Bonnie Raitt (Official Website): "Born to a musical family, the nine-time Grammy winner is the daughter of celebrated Broadway singer John Raitt (Carousel, Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game) and accomplished pianist/singer Marge Goddard. She was raised in Los Angeles 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 Bonnie on her creative journey at the age of eight. While growing up, though passionate about music from the start, she never considered that it would play a greater role than as one of her many growing interests. In the late '60s, restless in Los Angeles, she moved east to Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a Harvard/Radcliffe student majoring in Social Relations and African Studies, she attended classes and immersed herself in the city's turbulent cultural and political activities. "I couldn't wait to get back to where there were folkies and the antiwar and civil rights movements," she says. "There were so many great music and political scenes going on in the late '60s in Cambridge." Also, she adds, with a laugh, "the ratio of guys to girls at Harvard was four to one, so all of those things were playing in my mind."
Bonnie Raitt (Unofficial Website): "Bonnie Raitt - one of the most critically admired yet commercially ignored white R&B singers in the history of popular music, Bonnie Raitt only achieved the success and respect she had so obviously deserved with her tenth album, almost 20 years after her recording debut. The daugher of Broadway star John Raitt (of Carousel and The Pajama Game fame), Bonnie Raitt (born 1949) was first captivated by the blues and began learning guitar at the age of 12. After dropping out of college in 1969, she began playing on the US folk and blues circuit, turning heads due to her ability - almost unique in a white female - to play credible bottleneck guitar. She became friendly with many of the surviving blues legends, including Howlin' Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and particularly Sippie Wallace, with whom she later recorded."
Wikipedia: "In the fall of 1970, while opening for Fred McDowell at the Gaslight Cafe in New York, a reporter from Newsweek Magazine saw her and began to spread word of her performance. Scouts from major record companies were soon attending her shows to watch her play. She eventually accepted an offer with Warner Bros. who soon released her eponymous debut album, Bonnie Raitt, in 1971. The album was warmly received by the music press, many of whom praised her skills as an interpreter and as a bottleneck guitarist; at the time, very few women in popular music had strong reputations as guitarists. While admired by those who saw her perform, and respected by her peers, Raitt gained little public acclaim for her work. Her critical stature continued to grow but record sales remained modest. Her second album, Give It Up, was released in 1972 to universal acclaim, and though many critics still regard it as her best work, it did not change her commercial fortunes. 1973's Takin' My Time was also met with critical acclaim, but these notices were not matched by the sales. Raitt was beginning to receive greater press coverage, including a 1975 cover story for Rolling Stone Magazine, but with 1974's Streetlights, reviews for her work were becoming increasingly mixed. By now, Raitt was already experimenting with different producers and different styles, and she began to adopt a more mainstream sound that continued through 1975's Home Plate."
Bonnie Raitt (Official Website): "After forging an alliance with Capitol Records in 1989, Bonnie achieved new levels of popular and critical acclaim. She won four Grammy Awards in 1990—three for her Nick of Time album and one for her duet with John Lee Hooker on his breakthrough album, The Healer. Within weeks, Nick of Time shot to number one (it is now certified quintuple platinum). Luck of the Draw (1991, seven-times platinum) brought even more success, firing two hit singles— "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me" —up the charts, and adding three more Grammys to her shelf. The double-platinum Longing in Their Hearts, released in 1994, featured the hit single "Love Sneakin' Up On You" and was honored with a Grammy for Best Pop Album. It was followed in 1995 by the live double CD and film Road Tested (now available on DVD)."
Wikipedia: "After more than twenty years of singing and recording popular music, Bonnie Raitt achieved immense success with her 10th album. Released in 1989, Nick of Time went to the top of the U.S. charts and won three Grammy Awards. At the same time, she walked away with a fourth Grammy Award for her duet "In the Mood" with John Lee Hooker on his album The Healer. She followed up this success with three more Grammy Awards for her 1991 album, Luck of the Draw, which contains the hit single "I Can't Make You Love Me", often considered to be one of the best ballads of all time. "I Can't Make You Love Me" is notoriously difficult to sing, as many who have attempted it have discovered. Three years later, in 1994, she added two more Grammy's with her album Longing in Their Hearts. Both of these albums were multi-platinum successes. Raitt's collaboration with Was would amicably come to an end with 1995's live release, Road Tested. Released to solid reviews, it sold well enough to be certified gold."
Bonnie Raitt Net Worth 2021: Age, Height, Weight, Husband, Kids, Bio-Wiki
Bonnie is an American singer whose career in music started in the 1970s. She released several albums that incorporated rock, country, blues, and folk elements. Her songs were relatively received but didn’t do well commercially during those days. Her break came in 1989 when she released her tenth album Nick of Time.
Her eleventh and twelfth albums, which she released in 1991 and 1994 respectively, were also major hits generating millions of dollars in revenue. Since then, Bonnie has released a number of albums and singles, which have been major hits and topping up Billboard chart. In her music career, she has won 10 Grammy awards, among other major recognitions. Vocally, she is one of the most gifted female musicians in the world.
Maybe you know about Bonnie Raitt very well, but do you know how old and tall is she and what is her net worth in 2021? If you do not know, we have prepared this article about details of Bonnie Raitt’s short biography-wiki, career, professional life, personal life, today’s net worth, age, height, weight, and more facts. Well, if you’re ready, let’s start.
Bonnie Raitt, (born November 8, 1949) is an American blues and R&B singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was born in Burbank, California, the daughter of Broadway musical star John Raitt.
Raitt began playing guitar at an early age, something not a lot of her high school girlfriends did. "I had played a little at school and at camp," she later recalled in a July 2002 interview. "My parents would drag me out to perform for my family, like all parents do, but it was a hobby—nothing more…I think people must wonder how a white girl like me became a blues guitarist. The truth is, I never intended to do this for a living. I grew up…in a Quaker family, and for me being Quaker was a political calling rather than a religious one."
In 1967 Raitt continued her pursuit in that path when she entered Harvard's Radcliffe College as a freshman, majoring in African Studies. "My plan was to travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism," Raitt recalled. "I wanted to help undo the damage that Western colonialism had done to native cultures around the world. Cambridge was a hotbed of this kind of thinking, and I was thrilled."
One day, Raitt was notified by a friend that blues promoter Dick Waterman was giving an interview at WHRB, Harvard's college radio station. An important figure in the blues revival of the 1960s, Waterman was also a resident of Cambridge. Raitt went to see Waterman, and the two soon became friends, "much to the chagrin of my parents, who didn't expect their freshman daughter to be running around with 65-year-old bluesmen," recalled Raitt. "I was amazed by his passion for the music and the integrity with which he managed the musicians."
During Raitt's sophomore year, Waterman relocated to Philadelphia, and a number of local musicians he counted among his friends went with him. Raitt had become a strong part of that community, recalling that "these people had become my friends, my mentors, and though I had every intention of graduating, I decided to take the semester off and move to Philadelphia…It was an opportunity that young white girls just don't get, and as it turns out, an opportunity that changed everything."
Raitt eventually went back to school, but her time performing in Philadelphia had encouraged her to pursue music as a career. When Waterman contacted her and invited her to tour with The Rolling Stones, she made a second trip to the admissions office at Radcliffe and told them, "I'm going to take a leave of absence, but this is only going to last a year." As Raitt would later recall, "Imagine being 20 in 1970—wouldn't you have gone on tour with the Rolling Stones?"
By now, Raitt was also playing both folk as well as rhythm and blues clubs in the Boston area, performing alongside established blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell, all of whom she met through Waterman. In the fall of 1970, while opening for Fred McDowell at the Gaslight Cafe in New York, a reporter from Newsweek Magazine saw her and began to spread word of her performance. Scouts from major record companies were soon attending her shows to watch her play. She eventually accepted an offer with Warner Bros. who soon released her eponymously titled debut in 1971. The album was warmly received by the music press, many of which praised her skills as an interpreter and as a bottleneck guitarist at the time, very few women in popular music had strong reputations as guitarists.
While admired by those who saw her perform, and respected by her peers, Raitt gained little public acclaim for her work. Her critical stature continued to grow but record sales remained modest. Her second album, Give It Up, was released in 1972 to universal acclaim, and though many critics still regard it as her best work, it did not change her commercial fortunes. 1973's Takin' My Time was also met with critical acclaim, but these notices were not matched by the sales.
Raitt was beginning to receive greater press coverage, including a 1975 cover story for Rolling Stone Magazine, but with 1974's Streetlights, reviews for her work were becoming increasingly mixed. By now, Raitt was already experimenting with different producers and different styles, and she began to adopt a more mainstream sound that continued through 1975's Home Plate.
In 1976, Raitt made a notable appearance on Warren Zevon's self-titled album with Warren Zevon's friend Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.
1977's Sweet Forgiveness gave Raitt her first commercial breakthrough when it yielded a hit single in her cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway." Recast as a heavy r&b recording based on a rhythmic groove inspired by Al Green, Raitt's version of "Runaway" was disparaged by many critics, but its commercial success prompted a bidding war between Warner Bros. and Columbia Records. "There was this big Columbia – Warner war going on at the time," recalled Raitt in a 1990 interview. "James Taylor had just left Warner Bros. and made a big album for Columbia…And then, Warners signed Paul Simon away from Columbia, and they didn't want me to have a hit record for Columbia — no matter what! So, I renegotiated my contract, and they basically matched Columbia's offer. Frankly the deal was a really big deal."
Warner Bros. held higher expectations for Raitt's next album, 1979's The Glow, but it was released to poor reviews as well as modest sales. Raitt would have one commercial success in 1979 when she helped organize the five MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy) concerts at Madison Square Garden. The shows spawned a three-record gold album as well as a Warner Bros. feature film, No Nukes. The shows featured co-founders Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, John Hall, and Raitt as well as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Gil Scott-Heron, and numerous others.
For her next record, 1982's Green Light, Raitt made a conscious attempt to revisit the sound of her earlier records, but to her surprise, many of her peers and members of the press would compare her new sound to the burgeoning New Wave movement. The album received her strongest reviews in years, but her sales did not improve and this would have a severe impact on her relationship with Warner Bros.
In 1983, as Raitt was finishing work on her follow-up album, titled Tongue & Groove, Warner Bros. cleaned house, dropping a number of major artists from their roster. Van Morrison and Arlo Guthrie were two of the most high-profile cases, and the day after mastering was completed on Tongue & Groove, Raitt was notified that she was to be dropped too. The album was shelved indefinitely, and Raitt was left without a label. By now, Raitt was also struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.
Despite her personal and professional problems, Raitt continued to tour and participate in political activism. In 1985, she sang and appeared in the video of "Sun City," the anti-apartheid record written a produced by Steven Van Zandt. Along with her participation in Farm Aid and Amnesty International concerts, Raitt would later travel to Moscow in 1987 as part of the first joint Soviet/American Peace Concert later shown on Showtime television. Also in 1987, Raitt would organize a benefit in Los Angeles, for Countdown ➇ to Stop Contra Aid, featuring herself, Don Henley, Herbie Hancock, Holly Near and others.
Two years after dropping her from their label, Warner Bros. notified Raitt of their plans to release Tongue & Groove. "I said it wasn't really fair," recalled Raitt. "I think at this point they felt kind of bad. I mean, I was out there touring on my savings to keep my name up, and my ablility to draw was less and less. So they agreed to let me go in and recut half of it, and that's when it came out as Nine Lives." A critical and commercial disappointment, 1986's Nine Lives would be Raitt's last new recording for Warner Bros.
