Bonnie Raitt is an idolized American roots musician who, in the span of a 40-plus-year career, has earned name recognition with both critics and casual fans.
The guitarist – famous for wild red hair and brown Fender strat – is in the midst of a massive tour in support of her latest album, “Dig in Deep,” which was released last year. The tour stops Tuesday night at Fresno’s Warnors Theatre.
Speaking on the phone in advance of the concert, Raitt is friendly and fast-talking as she explains her writing process, the surprise she felt at her recent success and why she couldn’t turn down doing a stadium tour with James Taylor.
The songs of ‘Dig in Deep’
Raitt is a songwriter who is not above doing a cover tune or two. There are several on “Dig in Deep,” including her take on INXS’ “Need You Tonight.”
“I love doing covers, making them mine,” Raitt says.
When she does write a song, it’s because she’s looking for way to express a certain thought or wants to explore a particular kind of groove. She wrote five of the 12 tracks on “Dig in Deep.” Several were written specifically to play live.
“I custom-wrote some songs to go with what I wanted to add into my show,” Raitt says.
That includes “What You’re Doing to Me,” a Leon Russell-style gospel number that allows Raitt to play some piano on stage.
Yes, Raitt is known as a guitarist. She is one of the greatest of all time, according to Rolling Stone. She also is self-taught and learned mostly by playing along to Joan Baez records, she says. The instrument doesn’t have quite the reach she needs when writing. So, she often writes at the piano.
“I love playing piano. I don’t do it very often,” Raitt says, pointing out she has a great keyboard player in her band.
You can expect Raitt to set down the guitar and play piano for a few numbers during her set.
The new crowd
“Dig in Deep” and its 2012 predecessor, “Slipstream,” mark a return for Raitt.
“Slipstream” was viewed by some as the best album of her career and earned her a Grammy for best Americana album. It came after a decade of familial obligations and a packed schedule of touring and making albums that kept her busy, yes, but not fully inspired. She took a hiatus in 2010 and returned to music with a new vitality. That only increased with the positive reception for “Slipstream” and its subsequent tour.
It was a delightful surprise, she says.
“I was buoyed by that success.”
With that has come a crop of new, younger fans coming out to see her shows.
“It’s the kids of the women who heard “Nick of Time,’ ” she says.
“Nick of Time” was Raitt’s 10th album and released 20 years into her career. It was her first major commercial success. It hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 and won the Grammy for album of the year.
Back on the road
For the “Dig in Deep” tour, Raitt is doing more than 75 dates, mostly in places she hasn’t been to in a while. That includes cities such as Fresno (she did play Table Mountain Casino in 2013) but also Canada. She plays a series of Canadian dates in June. It’s her first extended tour in Canada in 10 years.
After that, Raitt heads back on the road, where she plays with James Taylor on a series of ballpark concerts, including AT&T Park in San Francisco on July 29.
The tour is an anomaly for Raitt. In the past, she tended to shy away from the giant stadium shows, she says. The tour works for her now because of technology.
“They have these wonderful high-def screens and great sound now,” she says. “There’s not a bad seat in the place.”
Plus, she’s been to a few of these outdoor stadium shows herself and says there is a certain shared joy that comes from being in crowds of that size to see a band like U2, the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney. She has seen them all.
“It really is the tribal feeling of 40,000 people just screaming out lyrics and celebrating cultural continuity,” she says.
“It just becomes such a special event to be part of that audience.”