Harrison Marsh looks at a figure who’s carved a unique niche in the guitar world; the songwriter, singer and guitarist, Bonnie Raitt.
While best known as a fine singer and songwriter with hits including I Can’t Make You Love Me and Nick Of Time, Bonnie Raitt is also a highly respected slide guitarist. BB King called her, “The best damn slide player working today”.
The California born guitarist made her debut in 1971 and has recorded 17 albums since. Her major breakthrough was 1989’s multi-million seller, Nick Of Time, but follow-ups Luck Of The Draw and Longing In Their Hearts sold fabulously too, and featured some of her biggest singles. Her unique mix of blues, folk and country has earned her 10 Grammy awards, a Hollywood Walk Of Fame star and a host of other accolades. Slide has been at the heart of the mix from the start.
Bonnie took up guitar at a young age, and in 1970 she supported country blues legend Mississippi Fred McDowell. Since then she has shared stages and studios with A-list artists and is still on the road in 2018. Early Raitt albums are highly recommended and critically acclaimed, particularly the Nick Of Time album, and it’s songs from this era that are most well known and display the best examples of her slide work.
Unusually, Raitt uses fingerpicks and a glass slide worn on the second finger. It’s fun to experiment with this but our examples will all work with a more conventional approach using the slide on the third or fourth finger. Bonnie’s approach enables her to play 5th chords and rhythm while singing, before switching to slide solos and fills.
Raitt’s tone is compressed to give a smooth slide sound with almost infinite sustain, a direct influence from Little Feat’s Lowell George, with whom Raitt worked frequently during the 70s. Her wide vibrato and control of slow figures is masterful, and has become a signature of her sound. Slide guitar has become her second voice and, while rarely displaying speed, her playing is always tasteful, often creating melodies across a single string and using open strings to great effect. The Lowell George influences shine through but her sustained vibrato is instantly recognisable and may take a lot of time to emulate well. There’s a host of musical genres in Bonnie’s catalogue, but it must be said she has one of the best slide tones of all time.
NEXT MONTH Harrison looks at perhaps the greatest living slide exponent Derek Trucks
there’s a host of genres in bonnie’s catalogue, but it must be said she has one of the best slide guitar tones of all time
Bonnie Raitt uses slide to underpin and illustrate her fantastic music
Raitt uses a 1965 Stratocaster stripped to the bare wood and almost always tuned to open A. Indeed this instrument was so iconic that Raitt’s was Fender’s first female signature model. Bonnie’s tone is clean but heavily compressed to give that classic sustain. Use an ‘in-between’ Strat-type tone if you can, then add smooth drive, and compression if you have it.