In late 1987 she joined k.d. lang and Jennifer Warnes as female background vocals for Roy Orbison's television special, Roy Orbison and Friends, A Black and White Night. By now, Raitt was clean and sober, having broken her substance abuse — for which she would credit Stevie Ray Vaughan in a Minnesota State Fair concert the night after Vaughan's 1990 death. Following this highly acclaimed broadcast, she began working on new material. During this time, Raitt considered signing with Prince's own label, Paisley Park, but negotiations would ultimately fall through. Instead she began recording a bluesy mix of pop and rock under the production guidance of Don Was at Capitol Records.
Raitt had met Was through Hal Wilner, who was putting together Stay Awake, a tribute album to Disney music for A&M. Was and Wilner both wanted Raitt to sing lead on an adult-contemporary arrangement created by Was for "Baby Mine," the lullaby from Dumbo. Raitt was very pleased with the sessions, and she asked Don to produce her next album.
After more than twenty years of singing and recording popular music, Bonnie Raitt achieved immense success with her 10th album. Released in 1989, Nick of Time went to the top of the U.S. charts and won three Grammy Awards. At the same time, she walked away with a fourth Grammy Award for her duet "In the Mood" with John Lee Hooker on his album "The Healer".
She followed up this success with three more Grammy Awards for her 1991 album, Luck of the Draw, then, in 1994 she added two more Grammy's with her album Longing in Their Hearts. Both of these albums were multiplatinum successes. Raitt's collaboration with Was would amicably come to an end with 1995's live release, Road Tested. Released to solid reviews, it sold well enough to be certified gold.
For her next studio album, Raitt hired Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake as her producers. "I loved working with Don Was but I wanted to give myself and my fans a stretch and do something different," Raitt said. Her work with Froom and Blake was released on Fundamental in 1998.
In March of 2000, Raitt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Silver Lining was released in 2002 while Souls Alike was released in September of 2005.
Bonnie Raitt, Country Superstar
(Not the Only One, I Can’t Make You Love Me, Love Sneakin’ Up On You, Something To Talk About)
It was Bonnie Raitt’s 11th album, Luck of the Draw, that made her a household name. The single “Something to Talk About” was an infectiously sly pop ballad anchored by Raitt’s trademark guitar stylings, adorned with brassy lyrics about the capricious nature of the rumor mill. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” followed suit, establishing her as a force in pop music heartbreak ballads. Between these two singles, Raitt transitioned from being the queen of covers to the one being covered. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” has been covered by artists from UK songstress Adele to R&B powerhouse Tank. “Not The Only One,” an amorous ballad reminiscent of long drives down country roads, is the perfect blend between adult contemporary pop and blues guitar. It’s a perfect reflection of how Raitt has evolved her sound through the years.
“Love Sneakin ‘ Up On You” highlights her capabilities as a songwriter, producer, vocalist, and guitarist. It details the tender nuances of yearning with turns of phrase such as “Fever turns to cold, cold sweat/Thinkin’ about things we ain’t done yet.” The lyrics are an apropos parallel to Raitt’s career – one anticipatory eye on the horizon while burning a consistent flame in the present. Through these twin efforts, Bonnie Raitt has persevered in the music business for decades, creating classics that sound contemporary and redefining the way we assess the boundaries of genres.
Think we’ve missed one of the best Bonnie Raitt songs? Let us know in the comments section below.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me”: A 25th Anniversary Oral History
The year Bonnie Raitt turned 40, she became a pop star.
Judging against most people’s careers, Raitt had already lived a pretty full life. There were a bunch of records in her discography she had been dropped by Warner Bros. she had gotten sober. She already had a story. Having been performing and releasing music since the early s, she had gradually accrued devoted fans and critical praise, though little commercial success on a mainstream level. It’s strange to think about, for those of us who grew up with Raitt as one of the legendary names, one of the big established artists of the Baby Boomer generation. Yet at one point in time, she didn’t have songs that were played on pop radio. She didn’t have songs that you’d hear in any given situation as you wandered through your daily routine. She didn’t have that ubiquity that comes with superstardom. That changed in 1989, when she released Nick Of Time.
Nick Of Time marked the first time Raitt had worked with producer Don Was and engineer Ed Cherney on one of her records, a partnership that would continue for years. She and Was had first connected in , when the two of them worked on a song called “Baby Mine” from Dumbo, for a compilation called Stay Awake: Various Interpretations Of Music From Vintage Disney Films. Despite the inherently odd nature of that collaboration, the two really clicked. “I felt like I’d known her all my life,” Was recalls. “I just felt a real bond with her.” With Raitt wanting a particular kind of producer — a musician’s producer, the kind who says “That’s the take!” but doesn’t enforce a particular stylistic vision on an artist when they already know what they want — Was made an ideal partner in crime. They decided to work on her next album together.
Hearing them speak of it now, the process of making Nick Of Time almost sounds like a young, scrappy artist trying to break down the door into the industry. Raitt had some demos, and no record deal. They continued working on demos in Was’ basement, never imagining that they were crafting the album that would garner Raitt a belated commercial breakthrough. They just wanted to make back the money they spent on it, so that they could make another record after it. Was recalls a moment when Raitt’s A&R man, Tim Devine, came to talk to him after Nick Of Time was completed. “He came down to the studio and he said something like, ‘Better get a tuxedo, you’re going to the Grammys!’ I wanted to punch him,” Was remembers, laughing. “I thought, ‘OK, man, just say it’s good. Just say you dug it. But forget the hyperbole.'”
In the end, it wasn’t hyperbolic at all — the record was already selling well beyond any of their expectations, and then, just under a year after Nick Of Time came out, it won the Album Of The Year award at the 1990 Grammys. “When that happens, it’s just the fucking greatest,” Cherney says. “It came out of nowhere. We knew we made a good record, but that kind of accolades…it came out of nowhere for us.”
When it came time to follow that success, Raitt once again worked with Was and Cherney for the record that would become 1991’s Luck Of The Draw. Despite Raitt’s sudden mainstream clout, none of them describe the time as particularly pressurized. There wasn’t necessarily a weight to following up the biggest record of Raitt’s career thus far. They were just making some more music together, and looking for the right material. “When you get the right people who really vibe with each other, you don’t have to say much at all,” Raitt says. “It’s all about respecting each other’s artistry. It’s getting out of the way and letting a moment happen. It’s all about a great song, and that’s what we got.”
Luck Of The Draw wound up surpassing even the heights reached by Nick Of Time. Part of that was thanks to its lead single, “Something To Talk About.” That’s the kind of song that gives you super-stardom ubiquity that’s a Bonnie Raitt song you hear everywhere. But there was another one, too, one that shouldn’t have been a major radio hit yet became one anyway. That was “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which was released as a single on 10/22/1991.
Here’s the thing about “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that’s different than Raitt’s other hits: It goes beyond her own success with that single and Luck Of The Draw. It goes beyond its constant and sustained presence on Adult Contemporary and soft-rock stations. It goes beyond its exact circumstance and era. It’s written in a way where you can reduce it to one instrument and vocal, and it still works which, in turn, means you can adapt it into almost any genre, and it will still work. In the mold of old pop standards, it’s malleable, universal, and enduring because of that — and because it’s a song that resonated (and continues to resonate) with a ton of people, no matter their age group or musical predilections. More than ubiquity, this is the kind of stuff that gets woven into the atmosphere, lingering in our collective pop consciousness until others grab onto it and give it their own spin. If its lifespan over the last quarter-century is any indication, it will remain there, continuing to impact young listeners and inspire new artists well after the story of Raitt’s version fades further into our memory.
So, on the occasion of its anniversary, we decided it to tell that story, to go back to the origins of a popular song by a major artist, of a song that started as a surprising pop hit and became a standard. Over the course of several weeks, we spoke with Raitt, Was, Cherney, songwriters Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin, Bruce Hornsby (who played the crucial piano part on “I Can’t Make You Love Me”). We spoke to some of the people on the (very) long list of famous artists who have covered the song. Here’s the story of how “I Can’t Make You Love Me” came together and how it became what it is today.
“I Can’t Make You Love Me” was the product of a collaboration between songwriters Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. Both men were living in Nashville and writing songs for country artists (though Reid was also releasing music under his own name at the time) and both had found success so far, scoring significant hits on the country charts. After meeting at Austin City Limits one year, a mutual admiration for each other’s work spurred a partnership between the two. Around the time they were writing “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” Reid and Shamblin had been working together for about a year, writing almost weekly. Everyone remembers the genesis of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” a little differently, but here’s what everyone agrees on: It was rooted in a local Nashville story Reid saw in the newspaper, and it was originally a much, much different song.
MIKE REID (SONGWRITER): I don’t believe that spirits whisper song titles or stuff into writers’ ears. I just don’t buy that. But I do believe that there are things…I’m not sure the ideas live in us as much as the ideas are in the world, the world is full of ideas. Do we slow ourselves down enough to see them and express them? That idea came out of a newspaper article and I think it was in the world and I happened to pay attention to it enough, mentioned it to a buddy, Allen Shamblin, and off we went, you know?
ALLEN SHAMBLIN (SONGWRITER): The newspaper story. Mike and I both agree on the newspaper, we just have a little bit different memory of what was said in the story that sparked the song. To me, it doesn’t matter, you know what I’m saying? Mike and I, we laugh about it. It’s not who wrote what or thought of what, it’s what got written, and we’re both cool about all that. I think he remembers it about a guy shooting a car.
REID: I remember it being an article about higher-up local politician’s black sheep brother getting tanked on moonshine and shooting up a car, whether it was his wife’s or his girlfriend’s car. And so, there was an actual phrase in the article. He said to the judge, “I’ve learned that if a woman don’t love ya, you can’t make her…you can’t make her love ya.” The idea came out of that.
SHAMBLIN: The way I remember what was said in the story, there was a guy living under a bridge, somewhere close to downtown Nashville, and in the story, he said his wife came to pick him up, under the bridge, and took him down to the courthouse to get a divorce. And he said, “We hugged, and we cried, and then we went through the divorce.” And he said, “You know, you just can’t make a woman love you.”
REID: Because we were, quote, “professional songwriters” who thought we knew what we were doing, we wrote that song as an uptempo bluegrass song. [laughs]
SHAMBLIN: It was very bluegrass, uptempo, kind of a bouncy melody.
REID: Ricky Skaggs was having hits at the time and I thought, “That sounds like a Ricky Skaggs idea.” So we started and got those two lines: “I can’t make you love me if you don’t/ You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.” It’s interesting, because no matter what we did, we couldn’t get it any further than that. So we would stop and move on to another song. But we would always come back to it.
SHAMBLIN: I remember we worked on it over March and I came over to Mike’s house one day. His writing room was in his basement and he said, “Come upstairs, I want to play you something.” Upstairs, he had this beautiful grand piano and he started playing just the melody of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on his piano. I started to get chills just listening to the music. He didn’t tell me what it was to or anything and then he circled around and started singing the chorus that we’d already written over the new melody. I was just slayed.
Because we were, quote, ‘professional songwriters’ who thought we knew what we were doing, we wrote that song as an uptempo bluegrass song.
REID: I had an old piano teacher who was a real stickler about improvisation. The lesson always ended with some improvisation. So I would play everyday and improvise and I happened to have the tape recorder on and out that whole first verse came. Unrelated, by the way, to the idea. I’m not a very fast writer. I’m very slow. But sometimes you get chunks of things. And that whole thing came out, and I was kind of in that zone, out of my own way, when the line “Don’t patronize me” came out. And I immediately thought, “Oh, you can’t say that in a song.” And the minute I thought, “You can’t say that,” I came out of that zone and I was back into my own stupid songwriting self. So that’s as much as I had. I hadn’t even thought about the uptempo version. But somewhere in that day, I began to connect that phrase “I can’t make you love me” with that verse. And at that point, I thought, “Hmm” because when that verse came out, a lot of that melody came out, too. So I called Allen and I said, “Allen, what are you doing? Come on over!” and he came over and we said, “Yeah, this seems to work. As weird as that is, it seems to work.”
