Dealing With Loss Helped Bonnie Raitt Tackle Songwriting

After back-to-back tours and albums, Bonnie Raitt said finally finding time to deal with the deaths of her father, mother and brother helped her break writer’s block and craft songs for her latest album and tour.

“I don’t write often and easily …This particular time after a period of about 10 years when my family – my parents and my older brother – were all ill and passed away in a short period of time… I was pretty fried, and I took 2010 as a complete break from thinking about what I wanted to do next,” she said. “(I did) some grief work with a support person and I just really felt all the things that had been pushed aside by all that loss and trauma. And I came out of it really grateful.”

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Poses for a portrait in New York to promote her new album, Dig In Deep.

Dig In Deep, released last month, features a number of personal songs Raitt co-wrote as well as her signature guitar. She also said she got a boost from her last album, 2012’s Slipstream, which won the Grammy for best Americana album.

“I was rejuvenated by Slipstream … and I co-wrote a song on that one with my guitarist …The words didn’t go, so it forced me to write some songs that went with what my experience was, and that kind of got the wheels greased,” she said. “I kind of wrote on assignment. …After all that loss, to finally have the time and freedom and not have to be worrying about family members, I had more opportunity to write.”

On the new album, 66-year-old Raitt co-wrote five of the 12 tracks, including upbeat album opener “Unintended Consequence of Love” and the political “The Comin’ Round Is Going Through.” The album also includes her versions of INXS’ “Need You Tonight” and Los Lobos’ “Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes.”

She said the second verse of the piano ballad “The Ones We Couldn’t Be,” which she co-wrote, is “really about family members.”

“I know they were sorry they couldn’t be what I needed and I was sorry I couldn’t live up to the expectations,” she said. “And at the time when the relationship’s not working or you’re under stress, you tend to put blame not necessarily where it’s really accurate – it’s all about them, if only they acted different — so the reckoning that happens years later is your realize you both just did the best you could.”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, whose hits include “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” ‘‘Something to Talk About” and “Love Sneakin’ Up on You,” said she’s thrilled to be touring with the new songs. The “Bonnie Live in 2016” tour kicked off last week and will visit New York City, Oakland, Austin and Nashville, Tennessee. She will also play international dates in the summer.

Raitt also said there was some anxiety when she began writing for her new album.

“It made me nervous knowing I was going to be writing more of the songs and I was saying, ‘Oh my God, I know so many people out there, they’re gonna say, ‘This one unfortunately is not as good,’“ she said. “I don’t like to be compared (to myself), I just wish everybody would say, ‘She’s doing the best she can’ – especially because it was more risk with my own tunes. But so far everyone’s relating to them so I’m really smiling a lot these days.”

Raitt also wants more people outside of her fan base to gravitate to the new music: “I hope people can relate to it, no matter what age they are.”

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Performing at the 2015 MusiCares Person of the Year show in Los Angeles.

Though it’s hard to tell, Raitt said she started to play guitar and write songs as a “hobby.” She recalls getting her first guitar for Christmas and playing some much her fingers bled.

“I just played till I had calluses and my fingers bleed and I just learned every Joan Baez song I could learn, and I became the camp fire counselor that sang the songs at my camp,” she said. “And I just thought music can change the world, and I still feel that way.”