No one, no one. Casting out a line into the darkness. Casting out a line, but no one is biting.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CONAN: Can I ask a really dumb question? You're playing slide guitar -what is a slide?

Ms. RAITT: It's actually a bottleneck cut from a neck that has to be straight, not a curved one? So it's usually a Bordeaux bottle?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. RAITT: And it was a challenge, because when I was growing up and I saw people say that on the back of the record, I was a little kid in L.A., my parents didn't drink, and so I soaked a label off a Coricidin bottle, and I put it on my middle finger, which is the wrong finger, but then I didn't see anybody play until I was too old...

CONAN: To change it?

Ms. RAITT: By then I'd gotten used to it.

CONAN: And how did - is the guitar in the normal tuning when you...

Ms. RAITT: No, it's an open tuning, and I learned early on, my grandpa was a - my other grandpa was a Methodist minister and he played hymns on a Hawaiian lap steel. And I learned early on that because of the open chord I could just move the bar on his lap steel and immediately play, you know, Jesus Love Me, or whatever he paid me a quarter to learn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: Which is how I ended up a Quaker, because - but anyway, if you don't want to learn the chords and you want to play the guitar, I highly recommend tuning it to an open tuning and playing bottleneck.

CONAN: I do understand you have learned a chord or two in the intervening years.

Ms. RAITT: I have, but only - still only kind of folk music chords. I never took guitar lessons, so I'm kind of rudimentary.

CONAN: All right. Let's get another caller on the line. This is Gypsy(ph). Gypsy is calling from Phoenix, Arizona.

Ms. RAITT: Hi, Gypsy.

GYPSY (Caller): Yeah, hi, Bonnie. I'm a working musician here in Phoenix, and I guess the biggest question I have for you, because you have plenty of accolades from plenty of people besides me, is how you rectify the artistic thing that you get from having a really hard and really unhappy life versus a happy life. And the fact that it just makes better music.

Ms. RAITT: You mean to be unhappy?

GYPSY: Yeah. Because, I mean, we have such a history of great black artists who have brought us all this music, the R&B and Blues music and stuff like that, and so much of that comes out of the unhappiness of it. And I can tell you that it's a great dichotomy in my life in the fact that when I'm unhappy, I write much better songs. I do, then when I'm happy.

Ms. RAITT: Yeah, well people used to say you had to have - be poor and miserable to have the blues, but, you know, life is a full banquet, you know? I mean, Muddy Waters was one of the most joyous people I know. I'm sure he had got mad and had his heart broken and was poor at one point, certainly, but he didn't sing the blues with any less fervor or meaning. And I'm not going through a breakup right now, but everything I sing I Can't Make You Love Me it cuts me as deep as if I was.

So I don't think - I mean, I understand the point and I get, and I actually get asked a lot about what are you going to do when you get straight and successful, what're you going to do? But the blues are, for me, the truth and the - in the arc of a day or in a full life, you know, you're going to be miserable or forlorn or horny or bereft or angry or frustrated, no matter what level of income you're at or who you're with, you know.

So, I find that surprisingly, even though I'm better off than I was, and more stable so to speak, some of the hours of the day, I still can summon up those feelings of absolute rage and charge and loneliness and all the things that infuse the songs I do. But absolute feeling them - I feel them as real as if I'm going through them.

CONAN: Because blues is a music of authenticity.

Ms. RAITT: Yeah, but you play blues to make yourself feel better. I mean, the same with gospel music. I mean, you don't have to be - there's miserable lonely blues and there's jump blues and stuff that'll just make you feel better. But, you know, whatever touches your heart is what makes you. But I don't know whether Stevie Ray Vaughn was any less effective when he was sober or happier than when he was unhappy, and, you know.

GYPSY: If I could say one other thing. A lot of - you get a lot of acclaim and stuff for your music and your artistic-ship, but having played and lived in St. Louis and on the east coast and in New Orleans, a lot of times things that don't get said about you, Bonnie, is the fact that you are such a supporter of unknowns and local bands and people like that, and you've given so many breaks to so many people. And that's the thing, if I had to thank you, I'd really like to thank you for.

