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: http://wp.me/p2W71Q-qA

 

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.

-oOo-

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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From The Desk… Something in the Way They Play: Legendary Female Guitarists Part 7

Carol Kaye by JOtwell (click to buy)
Carol Kaye by JOtwell (click to buy)

Continued From: http://wp.me/p2W71Q-nn

Although largely anonymous to the world at large, another important figure was honing her chops as a be-bop guitarist in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s.  Born Carol Smith in Everett, Washington, the child of two unsuccessful professional musicians, she grew up in poverty around the Port Of Los Angeles district. As a teenager Carol Kaye, as she became known, was a fixture around the L.A. jazz circuit, also teaching guitar, and she moved in heavy company even then . . . Bob Neal, Jack Sheldon, Lenny Bruce, Teddy Edwards and Billy Higgins, to name a few.

Carol began working studio dates in 1957 as a guitarist, but a few years later, by fateful coincidence, a no-show bassist prompted her to fill in on the session, using a Fender bass guitar. Seen more as a novelty, it was not yet fully accepted as a legitimate instrument and certainly not viewed as a replacement for the upright double bass.  Being trained as a guitarist, Carol used a pick rather than fingers or thumb, and quickly caught the attention of the L.A. recording community with her clean percussive sound and agile fretwork. Her jazz background had also honed her reading skills, so she ascended the ranks rapidly to become first call on bass guitar, and a fixture in The Wrecking Crew, the elite band of sessioneers who dominated the West Coast recorded output. Her resume through the ‘60s is overwhelming, not only for the vast number of hits she played on, but also for the film and TV themes and soundtracks, not to mention the top producers who requested her services.

At that time, in a practice that was also being developed independently in the Nashville studios, the L.A. low end was often the combination of double bass and bass guitar, sometimes in unison, sometimes employing counterpoint.  Carol was often teamed with upright bassist Lyle Ritz for an instantly identifiable signature that powered Phil Spector’s Wall Of Sound, the Brian Wilson confected Beach Boys records, and just about anything else recorded in Los Angeles.

I’ve always believed that Carol’s secret was that she took the nomenclature of her instrument literally. It was a bass GUITAR, not an ersatz substitute for double bass, and she approached it that way, taking advantage of the possibilities of a more workable neck and strings than the bull fiddle offered, and also the increased tonal pallette that the pickups and controls made possible. To me, there was always a distinct difference between a Carol Kaye part and one by her great contemporary at Motown, James Jamerson, in that Jamerson had started as an upright bass player and moved to bass guitar, whereas Carol was first a guitarist, with a guitarist’s sensibilities.

Ms. Kaye wrote many tutorial books, was responsible for classic DVD courses, and gave lessons to myriad players through the years. Her achievements and contributions have been truly monumental.

From The Desk… Something in the Way They Play: Legendary Female Guitarists Part 6

Barbara Lynn by JOtwell (click to buy prints)
Barbara Lynn by JOtwell (click to buy prints)

Continued from: http://wp.me/p2W71Q-jS

A woman whose contributions are easier to pinpoint is Barbara Lynn, a leftie out of Beaumont, Texas, who emerged in the early ‘60s with the much-covered You’ll Lose A Good Thing, a huge hit across the board, recorded in New Orleans with Huey P. Meaux.  She was the entire package: a prolific songwriter and singer and a formidable lead guitarist who favored a white Fender Esquire.  She took a long maternal leave through most of the ‘70s and re-emerged to great critical acclaim in the ‘80s, especially in Japan, where she recorded a live album in 1984.  After her husband’s passing she resumed her recording career and earned a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999.  Her compositions have been covered by Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, and even Moby, to name just a few.