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What do you like, sonically, about bottleneck
slides over other slide types?
I didn’t know any different! I literally soaked the label off a Coricidin bottle until I got to college and saw people playing other types. I’ve never used anything but glass. Jim Dunlop makes them for me. My fingerpicks have to be custom made, too, because they stopped making small plastic fingerpicks years ago—they only make metal fingerpicks now. Metal fingerpicks are for the banjo and it’s a different sound. I’m sure people use them on guitar, but plastic sounds better for what I do.
Raitt picks her Guild while on tour with Taj Mahal at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in the fall of 2009. Photo by Barry Brecheisen
You’ve been an inspiration to younger
generations of singer/songwriters, from
the Dixie Chicks to Adele and Bon
Iver, whom you recently saw live, right?
Yes, I went to meet Justin [Vernon, Bon Iver frontman] finally after talking to him on the phone. His show was incredible. Go on YouTube and type in “Bon Iver live show 2011” and check it out. He blew me away on record, and I didn’t think he could duplicate it live, but he did it.
What else is inspiring you these days?
One of the most amazing talents is Sarah Siskind. Then there’s my friend Maia Sharp, who was an opening act on my last tour. She sings on Slipstream, and I cut three of her songs on Souls Alike. Also, my friend Marc Cohn. Jackson Browne and Bruce Hornsby are like brothers to me. I love Bruce’s latest double-live album, Bride of the Noisemakers. If I had to be on a desert island and could only have one artist’s music, it would be Bruce Hornsby. Mavis Staples is one of my heroes, too, so she and I are going to do a lot of shows together.
Are there any players you haven’t
played with yet that you’d like to?
Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. I’d love to play with the Stones and Keith. I opened for them on my last tour and sang “Shine a Light” with them, and I’m on their DVD. I’d love to do more recording with Bill Frisell. I love classic jazz. There are two jazz singers—Lizz Wright and Melody Gardot—who are doing incredible work. I would love to make an old 1920s bluesjazz record—not like an old Chicago jazz band, but just really, really beautiful piano jazz. So, one day …[laughs].
On that note, what were you dreaming
for the future during your hiatus?
What are you looking forward to down
The whole Occupy movement has given me some hope that, across party lines, newer generations will rise up and ask for accountability and transparency and reform some of these laws. That is my first dream—to see people become more awake and compassionate. My dream is to be a service in that struggle and to not get discouraged. One of the great things about playing live—besides being fun—is that we can buoy the troops, in terms of raising money and awareness for these issues. I want to enlist more artists to be politically active to make a difference. It’s that marriage of music and being of service. My heroes are of the “The Times They Are a-Changin’” period—like Bob Dylan.
It’s really come full circle for me to be able to record his tunes again, even if they’re not overtly political. Anytime we talk about human beings and the way they treat each other—it can be a man and a woman, or a father and son, or two countries—there has to be the same respect. You have to listen—it’s the same core issue. You’ve got to find that light in the other person and appeal to it. That’s one of the things that music is really great for.
You were an apprentice to some of the
greatest musicians of all time, and now
you’re in the same category as those you
looked up to. What advice do you have for
players trying to find their voice?
I think it’s really great to get good at your instrument and your craft. There’s no substitute for that—even the most talented and lucky person still has to put the time in. Get to the point where you can hear yourself on tape and go, “That’s pretty good!” If your heart and soul are in it and you’re doing it for the right reasons, nothing can hold you back. Take opportunities to get your music out there and heard, even if it’s a small group of people at first. Find satisfaction in pleasing yourself first, and then those you respect. Whether you’ll make it in this crazy business, I don’t know—that’s to be seen. But if you believe in it, keep working at it. Post it on YouTube. It seems obvious, but those opportunities weren’t around when I started out. I’ve got a very talented nephew who’s writing music, and he’s been doing it with his laptop. Pro Tools has made things so incredible! You can get good in a short period of time if you at least put time into it—and a lot of heart.