8 November 1949, Burbank, California, USA. Born into a musical family, her father, John Raitt, starred in Broadway productions of Oklahoma! and Carousel. Having learned guitar as a child, Raitt became infatuated with traditional blues, although her talent for performing did not fully flourish until she attended college in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Raitt initially opened for John Hammond, before establishing her reputation with prolific live appearances throughout the east coast circuit, on which she was accompanied by long-time bass player Dan Freebo Friedberg. Raitt then acquired the management services of Dick Waterman, who guided the careers of many of the singers mentors, including Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Beulah Sippie Wallace. She often travelled and appeared with these performers and 1971s Bonnie Raitt contained material drawn from their considerable lexicon. Chicago bluesmen Junior Wells and A.C. Reed also appeared on the album, but its somewhat reverential approach was replaced by the contemporary perspective unveiled on Give It Up. This excellent set included versions of Jackson Brownes Under The Falling Sky and Eric Kazs Love Has No Pride and established the artist as an inventive and sympathetic interpreter. Taking My Time featured assistance from Lowell George and Bill Payne from Little Feat and demonstrated an even greater diversity, ranging from the pulsating Youve Been In Love Too Long to the traditional Kokomo Blues.
Subsequent releases followed a similar pattern, and although Streetlights was a minor disappointment, Home Plate, produced by veteran Paul Rothchild, reasserted her talent. Nonetheless Raitt refused to embrace a conventional career, preferring to tour in more intimate surroundings. Thus the success engendered by 1977s Sweet Forgiveness came as a natural progression and reflected a genuine popularity. However its follow-up, The Glow, although quite commercial, failed to capitalize on this new-found fortune and while offering a spirited reading of Mable Johns Your Good Thing, much of the material was self-composed and lacked the breadth of style of its predecessors. Green Light and Nine Lives, proved less satisfying and Raitt was then dropped by Warner Brothers Records, her outlet of 15 years.
Those sensing an artistic and personal decline were proved incorrect in 1989 when Nick Of Time became one of the years most acclaimed and bestselling releases. Raitt herself confessed to slight amazement at winning a Grammy Award. The album was a highly accomplished piece of work, smoothing some of her rough, trademark blues edges for an AOR market. The emotional title track became a US hit single while the album, produced by Don Was, also featured sterling material from John Hiatt and Bonnie Hayes. Raitt also garnered praise for her contributions to John Lee Hookers superb 1990 release, The Healer, and that same year reached a wider audience with her appearance of the concert for Nelson Mandela at Wembley Stadium. She continued in the same musical vein with the excellent Luck Of The Draw featuring strong material from Paul Brady, Hiatt and Raitt herself. The album was another multi-million-seller and demonstrated Raitts new mastery in singing smooth emotional ballads, none better than the evocative I Cant Make You Love Me.
The singers personal life also stabilized following her marriage in 1991 (to Irish actor/poet Michael OKeefe), and after years of singing about broken hearts, faithless lovers and no good men, Raitt entered the 90s at the peak of her powers. She was also growing in stature as a songwriter: on her 1994 album she displayed the confidence to provide four of the songs herself, her first nine albums having yielded only eight of her own compositions. Although that album, Longing In Their Hearts, spawned further US hits and achieved 2 million sales it was a record that trod water. Even her US hit version of Roy Orbisons You Got It from the movie Boys On The Side sounded weak. On her first ever live album, Road Tested, Raitt was joined by Bruce Hornsby, Jackson Browne, Kim Wilson, Ruth Brown, Charles Brown and Bryan Adams. Raitt made a conscious effort to limit her guest appearances, as she felt that her own career was beginning to suffer. Fundamental (1998), Silver Lining (2002) and Souls Alike (2005) maintained the high standards that Raitt has aspired to since joining Capitol in 1989. A dud Raitt album now seems inconceivable although her generosity in sharing the stage with others has sometimes marginalized her own considerable talent.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.