Bonnie Raitt - guitar, vocals; David Maxwell - piano; Freebo - bass; Dennis Whitted - drums
In 1970, Bonnie Raitt was a 20 year old musician on the Boston area folk scene, where she initially established her reputation. A singer, aspiring songwriter and bottleneck-style guitar player with a passion for the blues, she would be recognized by the 65-year-old Cambridge blues promoter and manager, Dick Waterman, an important figure in the blues revival of the 1960s. Raitt and Waterman became fast friends and with his encouragement and management experience, shet began performing alongside established blues legends such as Howlin' Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In late1970, while opening for Fred McDowell at the Gaslight Cafe in New York, a Newsweek Magazine reporter caught Raitt's performance and began to spread the word. Record company scouts began attending her shows and she soon entered into a relationship with Warner Brothers, who released her debut self titled album in 1971. Raitt's critical stature, both as an interpreter and as a guitarist, continued to grow but sales remained modest. Her second album, Give It Up, released in 1972 and 1973's Takin' My Time were also both met with critical acclaim, but as strong as these albums were, Raitt remained an anomaly. At the time, very few women had strong reputations as guitarists, and being a young white woman, her deep immersion in the blues was still perceived as a novelty. On these first three albums, Raitt struck a near perfect balance between bawdiness, sincerity, and fun, which was even more obvious in her live performances. She was building a solid reputation with her blend of blues, rock and folk music and creating a style uniquely her own.
Which brings us to this remarkable performance, recorded shortly after the Takin' My Time sessions at the Music Inn before an incredibly appreciative audience. Raitt was fresh out of those sessions and had just debuted with her new band the previous night in Central Park. Still accompanied by her longtime cohort, Freebo on bass, she was now working with her first real band, featuring Dennis Whitted on drums, who would anchor Raitt's bands for years to come and the phenomenal piano player, David Maxwell, who had performed with the likes of Freddie King, Otis Rush and James Cotton. Raitt was also headlining a bill featuring John Prine, a personal friend whose songwriting she deeply admired, so the pressure was on.
Raitt rises to these challenges and delivers a set exemplifying all the qualities that made her so captivating early on. Her confidence level still had a ways to go, but her enthusiasm, sense of humor and adventure are utterly contagious here. This audience loves her from the get-go and it's not just the music that is so engaging, but the exchange between Raitt and this crowd that keeps this set so compelling.
The bulk of the material here focuses on her second and third albums, with several choice covers thrown in for good measure. The set opens with Sippie Wallace's "Special Delivery Blues" and by the end of this number, the audience is thoroughly engaged in the performance. A lovely cover of Joni Mitchell's "Song About The Midway" follows, a song she would record the following year for her Streetlights album.
Over the course of the next hour, Raitt performs infectious versions of choice tracks from 1972's Give It Up, including the New Orleans style blues of "You Got To Know How," and "Love Me Like A Man." The addition of Whitted and particularly Maxwell, add great dimension and authenticity to the vintage blues numbers and the chemistry between Raitt and these musicians is obvious. From that same album, they also deliver Raiit's original blues, "Give It Up Or Let Me Go" and the woeful Eric Kaz/Libby Titus classic, "Love Has No Pride" as her encore.
The newly completed album, Takin' My Time is also well represented, with live performances of Chris Smither's "I Feel The Same," Fred McDowell's "Write Me A Few Of Your Lines/Kokomo Blues," and a unique interpretation of Randy Newman's "Guilty." Raitt also tackles Mose Allison's groove heavy "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" and the Martha & the Vandellas classic, "You've Been In Love Too Long." Two spontaneous Chicago-style blues covers also emerge during the set, including a high energy take of "Rollin' And Tumblin" and "The Spider And The Fly," neither of which appeared on her albums.
The nature of this performance and the hyperactive energy from Raitt herself, who seems to be astounded by the overwhelmingly strong response from the audience, makes this a captivating listen throughout. This performance is a clear indication that Raitt is transcending beyond the early singer/songwriter stage of her career. Few would have prophesized it then, but after numerous ups and downs during the decades to follow, Bonnie Raitt would continually rise again to eventually become one of rock and blues most enduring champions.