Singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt is 70

The Road’s My Middle Name

Bonnie RaittBecause I hitchhiked to New Paltz, I first heard of Bonnie Raitt. I had traveled from Binghamton to visit my girlfriend in May 1971. But when I got there, she had decided to break up with me. I was devastated.

There wasn’t enough daylight to hitch back home. Instead, I went to visit my friend Steve in Poughkeepsie, in the next county over. We had gone to Binghamton Central High School before he moved.

Steve talked at length about this great bluesy singer and guitarist named Bonnie Raitt, who I had never heard of. He predicted great things of her. Her eponymous first album, which came out in November 1971 sold poorly, though it reviewed well. I never bought it.

Bonnie’s second album, Give It Up, I LOVED. It got all the way up to #138 on the US album charts. The subsequent albums improved commercially up to 1977’s Sweet Forgiveness at #25. But her next albums sank, never improving commercially.

Warner purge

In 1983, the year after I saw her at the No Nukes concert, “There was a corporate sweep at Warner’s… and they needed to trim the fat,’ Raitt recalled in 1990. ‘I just had completed an album called Tongue & Groove… I don’t think they maliciously said, ‘Let’s let her finish her album and get the tour all lined up and print the covers and hire the people to do the video and then drop her.’ You know, ha, ha, ha. But that’s what they did.

“‘It was literally the day after I had finished mastering it… They dropped me and pulled the rug out from under my tour. I thought the way they did it was real crummy. They sent a letter. I think I suffered from not having a relationship with the A&R department there, because I had an independent production deal…’

“The material for Tongue & Groove was shelved until two years later when ‘Warner’s suddenly said they were going to put the record out,’ Raitt recalled… I mean, I was out there touring on my savings to keep my name up, and my ability to draw was less and less. So they agreed to let me go in and recut half of it.’ The result was Nine Lives, which was finally released in 1986” to tepid reviews and worse sales.

Capitol signing

After seeing her perform, Prince “offered Bonnie Raitt a recording contract on his own label, Paisley Park Records. Raitt agreed and traveled to Minneapolis. Before she recorded any material, she suffered a skiing accident and was hospitalized for two months.” The Paisley Park deal fell through.

Then Capitol Records signed her after over a dozen other labels passed on her. She put out the Nick of Time album in 1989, which went to #1 on the US album charts, sold over five million copies and was named Album of the Year by the Grammys.

The followup album in 1991, Luck of the Draw, went to #2 in the US, sold seven million copies and generated a Top 10 single. 1994’s Longing in Their Hearts went to #1, sold two million copies and contained a Top 20 single. Five subsequent albums, all of which I own, have each reached the Top 20 on the album charts.

LISTEN

Sugar Mama (5)
No Way to Treat A Lady (9), a Bryan Adams song
The Road’s My Middle Name (10), a Bonnie Raitt song about how she survived
I Can’t Make You Love Me (11), #18 in 1992

Runaway (6), the Del Shannon hit, #57 in 1977
You (12), #92 in 1994
Angel From Montgomery (4), the John Prine song they’ve done live together

Love Me Like a Man (2); lyrics adapted by Raitt
Love Has No Pride (2)
My, there are a lot of “love” songs on this list!
Love Letter (10), one of two Bonnie Hayes songs on the list

Love Sneakin’ Up On You (12), #19 in 1994
Thing Called Love (10), a John Hiatt song
Something to Talk About (11), #5 in 1991

Too Long at the Fair (2)
Have a Heart (10), the other Bonnie Hayes song, #49 in 1990. It has one of my favorite first lines in any song. “Hey, shut up. Don’t lie to me.”
Dimming of the Day (12), a Richard Thompson song
Give It Up Or Let Me Go (2), a Bonnie Raitt song
The last four are probably my top 4; the last seven are probably my top 7.

(2) Give It Up; (4) Streetlights; (5) Home Plate; (6) Sweet Forgiveness; (9) Nine Lives; (10) Nick of Time; (11) Luck of the Draw; (12) Longing in Their Hearts