For Blues and Folk lovers everywhere, today is a special day. Bonnie Raitt has just released her 18th studio album, Just Like That…, and it’s filled with exciting new compositions and covers from the masterful songwriter. Ahead of its release, Raitt joined the WTF with Marc Maron podcast and discussed hanging out with iconic blues musicians like Skip James and Fred McDowell, moving to Laurel Canyon in the ‘70s and her journey to sobriety. For the full story, listen to the duo’s intimate and lively conversation below.
LISTEN: Bonnie Raitt joins the WTF with Marc Maron podcast
Bonnie Raitt has always been surrounded by music. Her father, John Raitt, was a prominent Broadway actor who starred as Billy Bigelow in the original production of Carousel and Sid Sorokin in The Pajama Game. Her mother, Marge Goddard, was a pianist. The couple had a heavy musical influence on their daughter’s life and gave her a guitar for Christmas when she was 9. She began teaching herself how to play the guitar and drew inspiration from her love of blues and folk music which she accredits to artists like Joan Baez, John Lee Hooker, James Taylor, Sippie Wallace, Robert Johnson and many more.
Raitt first started gaining recognition from record labels after performing in the club circuit. Warner Brothers eventually signed Raitt to their label, but only by agreeing to give Raitt complete artistic control of her records, which she heavily rallied for. After signing to Warner Brothers, Raitt released her eponymous album, Bonnie Raitt, in 1971 which included hits like “Thank You” and “Since I Fell For You.” After recording 3 albums, she decided to move to Laurel Canyon in California so she could record with her newfound friends, Little Feat.
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While Laurel Canyon in the 70s was known for housing some of the greatest musicians in history like Joni Mitchell and the Eagles, it was also notorious for heavy drug and alcohol use. Raitt joined in on the partying lifestyle with her fellow musicians, but eventually called it quits, telling Parade Magazine, “I thought I had to live that partying lifestyle in order to be authentic, but in fact if you keep it up too long, all you’re going to be is sloppy or dead.” She wrote a song called, “Waitin’ for You to Blow” for her new album, where she details some of the difficulties of getting sober, telling Maron, “[the song is] all about that little devil on your shoulder going, ‘come on… have another piece of cake.’”
Raitt has not given into the devil’s temptations; she’s been sober for the past 35 years and claims that she has Prince to thank for her abstinence. In the mid-80s, Raitt was going through a tough break-up and was dropped by her record label, Warner Brothers, because her records weren’t making the label enough money. “I was having a rough time… and then Prince called up and said, ‘let’s do some stuff together. I’ll put you on Paisley Park.’ And I said, ‘you know what, if we make a video together, I better drop some weight.’ So [I quit drinking] to lose weight and I just loved it. I just went right to hanging out with a bunch of musicians who had gotten sober… they looked better, felt better, played better.”
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Raitt has had quite the slew of groundbreaking musician friends. One who she holds near and dear to her heart is the late John Prine, who was known for his finger-picking and storytelling abilities. Raitt channels his energy on two songs off her new album, “Just Like That” and “Down The Hall,” both of which she wrote in the third person. Raitt based the lyrics for “Down The Hall” off of a New York Times article she read about a prison hospice program in Vacaville, California.
Talking about the article, she said, “It was a beautiful essay about these prisoners who volunteered to be on the hospice ward and be with people when they passed away. I was just so incredibly moved by this story that I wanted to write a song and I just made up a character as if he, out of the compassion of his heart, is in [the hospice ward] all bittered and broken-up… At the end of their lives they’re all the same in this hospice ward. That’s what this song is about, redemption.” She told Maron she had Prine in her heart the whole time she was recording the song.
Overall, Raitt’s new album is a lively and thoughtful piece of art. From high-energy songs like “Livin’ for the Ones” to more bluesy songs like “Something’s Got a Hold of My Heart,” this new record is reminiscent of her musical roots while also emblematic of her growth as a songwriter and producer. Listen to Raitt's full interview with Marc Maron above.