Bonnie Raitt painted by JOtwell

From The Desk… Something in the Way They Play: Legendary Female Guitarists Part 8

Bonnie Raitt painted by JOtwell
Bonnie Raitt painted by JOtwell


Continued From:


1971 saw the debut album by an artist who arrived fully formed as both a vocalist and guitar player.  Bonnie Raitt, on the surface of it, came from an unlikely background for a slide playing blues mama. The daughter of musical star and Broadway leading man John Raitt, her mother Marjorie Haydock was a noted pianist, and she concluded her decidedly upscale education at Radcliffe College.  She was politically active from the get-go, and initially her music was uncompromisingly bluesy, particularly notable for her exquisite bottleneck technique and her lived-in voice. Bonnie was a critic’s darling throughout the ‘70s, but remained a cult artist, usually selling only a modest number of albums. However, her Warner Brothers output has stood the test of time, invariably featuring great musicians, tasty covers, and generous helpings of that increasingly authoritative guitar.

In 1977 Bonnie achieved an unexpected commercial breakthrough with her deeply funky treatment of Del Shannon’s Runaway, but it was a fluke of sorts and when the dust settled she returned to her lower profile career. She then had a bumpy period with lost record deals, drug and alcohol issues, and an increasing critical perception that she was destined to remain a marginal artist, although her standing with her peers was increasingly impressive. She would often make guest appearances as an instrumentalist exclusively, very notably with Allen Toussaint who obviously loved that redhead’s red-hot licks.

When the dam finally burst for Bonnie, it burst all over the place with her tenth album, the massively successful Nick Of Time, her first collaboration with producer Don Was. Millions of albums sold, a Grammy sweep in 1990, which included a Grammy for her duet with John Lee Hooker on In The Mood, from his album The Healer, and a long run at the top of the U.S. charts. This time it was no fluke: her 1991 offering Luck Of The Draw outsold Nick Of Time, earning three more Grammys. The hot streak continued with Longing In Their Hearts, which also attained multi-platinum status, the number 1 chart position, and yet more Grammy awards in 1994.

Bonnie Raitt’s taste and musicianship have placed her firmly in the pantheon, both as a vocalist and guitarist, and few would dispute her right to be there.


In conclusion, I offer the caveat that since I began delving into the subject I now realize that a comprehensive overview of women and the electric guitar would require much more space and time than I have the inclination to pursue, so here is a partial list of notable lady guitarists who, through no lack of excellence on their part, failed to make my subjective cut:

Carrie Brownstein, Cindy Cashdollar, Kim and Kelly Deal, Lita Ford, Kim Gordon, Kaki King, Sarah Lipstate, Emily Remler, Leni Stern, Marnie Stern, Susan Tedeschi, and Nancy Wilson.

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