SHAMBLIN: After we finished the song, Mike didn’t demo it for weeks, if not months, and I knew — at least I felt — that it was the best song I had ever been a part of in my life, and I think Mike felt strongly about it, too. I kept saying, “Mike, have you done a demo of it yet?” and he said, “No, I’m not emotionally up to it.” He said, “When I sit down, I really gotta be emotionally up to it.” And then one day, he called and said, “I got it.” So I immediately dropped everything and rode over to his house and listened to that. I was knocked out. So that’s what he sent Bonnie, just a piano and vocal.
Stream Mike Reid’s demo for the song, made public for the first time…
After opening some shows for her in the late s and contributing a song to Nick Of Time, Reid had become friendly with Raitt. When he finally got the demo for “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” he sent a cassette and a handwritten note to her PO box address.
REID: I remember when we finished the day, saying this specifically to Allen: “Allen, there are only three places I can think of to go with this song. Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt, or Bonnie Raitt.”
SHAMBLIN: My publisher asked me, “Who do y’all hear it for?” Halfway through the writing of the song, [Mike and I] had a long conversation about Bonnie. I said, “We’re thinking Bonnie Raitt or … we don’t know.” I think I might’ve even said Rod Stewart. I definitely was thinking somebody pop, outside of Nashville. But really, Bonnie was the focus.
REID: It took me a while to demo that thing. I just tried and I couldn’t find the emotion in the thing. It took me a good six weeks.
BONNIE RAITT (SINGER): I heard through the musicians’ community what a great singer and songwriter [Mike] was, so I had his solo album and that’s where I got the first song [“Too Soon To Tell,” from Nick Of Time]. And we became friends after Nick Of Time and he and Allen sent [“I Can’t Make You Love Me”] to me first and I was just knocked out at his own demo of it, because I’m a fan of the way he sings.
REID: I worked in a dark basement and I had a phone line down there. I’m down there working, and my wife sticks her head in and says, “Hey, you’re gonna get a call, don’t screen it. Pick it up.” The phone rang and it was Bonnie. We talked for a long time, just about life. My memory is that she wasn’t immediately “Yes, yes, yes, I’m gonna record that.” She had a spot for a ballad on that record and there was another song that she loved and I know the song and it’s a truly great song. So she said, “Would you mind giving me a hold on that?” and I said, “No, absolutely not, of course.” That means you’re not gonna show it to anybody else.
SHAMBLIN: A couple weeks later, I came in to [Hayes Street Music, my publisher] and everybody was excited and I said, “What’s going on?” Back then, we had voicemail. It was a phone call from Bonnie. She had called late the night before and said, “I heard ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’ Please tell Mike and Allen that I love the song and I think I want to record it.” I actually still have that recording of that voicemail in my basement in a box [laughs]. Yeah, it’s one of the most exciting things that have happened to me.
RAITT: I knew it was a really special song and the most special one I was going to be able to record.
DON WAS (CO-PRODUCER): Bonnie got it and played it for me, and you just knew, you know? It was beautiful. If you heard Mike’s demo, it lays the groundwork for the way we treat it. He had these kind of Celtic voicings that he does on the piano that just — that alone will make you cry, forget the lyrical content [laughs].
RAITT: “I Can’t Make You Love Me” was so clear to me, the match of my way of singing and my way of approaching that music — Mike and Allen and I were completely in sync on that one. So he could have sent it to any number of people, but I’m really grateful that because of my connection with him — and because I’m such a fan of the way he sings and the way he writes, and of Allen’s too — I was really grateful he sent it to me first.
REID: How often in your songwriting life do you have the absolute perfect artist record the song?
Raitt had teamed up with Was and engineer Ed Cherney once more for Luck Of The Draw. They worked on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” in what was then known as Ocean Way Recordings, but has since returned to its original name United Recording Studios. It’s a studio loaded with history: Coltrane, Madonna, Sinatra, Michael Jackson. The list goes on. For Raitt, the crew was small while working on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” — her, Was, Cherney, her bassist James “Hutch” Hutchinson, Tony Braunagel on drums, and Bruce Hornsby guesting on piano.
WAS: It was in Studio B, where Sinatra cut “It Was A Very Good Year” and a lot of his great songs. His office Reprise Records was upstairs. It still looks essentially the way it did in the sixties.
BRUCE HORNSBY (PIANIST): I played on a Bob Dylan record in the same room and a Bob Seger record as well.
WAS: It’s one of the great rooms of all time but it was a chaotic afternoon. Lenny Kravitz was in the front room. Someone was trying to do like, another “We Are The World” in Studio A in the front.
RAITT: I knew that I didn’t want anybody else in the room while I was singing. I can’t perform if people are standing there watching me, so when we’re cutting tracks, it’s just the engineers and me, it’s not like a party.
WAS: There were all these people, all these artists that were running around, crowding the hallway, and people were wandering down who knew Bonnie.
RAITT: I found out afterwards there were other people that wanted to come in, but [Was] shushed them. I wouldn’t have been able to do a track with people watching. It’s just too personal.
WAS: With Bonnie, we used to make demos of everything that either featured her playing the piano or her playing the guitar. We had this principle that if she couldn’t make the song work from one instrument, then having a band with a great arrangement wasn’t going to change things. So we only did songs where we cut one instrument demos that floored us. In the case of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” she didn’t want to do that because there was something that she was going to tap into in her own life that we never discussed. She just wanted to do it one time and go into the truth, and she knew that would diminish with each subsequent take.
Aside from Raitt’s vocal performance, the most celebrated and iconic element of the song is Bruce Hornsby’s piano part. Raitt called Hornsby and asked him to play on it, to which he immediately agreed.
RAITT: I couldn’t think of anyone more amazing than Bruce Hornsby to play on it because I’m as much a fan of him as I am of anybody. I mean, people have asked me “If you had one musician you could take on a desert island…” It would absolutely be Bruce Hornsby. There’s just something about — not to mention his great personality, how funky he is, and how his chops are incredible — but the way he approaches ballads and the way that he voices chords and the way he plays just moves me like nobody else. There wasn’t any question in my mind.
HORNSBY: Bonnie called me and asked me to play on it and the only demo that existed in my memory was the songwriter’s demo, by Mike Reid. So it was very simple. She called me and asked me to be a part of it. Mike sent over the cassette.
I mean, people have asked me ‘If you had one musician you could take on a desert island…’ It would absolutely be Bruce Hornsby.
ED CHERNEY (ENGINEER): The thing about the demo … I knew we weren’t going to cut it like that. But there was that piano lick. I knew we were gonna base it around that.
HORNSBY: There’s a little lounge that was dark late at night before the session. I remember sitting with the piano in there and there was no one in the room, so I learned the song and I changed a bit of it.
CHERNEY: I don’t know how much I can say about how much trouble it was to get Bruce to play the goddamn lick. I don’t think we could get him to even listen to the demo.
WAS: It was kind of a point of contention for Bruce. He loved the song, but he didn’t want to listen to the demo. He wanted to find his own way into it. He didn’t want those songwriters’ guideposts. Which, most of the time, is a foolproof plan. But in this case, what Mike Reid had done on the piano was so … it was just perfect, man. We went through it a couple of times, and we said, “Look, no disrespect, but you really gotta listen to the demo.” And of course, when he heard it, he knew exactly what was going on. Bruce added something incredible to it. He elevated it to a new level, but he built on the foundation of the [Reid’s] voicings and chords.
HORNSBY: I changed the chords around to suit my aesthetic or my style, I guess. I added my voicing to the mix. The way I move through the chords playing harmony … It’s more about moving voices underneath the melody, voices meaning other tones and other notes in the left hand. The left hand moving in harmony with the right hand melody. It’s clearly heard on the record right away.
CHERNEY: Finally, when we got him to listen to it, it came together. After he listened to the demo, as I recall, it came together in one take. It was a little like pulling teeth for a while. Sometimes you gotta be brave in the studio, and it just wasn’t coming together. But everybody kinda got it at the same moment.
HORNSBY: My memory is that I recorded it live, with the bass and the drums, on the electric keyboard that starts off the record. So I recorded the basic track and then I overdubbed the piano. It was a very quick session.
CHERNEY: What Bruce is playing out in the vamp, it’s just timeless. It took my breath away. When he got the part, it was a sigh of relief and it just made the whole thing coalesce. It happened so fast.
RAITT: I was thrilled that he put his own spin on it. I knew he would play it even if we played it almost exactly like the demo, but you don’t have someone like Bruce come and play on something and expect him to copy somebody, you know?
REID: Hornsby signed that thing like crazy and I am eternally grateful he did. The intro phrase was mine, certainly that came with the writing of the song. The melody is the melody. But Bruce really took the intro and he articulated what I wrote. He did it through the Hornsby filter, which really kicked it up to another level.
SHAMBLIN: I thought [Bruce’s part] was transcendent. It was spiritual.
Once Hornsby’s part came together, the sessions followed suit. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is essentially a piano and vocal song, akin to Reid’s original demo. When people speak of it — particularly people who were involved in the making of the song — they speak in awed tones about Raitt as a singer, and of her performance of this song specifically. As the story goes, she recorded it in one take.
HORNSBY: Like so many things that end up being timeless or iconic, it happened pretty quickly. I wasn’t there for long. We did a few takes with the trio, Bonnie singing and I did a take or two on the piano.
WAS: It’s one take. I think that there were a couple of lines where she started crying so those were the only things that we had to go back and punch. Everything else was live as it happened.
RAITT: It’s a pretty devastating song to sing more than once [laughs]. I mean, maybe other people can sing ballads more than once. I really waited to know that I was gonna be in there with Bruce, and we gave it a couple of stabs and there were things that weren’t working as well. We ended up bringing in Tony Braunagel, who played in my live band. He came in and had never even heard the song before, and he played some brushes and kept the beat. I just wanted to be able to sing to Bruce playing this beautiful song. I didn’t have a rule about it being one take, it’s just that we put so much into making that moment very special that there wasn’t any reason to do it again. Plus, I took me a minute to recover from how sad it was.
CHERNEY: I fucking cried. I’ll tell you, I was in the control room. Don Was was in the control room, and I think her manager, Ron Stone was in the control room. I think it was just the three of us. And the first time we ran it down and she sang it live like that … my heart went up to my throat and my eyes filled up with tears. It was so convincing, it was so real. I didn’t want Don and Ron to see me being such a schmuck, crying like that.
WAS: I will never forget that because I, you know … truth is I get choked up thinking about it. It was so emotional on such a myriad of levels but it has to do with something that is very hard to describe in the tone of her voice. I mean the song could go to the morose really quickly, right? But there is a strength combined with a vulnerability. There’s still a sweetness in her voice. That is how I think of Bonnie too.
CHERNEY: I could feel her soul when she sang it. It was just one of those moments where the studio disappears, and the whole world disappears, and all that’s there is the emotion of that thing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what great music and great art is. It just pulls you into the moment and the feeling and emotion of it. I felt like I could feel her heart.
WAS: Her performance was so vivid that I couldn’t separate. It was not performance to me. I got really choked up because I didn’t want Bonnie to suffer like that. It was like real life. It was like I was seeing something happen to the person I loved. It’s really weird isn’t it? It’s like not being able to separate an actor from a role that they’re in.
