(Credits: Far Out / Press)
Bonnie Raitt is one of America’s finest blues singers. Shooting to fame in the 1970s, the guitarist, singer and songwriter helped define the sound of the decade and beyond. Over her lengthy career, Raitt collaborated or played with legends like John Prine, Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and more. But a handful of songs stand out as vitally inspiring to her own creative vision.
In the past, Raitt has toured with James Taylor and Paul Simon. Before making her own name as a solo artist, she was once a frequent session musician for other artists. Proving her skill as a soloist and as part of a band, her skills range far beyond her own records.
While Raitt is now up there with the best of the blues artists, she once learned by listening to the greats. Coming to create her own unique guitar style by taking inspiration from big names that came before her, Raitt’s major influences come from the genres of folk, soul, rock and beyond.
During a conversation with Red Bull, Raitt picked out her five favourite songs. Bob Dylan naturally came up as a major inspiration to her, choosing ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ as one of her top tracks. “This came out when I was fourteen years old,” she said, adding: “It’s such a touchstone for me on how powerful music can motivate people to be active politically and right the wrongs they see in society and call out the hypocrisy.”
Another track picked out from her early experiences with music is ‘Twist and Shout’ from The Isley Brothers. “When I was nine years old, I just was figuring out boyfriends and going to dances at my summer camp. We rocked out to this record that was a huge hit,” she said, reflecting on childhood memories of the track. “They are just incredible artists and one of my most influential bands ever,” she adds.
Similarly, the iconic Aretha Franklin stands out to Raitt as another massively influential artist. In fact, Franklin might stand out as her ultimate inspiration. Raitt said: “Of all the people that influenced me – blues, folk, pop – Aretha is the queen for me”. She picks out one Franklin song as a vital track that inspired her own performances: “If I could only pick one song that influenced how I sing and how I approach doing torch and soul ballads, ‘I Never Loved A Man’ is the greatest performance I’ve ever heard.”
If Aretha Franklin inspired Bonnie Raitt’s singing, Fred McDowell inspired her guitar playing. “I was a complete blues-hound for my whole teenage years and taught myself to play off of every record I could find,” she said of her early experiences with her instrument. But then McDowell came along, “When I was 18, I had the honour of meeting Fred, and his friendship and mentorship has meant so much to me. I want to honour him.” Raitt picks his track ‘Write Me A Few Of Your Lines’ in memory of her teacher.
Her fifth favourite song also stands as a tribute to a lost inspiration. Sandy Denny’s song ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ stands out to Raitt. Denny’s work with the Fairport Convention helped teach Raitt about the many women of blues and folk that came before her. She said: “I loved finding out about my heritage as a young woman learning folk songs from Joan Baez’s album and Judy Collins, and I fell in love with Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny and her incredibly evocative, beautiful voice.”