Bonnie Raitt: Down to the Roots 

With Dig in Deep, Raitt proves she has nothing to prove

Bonnie Raitt on her "legendary statusL "I mean, I'm honored that somebody would find that to be the case, but I'm just a working musician."

Marina Chavez

Bonnie Raitt on her "legendary statusL "I mean, I'm honored that somebody would find that to be the case, but I'm just a working musician."

In her early 20s, Bonnie Raitt began carving out a trail she would follow for the next 40-plus years. Along the way, she opened for blues icons John Lee Hooker, Son House and Muddy Waters; landed a spot on Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists" and "100 Greatest Singers" of all time lists; collaborated with an impossibly impressive (and long) slate of stars, including, Tony Bennett, Jackson Browne, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Bruce Hornsby, B.B. King, Willie Nelson and Stevie Wonder. Off the stage, she has advocated for environmental protections, civil rights and music education. As for accolades, she was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl and Rock and Roll halls of fame and earned a shelf full of awards, including 10 Grammys--several of which were for her 1989 breakout album Nick of Time (Capitol), which went to No. 1, went multi-platinum and featured hits "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me."

At 66, Raitt is now at an age when many Americans retire, but she is still recording, releasing Dig in Deep—her 20th album—in February on her own Redwing Records label. She's also logging thousands of miles on a tour bus: When Raitt performs at the Idaho Botanical Garden on Tuesday, Sept. 13, she will have performed about 50 shows and have nearly 20 stops left on her 2016 tour.

Raitt doesn't have to work so hard—as she says, she gets to.

"I'm proud to still be doing this, this many decades in," she said.

For a musician who has probably done as many interviews as recordings, Raitt is as engaging, personable and grounded as her music would suggest. In one interview, she said she had "a lot less to prove," but it was sans hubris.

"That was more in relation to what [I was] talking about in that particular interview," Raitt told Boise Weekly. "Someone asks, 'At this point in your life, what pushes your decisions to record one thing or another?' I mean, I've never really done any kind of music with the idea of proving anything other than establishing [myself]. It's more like I'm already established. I don't have to show people who I am because, 20 albums in, I'm blessed with a loyal audience who pretty much understands by now the range of music that I'm going to do."

Raitt's approach to her work reflects a passion for what she does, as well as that confidence in her audience to embrace it. She produced Dig In Deep and has writing credits on five of its tracks—according to her bio, the "most original compositions she has contributed to a record since 1998's Fundamental" (Capitol)—and a couple of covers that highlight her ability to interpret well-known songs in such a way they slide right into her own canon but don't detract from the original. She doesn't appropriate tunes, she adds to them. Her sultry roots/blues/rock/Americana arrangement of the 1987 INXS hit "Need You Tonight" is the perfect example—her unaffected delivery and authentic love of the pop tune putting it in a new light. It's not surprising, then, to see Raitt's name preceded by the word "legend"

"No, no, no," she said when asked if she sees herself as legendary. "I mean, I'm honored that somebody would find that to be the case, but I'm just a working musician. ... If I've reached a level of being respected—and that took a long time—that's definitely a wonderful thing to have accomplished, and I don't take it for granted."

Even though she's a multi-award winning artist, Raitt also doesn't assume the honors will keep coming—but they do. She is nominated for Artist of the Year by the Americana Music Awards (the awards event is in Nashville, Tenn. on Wednesday, Sept. 21), and she will be inducted into the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame (of course, in Austin, Texas) along with B.B. King and Kris Kristofferson on Wednesday, Oct. 12. Raitt is genuinely humbled by the nods.

"I don't get nominated for more mainstream [awards]. ... It's wonderful to be validated by your peers," Raitt said. "Austin City Limits has been recognizing non-mainstream artists for many, many years and kept a lot of us on the map."

From the beginning, Raitt stayed on the map by staying true to her roots, whether she was covering a pop song, incorporating the music of South Africa and West Africa she loves so much, or crafting original tunes. While she probably could have had a more lucrative career in another musical genre, Raitt said she isn't in it for the money, and she isn't in it for the stardom.

Now, several decades in and, as she said, in the "slipstream of what musical heroes I had," she's honored when a fellow non-mainstream artist comes up behind her, says she made a difference and "found out about blues or Sippie Wallace or Richard Thompson or John Prine" by listening to her records.

"It's a wonderful snowballing effect," Raitt said. "As long as you're doing great music, you've got an audience."

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