Posted October, 2015
Photo by JamesPattersonsGallery.com
Several years ago, a friend of mine gave me a large stack of CDs. The collection consisted of a variety of different bands and artists from all sorts of genres. I can’t tell you who all but one of the artists were in that stack because only one person I had never heard of actually commanded my attention: Joe Bonamassa.
The albums were two studio discs and a live one (Black Rock, The Ballad of John Henry and Live From Nowhere In Particular, respectively). What I heard was a young man who played rock, rhythm and blues with a fervor, passion and intensity that I had heard in, well, never.
I became an immediate fan, acquiring all of his work that I could lay my hands on and reviewing his new releases on Boomerocity, starting with Dust Bowl and pretty much everything he’s released since.
The same buddy who introduced me to Bonamassa’s work joined me in Dallas in 2012 to catch his show at the Music Hall At Fair Park. As amazing as his concert DVDs are, to see him perform in person is even more incredible. Since that show, I have seen him twice in 2014 and hope to see him many more times in the future.
Joe has been called a guitar prodigy by many. He opened for B.B. King when he was only twelve years old. He’s played – and is playing – some of the most prestigious venues in the world including the Royal Albert Hall, the Vienna Opera House, and the Beacon Theater, to name a mere few. He’s produced fifteen albums – all on his own label, J&R Adventures, and all in the last thirteen years.
Of course, since becoming a fan, I lobbied for an interview. Persistently. For years.
Recently, persistence paid off and the interview gods heard my effectual, fervent prayers and allowed my first interview with the guitar maestro to happen.
Joe called me from the road. Actually, he called about an hour before hitting the stage at the USANA Ampitheatre in Salt Lake City as he was wrapping up the last few dates of his “Three Kings” tour. I asked about that tour and the tour that he’ll begin next month that will include shows close to yours truly.
“The Three Kings Tour ends August 29th. The Three Kings Tour was only twelve shows. The show that’s
Photo by Christie Goodwin
going to be happening in November is going to be a hybrid. I’m actually going to be playing my material. It’ll be horns and a different configuration of the band. There’ll probably be a few tunes that will carry over from the Three Kings but it’s not a tribute to the Three Kings. We’re almost wrapped up with it.
“The show in November will be promoting more like some of the stuff off of the new album; some of the stuff from this tour; some of the stuff from the Muddy Wolf CD; some of the back catalog. It’s going to be more of a soup to nuts gig.”
Bonamassa has always surrounded himself with musicians who are as excellent in their craft as he is at his. In answer to the question about who his band line-up for the upcoming tour will be, he said:
“It’s a completely different line up. Anton Fig’s playing drums. Michael Rhodes on bass. Reese Wynans’s on keyboards. Lee Thornburg, Paulie Cerra are in the horn section. Depending on the material we choose, there may be a couple of other players. We haven’t really put together the line up, yet, but it’s going to be close to that.”
As for what Joe hopes fans take away from this tour, he said that:
“Every time you go on a different tour, different show, obviously, you want people to go, “That was the best show I’ve ever seen you do.” That’s the goal. This show, like last year, we were doing a hybrid; a forty-five minute acoustic show and then we did the electric show. This fall will be mostly electric. It will be all electric. It’s going to be more of a thing where – I haven’t even put the show together so it’s hard for me to talk about it.”
Joe’s last CD, “Muddy Wolf at the Red Rocks”, is especially fascinating especially. In addition to him paying moving homage to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, there’s a DVD that shows him and legendary producer, Kevin Shirley, taking a road trip to the crossroads (both of them) that factors in to so much blues lore. I asked if more projects like that one are in the works.
“The Three Kings is an obvious extension of where we were. But we didn’t take a road trip this year. It was a lot of fun to go to the crossroads, though. It was a lot of fun.”
Bonamassa is doing a lot to promote music education in the schools – especially the blues - with his “Keeping The Blues Alive” foundation. I asked him why does he think it’s so important to promote the blues as he does.
“At the end of the day, how else are the kids going to be hip to what’s going on? I used to do blues in the schools all the time. It was something that, for me, was part of my day. I mean, now that my days are pretty hectic, I can’t do it any more. It’s really important to keep the music going for another generation. Continuing to champion it one thousand percent. You know, sometimes it feels like a thankless kind of job but it really does pay dividends if you can take the time.”