CHERNEY: It’s going down and I’m whimpering like a little baby and I didn’t want Don to see me like that, but I do remember that the take was done and we were so moved that all three of us went in separate directions to gain our composure, because I think those two guys were affected the same way but we didn’t want each other to see that we were that soft or … maybe a little embarrassed by it. I know I was. I kinda had to go out in the hall, I think I went outside for a few minutes to get my composure back.
RAITT: I knew at the time when I finished singing it that I thought we had it. You know it when you got it, especially when it’s a collaboration. Like what was going on with Bruce, where it’s performance. It’s not just playing the song — I’m singing too, we’re playing off each other.
WAS: It wasn’t accidental. It’s not like you stumbled on something. She knew how to inhabit the song and make it hers. It wasn’t something left up to chance, but it was monumental. I just knew that I was hearing one of the great vocal performances of all time. I knew it mainly because I couldn’t … my reaction was “Show me the guy who was doing this to you and I am going to fuck him up.” I wanted to protect her.
REID: When I got it, I got in my truck and went down [to see Allen] and we put it in and we were surprised. We were thrilled that it was Bonnie and I knew Nick Of Time was her breakout album. I knew what it meant to have that woman sing something, you know? I don’t know that it exists anymore. Through various generations, there are artists that validated you as a writer. I’m sure in the Fifties, if you got a Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett cut, it was, “My God!” Bonnie is an artist of that power. When Bonnie Raitt decided to sing something, whether or not it was a single release or what, it just made you feel more like a writer.
After they got the basic recording done, they set about adding overdubs and embellishments to the song. (One of those that remains on the track was a Hammond B-3 organ part courtesy of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench.) As they tried to finalize the song, they knew something was off now. Eventually, they realized they needed to strip the track of many of the overdubs they’d layered onto it.
REID: Allen and I were surprised because the record was so sparse. I — in my whorish, commercial part of me — thought it would be “Wind Beneath My Wings” … a big, giant production.
CHERNEY: Pretty much the way we had mixed it was the instruments on the floor that afternoon. We put some percussion on it, we did some background vocals with the guys from Was Not Was. I remember when I mixed it, I was alone at Conway Studios in Studio City. I had tried to mix it and I had tried to keep all the elements we had recorded, thinking, well, “We want all these things.” But it was never feeling as emotional as that [first] time. It was one of those LA rainstorms. It was pouring rain that night. I nailed the mix that night, I knew I had it. I had been wrestling with it, because I kept trying to use all the elements and finally just getting rid of everything and going back to that original thing. I think it was probably about four in the morning, raining, and I was alone. It was just one of those nights. I remember just being drained. I knew that I got it because I got to that sadness again. [laughs]
REID: [It was] unquestionably more powerful. Look, there’s no way around the fact that it’s a song of intimacy. This is an intimate song, and to do anything else to it other than that … Don told me — I don’t know if he’d remember saying this to me — that they had a lot more on that record and when they mixed it, they thought, “My God, what happened?” And I said, “Well, what did you do, Don?” And he said, “We just started pulling faders down.”
CHERNEY: We started putting production on it. It took me a minute to figure out to get rid of all that stuff. It didn’t have that emotion anymore. I started hearing the work we were doing instead of the moment of somebody bearing that soul.
REID: At that point, [Was] taught me a great thing: He said, “You know, with an artist like Bonnie, everything you do on the record, everything you do as a producer, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this gonna enable the listener to have more of an intimate relationship with this artist or is this gonna put something unnecessary between the listener and the artist?'” It’s such a smart observation. And there was nothing between the listener and her on that record.
CHERNEY: All that other extemporaneous stuff got in the way of it. I was trying to get back to that feeling, that total feeling of empathy for her and that deep sadness, that deep feeling of that loss.
SHAMBLIN: I was knocked out. From listening to her previous album, I was expecting it to be more produced, you know? I don’t know how to say it. Bonnie served the song.
REID: It is a natural impulse to think that more is more. And it takes real balls, as those people had, to realize that more might be less.
Even with Raitt’s surprising latter-day commercial success and even with other hit singles recently under her belt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” wasn’t exactly a song built to conquer the pop charts of 1991. Yet it became another significant pop hit in her career, hitting the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.
RAITT: I don’t make records to see whether they get played on the radio. There’s a format that always plays me, which they’ve called ten different names over the years, but it’s where Delbert McClinton or John Hiatt or John Prine or Emmylou Harris … we’re now called Americana, the last fifteen years. Roots music artists, there’s a whole bunch of us that got played on what would be called “album-oriented rock.” FM radio in the seventies started playing groups like mine and they don’t just play singles so I always had a parallel career before Nick Of Time hit.
WAS: I knew [“I Can’t Make You Love Me”] was powerful but I also knew that it defied every convention of what a pop record was in 1991. Although we had experience with Nick Of Time, our goal was to make the money back and being able to get to a next album. So to sell seven or eight million of them … it was so different from the popular music of that moment. It paid no respect to fashion whatsoever. So that was pretty shocking, but there just weren’t records like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on the radio then.
RAITT: The Grammy win pushed [Nick Of Time] over into the pop chart, so it made a huge difference, even though the record had sold a million even before the Grammys. Luck Of The Draw was the follow-up record and we had our first hit with “Something To Talk About” and then the second single was “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” So we already had a nice bed of crossover onto mainstream radio, and it didn’t impact how we cut the songs. I cut my music according to what feels and sounds good to me and there’s always been a radio station that will play it.
CHERNEY: I don’t recall us ever thinking we were trying to make a hit or trying to make something for radio. I just remember trying to make it musically great and not really worrying about anything else. I think that’s why those records we did together did so well. We weren’t pandering.
RAITT: It was just a surprise for a few years there, we actually got played on pop radio. None of us had any idea it was going to be that big a hit.
WAS: It’s one of those performances that is so powerful that it changes the definition of what the popular music of the time is. They played it on pop radio stations.
SHAMBLIN: I’d be lying if I said I was surprised by [“I Can’t Make You Love Me” becoming a hit] because I saw the impact the song was having on people and I felt like Mike and I had been given a gift, the song, that touched a primal place in people’s hearts. It was universal. I was so overwhelmed to be a part of the song when we finished it, and then to have Bonnie record it. If it would’ve stopped right there, I would have been happy today, because it was born. Bonnie gave birth to it. She brought it into the world and gave it life in the best possible way. So anything after that was just a huge blessing. I’m just thankful for it all.
In the years since the success of Luck Of The Draw and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” the song has taken on a different stature. It’s become a standard of sorts, perennially covered by stars like George Michael, Prince, and Boyz II Men, and younger artists like Adele, Katy Perry, Bon Iver, SOAK, and Allen Stone. It’s taken on a different kind of immortality than just being a big song from a now-legendary artist. It’s one of those moments when a track becomes part of the popular lexicon: brought into the world by a particular group of people and inherently always defined by them, yet also somehow much bigger than what they did twenty-five years ago.
HORNSBY: I [play it at] my solo concerts and here is why. My solo concerts are musically, harmonically adventurous outings and I regularly inflict so much dissonance on my poor unsuspecting audience that I try to balance that with songs that they know so since I am related to this, since I am part of the record.
ALLEN STONE (PERFORMER): It’s difficult to break down exactly what draws one to a song. There can be such a precise science to the gravity of specific pieces of music. Time, place, chord progression, singer, tones. It can all be put under a microscope. Every time I hear Bonnie sing that song though it feels right.
SOAK (PERFORMER): For me, it’s the ultimate love song, because it describes so much and everybody can sympathize with it. The whole meaning behind the song is beautiful, but just the melodies in it, and the structure of the song … it’s the most incredible chorus ever.
KATY PERRY (PERFORMER): I rarely perform covers because I enjoy sharing my personal life stories when I sing. “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is an exception because it strikes such a personal chord in me, and in everyone who hears it.
SOAK: When we were recording, for me the main thing was just singing it as if it was my song. It’s the most stereotypical thing, but feel it as you’re playing it. I put myself in those shoes.
STONE: I just wanted to sing a song that I really loved. Now if Bonnie had been in the audience, yeah, I would’ve been shitting myself.
SOAK: Any great song can be played on one instrument. Transposing it to guitar was easy. I think I wanted to get the soul of the song. The recording is just straight-up vocal and guitar because we didn’t want to clutter it with any other instruments or any other melody. It didn’t need it. I just wanted to be as honest and open as possible. Sometimes I nearly dread playing it at the end of shows. When I play it, I think of ways the lyrics have happened in my life, situations like that have happened around me. To play it, and put yourself in that position, can be really emotionally draining and quite scary as well, to be that honest with people.
STONE: There is a lot of space in that song. A lot of room for the vocal to shine. Those are always fun songs to sing. When you have room and space to dance with your voice.
HORNSBY: Bonnie is one of those singers that people might refer to as a “phonebook singer.” She could sing the phonebook and would give you chills. So when I’m singing it, the main thought that is going through my head is “Come on, do better!”
SOAK: When I was a bit younger, I stumbled upon the Bon Iver cover of the song on YouTube. I remember hearing it and was amazed at how simple and straightforward the song was, but how incredible of a song it was. After I heard his version, I looked up Bonnie Raitt and got into all her stuff. It was my first introduction to the song.
REID: I mean, I don’t even know what to say other than it’s a beyond delight, or beyond meaningful, that a kid addresses that song, that that song has tended to have a life across generations.
STONE: I really like Bon Iver’s version. The sentiment he invokes is very special. He takes his time. Presents the song through his own lens. I really dig when an artist can take something, add a bit of themselves to it but also not take away from the original.
RAITT: [Justin Vernon’s] was a total surprise. Somebody sent it to me, and he put a little bit of “Nick Of Time” on the end of it. We became friends right after. I called him within a couple of days, it was great. We just lost Prince, and I thought his version was very beautiful.
WAS: Prince cut a version of it and you listen to it for a while and he’s such a great singer and you can marvel at the technique but then he gets to the vamp and he says something like “Come here, baby, I am going to sex you up,” or something like that. He’s got no idea what the song is about. I have never heard a guy who can sing it. I don’t know if a guy can sing the song.
REID: Somebody told me George Michael sang “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on Unplugged on MTV. Not long after that, we’re sitting here, my wife and I, flipping the channels, looking for something, and we go across MTV Unplugged and there’s George Michael! And I thought, “Wow, this has to be the show where he’s gonna sing that.” And damn if the next thing he didn’t sing, he said, “Well, I’m gonna sing one of my all-time favorite songs. It was recorded by the wondrous Bonnie Raitt. And it was written by … well, actually, I don’t know who wrote this.” [laughs] I laughed, and my wife got mad, so I didn’t have to. She said, “He should know that! He should know that!” I said “No, no, no.” To know that the song lives in the world and people don’t know who wrote it, I’m good with that. I’m good with that. I’d rather that than people know a bunch of songs you wrote and no one can remember them. If I disappear and no one has a clue about my name, I’m good if I know somewhere, someone is singing that song.
RAITT: I’ve heard [Michael’s] version. I have not heard all the versions that I know there are, but I’m always fascinated. I’d have to say right up there was a live version that Aretha Franklin did. I was in the audience and she stopped and said, “I’d like to sing a special song for somebody in the audience tonight” and she proceeded to sing “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She’s my all-time favorite female singer, so, you know…
REID: A legendary jazz-pop singer, Nancy Wilson, did a fantastic, gorgeous rendition of that song. There’s an R&B singer named Tank, great version. According to [Shamblin], there’s been over 550 covers of that thing.