Ms. RAITT: Oh, that's very sweet, Gypsy. I hope I get to hear your music too, in Phoenix. Because, if you like funk music like I do, keep it going, because that place needs to get funky.

CONAN: All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: It is funky, but it's just, you know, we need to support our blues clubs and local bands, live bands.

CONAN: Most places could use more. Yeah. Most places could use a little more.

Ms. RAITT: Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can squeeze in -we have, we're going to hear one more tune in a bit, but, Peter, you have the last call.

PETER (Caller): Hey, thank you so much for taking my call. Bonnie, I met you in New Orleans, backstage at Jazz Fest, and I want to thank you for the generous handshake and the warm smile that you gave me.

Ms. RAITT: How sweet! You're very welcome. I'm sure it was mutual.

PETER: My question is, since it was there I New Orleans at the Jazz Fest, and you perform there a lot in other places, what kind of connection you have with New Orleans and whether you have any special affinities for it. And I'll take my answer off the air, off the phone.

CONAN: Thanks, Peter.

Ms. RAITT: I sure do have an affinity. When I first started out, my favorite record was Mother-In-Law by Ernie K-Doe, and Sitting in My Ya Ya, and Blueberry Hill. And Fats Domino was my favorite artist as a little kid. And when I grew up and learned more about where the roots of rock 'n roll came from, and the great Earl Palmer played drums on so many things, and we had him play on my third album. I was on Warner Brothers early in my 20s, in the early '70s, with the great Allen Toussaint and The Meters.

And Little Feat, like myself, all of us were in absolutely stone-fans of New Orleans' music. And without the rich cultural gumbo that New Orleans is, country and French and Spanish and African-American and Congolese drumming and, you know, the soul music from gospel and jazz and blues all has its roots in New Orleans, Louisiana.

CONAN: And Jon Cleary(ph) is getting a call.

Ms. RAITT: Jon Cleary is getting a call right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RAITT: You know, you can't say enough about the importance of New Orleans and how important it is for us to let the community that was living there be able to move back as much as they can, and not turn it into some kind of McMardi Gras Convention Center with the developers salivating. You know, it's important - what makes New Orleans is not Jazz Fest exclusively. It reflects the rich culture that it is, but those people deserve to come back at the price level that they can afford. So, not to be too political, but New Orleans - I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you, that's how important it is.

CONAN: Bonnie Raitt and her band with us here in Studio 4A. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And that one last tune?

Ms. RAITT: Oh, yeah. And thank you for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Oh, believe me, it's our pleasure.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. RAITT: This is a major legitimate thing for me. I've gone legit being on your show.

CONAN: Look at it this way, you got to open for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Ms. RAITT: I know. It's incredible. And then we get to go play at the national park. That makes me so happy to think of our tax dollars going for someplace like Wolf Trap.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RAITT: I like to champion songwriters that are kind of unheard of and up and coming, and one of my favorite solo artists as well as others represented on this new album, Souls Alike, is Maia Sharp. She did three of the songs on my album and was my special guest on the tour. She co-wrote this song, and I really love it, so I want to close with this.

I've got to get Ricky up in my headphone. I do have you now, darling. Thanks to my band - thank you guys!

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Sleepless nights aren't so bad. I'm staying off and on, staying sad. I don't want anything to change. I don't want anything to change. When I get lonely I get strange. I don't want anything to change.

You left a mess, you're everywhere. I'd pick it up, but I don't dare. I don't want anything to change. I don't want anything to change. There's nothing I would rearrange. I don't want anything to change.

I can't see your fading, but until you're gone I'm taking all the time that I can borrow. The getting over is waiting, but I won't move on. Going to want to feel the same tomorrow.

I know the truth is right outside. But for the moment, that's tonight. I don't want anything to change. I don't want anything to change. I don't feel your fading, but until you're gone, I'm taking all the time that I can borrow. Getting over is waiting. But I won't move on. Going to want to feel the same tomorrow. I don't want anything to do with what comes after you.

CONAN: Our thanks to Bonnie Raitt and her band for joining us today in Studio 4A, and to her crew for their help in making this performance possible.

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