Photo by JamesPattersonsGallery.com
As a gifted “musician’s musician”, Bonamassa seems to always have some sort of project going on. When he doesn’t, he’s pulled in to work on someone else’s. One such project is one headed up by one of Joe’s main go-to drummers, Tal Bergman. The band just released a CD/DVD combo which absolutely incredible. I asked Joe about it.
“Well, that one is definitely more produced. It’s less ‘jam.’ It’s more ‘song.’ It’s very concise. We have Randy Brecker on there. Billy Gibbons makes a couple of cameos. It was a fun record to make and, also, a fun record to record. It’s a great side project for me. It’s a great experience to be with those master musicians. I’m just a member of the band. It’s not my group at all. I’m just a member.”
As for tour plans to support it, Joe said:
“No. No. I mean, we play the Baked Potato. Ha! Ha! It’s not about touring. This is a fun project. We took the gig to New York to record the DVD a couple of years ago. That was fun. When you’re in a jazz band and you want to record, you’re on a jazz budget. It is what it is. At the end of it all, it becomes more of a situation where it’s really just a labor of love for us.”
Among the international readership of Boomerocity, there are a lot of musicians who would love this piece to be all about gear and technique. Those conversations are better left to the gear related magazines. However, I did ask him if there was a guitar that he considers the “holy grail” and, if so, does he own it.
“The holy grail is whatever you deem. To some people, it’s ’59 Les Paul. To some people, it’s a ’52 Telecaster. To some people, it’s an ’82 Charpel that looks like
Photo by Christie Goodwin
Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
“As far a celebrity guitars, as for as ‘formerly owned” guitars, I don’t get into that. I collect really nice examples of 50’s and early 60’s Fender/Gibson stuff without celebrity association. If I bought Eric Clapton’s guitar, I’m not going to make me play like Eric Clapton. It really isn’t. You’ve got to play what’s within yourself. A guitar is a guitar.”
Another talent who Bonamassa has been associated with – in fact, he introduced her to his fan base, elevating her popularity to a whole new level – is the lovely and talented, Beth Hart. Having an interview with her in the near future, I asked Joe what he thought about her.
“I think Beth Hart is probably the most naturally talented singer and musician that I’ve ever been on stage with. She has such a wonderful sense of timing and phasing, vocally, and has an infinite capability, vocally. She commands attention.
“There’s some people who can really sing. They stand up there and sing. She stomps up there and she takes control of the stage. You can’t teach that kind of stage power and that presence. She’s a very, very, very special individual and I’m very proud of the records that I’ve made with her.”
Photo by Marty Moffatt
As for future work with her, Joe shared:
“She’s going to be on my cruise this year. That’ll be fun. As far as making another record, I have no idea.”
Joe Bonamassa can arguably be viewed as a workaholic. He’s almost always on the road or in the recording studio and his output of work reflects it. His work ethic is unmatched, his volume of work prolific and the quality of it is flawless. Does he worry about being able to keep things fresh?
“You try to keep everything in perspective. You try to keep everything separated and you try to keep everything in a sense that you can, basically, manage it. Do it well. The whole work ethic thing doesn’t work if you can’t do any of it well or if you burn out.”
What’s next for Joe Bonamassa in the next year and the next five years?
“I have no idea. Ha! Ha! The next year? I have a new album coming out in June next year that I just finished. We have tour dates up into 2017. I’ll be playing Carnegie Hall next winter. Next five years? Don’t even ask. I have no idea.”
Wrapping up our chat, I asked Joe a question I ask many artists who have been around quite awhile or have a large body of work as he does: When you’ve stepped off the tour bus of life up at the great gig in the sky (to borrow from the Pink Floyd tune), what do you hope your legacy is and how do you want to be remembered?
“To be honest with you, there are a lot of people that I see fight to try to get their faces chiseled into the great Mount Rushmore in the sky as far as rock and roll is concerned. As long as I have a positive impact on music inspire a few kids to play the guitar, I’m good. I’m good. You always play your last gig like it could be your last. One day, you’re going to be correct.”
His last two sentences to me summed up his passion:
“I didn’t get into this to get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I didn’t get into this to make the part – to make the team. To me, I just like to play the guitar.”