CHERNEY: I know a lot of great singers really quote that as a benchmark for a ballad. I don’t think anyone comes close to what Bonnie did.
SHAMBLIN: I don’t want this to come off as dismissive of anybody else, because I’m really grateful, I’m thankful, but there are actually versions, like Bon Iver’s … someone told me recently that they thought that was the recording. They’re young, eighteen years old. So that’s the version they’re familiar with. And I said, “Well, you gotta go hear Bonnie Raitt’s version.” It’s touched people in a way where they’ve wanted to cover it. So the breadcrumb trail always goes back to Bonnie when I start talking about covers.
HORNSBY: I can see why it’s covered. It’s a truly great song. I think that most people who listen to popular music of any style — and this is a generalization — but most people are looking for a great song sung well. This is a great song sung amazingly by one of the great singers, so that’s how I would describe this song’s enduring popularity.
REID: I’ve been in restaurants where people have butchered it at a piano and I’m touched by it. I love anyone who tries to sing it. I don’t care if they do it well or not. [laughs] It’s beyond me, the life of the song, for it to have this long, slow climb up the mountain, which means I think it’ll be around for generations. For any writer to have the capacity to plan something like that would be idiocy. I’m along for the ride.
Reflecting on the scope and reach of the song as it turns 25, many of those involved in its writing or recording are still half-speechless when it comes to summing up their experiences. It still comes across as something that none of them ever expected, making them all the more grateful and stunned that it happened, and that the song continues to resonate with people across generations or genres.
PERRY: I can’t believe we’re celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. This is timeless songwriting that never goes out of style.
STONE: It’s amazing. I saw her perform that song a couple months back and to this day she sings it with conviction. Bonnie’s been singing that song for several decades and can still sing it with sense and emotion. That is monumental, when the writer and singer can believe in and present a song years and years after it’s been written and given to the world.
WAS: Her interpretation of the song, like a jazz musician, evolves nightly. I just heard her sing it live a couple months ago and it was just incredible. She keeps finding nuances and changing the phrasing a little bit, and you see a difference.
HORNSBY: We just played this together [a few] weeks ago at the Berkeley Theatre and it was beautiful. I love doing it with her and I think she felt the same.
WAS: There’s a strength in the way that she sings it on the record. Like she’s saying “I can deal with this.” It’s not weepy. It’s not mournful. It’s not woeful. It makes you admire the singer. You can tell that it hurts but that she’s got the strength to deal with it. It’s a really exotic blend. I don’t think she ever sang it quite like that but I wouldn’t even dare to compare performances because I was so moved by the most recent interpretation I heard this year, which was totally fresh and equally emotional.
HORNSBY: Well I’ve done a lot of records through the years and I also cite that as being possibly being the record that I have played on for another artist that I am the most proud of. And Bonnie and I are like brother and sister, but I feel like she has been a big sister of mine for 28 years.
CHERNEY: It’s a little like it happened to somebody else. It’s one of those times where everything comes together … it’s one of the most perfect-sounding songs I’ve ever worked on. And I’ve been doing this over 40 years.
RAITT: Every interview, they say, “How do you feel about the impact that the song has had?” The Voice, or American Idol … Carrie Underwood auditioned with it. I think that’s either what she auditioned with or she sang it on the show. There’s a lot of young people that are in their early twenties and through their forties that found me because of that song and, I mean, what a great legacy to have such an incredible bunch of different age groups come up and tell you how much the song has meant to you. I check in my luggage at the airport and some guy goes, “Hey! ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ is the only song that makes me cry.”
WAS: I didn’t write it and I didn’t sing it. I didn’t even play on it. But strangers used to come up to me in airports. Like a guy would come up and say “My wife just keeps playing the song over and over looking out the window and crying.” [laughs] Women would come up and say “It’s going pretty bad in my life and I didn’t know how to contextualize it, but that song makes sense out of it.” That went on for at least ten years. Like, total strangers. That is your goal, really, to help people understand their own lives through music. Bonnie probably got to experience it by going out and performing it live in front of audiences every night.
RAITT: The number of people that have written me letters saying that they’ve never seen their husband in tears until they watch him watch me sing that song in concert … it just makes me feel very, very proud and very grateful.
CHERNEY: To this day when I hear it, I’m still moved. They had the audio engineering show in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago and I was invited. JBL was showing off some of its speakers and they invited me to come in and I played that. The breath came out of everybody at the same time. I was still moved, and everybody in the room was moved, and, boy, it made those speakers sound fucking great, too. [laughs]
The number of people that have written me letters saying that they’ve never seen their husband in tears until they watch him watch me sing that song in concert … it just makes me feel very, very proud and very grateful.
REID: You know, it’s an enormous, enormous gratitude. I’m sorry, I’m entering old age, and, you know, I wanna be as clear about this as I can: it’s gratitude, and it inspires what I genuinely hope is an authentic humility.
SHAMBLIN: Mike and I have talked about it. It feels like the world’s song. It came through us and it’s like having a baby or a child that grows up to do something really great. All you can do is be proud of your child, and thankful.
REID: I am constantly, as a songwriter, in my own way. When I can get out of my own way, those things that want to be said, the ideas that are in the world, are there. So when I hear it’s a young kid that’s singing that song, I don’t even feel … I mean, I know we wrote it and it came out of us, but really, at this point, we don’t really walk around feeling as though we’re the writers of that song. It just had its own life.
CHERNEY: I’m so honored and just so proud of being part of the records we made, me and Don and Bonnie. It was a real special time. We were younger, and when you’re doing that, you think, oh, you can do that any time. But not understanding that this is a real special moment in time that is probably never going to happen again in your lifetime.
WAS: You just knew it, man. Once we cut it, we knew that once something like this comes along — if it comes along once a decade, you’re lucky. We knew that that would be tough to follow. I don’t think we were all that daunted about following up Nick Of Time. But there was something about that song, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” I knew it was gonna be a while before somebody wrote something else that was that good.
Career and Professional Life of Raitt
In 1971, she released her first studio album which includes tracks like “Any Day Woman”, “Walking Blues”, “Since I Fell for You”, “Women Be Wise” and so on. Her second studio album was named “Give It Up” which was released by Warner Bros. Records in 1972. She released one album every year for the next three years i.e. Takin’ My Time (1973), Streetlights (1974) and Home Plate (1975).
In 1977, she released her sixth album called Sweet Forgiveness where she covered the Del Shannon hit “Runaway”. Her seventh album called “The Glow” was released in 1979. It includes tracks like “Bye Bye Baby”, “I Thank You”, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)”, “The Boy Can’t Help It”, “You’re Gonna Get What’s Coming” and so on.
In 1982, she released her eighth album called “Green Light” which includes tracks like “Keep This Heart in Mind”, “Baby Come Back”, “Let’s Keep It Between Us”, “Green Lights” and so on. Her ninth studio album called “Nine Lives” was released in 1986. This album was unable to gain success as expected and encountered low sales volume and negative comments.
On March 21, 1989, she released her tenth studio album called “Nick of Time” which includes tracks like “Thing Called Love”, “Too Soon to Tell”, “I Ain’t Gonna Let You Break My Heart Again” and so on. In 1991, she released her eleventh album called Luck of the Draw which includes tracks like “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Something to Talk About”.
Her other studio albums include Longing in Their Hearts (1994), Fundamental (2998), Silver Lining (2002), Souls Alike (2005) and Slipstream (2012). Her latest released studio album was named “Dig in Deep” which includes tracks like “Need You Tonight”, “All Alone with Something to Say”, “If You Need Somebody”, “The Ones We Couldn’t Be” and much more.
6. “Ain’t Gonna Let You Go”
Released last year on her Grammy-winning album “Slipstream,” this slow-burning blues was written by Bonnie Bramlett (of Delaney & Bonnie fame) and NRBQ’s Al Anderson. A throwback to her earlier work, this tune features some of Raitt’s finest guitar playing to date, her Stratocaster slithering around a 12-bar blues figure with Raitt alternating between biting rhythm and punchy slide breaks. Raitt’s voice has never been better, her smoky delivery proving that while some singers lose their ability to nail notes as they age, Raitt, if anything, sounds even stronger than on her earlier work. Appears on “Slipstream” (2012).
The Current Rewind: Bonnie Raitt's Lake Minnetonka Beginning
The Current logo above three black chevrons and the word "Rewind" in gray caps. (MPR Graphic)
Bonnie Raitt is best known for her hits "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me." But back in 1971, she was a 21-year-old kid with a friendly streak, guitar chops, and her first record deal. That summer, she recorded her debut album on Lake Minnetonka with a motley crew of Minneapolis musicians, making music and commotion in a wild recording experience that she calls "not Animal House, but [. ] just a blast."
The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Culture Heritage Fund.
Transcript of Episode 5 — Bonnie Raitt's Lake Minnetonka Beginnings
["I Ain't Blue" by Bonnie Raitt]
Bonnie Raitt: Enchanted Island—yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday. I'm always reminiscing with Willie and the Bees.
Andrea Swensson: That's folk and blues icon Bonnie Raitt, and this is The Current Rewind, the podcast that puts unsung music stories on the map. I'm Andrea Swensson, back with Side B of our first season. Over the next few weeks, we'll take you to a Great Lakes industry town with a dark side and back to the '80s with a wild story of anti-rock crusaders. But today, we're zooming in on the early years of Bonnie Raitt.
["I Ain't Blue" crescendos, then fades. "Winging It" by Lazerbeak begins to play]
Andrea Swensson: Few performers over the last fifty years of rock have been more widely beloved than singer and guitarist Bonnie Raitt. Writing and covering a wide variety of styles, from folk to blues to rock, she has, as much as anybody, defined the roots-oriented sound of Americana. She's known for the hits "I Can't Make You Love Me" and "Something to Talk About." In 1990, her album Nick of Time swept the Grammy Awards and made her a household name. But the story of Bonnie Raitt's recording career began way back in 1971. And it began in Minnesota.
Andrea Swensson: For this episode of The Current Rewind, we spoke with several of the musicians who played on Bonnie Raitt's self-titled album from 1971, as well as a couple of writers and Raitt's bass player from the seventies.
One person we didn't get to talk to, unfortunately, was Bonnie herself, whose schedule didn't allow her time. So we've relied on a couple of old interviews—one with NPR's Ann Powers in 2012 and one with The Current's Bill DeVille in 2013—to get her side of the story.
While it isn't the best-known of her albums, Bonnie Raitt's self-titled debut was a clear statement of purpose from a soon-to-be-major artist. She was only twenty-one, but her song choices drew deep from the wells of blues, folk, rock, and R&B music. Her singing and stage presence had turned heads since she began performing. By the summer of 1971, Warner Bros. Records, who specialized in singer-songwriters like her, was ready to put her out in the world.
And that's how Bonnie Raitt came to the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis, also known as Cedar-Riverside—because that's where she could go to find other musicians who were in the habit of ignoring genre rules and going for the gut, just like she did.
Bonnie Raitt was born into showbiz—her father was the Broadway musical leading man John Raitt, star of "Oklahoma!" and other fifties hits from the Great White Way. But as she told The Current's Bill DeVille, Raitt was looking for something else when it came time to make her first album.
Bonnie Raitt: It's Austin and New Orleans and Minneapolis-St. Paul that are the three cities that have been multiracial in their music scene for all this time. That's why I wanted to make my first record there.
Maurice Jacox: John Koerner and Dave Ray were playing out on the East Coast folk circuit, and Bonnie was playing out there too.
