At age 66, Bonnie Raitt’s still got the blues. And that’s definitely a good thing.
The “Road Tested” country rocker is still firing on all cylinders, with a new studio album — her 20th — called “Dig In Deep” and its subsequent tour, which makes a stop Tuesday night at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.
The 10-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist — best known for hits including “Something to Talk About,” “Have a Heart,” “Nick of Time” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” — has been putting on a great show, with Billboard praising her two concerts earlier this year at New York City’s Beacon Theatre, calling her “confident, engaging and sexy, while singing and playing her bottleneck slide guitar with searing soulfulness.”
Raitt talked about the new album, how she discovered the blues, her favorite guitar and what still motivates her after all these years.
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Q: What can we expect from the show?
A: We’re gonna be showcasing the new album, which will be fun for everybody, to hear some new stuff. And we’re going back and doing some older tunes — I kind of round-robin which blues tunes I pick out of my earlier catalog, and sometimes I just cover songs that are less known by blues artists I really love and want to showcase. And then I definitely get around to doing four or five of the songs from the “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw” era, that I know people know me most from. So it’ll be a little bit of everything.
Q: Why did you name your latest album “Dig In Deep”?
A: It’s a line from one of my songs, that kicks off the record: “Let’s dig in deep and get out of this rut/And resurrect our strut.” And “dig in deep” refers to the groove that we dug deep into — you know, the different R&B and rock-and-roll grooves that my band and I do. We’ve been together for so long, there’s some sort of unspoken connection that lets us get back into the deepest part of what we know we love to play. And it also refers to the ballads; some of the topics run pretty deep, and especially the last song that I wrote [“The Ones We Couldn’t Be”] — it’s very personal. So it was kind of a double meaning of groove and topic.
Q: What inspired you to cover INXS’ hit “Need You Tonight” on the album? That’s an interesting choice.
A: [Laughs] You know, I love the band, I’ve loved that song since it came out, and I’ve always heard it as a cool slide tune. So it was just a matter of when I would record it. I kind of sprinkle my sets with covers, and over the years I’ve done everything from “Runaway” by Del Shannon — I rearranged it as kind of an Al Green groove back in the ’70s, and it was my first radio hit. And I cut [Talking Heads’] “Burning Down the House” on my live “Road Tested” album [in 1995], and on the last record we had a single of the Gerry Rafferty hit “Right Down the Line.” I like to reshape songs that I really love and put in them in my own style, and I think INXS is a great band, and that’s one of the sexiest songs I’ve ever heard, so it’s strictly selfish in wanting to sing it every night.
Q: Did you always love the blues?
A: I always liked the R&B side of music when I listened to Chuck Berry and Fats Domino when I was a kid, and early on I got a bunch of Ray Charles records that a family friend gave us, and I just loved him, and the Isley Brothers. And like The Beatles and the Stones — we all fell in love with American R&B and rock-and-roll. I found out about Chicago blues and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf from listening to the Rolling Stones when I was 13. But I came to the country blues more from the folk music scene — the Kingston Trio, and then “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Peter, Paul and Mary. Those are big parts of my childhood. Joan Baez was one of my personal heroes, and then Bob Dylan just changed my life when he came out. And once you get the bug, you just have to get every record you could possibly get — I have a stack of 45s that I’d save up my money and go buy. And I just taught myself how to play off a record — I never took lessons.
Q: Is this music what led you to the guitar?
A: Well, I actually love piano blues as well — I play piano on this record on a shuffle called “What You’re Doin’ to Me.” I actually wrote it so I could play piano and add it to the set. And I’ve always liked to play ballads — I wrote “Nick of Time” on the piano, and I’ve written four or five others over the years. So the blues is just as funky to me on the piano. But I love the guitar and I love slide guitar, so I’d have to say that’s my main ax.
Q: Rolling Stone named you one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. How did that feel?
A: Pretty go-o-od! I gotta say I was very honored, and B.B. King really honored me by saying that I was his favorite slide player, and he’d say it over and over. As far as I’m concerned, that’s worth at least 10 Grammys right there. It’s not a contest, but it sure made me feel great.
Q: Is your main guitar still a Fender Strat?
A: Yeah, a Stratocaster — I bought it for 120 bucks at 3 o’clock in the morning when I was 19, and I’ve played it at every gig since. I’ve got a couple other ones I’ve picked up over the years so I can play them in different tunings and not waste the audience’s time retuning during the show. The Strat is my favorite of the electrics.
Q: What do you love about it?
A: Well, it feels ergonomically on the body really great the way they initially designed it — it’s got great lines and it sits well on the hips. And the way it sounds — I just love the pickups and the feel of it. And I use a compressor on the slide to make the note last longer. I’m not a pedal girl — I don’t have lots of stuff that I step on to get certain tones. It’s all in the feel and how you play it.
Q: Name three musicians alive or dead that you’d love to perform with that you haven’t already.
A: Oh, what a cool question! Thank you for that. Boy, if you take a look at my discography, the number of my heroes that I’ve gotten to do duets with blows my mind — I still can’t believe that I got to sing with Ray Charles so many times, and Aretha [Franklin] and The Stones. But I would say Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday and, for the one still living, Keith Richards. I’ve sat in with the Stones a few times, but I’d love to do something alone, just him and me.
Q: What still drives you after five decades in this business?
A: Well, helping my band and crew make their mortgage payments and their rent is a driving force [laughs], and I feel responsible for keeping the family out there. Part of it is supporting ourselves as a team, and the rest of it is a lot of fun. Really, those two hours onstage and the opportunity to raise money for great causes and travel around and see the world, and to make that many people happy and have that ecstatic experience — that’s what makes the other 22 hours of the day worth it. The traveling all the time is not as romantic as it sounds, but it can also have a certain thrill to it, to wake up in a different city five days a week. I love that the fans still want to come see me, and I love playing for ‘em. We have a blast onstage, so as jobs go, this is one of the coolest ways to make a living, and I don’t see any sign of stopping.
If You Go
What: Bonnie Raitt — Dig In Deep Tour
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Au-Rene Theater, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale
Info: 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org; $40.50-$135.50