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Ain't Giving It Up On Bonnie

Aug 1, 1997
Kimmy Sophia Brown
I was thrilled and proud when I saw Bonnie Raitt win 4 Grammy awards for her album, Nick of Time, in 1989. Her fans knew it was time for all those years of innovative hard work to pay off. I have often wondered why many trendy and trite song writers and singers get all the praise, and many of the truly original song writers and performers are passed over.

The first time I heard Bonnie Raitt I was a highschool student in the early 1970's in a Boston suburb. My radio station of choice then was WBCN, which played what we thought was 'underground music'. I don't know what the station is like now, but they used to have "barbiturate" voiced disc jockeys who spoke as if they were broadcasting in the dark. The men sounded like they were stroking their beards, sipping wine. The women sounded sultry, like Sally Kellerman, (ala Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing.) This, in contrast to the "amphetamine" style, disc jockeys who jabbered and barked like dogs between top 40 hits.

I had a very hip, attic bedroom. (My parents actually allowed me to paint one wall almost completely black. My talented best friend, Genevieve, painted Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer in black and white silhouette. It looked like the inside of a nightclub.) Anyhow, I flipped on my radio one day and I heard Bonnie Raitt singing, Give it Up. I was mesmerized. I couldn't stop smiling. I had never heard a woman play guitar like that. I admired Joni Mitchell's inventive "D" tuning technique on her acoustic guitar, but I had never heard a woman play a slide guitar. This was something unique.

Give it Up is a rollicking song, peppered with swingin' soprano sax, a tinkly, saloon-style piano and an insistent tuba beat. Bonnie's hoarse scolding established her as a white girl with a black and blues style. She twangs her slide guitar with a vengeance. Give it Up is such a fun song.

She revealed her versatility as a singer on that second album with the heart wrenching, Love Has No Pride, written by John Prine:

"If I could buy your love,
I'd truly try my friend.
And if I could pray,
my prayer would never end.
If you want me to beg,
I'll fall down on my knees.
Asking for you to come back,
yes I'll be pleading for you to come back,
begging for you to come back to me."

Sometimes in my life when I feel emotionally dead, I sing part of Love Has No Pride at the top of my lungs, and it makes me cry and feel again. That song has a living soul and Bonnie carries it off like nobody else.

Bonnie Raitt's dad is John Raitt, who was a famous Broadway star in the fifties. My parents had the recording of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Carousel in which John Raitt played Billy Bigelow. From the age of three, I loved the song Soliloquy:

"My boy Bill is as tough and as tall as a tree.
My Bill!"

The song is about Billy Bigelow preparing for the birth of his first child. He thinks that it will be a boy and he imagines how strong his boy will be. Then he's hit with the thought that the baby might be a girl. The tone of the song turns sentimental, and he sings about how he'll protect his daughter and love her. That song was very emotionally important to my parents and me, it formed a bond between me and my dad. I attach significance to the fact that my early childhood was touched by John Raitt, and my adult life was touched by his daughter, Bonnie.

The phrasing and feeling in songs like I Can't Make You Love Me" from the album, Luck of the Draw or You from the Longing in their Hearts album, are rare arrangements. If the guy who inspired the song I Can't Make You Love Me ever heard Bonnie sing it, he'd change his mind. The synth accordion in You adds an element of longing to the beautiful lyrics:

"And I might as well have been dyin' when we were apart
When you came back I felt the beating of my heart".

(I have felt like that about my own sweet darlin' Petey whenever we've had to work in different cities.)

The vinegar in contrast to all this honey comes in songs like her amazing arrangement of the 1960's hit, Runaway, by Del Shannon. As Bonnie mentioned in the liner notes of The Bonnie Raitt Collection, the song was lit with fire by Norton Buffalo's hot harp blowing. Yeow!

Her foothold in the rhythm and blues realm are evident in continually good performances in songs such as her composition, The Road's My Middle Name. She strikes me as the type of little girl who picked up frogs and snakes in her back yard without cringing. The lady is not a wimp.

Bonnie's long term inspiration has come from blues performers such as Charles Brown and Sippie Wallace, who are still singing and playing guitar and piano well into their eighties. I think she'll be doing it too. In fact I'll be in the audience, playing air guitar on my cane listening to her.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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