Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Bonnie Raitt, friends remember guitarist Stephen Bruton

May 11, 2009 |  1:16 pm


“I’ve been crying all day and never thought I’d get through this show,” Bonnie Raitt told an Austin audience Sunday night at the end of her Mother’s Day performance there, according to a report about her show on Austin360.com. She was talking about the impact on her of the death on Saturday of Texas guitarist-songwriter-producer-actor Stephen Bruton, who’d once been a member of her band and who had been her friend for nearly four decades.

She told the audience that during Bruton’s tenure with her, she’d often avoid making eye contact with him onstage because they would crack each other up during a song. For an encore, with tears streaming down her face, she played one of Bruton’s finest compositions, “Too Many Memories,” which has been recorded by Patty Loveless and Hal Ketchum among others.

It’s a touching yet clear-eyed meditation on looking back and savoring the sweet times gone by without letting them overshadow the present.

There are those moments and they just never fade
Like the look in her eyes and the way the light played
God moved in that moment and the angels all cried
And they gave you a memory that you’ll have till you die
Now the lesson you learned and you don’t dare forget
What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret

Another of Bruton’s close friends, T Bone Burnett, on Sunday called it “one of the best songs anybody’s written in at least the last 30 years, and I suspect it’ll be a huge hit now.”

I had spent the better part of an afternoon around the 60-year-old musician in March when he was in a West Los Angeles recording studio adding some guitar parts to Kris Kristofferson’s forthcoming album “Starlight and Stone,” and got to witness firsthand his unflinching honesty and pointed sense of humor even while still recuperating at the time from another round of treatment for the cancer that ultimately claimed him.

“He fought real hard,” Sumter Bruton, his older brother and only sibling, told me on Sunday. “He’s tougher than me, that’s for sure …. He didn’t want to tell me [about his cancer diagnosis] at first. It just kept going away and coming back. He was always taking these tests, and they’d tell him ‘OK, you’re clear’ and then ‘No, you’ve got six weeks.’ But he kept fighting.”

That’s one reason his death is hitting Raitt, Burnett, Kristofferson and others who were close to him over the years especially hard. As Burnett put it, “He fought like a lion until the last moment.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Bonnie Raitt in New Orleans in early May 2009. Credit: EPA