Surviving a life in music...
Rock And Rules - Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt has nine Grammys to show for her devotion to the Blues. Here’s how you can follow her example.


I didn’t do music professionally until I needed some extra money in college. I took a semester off to hang around with these older bluesmen that my boyfriend was managing and booking. My parents weren’t happy about me leaving college but I thought I would go back, and I just had to make some money to support myself because they weren’t going to support me if I dropped out of school. I took my hobby and just opened for some people in clubs. Then I seemed to be doing better and better at it and getting more of a following, so I told my folks I wasn’t going to go back to school for a while because this was too much fun. My parents were so surprised but happy that I was happy. I think they were pretty proud of me.


I went to Harvard for two years and I majored in social relations and African studies, but my heart was in social activism. My music has meant I can raise money for causes and do a lot of benefits and bring my public persona to the demonstrations of groups I believe in. But you have to stand with your conscience and stand for what you believe is right, and be educated about the issue and not just shooting your mouth off and using your celebrity in an irresponsible way, because it will jeopardise your career if you do it the wrong way. I don’t shove it down people’s throats and I think that’s why people don’t mind.


It’s important for young people starting out to look at the artists they admire and whose career seems to be handled well, and look at the relationship they have with their record label or management team or booking agent, and if it seems that you have a fit, then I would model your management after that and maybe send an MP3 and a letter to someone and say, ‘Do you have any suggestions?’ It’s important to have someone you respect and trust and that you think is really smart and savvy in today’s business, otherwise what’s the point in hiring somebody when you can do it yourself?


You have to have a sense of confidence and belief in yourself. You have to have a certain kind of grip that probably comes from being rejected or having to win over an audience that was there to see that main act. You’ve either got the stuff to stand up to it or you don’t, and it’s not a business for people with too thin of a skin and a lot of artists are very sensitive.


Once you get your fan base, they’re going to stay with you if you do a good show, and you keep growing and you keep your health and your voice and your talent together, and not bore people retreading your old hits out. I knew that if I built my following on live touring, that I would last if I kept making it interesting for myself and them.


If you see any danger signs that you may be letting your playtime affect your life too much, just seek out some help so you can avoid getting arrested or diving your career down or ruining your health, because once you’re in the grips of something like addiction of any kind, whether it’s sex, work or email, you just lose a little bit of yourself and I think it’s important to know that that’s a siren call of this line of work. It’s just one of those occupational hazards, and as someone that’s older and been through it I would just say keep your eyes peeled so you don’t get sucked into the undertow.

The new album ‘Slipstream’ is out now on Proper Records.

Interview by Simon Harper

Follow Clash: