(see display below for instructions on entering the Joe Bonamassa Guitar Giveaway)
Although his is not as readily a recognized name as the legendary Blues guitarists that both influenced and now sing praises to Joe Bonamassa, his reputation as one of the world’s great guitar players and a charismatic blues-rock star and singer-songwriter of stylistic depth and dimensions is rapidly growing.
With ten solo studio albums under his belt and his latest release, Black Rock, which is the fifth produced by Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes) the sound is an evolved mix of ‘60s-era British Blue Rock and roots-influenced Delta sounds. Backed with a ‘super-group’ of musicians known as Black Country Communion, consisting of Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham, and Derek Sherinian, Bonamassa will be landing in the Mid-Michigan area March 16th for a performance at The Dow Event Center, plus giving away a signed guitar and tickets to the show in a special Valentine Appreciation Contest, details which you can read about on Page 9.
Born & raised in Utica, New York, Bonamassa quickly demonstrated his affinity, acumen, and talent on the guitar at an early age, receiving his first guitar from his father at the age of four and playing Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix tunes note-for-note at the age of seven. When the opened for B.B. King at the age of 12, the legendary bluesman said of the youngster: “This kid’s potential is unbelievable. He hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. He’s one of a kind.”
In 2009 Joe was named Best Blues Guitarist in Guitar Player Magazine’s Reader Choice Awards for the third consecutive year and in May 2009 he played to a sold out crowd at London’s Royal Albert Hall, at which he was joined on stage by his hero Eric Clapton for a performance of Further On Up the Road.
Last year coincided with Bonamassa’s 20th year as a professional musician, an extraordinary timeline for an artist just into his 30s. Having toured with artists ranging from Buddy Guy, Foreigner, Robert Cray, Stephan Stills, Joe Cocker and Gregg Allman, his recording career began in the early ‘90s with Bloodline, a hard-charging rock-blues group that also featured Doors keyboardist Robby Krieger’s son Waylon and Mile Davis’ son Erin.
Always seeking to push the envelope, his latest recording was done in Greece, as Joe sought to evolve a more ‘world’ feeling into his sound. Consequently, he used some of the best Greek musicians to add fresh flavor to several tracks.
On a frigid weekend in late January, I was fortunate to hook-up with Joe to discuss his present direction and focus with his music, along with what it was like to be cast into the spotlight of the major leagues at such a young age; as well as what fans can expect from his appearance at The Dow Event Center in March.
Review: I understand that your parents owned and ran a guitar shop, so obviously you were born into an environment where music was an integral part of your life. At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
Bonamassa: It’s true; my Dad owned a guitar shop so it was instilled in me pretty much from the get-go. My Dad gave me my first guitar when I was four years old and I remember playing to Eric Clapton songs. I think it was around the age of 12 when I opened for BB King and thought, “Wow, I could do this for the rest of my life!”
Review: I’d like to explore this whole arena of being somewhat of a child protégée, performing Jimi Hendrix songs note-for-note, and opening for the likes of BB at such a young age. Does having this happen to you in formative childhood years make it more challenging to continually evolve as an artist as you grow older?
Bonamassa: BB King gave me so much amazing advice about playing guitar and the music business overall. He was a true friend, mentor and inspiration for my career, as was Danny Gatton. They both taught me so much and playing with them is something I wouldn’t trade for anything. I feel very lucky to have discovered so young what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and was able to learn from some legendary teachers. Their advice kept me looking forward.
Review: I’ve often thought that so many first albums are often excellent because the artist has his or her entire life to create it; whereas the follow-up release usually only has a year or two to gestate. Is it more difficult to open your creativity the more seasoned you get, or does it become easier for you?
Bonamassa: I feel like I’ve been able to open myself up emotionally and creatively the older I’ve gotten. Especially now, in y 30s, I’m finding more inspiration in storytelling. With each record, I only start writing a few weeks before we record. I like to live in the moment and record what I’m feeling at that time and I think that allows each record to take on a life of its own. We always set out to make the best record that we can at the time.
Review: Who are some of the pivotal influences that you feel truly informed your evolution as a musician, and why?
Bonamassa: My Dad’s record collection probably had the biggest influence on me and I was and have always been more drawn to the British Blues genre. Early records from Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, and Free have really stayed with me and influenced me more than others.
Review: What was it like working with the legendary producer Tom Dowd on your first solo album?
Bonamassa: It was amazing and really inspiring because I learned so much from him. Tom really pushed me in a way that only Kevin Shirley has done since. He taught me about the recording process and what goes into making a record. He was a great teacher and a true gentleman. I feel very lucky to have worked with him.
Review: How was it to play Royal Albert Hall and sell out in less than one week? Do you feel European audiences are more acclimated towards Blues than a majority of Americans these days?
Bonamassa: It was fantastic and frankly, the greatest moment of my life. And yes, I do feel Europeans are more acclimated towards the Blues than Americans. America has so many musicians and the sound is constantly evolving and right now Pop music is really the ‘in thing’, but you are seeing a lot of rock musicians drawing on the Blues. No matter what, Blues is always going to be the heart of Rock’ n Roll.
Review: What do you feel distinguishes your sound the most as an artist?
Bonamassa: I always felt that I wanted to do a little something different with the Blues and make it sound interesting, fresh, new and exciting. And I think we’ve been doing that with each album, or at least I hope we have. I just want it to be enjoyable.
Review: What do you feel is the most challenging component of the music business and also the most rewarding?
Bonamassa: The music business landscape in general is incredibly challenging these days. Nothing works the way it used to and it makes people very nervous. I think we’ve been able to navigate it in a way that works. We’re touring all year long and we’ve been selling out bigger venues and we’re putting out new albums each year. The fans seem to be responding to what we’re doing, which I find more rewarding than anything.
Review: What goals have you set for yourself in 2011?
Bonamassa: We’re releasing a new record called Dust Bowl in March and I’m really excited to hear what people think. And I was just in the studio in L.A with Glenn, Derek and Jason (Bonham) recording our second Black Country Communion album. We’ll be going on tour this summer and I’m hoping people really enjoy that.
Review: What can fans expect from your current tour when you land at the Dow Events Center on March 16th?
Bonamassa: I just hope to put on a good show. I love to play live, it’s my favorite thing to do, and that’s why I do it. Nothing pleases me more than to perform for an audience and make them feel good by the end of the night. I hope we can continue to do that on this tour. And we’ll be playing some new songs off the new record, which is always fun.
9th February, 2024