When Bonnie Raitt won a phenomenal four Grammys in 1990, it came as overdue recognition for an artist who had been breaking down barriers of gender and genre since the early Seventies. Her feel for the blues was evident on her first album, Bonnie Raitt (1971), and though she’s explored different kinds of material over the years - including pop, rock and balladry - a serious rooting in the blues has remained evident in her work. Raised in Los Angeles by her actor father John and pianist mother Marjorie, Raitt took up guitar at age 12. While attending college in Boston, she gravitated to the Cambridge folk-blues scene of the late Sixties. She emerged as both a prodigy and anomaly: a young woman who sang blues with gritty passion and played slide guitar with authority, as if the genre’s fundaments had been etched in her soul.
Raitt was schooled by and performed alongside such estimable legends as Sippie Wallace, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Son House. Throughout her career, she’s combined an old-school country-blues grounding with a contemporary outlook and willingness to experiment. She recorded eight albums for Warner Bros. Records from 1971 to 1986, progressively moving from straight blues into more pop-oriented areas without losing sight of her roots. All the while, she selected tunes by the choicest songwriters (e.g., Randy Newman, John Prine, Eric Kaz, Allen Toussaint and Jackson Browne) while working with the cream of Southern California musicians, including members of Little Feat. By the mid-Seventies, she’d accrued a loyal and growing following on the strength of such albums as Streetlights (1974) and Home Plate (1975). The commercial pinnacle of Raitt’s tenure with Warner Bros. Records was Sweet Forgiveness (1977), which yielded a near-hit in her cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway.”
Her graduation from respected cult figure to major artist occurred after her move to Capitol Records. Raitt’s breakthrough album, Nick of Time (1989), slowly gained momentum, reaching the top of the chart exactly a year after its release--and a month after Raitt won the aforementioned batch of Grammys. On that memorable evening, Raitt put her awards in selfless perspective: “It means so much for the kind of music that we do,” she said. “It means that those of us who do rhythm & blues are going to get a chance again.” Indeed, the followup album Luck of the Draw fared even better than Nick of Time, selling 5 million copies and winning three more Grammys. It also gave Raitt the first bonafide hit single of her 20-year career in “Something to Talk About,” which reached #5. Subsequent albums have included Luck of the Draw (1991), the double-live CD Road Tested (1995) and Fundamental (1998).