Bonnie Raitt: 'Souls Alike' Nearly 35 years after her self-titled debut album, Bonnie Raitt is still moaning the blues. Her latest album, Souls Alike, features her trademark slide guitar, which she says can produce "the saddest sound you've ever heard."
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Bonnie Raitt: 'Souls Alike'

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Bonnie Raitt: 'Souls Alike'


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

When Bonnie Raitt headed off to Radcliffe College in 1967, she thought she could save the world. Two years later she dropped out with a better idea. She'd played guitar since she was a kid and loved the blues. In Cambridge she met a blues promoter who introduced her to a lot of the greats: Son House, Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace. Pretty soon she was opening concerts for them on the road. College was a distant memory. And in 1971 she headed out to a studio at an empty summer camp in Minnesota to record her first album titled "Bonnie Raitt," free-wheeling songs recorded live to tape, among them the Robert Johnson classic "Walkin' Blues" with Bonnie on slide guitar and bluesman Junior Wells on harmonica.

(Soundbite of "Walkin' Blues")

Ms. BONNIE RAITT (Singer): (Singing) Some people tell me these are the worried, blues ain't bad, they're the worst old feeling I most ever had. You know it. Some people tell me these worried blues ain't bad. You know they're the worst old feeling I most ever had.

BLOCK: Now nearly 35 years later Bonnie Raitt still loves the blues.

(Soundbite of "Love on One Condition")

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Do me right. Don't do me wrong. Come home every night, no more carryin' on. I explain my position. I'll grant you love on one condition.

BLOCK: I talked with Bonnie Raitt about her latest CD titled "Souls Alike" and about her trademark slide guitar.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Do the songs where you're playing slide guitar feel different?

Ms. RAITT: You know, I play the piano and I get as much pleasure out of that as I do playing both acoustic, non-slide guitar and my slide. So, you know, my--the slide guitar is the one that's most expressive and the one that takes over for my voice. So it really does feel like an extension of me, you know. So...

BLOCK: It does seem that the slide is such a physical, sort of dancing kind of instrument to play. It must be fun at least.

Ms. RAITT: Oh, yeah. I mean, any--you know, singing and playing and moving, it becomes part of your body and your soul. You know, it just is an extension of it. When I can't hold my note that long with my voice, then the guitar takes over. It's very sexy and very powerful and, depending on the groove you lay it on top of, it can be vengeful or erotic or the saddest sound you've ever heard.

(Soundbite of instrumental music)

Ms. RAITT: You know, like those single-note instruments that mimic the cry of a human voice, there's nothing like it. That's why I cleaved to that instrument in the first place, just 'cause it was so expressive.

(Soundbite of "I Don't Want Anything to Change")

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) Sleepless nights aren't so bad. I'm stayin' up, I'm stayin' sad.

BLOCK: You have a few songs on the CD from Maia Sharp, and one of them that I'm really fond of is "I Don't Want Anything to Change."

(Soundbite of "I Don't Want Anything to Change")

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) You've left a mess, you're everywhere. I'd pick it up but I don't dare. I don't want anything to change.

BLOCK: When you first heard this song, Bonnie, do you remember what you were thinking?

Ms. RAITT: I heard it and recorded it the next day. I mean, that's how knocked out I was by this song and I--you know, Maia co-wrote it with two other women, and she is one of the most original and moving artists. There's something about her voice and her sensibility, especially because she's writing about things that are so thorny and kind of uncomfortable and places where we're stuck and things that--hard lessons that we have to learn. And "I Don't Want Anything to Change" is profound to write from that point of view of being stuck where you know you're going to get over somebody but for right now you're just so devastated you just have to sit there for a while and you don't want anybody to make you feel better. That's real stuff.

(Soundbite of "I Don't Want Anything to Change")

(Singing) ...know the truth right outside. For the moment it's best denied. I don't want anything to change. I don't want anything to change.

BLOCK: You know, the song "I Don't Want Anything to Change," I'm assuming it's about a love relationship. But I was wondering with you--I know you've lost both your parents within the course of a few months not too long ago. And I just wonder whether there's some level where you're thinking of them when you sing that song, too.

Ms. RAITT: No, for me that song is pretty much about relationships. I sing "Nick of Time" and "Angel from Montgomery" and remember my folks. But that one has got its own little world in my head.

BLOCK: Your father--for those who wouldn't know--your father was John Raitt, a famous Broadway singer, and your mother also a singer and a pianist.

Ms. RAITT: Yeah, she was his musical director and my dad--his name was John Raitt and the leading man from "Carousel," Billy Bigelow, the original and "Pajama Game" and did "Oklahoma" and more roles as the leading man than any main in Broadway history. And he sang right up until his 88th birthday last January.

BLOCK: When you sing, do you hear your parents' voices in your own voice?

Ms. RAITT: I have profoundly heard that. And I lost my mom last summer when I was on tour in Europe and after I was able to sing again I--the moment when I came to sing "Angel from Montgomery" and was wondering how'd I ever get through a ballad, I just thought of her and how she gave up her career as a singer and was so proud of me and at that moment my voice just opened up. I felt her voice coming through and I just sang for her and it was very, very moving for me. I know that souls imbue and live on in each other, and that's how I feel.

BLOCK: That's got to be just a remarkable sensation when that happens.

Ms. RAITT: I've had it happen with Fred McDowell in my slide playing as well because there's--when I was in deep grief for Fred McDowell one night I remember all the sudden playing some song that wasn't even his. There was a thing going on in my hand in the vibratos of shaking the slide over the strings was as if I was--he had jumped into my arm. I'm not kidding. It was just great--great feeling to know. It doesn't really matter if it's true or if it's energetically wishful thinking. All that matters is that when you're not thinking about it and it happens, those are the miracles in life. That's the good stuff slipping through.

BLOCK: Bonnie Raitt, it's been great talking with you. Thanks so much.

Ms. RAITT: Thank you very much, Melissa.

(Soundbite of instrumental blues music)

BLOCK: Bonnie Raitt's latest CD is titled "Souls Alike." You can hear more songs from the CD and hear her talk about her early days in the blues world at our Web site,

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. RAITT: (Singing) When I was a kid I had a little wiener dog. I loved that little wiener dog and she loved me. On warm spring days me and that little wiener dog swiped sweet cherries from our cherry tree.


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