When Bonnie Raitt comes onstage at Benaroya Hall this Sunday, she’ll almost certainly put on a concert that will look effortless. Raitt has a voice as clear as it was 40 years ago when she dropped out of Harvard to learn the blues from Son House.
During those four decades, she has been on the road constantly. Her current tour started last fall after the release of “Slipstream,” one of her biggest albums in years. Her Seattle show comes after months of playing these same songs (along with her well-known hits, and standards like John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery”).
Yet what will look like ease onstage comes after hours of rehearsal, soundchecks and years of a band playing together. It’s like the old joke that the way to the stage of Carnegie Hall is “practice, practice, practice.”
Raitt is best known as a singer, and she landed at number 50 on the recent list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” in “Rolling Stone.” That magazine also pegged her at number 89 in the poll of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
But on any list of rock bandleaders, she would be Top 10. Raitt’s breakthrough album was 1989’s “Nick of Time,” which won her three Grammy Awards, and it ultimately is “time” that makes her band groove.
Drummer Ricky Fataar first played with Raitt in 1979; bass player James “Hutch” Hutchinson has been with her since 1983; and George Marinelli has been playing the role of “the other” guitar player to Raitt since 1993. Keyboard player Mike Finnigan is the newbie, having only joined Raitt’s band last year, yet his career is so long and storied he played with Jimi Hendrix on “Electric Ladyland.”
At the center of it all, of course, is 63-year-old Raitt, who seems to get better as she ages. She may make it look easy but it is only so because of years of hard work, and a commitment to craft that stretches back through decades of nights on the road.
She told a newspaper last year that she had hoped to have a long career, and, like the blues artists she dropped out of Harvard to study with, “get more revered with age.”
Charles R. Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org