Andrea Swensson: Maurice Jacox was the saxophonist for Willie and the Bees, the band who backed Bonnie Raitt on her first album.
Maurice Jacox: And so she got a Warner Bros. contract, and the contract was for $40,000. She asked people she trusted—Koerner and Dave Ray—and said, "I've got this contract. What do you think I should do? I'm supposed to make an album. I want to make a blues album. Got any suggestions, and the way I should go about doing this?"
They both said, "We've got some friends back in Minneapolis that might be right up your alley. You ought to come out there and see what's happening out there." So Bonnie actually flew out here and hung around the West Bank for about a week or so and shot pool, drank beer, drank liquor, played pinball for about four or five days and did a lot of talking.
Cyn Collins: She was known to hang out with people at the various West Bank hotspots.
Andrea Swensson: Cyn Collins is the author of "West Bank Boogie," a history of the Cedar-Riverside folk and blues scene.
Cyn Collins: She would hang out at Palmer's Bar doing New York Times crossword puzzles with Spider John Koerner on a daily basis while Flo tended bar.
Andrea Swensson: In fact, an autographed photo of Bonnie still hangs at Palmer's to this day.
Cyn Collins: Willie Murphy would say that she was seen regularly at various places around the West Bank—the New Riverside Cafe, the Firehouse, which is now the Mixed Blood Theatre, and she performed at the New Riverside Cafe and Firehouse and other places.
Willie Murphy: She came out here and stayed at my house—we actually slept together in the same bed and went out every morning looking for a good place to put the studio to make the record.
Andrea Swensson: That's the late Willie Murphy, speaking to me in 2014. He produced Bonnie's debut album, and was the notoriously strong-willed, gruff, but beloved leader of Willie and the Bumblebees. Fans often called them the Bees.
["Honey From The Bee" by Willie and the Bees]
Maurice Jacox: After that Bonnie just went, "This is the band. These are the guys I want to work with."
Andrea Swensson: At first, the group wanted to record in the countryside. But they hit a snag.
Bonnie Raitt: Nobody would rent us a farm because we were a mixed-race bunch of raggly hippies and blues guys. Dave Ray and Sylvia, his wife at the time, found this guy who had a remedial reading summer camp, and it was isolated enough that they let us just take it over. So it was about—not Animal House, but it was very much like a summer camp. It was just a blast.
Andrea Swensson: The West Bank had been considered "blighted" during the forties, and had become part of skid row during the fifties, thanks partly to the freeway system intruding on the area, cutting it off from downtown. This relative isolation, and its proximity to the University of Minnesota campus, made the West Bank perfect for the burgeoning counterculture—first beatniks, then hippies began moving to the area. By the early seventies, the Electric Fetus, a record store and head shop catering to a hippie crowd, had opened up there in 1972, it would stage a so-called "naked sale." (Don't ask.)
Spider John Koerner: I think I probably had my first drink in Palmer's Bar in 1963 or 1964, so it's been well over five decades that I've been watching the West Bank.
Andrea Swensson: The blues and folk singer Spider John Koerner has been one of the West Bank's most visible musicians ever since.
Spider John Koerner: My first time on the West Bank, it was kind of working people. There was lots of bars. There was like probably a half a dozen up and down the avenue there, and there were some black bars up around Seven Corners up there. There was the Key Club and South of the Border, and you could go down there and see some of the top blues performers coming through Chicago and like that. It was a good mixture. Then came along the hippie era. If you left your wallet on the bar there was a 50/50 chance somebody would bring it back to you rather than getting picked up by somebody.
Eugene Hoffman: We were not hippies.
Andrea Swensson: Saxophonist Eugene Hoffman had dropped out of the University of Minnesota, and began playing with all sorts of musicians on the West Bank in the mid-sixties.
Eugene Hoffman: Even though Willie in one of his last interviews said at heart he was a hippie really, we were all in between the beatniks and the hippies. The neighborhood had been blown wide open because it was the Haight-Ashbury of Minnesota. Fourth and Cedar—there was a place above—Richter Drug Store. This Richter pharmacist was very lenient on the hippies, and people were always coming in there. They were dealing drugs on the corner—all kinds of people. What the West Bank had quickly become in about '66 was just a lot of houses of university students.
Andrea Swensson: "West Bank Boogie" author Cyn Collins recalled how eclectic audiences could be.
Cyn Collins: It was a very diverse crowd. People would say that at any given night at the Triangle Bar you would have Black Panthers, AIM activists and bikers and hippies all in the same place. Of course, fights would break out. It was a wild scene. Very, very vibrant and busy and active.
Andrea Swensson: Maurice Jacox chimed in on the bar scene, too.
Maurice Jacox: In the old days back in the sixties there had always been the Triangle Bar. And up on Seven Corners there was a bar called the Mixers, and all the intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals and rabble rousers got together at the Mixers and talked and drank and talked and drank and politicized and plotted and did everything radicals were supposed to do back on those days.
I had known Willie Murphy since high school and didn't like him a whole lot. A hard man to work with and a hard man to know—a very complex man. He could be incredibly thoughtless and overly critical of everything and everybody and an absolute control freak and had to run everything that he did. It was your job to figure out that he loved you, and that you wouldn't be there if he didn't specifically want you, personally, there.
I moved to San Francisco in '67 and came back here. And while I'd been gone in San Francisco, Willie Murphy teamed up with Spider John Koerner and they had their record, Running, Jumping, Standing Still, for Elektra Records. It's a fantastic, groundbreaking album, and I'd always loved John Koerner's music.
People were having a lot of fun. Most of the people were fairly well educated and kindred spirits, open in their musical tastes, and open to different ideas and different music. That's why John Koerner and Willie Murphy's album was so great. Running, Jumping, Standing Still had elements of Murphy's funk and R&B background, and John Koerner's kind of country foot stomping things, and blending them together is pretty amazing.
In fact, one of John Koerner's songs is one of my favorite songs on Bonnie's album that we did, called "I Ain't Blue," and I used to love to hear John at the Triangle Bar, just singing and playing the song by himself.
["I Ain't Blue" by Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy]
Andrea Swensson: Following the success of Running, Jumping, Standing Still, Willie Murphy was offered a house producer job with Elektra Records, but he turned it down to stay in Minneapolis. He had begun leading jam sessions, both in Cedar-Riverside and at his home near 26th Street and Nicollet Avenue, and in 1970, he convened a meeting.
Eugene Hoffman: Willie just looked at all of us and said, "I'm starting a band here. If you want to make money with this you might as well leave right now, because we're going to just play kick-ass dance music and originals and like James Brown."
Maurice Jacox: We weren't trying to specifically be a mixed band. He just reached out to the people he wanted to have in a band, and the fact that it was an integrated band didn't matter to him. There was a time in Minneapolis right into the mid-to-late sixties when no black band could get work in Minneapolis, and no black could be in a band in downtown Minneapolis. And then that started to change around '67 or '68. There was a band called the Amazers that had a black and had a white drummer, and they billed him as an albino—the drummer that went on to play with Sly & the Family Stone and Robin Trower—Bill Lordan was his name.
Murphy played in some of these bands playing bass—the only white guy in a black band. And that's how they got into some of these clubs—at least having one white guy in the band.
Andrea Swensson: The musicians were doing it for love, because the money wasn't especially good.
Eugene Hoffman: We were making almost nothing. I have my old calendars here and I look at them occasionally probably less than $12 a night. Willie never took a leader's fee, ever. When we opened up all of these bars, the reason we got $12 a night is they had us over a barrel. These bar owners would say, "We're used to paying a 3-piece."
Maurice Jacox: In the early days, you could have a seven or eight piece band playing for $200. Period. For the whole band. And that went on for decades.
Andrea Swensson: Spider John Koerner and Willie Murphy both recalled that they were playing out east when they first met Bonnie Raitt.
Spider John Koerner: The reason she got hooked up with Dave Ray's outfit, and so with Willie, might've been at my suggestion, because I don't think she knew the scene out here particularly before she met me.
Willie Murphy: I met Bonnie Raitt—Koerner and I, when we played together in the '60s. We played a lot in Boston, that was sort of our second home. So she had gone to school, or was going to school at Radcliffe, one of those big schools. So she was a fan of ours, and she was an aspiring player and singer herself.
Andrea Swensson: Bonnie Raitt was born in Burbank, California, but she moved east while her father sang his way through a slate of hit musicals: "Oklahoma!," "Carousel," "Annie Get Your Gun," and "Kiss Me Kate." The Raitt family were practicing Quakers, and as Eugene Hoffman saw firsthand, social activism has remained a bedrock part of Bonnie's life.
Eugene Hoffman: I quickly saw that no matter where she went, she always knew and still does what's going on in that town or that neighborhood politically. She would read the New York Times before she even had breakfast. I'm sure she still does that.
Andrea Swensson: Bonnie got her first guitar at age eight, as a Christmas gift. She was playing her grandfather's slide guitar by age ten, and owned a red Guild gut-string acoustic. While her parents were away on tour, the family's maid would bring over her family and their records, turning Bonnie and her brothers on to the music of Jimmy Reed and Ike & Tina Turner. At fourteen, she became a blues devotee, and as a teenager she got involved with folk music. At the 2012 Americana Music Conference, Bonnie told writer Ann Powers that her eclectic tastes were deeply rooted.
Bonnie Raitt: It's second nature to me. Part of it is being raised in a musical family that had a broad range of tastes. We were exposed to Mahalia Jackson and Louis Armstrong and Art Tatum, as well as my dad's entire Broadway world.
There was a cultural upheaval between beat music and beatniks and the counterculture that was happening. I'm a child of my time, so I don't think it's particularly surprising that I liked Lenny Welch's "Since I Fell For You" next to "Bluebird" by the Buffalo Springfield next to Sippie Wallace. I loved folk music. I came out of summer camp with the counselors leading us and emulating Joan Baez. Of course, I wanted to be like both of them. I fell in love with R&B and rock and roll at the same time as a little kid. I could tell the difference between Little Richard's version and Pat Boone's.
Andrea Swensson: We'll have more from Bonnie Raitt on the making of her first album after this break.
[Music fades up, then out]
Andrea Swensson: So far, we've talked about the West Bank music scene that was cultivated in the late '60s, which would provide inspiration and a musical backbone for Bonnie Raitt's debut album.
While Willie Murphy was finding his voice in Minneapolis, Bonnie Raitt was enrolled at Radcliffe College in Massachusetts, majoring in African Studies. But soon she was spending time in Philadelphia with Dick Waterman, the manager of a number of bluesmen whose careers had been revived in the sixties, such as Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and the duo of Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
Soon Waterman, who was 33, was dating eighteen-year-old Raitt, and she was picking up playing tips from his roster. She began performing as an opening act. And while she was learning from the masters, as critic Jewly Hight notes, she was also proving she belonged in their world.
Jewly Hight: I several years ago interviewed the singer/songwriter and guitarist Chris Smither, who knew her in those early years. He said he was just blown away one day. He had no idea that she was a guitarist, much less a serious guitarist, and then heard her play bottleneck and was really impressed and instantly took her seriously.
Andrea Swensson: In 1970, Bonnie took a semester off from school to go along with Waterman on a European Rolling Stones tour, which Buddy Guy and Junior Wells were opening. That meant she missed the deadline to register for her next semester, and Bonnie's parents cut her off financially. She would later say that if she had registered for school in time, her entire musical career might not have happened.
Right away, Bonnie's repertoire came together—her first night onstage, at Philadelphia's Second Fret, she played nearly everything that would make her debut album. Two of the songs were from the sly, sexy blueswoman Sippie Wallace.
