Friday Night with Guitar George: Bonnie Raitt

Due to the overwhelming response to my reference to Bonnie Raitt in last week’s Guitar George, I have chosen to make her the feature of tonight’s episode.  Bonnie released her first album in 1971, but I first became aware of her several years later when I heard her smokin’ cover of Robert Palmer’s “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming” from her 1979 album The Glow, and I have been a big fan of hers ever since.  Not only is she an excellent guitarist, but a tremendous vocalist as well.  She can growl the blues with the best of them, but she can also carry a torch: her rendition of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is one of the most beautiful vocal performances ever recorded.

In spite of her incredible talent, widespread fame did not come quickly or easily for Bonnie Raitt.  Her albums were well reviewed by critics, she developed a strong reputation as a live performer, and she was well respected by other musicians, but she spent nearly two decades toiling away on the club circuit and as an opening act before she finally made her big breakthrough.  Fueled by a string of hit singles, Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time and 1991’s Luck of the Draw were huge successes and gave Bonnie the hard-earned fame and fortune she so richly deserved, plus they garnered her a wheelbarrow full of Grammys.

Like many of her male blues guitar counterparts, Bonnie struggled with drug and alcohol addiction.  She finally came clean in 1987, citing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s newfound sobriety as an inspiration.  Speaking of SRV, tonight’s video is Bonnie Raitt performing at a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute concert.  You must be a really good blues musician to (a) be asked to perform at a SRV tribute and (b) be allowed to play one of his signature songs.  Check out the delicious bottleneck solos beginning at 1:45 and 3:15.  I think Stevie himself would be proud of this performance.

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