Monday, January 26, 2004

Bonnie Raitt returns to Hawaii this week for her first concerts in the islands in more than a decade.

Raitt on!

The queen of blues-rock
is committed to her music
and good health

Editor's note: Some information in this article appeared online at LookSmart Ltd.

Bonnie Raitt is telling a childhood story about selling Girl Scout cookies on Sunset Strip near the Whiskey A Go Go: "I always would see this guy who had MS sitting on a cart selling newspapers," she says during a phone interview from her Hollywood Hills home. "He would come by and talk. He was very nice, very sweet.

"So I was driving by there a couple years ago, and I saw him, still there, doing that gig, and it made me so happy that he was around, surviving, making a living despite his hardships."

Bonnie Raitt

With the Robert Cray Band and Jon Cleary

On Maui: 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, A&B Amphitheatre, Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $37, $45 and $55. Call 808-242-7469.

On Oahu: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Waikiki Shell. Tickets $25 to $55, available at the Blaisdell Arena box office and Ticketmaster outlets. Call 591-2211.

It's a story that seems fitting for this queen of blues-rock, who might turn it into a song about survival, community and the warmth of familiarity.

Like the man, Raitt, 54, understands hardships, although she admits hers -- alcohol and drugs -- were self-inflicted. She has been sober now for years and says, "I love my gig, my life now."

Raitt will perform on Maui tomorrow and Oahu on Thursday, in her first concerts in the islands in more than a decade.

"I spent enough years being unhealthy," she said. "Whatever brain cells I still have and joints that are still moving, I want to take care of. I want to kick ass when I'm 80."

In a Star-Bulletin interview back in 1992, Raitt seemed defensive, pensive, wary and uneasy. This time around, she's downright chirpy, conversing as she might with a friend, talking openly about her wounded heart and unabashedly sharing her political views.

"I am enjoying very much being single, taking this little break," she says. "Being in my 50s is the best part of my life.

"I never expected that all I went through -- losses, heartbreak, marriages dissolving -- that I would emerge at this mountaintop clearing, whether it be sobriety or therapy or single again, to have the best, best time of my life.

"I couldn't have made the changes any earlier than I did. It really was an incredible revelation that out of all that trouble could come this silver lining."

RAITT'S most recent album is a compilation, "The Best of Bonnie Raitt on Capitol 1989-2003," her 17th. "Silver Lining" is the title of her most recent studio album, released in April 2002.

Born to a musical family, the nine-time Grammy winner is the daughter of Broadway singer John Raitt and pianist-singer Marge Goddard. She was raised in a climate of respect for the arts, Quaker traditions and a commitment to social activism. A Stella guitar given to her as a Christmas present launched her creative journey at age 8.

Asked about a poignant line from the song "Silver Lining" -- "Only things worth living for are innocence and magic, amen" -- Raitt's voice quivers a bit.

"I just got goose bumps when you said it," she said. "That song is an inspirational piece of music, spiritual to me.

"The whole message is that if something isn't working, change it and get yourself back to some childlike wonder."

It sounds like Raitt has rediscovered her inner child.

"What's fulfilling and nurturing for me is the incredible renewal of nature, family love, all those small utopias," she said. "There's real magic in things like prayer and miracles, even when you can't figure how they work. Magic sometimes is disguised as coincidences, God's way of staying anonymous."

Raitt lived in Los Angeles until she was 16 and the family moved east. Several years later she returned to Hollywood, landing in the hip neighborhood of Laurel Canyon.

"You know, back then in L.A., when you've become an adult and you can drive anywhere, it's so totally great. God, listen to me say 'totally,'" she says, laughing. "The L.A. scene in the early '70s with Little Feat and the Eagles and Tom Waits at the Troubadour was as cool as Greenwich Village in the '60s."

Raitt's hangout was a popular hamburger hangout for musicians and actors called Dukes on Santa Monica Boulevard. "It was a great place to go if you were hung over -- not that I ever was. I was always as fresh as a daisy -- up at 5 each day. Of course, it was 5 o'clock in the afternoon."