["I'm A Mighty Tight Woman" by Sippie Wallace]
["Mighty Tight Woman" by Bonnie Raitt]
Jewly Hight: She did a couple of Sippie Wallace songs on that first album, and would eventually go on to befriend Sippie Wallace and bring her on tour and draw more attention to her work. She was really thrilled to find a blues diva who had this repertoire of songs that were very sexually liberated and were very forward, and also very wry and tongue-in-cheek. That really appealed to her feminist sensibilities and the songs she wanted to be doing.
Andrea Swensson: Raitt was definitely in control, even as her stage presence was unapologetically raunchy. The first time the singer-songwriter Jackson Browne saw Bonnie, he compared her to a "teenage Mae West."
Soon she was doing well enough to hire a bassist who called himself Freebo. He'd previously played with the Philadelphia rockers the Edison Electric Band, who were also managed by Dick Waterman.
Freebo: I remember seeing her solo acoustic, and of course she was wonderful. She'd get up—super cute, and she had that incredible voice—beautiful voice. It was about a year after that when she called me. We probably did a month or two worth of gigs in May and June before we came out to Minneapolis and made that record.
Eugene Hoffman: I became friends with Freebo throughout those first ten years. He would come to town with Bonnie, and he always had a pouch of the strongest weed on his belt, and he and I would always do that with a few other people.
Andrea Swensson: Soon, Raitt was attracting critical attention. In February of 1971, she was flown to Los Angeles to play the Troubadour, an industry hangout where Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, and Joni Mitchell were regulars. Afterward, she fielded offers from five different record labels. Bonnie went with Warner Bros. As she told Dave Ray, the contract meant that, quote, "she could record an album of bullfrogs croaking and they would've had to take it. They gave her complete artistic control."
Bonnie Raitt: When they offered me a record deal, I said, "As long as I don't have to make hit singles or change the way I look or record what you want me to record—you can't tell me when, with whom, or what to record. And I don't care about being a star if you're okay with that."
Ann Powers: And they said?
Bonnie Raitt: And Warner Bros. said, "You know what? We make our living with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. They pay for Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, you, and Little Feat." You know what I mean? [audience laughs, applauds]
Ann Powers:Those were the days.
Bonnie Raitt: And that's why—I said, "If you really want to give me the keys to the car, I don't care about an advance. I'll make good money." For the first record they gave me forty grand. I bought a Volvo—whoo! And the rest of it went to, you know, Snaker Dave Ray's record label and spread out among the musicians in Minneapolis, where I did it.
Andrea Swensson: Dave and Sylvia Ray had purchased their equipment only a few months prior to Bonnie Raitt's arrival in town. Rather than the kind of high-end, sixteen-track recording gear that was the norm by 1971, the Rays bought a simple four-track recorder.
Maurice Jacox: Jane Truax—Sylvia's aunt—loaned Dave the money to buy the Crown recording machine that we used. With the money we made of the album he paid Jane off and started his own record company, which he called Sweet Jane Records, named after her.
Andrea Swensson: Where the band recorded is a story of its own. The album credits the recording location as "Sweet Jane Ltd. Studios," but the actual site was a garage on Enchanted Island, a small patch of land in Lake Minnetonka—twenty-five miles west of Minneapolis in the town of Minnetrista. The island gets its name from its history as a Dakota holy ground. These days, it's home to private residences and a yacht club.
Freebo: It was rustic, funky, lot of woods. What became the studio was like a bunkhouse. There were no bunks. It was like an empty room, and we just created it with baffles and microphones and had the piano in there—a tack upright piano, and amplifiers and drums, and created a studio out of it.
Eugene Hoffman: Everybody brought all their friends. It was a big free-for-all every night. Bonnie sat up in her room, which is on the cover of the album. We kept coming out every night. It was a long drive—bringing more and more friends.
Maurice Jacox: People brought whoever they were seeing at that time. They brought them out there. I brought someone out once or twice, that's true. There were these cabins. You could find a cabin of your own for the night, and a lot of good food cooked in the communal kitchen at the lodge house. Twenty pounds of fried chicken—a lot of food. They had big long tables. It was a great place to come and hang.
Bonnie brought her brother, Steve, and Steve's wife, Joyce, and Joyce did all the cooking. We lived in the cabins there at the camp, and we waterskied and played volleyball and ate great food.
Willie Murphy: I think we were out there probably at least a month. It was like people would get up in the morning and fish off the dock. After a couple of weeks of more or less horsing around—but I was actually kind of getting the music together—Bonnie said, "Don't you think we should start recording?" And we did. And that was it. I think it's a really good album.
Maurice Jacox: We did most of the recording between the hours of midnight or 1:00 in the morning and 6:00 in the morning because the lake was really quiet then. And also staying up drinking and playing all night, people kind of slept 'till summertime in the afternoon before they started moving for the day.
We recorded in the garage and outside the garage, and the Crown recording machines that Dave Ray bought were upstairs. If a microphone had to be adjusted, Dave had to come down the stairs and into the garage and adjust the microphone and go back upstairs and listen to it, sometimes he'd go up and down 30 times in a session. There were quite a few times of, "'Finest Lovin' Man,' take fifteen."
Eugene Hoffman: Dave Ray went into the garage and then put a Crown four-track together on a loft in the garage, and then the horns would play out in the parking lot, and since it was a four-track, it was live. There was no overdubbing. A plane would go over and we'd have to stop playing.
Andrea Swensson: Bonnie, Willie, and the Bees left a strong impression on area residents.
Bonnie Raitt: I have a lot of people that actually live out on the lake that come backstage and say hi to me in different places. The other night we just played down here in San Diego County, and somebody came up and said, "I used to live down the street from where you made your first album." So it's an indelible part of my history.
Andrea Swensson: We talked to the Westonka Historical Society—our friends from the Andrews Sisters episode we shared earlier this season—and they gave us a typed-up copy of this story, from Minnetrista resident John Maxwell, which we've edited slightly. Here's what he remembered about living next door to Bonnie and the Bees, as read by our colleague Jay Gabler:
Jay Gabler: "It was the summer of 1971 and Bonnie Raitt and many musicians were holed up in a tiny two story white garage next door to us, at 4000 Enchanted Lane. It was an abandoned summer 'reading' camp, if I recall. My dad used to mow our grass weekly on a rather loud John Deere riding lawn mower that would come very close to that white garage.
Then, one August afternoon, a red-haired gal strolled up to my dad and flagged him down to chat. She explained that her and her band were trying to record music onto audio tape and that his mowing sounds kept getting onto the audio tape! They had a friendly diplomatic talk and he agreed to mow on certain days, or hours of the week (I can't remember the exact details) if she would reciprocate by not producing very loud music in the middle of the night because it was affecting our family and our sleep. He had to get up for work at 3:30 a.m. every morning and they would be over there next door jamming till dawn. I personally can still remember the shrieks of a harmonica piercing through my bedroom walls at night."
Andrea Swensson: One of the songs that the band was jamming on was "Big Road," originally recorded in 1928 by the Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson, who later inspired the character of the same name in the Coen Brothers' film O Brother, Where Art Thou? For the recording of Johnson's "Big Road," Freebo played his original instrument, the tuba.
["Big Road" by Bonnie Raitt]
Freebo: It was her suggestion to play tuba on that, and so somehow—I don't remember who had the tuba, but I borrowed it from somebody and wound up playing tuba on each of her first six records.
Andrea Swensson: The arrangements of other songs were equally experimental.
Maurice Jacox: On that song, "I Ain't Blue," the John Koerner song, we were trying to come up with something for percussion. We didn't want to use drums. Congas didn't sound good. Bongos didn't sound good. Clave didn't sound good. We just wanted this little laid back thing to the guitar and Bonnie's singing.
We tried to do "I Ain't Blue" and come up with a sound that would be appropriate percussion, and we ended up taking—since we'd been playing badminton—taking the shuttlecock from badminton, and a 16 oz. beer cup, and people went [soft clapping] like that quietly, and then [imitating a soft shushing noise] running the shuttlecock around the cup and holding it up to the mike, and that's the percussion on that.
["I Ain't Blue" by Bonnie Raitt]
Andrea Swensson: Soon, Bonnie and the Bees were joined by some out-of-town guests. Eugene Hoffman remembers playing with a couple of classic Chicago bluesmen.
Eugene Hoffman: Junior Wells came up with his chauffeur, Bob, who was the big heavy-set guy on the back of the album, way on the right picture—big Cadillac—he sat out there on that dock while we were making the record, fishing for little crappies and sunnies for a whole month.
I sat on the porch with A.C. Reed—Jimmy Reed's brother. He was really not that well known, but he was a staple in Chicago—sax player. He put out some of his own records later—blues records. Everybody was blown away because we were sitting on the front porch when Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" came out. That was some kind of landmark moment.
Andrea Swensson:Trumpeter Voyle Harris went an. extra step for his solo on "Women Be Wise."
Eugene Hoffman: If you look at the back of the record—which I did today—for some unknown reason he played this tune naked in front of her. I don't know why he did this, but it's even written on here.
Andrea Swensson: The album took four weeks to record.
Maurice Jacox: We'd stay there during the week, and we'd come in and do our gig. We were playing at The Joint Bar, which was before the Cabooze, on Fridays and Saturdays. We used to play at the Triangle where the horn section would walk down the bar playing and doing kicks. We were famous for that. When we first played there half the band stood up on a cover over the pool table. The other half of the band stood on the floor, and then eventually they ended up building a stage that you had to climb up a ladder to get to, with a railing around it.
And so we tried to drink the guy out of business with our free drinks. And so for that three weeks we'd come and do the gig on Friday and Saturday, and for that time, Bonnie was one of our guitar players. And then when we brought A.C. Reed and Junior Wells out to play on the album, they came into town with us on the weekends and played.
Bonnie loved playing our stuff too—damn good guitar player. She knew her music and she knew a lot of R&B tunes too. So she wasn't just coasting or loafing. She was an integral part of the band.
Andrea Swensson: Not everybody loved Willie and the Bees' hard-partying style, though. Dick Waterman, Bonnie's manager, was one of them.
Maurice Jacox: He wanted to get Bonnie away from us as fast as he could. Jesus Christ, he could see things going up in smoke. He could see what a bad influence we were on her. Bonnie was drinking with us. Bonnie could throw down some liquor. Bonnie eventually had to go into treatment, as did almost all the Bees. Bonnie had a whole lot of fun with us, and that didn't suit Dick Waterman very well.
Most of the band seriously abused alcohol. We were said to be the drunkest band in America, and everybody knew it. People would come to the Bees gigs to see if we could make it through the night on our feet. There was a music magazine back then, around 1971, called Connie's Insider, and they'd have caricatures on the cover of the magazine, and a caricature of the Bees has us standing onstage—probably someplace like the Cabooze Bar or the Joint Bar—us standing onstage in bottles and glasses and beer cans all at our feet. That was pretty much accurate.
Andrea Swensson: The album's back cover features a group shot of the full troupe of musicians, friends, and pals—eighteen people in total, seated and standing in two loose rows in front of the Chicago bluesmen's snazzy cars, parked bumper to bumper.
Maurice Jacox: Both A.C. Reed and Junior Wells came up from Chicago. He's driving a Cadillac, and A.C. Reed drove himself, and Junior had a driver, Bob, and so whoever's idea it was, was to put the Cadillacs like that in a V, and for everybody to stand in the V of the Cadillacs. He posed the shot. We spent half the afternoon out there to get the shot exactly the way they wanted it.
