Bonnie Raitt takes nothing for granted 50 years in: 'I'm just grateful this month is happening'

The silvery forelock and inquisitive eyes that signal Bonnie Raitt is in the house have been quite prominent the past few months.

Her appearance on the Grammy Awards alongside longtime peer Joni Mitchell was partially to introduce their mutual musical pal Brandi Carlile but also to acknowledge Raitt as a recipient of the vaunted lifetime achievement award.

Billboard honored her with an Icon Award in March, and last week, Raitt’s 1989 album that spawned her career resurgence, “Nick of Time,” was added to the National Recording Registry. (She calls the album’s success “life-changing.”)

At 72, Raitt has earned accolades undeniably deserved for a career stretching 50 years. But she isn’t allowing plaudits to derail her ambition.

On Friday, Raitt releases “Just Like That,” her first album in six years. She recently launched a new tour – NRBQ, Lucinda Williams and Mavis Staples rotate as openers – and her set list, while peppered with fan favorites including “Something to Talk About,” “Love Sneakin’ Up on You” and her devastating version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” draws heavily from her sturdy new work.

Bonnie Raitt's "Just Like That" album is out April 22.

Joni Mitchell back onstage: The singing legend reemerged for her MusiCares tribute

Calling from Rochester, New York, on the eve of the kickoff of her eight-month tour, the engaging Raitt delved into some of the songs on “Just Like That,” her respect for her friend the late John Prine, and why she is “heartsick” about the war in Ukraine.

Question: In the last couple of months, you’ve been named a Billboard Icon and received a Grammy lifetime achievement award. Does the recognition still mean something?

Bonnie Raitt: Absolutely. The recognition of my fans still coming out after 50 years is a thrill, but I wasn’t expecting to get these awards, so it was a delight. I still do this for the fun of it and the respect and the joy that the fans continue to give me. Having said that, I was really honored to be chosen for these.

Q: This is your first new album in six years. Between your song "Livin' for the Ones" and a cover of Toots and the Maytals (“Love So Strong”), were you thinking of your good friend John Prine, who died of COVID-19 in 2020, and Toots Hibbert, who also died in 2020 after being hospitalized with COVID-19-like symptoms?

Raitt: The first two nights of doing warm-up gigs for this tour in California and Nevada, I sang (Prine’s) “Angel From Montgomery” for the first time for a live audience since his passing, and it was very emotional. But in singing the Toots song and John’s song, it made them alive for me. 

Bonnie Raitt's tour to support "Just Like That" includes openers Lucinda Williams and Mavis Staples.

Q: “Waitin’ for You to Blow” is interesting in that it’s sung from the perspective of addiction. 

Raitt: It’s alluding to the idea of recovery as an ongoing thing and to take stock of your behavior, but specifically the ways we delude ourselves. Like when the devil raises on your shoulder to tell you to have that piece of pie or tell someone their email went into a spam folder even though you forgot to read it. People think recovery has to do with not drinking or using or sex or gambling, but it’s really the way you have to take accountability for your behavior.  

Spring album bounty: From Miranda to Hanson to Florence to Harry

Q: Your guitar playing is as sharp as ever. How often do you play if you’re not recording or touring?

Raitt: I never play except when I’m going to be recording or writing. I love to play my acoustic guitar in my house and get the shape of what a song is going to be, but I don’t fire up the electric very much without the band. The less I practice, the more fresh it feels.

Bonnie Raitt says she never plays her guitar unless she's performing or working on new music.

Q: As someone who has always been very visibly involved in numerous causes, this devastation in Ukraine must be hitting you hard.

Raitt: I’m as sickened and as worried as I’ve ever been. I haven’t been this heartsick in many years. I’m sending as much help as I can. I’m on my knees. I’ll continue to dedicate the shows to Ukraine because they’re going to need our prayers. 

Q: You’re going to be on the road through November. How much did you miss it?

Raitt: What I missed the most was waking up in a different city and knowing I have to prove myself every night. I love traveling, I love visiting other cities. I have my favorite parks and restaurants. The sad thing about this tour is I can’t see family and friends along the way because I’m in a COVID bubble. But whatever it takes to stay safe. I’m just grateful this month is happening.

Jewel speaks: 'This business is notoriously unkind to women as they get older'