Raitt passionate about politics, music
BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
It’s 10 a.m. The phone rings.
It’s Bonnie Raitt. She’s playing a one-nighter tomorrow at the Waikiki Shell, and, as always, there’s somethin’ — a lot actually — to talk about. There’s the Grammy Award Raitt won last month, of course, but also a few other things she hopes you care about: music on the Internet, “safe energy,” taking back control of the political process in America.
Where: Waikiki Shell
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Info: ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
“The Citizens United decision (allowing unlimited contributions from individuals, corporations and unions to political action committees) was among the worst in my lifetime,” she said. “We have an auction instead of an election.”
Raitt was in Los Angeles when she called, taking a break from “a two-week tour with a lot of TV and dates in cities we didn’t hit on our ’85 Cities’ tour last year.” She’s in the islands for a show on Maui tonight, the show at the Shell tomorrow and a day off on Sunday before she leaves for a tour of the Philippines, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. From there she goes to the U.K. and a series of additional European dates. Sound hectic? Not for Bonnie Raitt.
“My favorite thing to do is be on the road,” Raitt said. “I can’t believe that I’m still getting to do this four decades in. In the early part of my fifth decade, it’s astonishing to me that the people are still coming out.”
Of course, there are few things that bring out the fans better than winning a Grammy for a critically acclaimed album. For Raitt that’s “Slipstream,” which won the Grammy for best Americana album last month.
“It was a surprise and really a delight,” Raitt said, answering the obvious question. “I’m very proud of how the record was received anyway, and I wasn’t expecting a nomination, but I certainly wasn’t expecting (to win), with all those big-selling records (in the category). I’m so happy that (folk rock group) Mumford (& Sons) won Album of the Year. I went over and told ‘em, ‘At least now I won’t have to feel so guilty (about beating you for best Americana album).’”
Speaking from experience — she’s been a Grammy finalist 25 times, a winner 10 — Raitt says that just being a finalist “gives people more visibility, but there are so many others that don’t make (the final ballot) that are worthy, so it’s always very frustrating. … (But) within the industry, the Grammys have been very wonderful to me, and I really appreciated my peers (voting for ‘Slipstream’).
“It isn’t really a question of who’s best; it’s a question of an acknowledgement.”
RAITT WON her first four Grammys in 1990 with “Nick of Time,” her 10th full-length album, almost two decades after the release of her self-titled debut album in 1971. In those two long decades, Raitt’s blending of the blues, rock, folk and country music, plus her virtuosic guitar work and distinctive, soulful voice, had earned her a loyal fan base, but her career had been a roller-coaster ride. Then came “Nick of Time,” and the American pop market was ready for Bonnie Raitt.
Hawaii being Hawaii, many of her fans here probably discovered her a year later when “Something to Talk About,” a song from her follow-up album “Luck of the Draw,” was released as a single and became a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Something to Talk About” beat recordings by Oleta Adams, Mariah Carey, Amy Grant and Whitney Houston to win Raitt the Grammy for best female pop vocal performance in 1992.
One of the biggest changes in the music business since Raitt won her first Grammys is the exponential development of the Internet as a platform, marketplace and distribution network for recorded music.
Raitt describes YouTube as “absolutely a benefit, although the part that they’re making money and we’re not for (using) our music is very irksome and not right.”
“Every time you go on any of the Google or YouTube sites, people put your whole record — a lot of times your past records are up there (too) — and people can just go on (there and download them for free). Somebody’s making money.
“I don’t mind if nobody made money, but since the writers and the musicians and the producers and me — everyone else (isn’t making money) — (it’s wrong that) someone’s making money from advertising every time you click on a song,” she said. “That part is not fair and needs to be changed.
“Spotify and Pandora (Internet Radio) pay a pittance to artists. Terrestrial radio should be paying (performers royalties) … (but) now there are many generations who feel that they shouldn’t have to pay for music. They can just go online. … We’re trying to find artist alliances to stop (ticket) scalping, to get royalty reform and hopefully do some kind of fair share for the artist for listening (sites) and stopping illegal downloads. I like to advocate for being fair.”
To put it another way: If you like an artist, why steal from them by taking the music they create without paying for it?
What Raitt likes about the Internet is the availability of information there.
“In terms of research and being able to find everything from ‘how do you play a djembe’ to ‘how do you tune for a slide guitar’ to ‘what are the lyrics of that song I did in 1971?’ — or for me to see unknown footage of jazz and blues and classical and ethnic and African music greats … it’s an unbelievable wealth of education and information.”
RAITT’S PRESENCE in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — she was inducted in 2000 — prompts another obvious question: Are there a couple of artists you would like to see in there who are not?
“I would love to see Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals (inducted). … There are some roots artists like Odetta, and some people that people may not be that aware of now but (are significant) historically. If (the induction board) could get around to them, it would be fantastic.”
Looking beyond the business of music, Raitt hopes her fans will join her in tracking “safe energy.”
“Safe energy is a front-burner issue for me, especially since (the) Fukushima (nuclear disaster),” she said. “They’re trying to re-license here on the mainland 27 outmoded, rickety (nuclear power) plants that have so many violations and so little oversight and little protection from terrorists and security and human error and the problem of (radioactive) waste storage. The public’s just not aware of that, and the media needs to not wait until there’s another accident (to cover it). Sometimes there are so many (other) things with the ‘fiscal cliff’ and the economy and the wars that are going on — but if anything happens with the Kardashians, (they automatically get the front page).”
Raitt says that the good news there is that “the Internet has blasted open the debate for political issues.”
“Hopefully we can revive what we did in the Vietnam War when we had teach-ins, with the opportunity to get a satellite live feed or do it on the Internet where people could call or email their questions in and have a town meeting and literally have discourses on all kinds of important subjects where you really don’t just hear sound bites on your station and that you already agree with, you (also) hear what the other side is … and have a real debate back and forth until the issue is really argued.”