Cambridge Nightlife and Bonnie Raitt

by Ragtimelil

I met Bonnie Raitt once in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 70s. It was a meeting I will never forget.

When you first see Bonnie Raitt with her flaming red hair and the sweet shape of her face, you would expect a Celtic ballad to come from her lips. But what you are more likely to get is the blues that are as down and dirty as it gets. There is no prancing around the stage and vocal acrobatics, she just stands or sits and sings it like it is.
Most people know Raitt from her more commercial hits such as "I Can't Make You Love Me" and “Right Down the Line." Although I’ve always loved the blues, I knew she didn’t consider herself to only be a blues singer. And I felt whatever it took for her to be successful was fine by me. Besides, she really did a great job on the more commercial tunes too.

Photo by John Edwards


Sweet Potato PieI remember meeting Bonnie Raitt many years ago in Cambridge before she was a huge star. I was playing as one half of a duo in a local tavern called Jack's, before it became strictly a jazz club. It was a tough crowd, more interested in throwing peanut shells on the floor and ordering more beer than listening to music. It was the kind of place where I could step off the stage and some guy would wave me over to his table and try to order a round of drinks. The owner happened to love us though and gave us a regular night.


The Music

Bonnie Raitt walked in carrying her guitar, introduced herself and asked us if she could do a guest set. We were only too happy to oblige. She already had a reputation as a singer and guitarist. That night she had a few drinks but got up and did a fantastic set of singing and playing. When I said to her later that I just thought she was great she looked at me in all honesty and asked, “Do you really think so?” That did it for me. The rest of the night we sat and talked and played until closing time. Since then I’ve been a lifelong fan, not just of the singer, songwriter and guitarist but of the woman.

Slide Guitar

What amazes many people, even today, is her guitar playing. She’s very, very good. An old interview quoted her as saying that she taught herself how to play bottleneck slide guitar as a gimmick. Very few women have been recorded playing bottleneck style. It might have been a gimmick in the beginning, but she is now as good as any blues guitarist around. She has shared the stage with such notables as Taj Mahal, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King and Aretha Franklin.

(The bottleneck is just that – a cut off neck of a glass bottle. It is slipped onto the finger of the hand on the guitar neck and is used to slide on the strings giving a low, lonesome feeling to the song. The other fingers can still play notes and chords which makes the style very versatile.)

the past

I doubt that Jack's bar is still there. Some of the people I used to know from those days have drifted into the fog, including people like Spider John Koerner, Reeve Little, Travis and Shook and Sweet Potato Pie. Wait, that was me.

Updated: 11/04/2012, Ragtimelil
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Sing me the blues

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Ragtimelil on 05/04/2015

Yes indeed!
I'm doing fine. I just moved again and still am getting settled. Maybe I'll write more soon.

Mira on 04/30/2015

Oh, I love her with John Lee Hooker!!!

Mira on 04/30/2015

Listening to Bonnie Raitt right now. Didn't know her name until I read about her here. How are you doing these days? I wish you'd stop by and write some more articles now and then ;-). We miss you here.

Ragtimelil on 06/10/2013

Mee Too!

cmoneyspinner on 06/10/2013

I <3 Bonnie Raitt.

Ragtimelil on 11/14/2012

And thanks!

Ragtimelil on 11/05/2012

We were there in the early 70s. I can't remember when he made it all jazz. It was a great place though.
What was across the street?

Nelda_Hoxie on 11/04/2012

BTW I just gave you a FB book.

Nelda_Hoxie on 11/04/2012

OMG I used to work right across the street from Jacks on Mass. Ave! I went there all the time. This would have been from 1978 to 1982. Were you there! It was the best place. Jacks was there maybe 10 years ago. Haven't been down Mass Ave in a while.

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