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Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Lynn Raitt is a blues singer, guitarist and songwriter. Born on November 8, 1949, in California to a musical family; her mother was a pianist whereas her father was an actor in musical productions. She began playing the blues at an early age and started performing on her own in the late 1960s and early 1970s, doing acoustic coffeehouse gigs in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, while attending Radcliffe College. She also recorded three albums in that period, between 1971 and 1973, which were warmly received by critics and music press, with many writers praising her skills as a bottleneck guitarist, but gained little attention from the public as sales remained modest. Nonetheless, she decided to leave her dual major in social relations and African studies to amp up and hit the road full time to pursue her musical ambitions. She has never looked back. The famous electric Bonnie Raitt, as we all know her today, is one of the blues’ most respected slide players. Her guitar of choice is a rag-tag and road-weary 1965 Fender Stratocaster, an instrument that represented a turning point in Fender’s history.

Raitt bought her stripped and heavily gigged guitar far before “vintage” Strats became so popular. The body and headstock had lost their paint and logos, respectively, and the former had taken on a reddish, natural brown stain. Despite its scruffy looks, the guitar was functional, as the pickups were still in place. Furthermore, the instrument was apparently a tonally superior example of its breed, as Raitt has proven over the course of many years and nine Grammy Awards. This Stratocaster is a remarkable example of the “transition period” between the CBS and the post-CBS Strats. Raitt's guitar features the large headstock, that was purportedly introduced in the CBS so the iconic electric guitar would be more recognizable on TV, the pearl-like dots that were seen as an upgrade of the former clay dots, and the three-ply white plastic pickguard characteristic of the era. Otherwise, the ’65 Stratocaster differs little from its pre-CBS predecessors.

Raitt’s fluid, slinky and sweet-yet-biting style made her way of playing the bottleneck guitar immediately recognizable among the other slide guitarists. She tunes her Strat in open G (D-G-D-G-BD low to high) and uses a custom-cut glass wine bottleneck on her middle finger while picking the strings with a clear plastic thumb pick and the bare fingernail-aided fingers of her right hand. The seeming simplicity of many of her lead lines are made special by her innate melodic sensibility and an ability to bring out the core of the tune, qualities that have helped her become one of few hardcore blues-slide players to enjoy mainstream success.

Next player: Robbie Robertson