Freebo: With a bunch of musicians it's like herding cats, so it's a question of everybody talking and some people looking to the camera, some people not. You can see the spontaneity of that photo, and kind of fooling with taking the tire off, and the tuba and all these different things. I look at that picture and it takes me right back to that day.
At that point we had more or less finished the record, and everybody was real happy. It was a family—you can hear it on the record, and it all goes back to Bonnie in terms of saying, "I want to have a party. I want to create this. I've got $40,000 from Warner Bros. I can make any record I want anywhere I want any way I want, and this is what I want to do."
Andrea Swensson: It wasn't necessarily what Warner Bros. wanted her to do, though.
Freebo: I don't think they liked it. I don't think they liked it at all. I think they were really disappointed. They were disappointed in the sound quality of it, the mixes, the whole thing. It is literally garage band, and it's very odd sounding. Other people would listen to it and be like, "Oh my God, that is so poorly recorded. Why didn't they do it like this?"
When you record on four-track there's all these little tracks and it was all recorded at the same time, and unless you save a track, there's nothing to bounce to. So you can't record over something that's already recorded or you'll erase it. So when you're recording, especially if it's going to be the whole band, you have drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, horns, piano, lead vocal, background vocal.
Everybody has to be organized at a time, and this is really the first time that Dave had ever done that, so really, when you listen to the record, it's beautiful in its imperfection, and it essentially captures what Bonnie wanted to do.
Andrea Swensson: What struck listeners of the album, just the way Raitt had when she'd started playing clubs, was how preternaturally mature an artist she was. Reviewing the album, the music trade magazine Cash Box pointed to "her mean slide guitar" and concluded, "This is not a simple, categorical debut. It's a most pleasant, eclectic reflection of herself." The Village Voice recommended her "Easy, adult interpretations from an eclectic country blues based repertoire, supported by a nice rolling back-up."
That December, Raitt returned to Minneapolis, as the opening act for Randy Newman at the Guthrie Theater. In a review of the show, The Minneapolis Star mentioned "Miss Raitt['s] eight accompanists who wandered in and out at her suggestion." They were, of course, the Bumblebees, accompanied by A. C. Reed on sax.
Maurice Jacox: We went to St. Cloud and played an outdoors show on the athletic field at 90 degrees in July or something. It was Bonnie, the Bees, Charlie Musselwhite, Big Mama Thornton, and a couple other people all on that show.
Andrea Swensson: The Bees would sit in with Bonnie again when she played the Marigold Ballroom, a former big-band ballroom on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, in October of 1973. It was a "cramped and sweaty audience of 1,700," the Star reported. And Bonnie liked the Cabooze, which she played in August of 1974, even more. The Bees opened for her at that show, too.
Eventually, Bonnie Raitt became an American icon, thanks to the Grammy-winning success of her 1989 album, Nick of Time. Her brother Steve, who'd accompanied her to the Twin Cities to make her debut album, liked the place so much he stuck around, founding a state-of-the-art sound system company, Pro Line, and working as a sound engineer for the Lamont Cranston Band and others.
Maurice Jacox: He and Dave Ray bonded pretty seriously, and when Dave Ray bought a piece of land up in Cushing, MN, Steve and Dave were partners by that time, and they built a recording studio in Cushing, MN—literally built it, like, pouring slab in November.
People didn't know—Both Bonnie and Steve were championship water skiers, and Steve was such a motor head that a jeep that he had built out was on the cover of Hot Rod magazine. He was an engine builder. He had a ski boat that had like 350 horsepower—a plywood ski boat—amazing, 70 mph.
Andrea Swensson: Bonnie also kept local ties, through her brother and her old colleagues.
Maurice Jacox: She bought property here. Bonnie bought land out on Bald Eagle Lake in White Bear Lake. She bought land there and a house that was on the property. She had it for maybe twenty years. First thing they did when they got the house was Steven put in a slalom course on the lake, brought his ski boat out, and then we had a two-story houseboat called Ship of Fools—we had barbecue grills and things in the boat. We towed the boat and anchored it out in the middle of the lake and towed out his ski boat to the Ship of Fools and we'd go out waterskiing runs on the slalom course.
Andrea Swensson: After a long battle with brain cancer, Steve Raitt passed away in 2009. Minneapolis also lost Willie Murphy in January 2019. When Bonnie heard about Willie's passing, she wrote a message for the crowd at his memorial concert. Our producer Cecilia Johnson was at that show at the Cabooze in February 2019, and she watched host Bobby Vandell read that message for the crowd.
Bobby Vandell: I promised you that I would read to you what Bonnie Raitt wrote. So I'm going to read it to you, this is from Bonnie Raitt:
"Hello from Tulsa, here out on tour. I'm sorry I'm couldn't be there with you to celebrate Willie in person, but I'm there with you in spirit. What an incredible lineup, and how perfect that you're right there at the Cabooze. I still can't believe that he's gone. Willie really changed my life in so many ways. Producing my first album back in 1971 he taught me how to make records, work with a band, and most importantly, how to stay absolutely true to what I knew sounded right for me alone. It's how he lived and played his music all his life.
I also shared with him, along with John, Dave, and Tony, an aversion to bending any part of myself to fit the norms of what the music business might think would sell. It's that same fierce maverick streak that kept him criminally under-appreciated outside the Twin Cities. But his influence and appreciation by those who really know, will be his lasting legacy. He was a musical genius, a virtuoso trailblazer as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, horn arranger, and producer, and truly one of the most badass singers any of us will ever be lucky to hear.
Some of my favorite memories will always be of Willie and the Bees' gigs right there at the Cabooze and the Joint, with my brother Steve at the soundboard and hanging with some of the best musicians. Many of you are there tonight. Still one of the finest, funkiest music scenes in America. I'm so grateful to have known Willie. May we continue to celebrate him in the music we play, the shit we don't take, and the promises to keep the music as funky as it is real. We'll miss you, Will. Have a great party today in his honor and play one for me. I send my love to all of you."
["Winging It" by Lazerbeak]
Andrea Swensson: The Current Rewind is produced by Cecilia Johnson. Michaelangelo Matos is our writer, Marisa Gonzalez Morseth is our research assistant, and Brett Baldwin is our managing producer. Our theme music is "Winging It" by Lazerbeak from the album Luther. Johnny Vince Evans mastered this episode.
Thanks to our guests: Eugene Hoffman, Maurice Jacox, Cyn Collins, Spider John Koerner, Jewly Hight, and Freebo. Thanks to Folk Alley and Bonnie Raitt for giving us permission to use archived interview audio, and thanks to Willie Murphy for all the music. Blues musician Paul Metsa and the team at the Westonka Historical Society also provided valuable insight for this episode.
Don't forget to subscribe to The Current Rewind so you can catch every episode of Side B, and rate and review the podcast while you're at it.
Go to TheCurrent.org/rewind to find transcripts, past episodes, and bonus materials.
The Current Rewind is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. It is a production of Minnesota Public Radio's The Current.
Musician Steve Raitt, brother of singer Bonnie Raitt, dies
There was a time when if you were a Twin Cities singer putting together a new band, the first person you'd call was sound engineer Steve Raitt.
"He was a singer's soundman," said Patty Peterson, a prominent Twin Cities singer since the 1970s. "He could really make vocals sound like velvet."
Maybe that's because Raitt, son of Broadway star John Raitt and older brother of Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Bonnie Raitt, was a pretty fair singer himself.
"He would sing one or two songs a night and people would wonder why he didn't sing more," said Peterson, who worked with Raitt in the T.C. Jammers. "He didn't have the ego to be a star. Steve was comfortable being the support guy."
Raitt, an integral force in the Twin Cities music scene from the 1970s to the '90s, died Saturday in Los Angeles from brain cancer. He was 61.
"While we are very sad that he lost his valiant eight-year battle, we are relieved to know his struggle is over and that he's now truly free," Bonnie Raitt said in an e-mail Sunday. "Since last summer, he was fighting paralysis on his left side and then blindness since the holidays -- all due to a second tumor diagnosed last summer.
"I was closer to Steve than anyone in my life so you can imagine how I'm feeling.
"We've been showered with calls and messages since we shared the sad news and I'm so incredibly moved by the impact he had on so many lives."
After being given six months to live by doctors at the Mayo Clinic in 2001, Raitt switched from Western to Eastern medicine, said Minneapolis drummer Bobby Vandell, one of his closest friends, who spent much of the past three weeks with him. "He went on a macrobiotic diet. As Bonnie always said, that guy had the discipline of a yoga master. The cancer went in remission. He became a competitive water skier and looked like a body builder."
Raitt, who was born in Van Nuys and grew up in Los Angeles, moved to the Twin Cities in 1971 when his sister recorded her first Warner Bros. album in a barn on Lake Minnetonka with Twin Cities blues stalwart Willie Murphy (producer) and Dave Ray (engineer). After falling in love with the Twin Cities' biggest lake, Raitt stayed on as sound man for Willie & the Bees before working with the Lamont Cranston Band, the Doug Maynard Band and the T.C. Jammers, among others.
When Vandell heard the Cranstons, he wanted to meet the engineer mixing this special sound. "The way he carried himself, the way he dressed, his body language, his charisma was intoxicating," Vandell recalled.
Raitt co-founded T.C. Jammers with Vandell, Melanie Rosales and others. "He drove the bus, fixed the bus, mixed the sound, road managed, booked the band, made sure everything was safe and sang a couple of songs each night," Vandell said. "He could fix anything. Once while his parents went on vacation to Europe, he rebuilt the family Jeep to the point that it was a four-page spread in Hot Rod magazine."
In the early 1990s, Raitt helped start Proline Integrated Systems in Minneapolis and began a career designing state-of-the-art home entertainment systems. Among his clients: bicycling hero Greg LeMonde and basketball superstar Michael Jordan. His designs twice made the cover of Audio Visual magazine.
About three years ago, Raitt moved back to California to a private water-skiing lake in Sacramento. A week and a half ago, Peterson and her brothers Ricky and Paul visited Raitt. "We had a great hour because we got him to sing with us," Peterson said.
His little sister summed him up: "Steve was a big hearted, fun-loving, talented and powerful guy full of life, humor and a very unique sense of style. He loved skiing, boats, cars, funk, R&B and smooth jazz, the woman in his life. . He was a beloved friend and father, amazing brother and son, hopeless romantic, a funky singer and a brilliant sound man."
In addition to his sister, Bonnie, Raitt is survived by his partner, Catherine a daughter, Ruby a son, Miles a brother, David, a grandson, Tyler his stepfather, Jim his stepmother, Rosemary, and two stepsisters, Dee and Sally.
A private service will be held today in California, and Vandell is organizing a tribute in Minneapolis.
Bonnie Lynn Raitt ( / r eɪ t /  born November 8, 1949) is an American blues singer, guitarist, songwriter, and activist.
During the 1970s, Raitt released a series of roots-influenced albums that incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. She was also a frequent session player and collaborator with other artists, including Warren Zevon, Little Feat, Jackson Browne, The Pointer Sisters, John Prine and Leon Russell. In 1989, after several years of critical acclaim but little commercial success, she had a major hit with the album Nick of Time. The following two albums, Luck of the Draw (1991) and Longing in Their Hearts (1994), were multimillion sellers, generating several hit singles, including "Something to Talk About", "Love Sneakin' Up On You", and the ballad "I Can't Make You Love Me" (with Bruce Hornsby on piano).
Raitt has received 10 Grammy Awards. She is listed as number 50 in Rolling Stone ' s list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time"  and number 89 on the magazine's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".  Australian country music artist Graeme Connors has said, "Bonnie Raitt does something with a lyric no one else can do she bends it and twists it right into your heart."