“I spent enough years being unhealthy. Whatever brain cells I still have and joints that are still moving, I want to take care of. I want to kick ass when I'm 80.”
--Bonnie Raitt

One of the reasons Raitt chose the blues is because it allows her to express a buffet of emotions. "The blues is so real, and if you're singing the truth, it doesn't make what difference your income bracket or color is, you get it, and that's what it's all about. You're supposed to be way into any song you're singing."

Raitt's built a career out of singing about her life, how she's treated and what she longs for.

"That's what the songs have been about, whether they're Celtic or African or Gypsy music. The form and the specific words may change, but anger, jealousy, hurt and loss are all there.

"That whole argument about 'How can a white girl sing the blues? How can you have validity?' Well, I have yet to meet somebody who doesn't have real pain."

Other female singers may retool their image, but Raitt has avoided that. That's been easy because, she says, "I'm not a babe."

"I don't have those kind of looks," she said. "Maybe if I looked liked Pamela Anderson, I would have played that card, but my sexuality is more earthy.

"I see myself as a character actress rather than the leading lady. It allows me to connect better with people, and I'm not dependent on looking young."

That doesn't mean sex isn't as important to her. "I didn't get any less sexual turning 50 -- if anything, I'm more."

Eros even comes to play when she's figuring out her concert set lists and album-track sequences. "You almost plan how you plan to make love to someone," Raitt says, unabashed. "You start over here, then move over there, then down a bit, now take a breather -- OK, now let's come back to it.

"It's an art to decide the way you play your emotions and those of the listeners. It allows me to really get into every song, or it wouldn't work for me. Every aspect of emotions is covered -- longing, anger, jealousy, sexiness, broken-heartedness. ... In what job do you get to do that in two hours?"

This is why Bonnie Raitt hit her stride in her 40s, when most other female media creations are taking long sabbaticals at the plastic surgeon's. The blues values wisdom over callowness, allowing Raitt to act her age and still express more power than ever.

AFTER SIGNING on with Capitol Records in 1989 (after her longtime career-making stint with Warner Bros. Records), Raitt won four Grammy Awards in 1990 -- three for her "Nick of Time" album and one for her duet with John Lee Hooker on his comeback album, "The Healer." After that, '91's "Luck of the Draw" produced two hit singles, "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me," adding three more Grammys to her shelf.

The double platinum-selling "Longing in Their Hearts" (1994) featured the hit single "Love Sneakin' Up on You" and won a Grammy for Best Pop Album.

In 2001 she went back to the studio with her veteran road band to record "Silver Lining," considered by many critics to be one of the best albums of her career.

"They stopped playing my records on VH1 and regular radio about 1995," says Raitt, who is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. "These days, to get played or stay noticed, you have to do tons and tons of interviews and really work it.

"I am a pantheon in that people will always know me, but there is such ageism in this business.

"I really respect artists who continued to work as they got older, like Georgia O'Keeffe, Imogen Cunningham and Louise Nevelson. In music there's Etta James, Sippie Wallace and Aretha Franklin. Mentoring is a great part of the artistic process."

She remains politically active and did a benefit for Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean last December and another earlier this month for Dennis Kucinich in Austin, Texas, where she performed with old friend and former "crush" Michael McDonald.

"One time, like 26 years ago, I made him come back three days in a row to get a part right on 'Runaway,' and eventually he said, 'Bonnie, I got the part right, and I know why you want me to come back. I like you, too, but let's just call it a day.'

"We were both with other people, but I had a big crush on him and I said, 'Wait a minute! I have one more outfit to wear.' You would have thought I was 18, not 28."

This exuberance for life, love, friends, family -- and former crushes -- leads Raitt to announce that she's "just midway" through her career and plans to keep on going for two more decades. Just as quickly, she switches the conversation to the Hawaii visit.

"Here's what I'm nervous about," she says, almost whispering. "Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I let my eating program go. We, like, ate for nine days, but normally I'm not in a bathing suit, so I don't worry about a few extra pounds. But now I'm so paying for it.

"I'm gonna have to get a full-body sarong and tie it over my head so no one recognizes me. I don't want to get arrested for negligence."

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