• Chester B Simpson

Always do your research

Updated: Apr 29

My experience photographing Bonnie Raitt

In 1976 I was a freelance photographer trying to make my way in San Francisco. I ended up working for several music magazines during that time, including Bay Area Music or BAM magazine. From what I remember Miles Hurwitz at BAM gave me one of my first assignments. I was to head down to the Great American Music Hall and photograph the blues-rock artist Bonnie Raitt.


I knew of Bonnie Raitt’s music and enjoyed listening to it but had never gotten the chance to see her live before. As I wanted to make a good impression with BAM, I made sure to arrive at the venue early, taking a seat at the bar with my camera bag while I waited for the show to start.


Upon ordering my first drink, a very attractive red-headed woman in her mid-20s took a seat at the bar next to me. Being drawn to her allure I couldn’t help but start a conversation with her. The small talk came easily enough, and she seemed interested in me, inquiring about my camera bag and if I was here to photograph the show.


Explaining myself, I told her I was working for BAM, but this was one of my first assignments with them and I hoped to blow them away and secure future assignments. She went on to ask about Bonnie Raitt. Had I ever seen her perform? Did I enjoy her music? I explained how I had an interest in Bonnie’s music but sheepishly admitted I had never seen her perform before.

Having ordered a drink, she continued to converse with me about the weather, local restaurants, and the various talent that performed at the Great American Music Hall. This lasted about 20 minutes before she recognized some friends across the room at a table. Assuring me she would come back later and talk some more, she asked for my name before joining her friends. Failing to ask for her name, I tried to listen in as she was greeted by her friends with hugs and kisses but couldn’t make out what they were saying over the lull of the club. I couldn’t help but notice later when she left her friends and headed thru the stage door. With an attractive girl like that working at The Great American Music Hall, I had to get to know her better!

By this time, it was getting close to the start of the show. When the lights went down, I was ready for it all to begin, camera in hand. The band started into their first song and over the speakers, the crowd was asked to welcome Bonnie Raitt to the stage.

Out of the back came flying the same beautiful red-haired girl from the bar. She grabbed a guitar and started to perform what turned out to be an amazing show. Although I was caught off guard, that didn’t stop me from getting some fantastic shots of the night’s star performance.

After the show, I headed backstage where I was greeted with a teasing smile from the beautiful redhead. Laughing, she asked if I really didn’t know it was her. I apologized for not knowing what she looked like having taken the assignment but congratulated her on having such a great performance.


I made a promise to myself then and there, from that point on I would always know what the artist looked like before heading to an assignment.


Check out my photographs from this story: Bonnie Raitt Gallery

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