Joe Bonamassa Interview

June 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

Due to popular demand, and straight off the back of a sold-out London Hammersmith Apollo concert in front of 5,000 people, critically acclaimed blues rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa will embark on a nationwide UK tour in October.

Here's an online exclusive - an archive interview with Joe from issue #83 in November 2008. Asking the questions - Trevor Hodgett.

American guitar slinger Joe Bonamassa is rightly acclaimed for his virtuosity – but what makes him really exceptional is the creativity, inventiveness and imagination with which he plays.

Bonamassa is modest however about his improvisational talents. "Sometimes I don't think about anything and it just kind of comes out," he smiles. "And sometimes I'm thinking about what I want to have for lunch the next day or about random personal events! There's no rhyme or reason but I think the best nights are where I don't think about anything, where it's like a stream of consciousness and you just flow through it and get the emotion of it all."

Bonamassa believes he is continuing to develop as a player. "In the sense that I think I play less and I think my sound has gotten better and I think my phrasing and some of my playing is a little more original and identifiable."

Joe Bonamassa by Karen Rosetzky

Not only a great guitarist, Bonamassa is also an effective singer as is evident on his recent album Sloe Gin. "I think singing has really changed my career," he reflects. "I don't think I'd be as successful as I am today without singing. It's just one of those things that makes you a better musician because it makes you think in different terms as a player – you play different stuff, you play less or you play more depending on the vocal because you're the one singing. If you're not the one doing it, it's a different perspective."

One of Bonamassa's great influences has been the legendary, stunningly eclectic Danny Gatton. Well, get this: in 1990 I was in New York and I was sitting in Tramps' club being blown away by a performance by Gatton – who then announced that he was going to bring on a thirteen year old kid to jam with him. ‘On, no!' we groaned. ‘We're here to pay homage to Gatton, not to hear some brat.' Well, the brat was Bonamassa and he totally electrified the audience. "You were there?" gasps Bonamassa. "Wow. Danny was really important to me because he was the one who said, ‘Listen, kid, you're pretty good at blues but you don't know anything about jazz, you don't know anything about country, you don't know anything about rockabilly,' so he was the one who for want of a better phrase turned my life from mono to stereo."

Note: evidence of Joe's youthful prowess can be found on YouTube here - Ed.

"And I learned a lot of double stops and a lot on the technical side. I learned how to use my fingers and I still use a lot of the stuff that he taught me."

Bonamassa happily admits that in his youth he was inspired more by British blues bands than by the American originators of the music. "I just thought the British blues was hipper," he explains. "I thought it was more rock-oriented, it was heavier, it had the Les Pauls and the Marshalls and you'd see pictures of these young kids singing the blues and that really related to me. It had that swagger to it that I didn't really get initially when I listened to the originals, the American greats, who I subsequently understood. But I was listening to the English stuff and Irish guys like Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher way before I was into Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson and that kind of stuff."

Bonamassa admits to a particular fondness for Rory Gallagher: "You know what: I grew up in a blue collar town in upstate New York and when I saw pictures of Rory – well, I owned those flannel shirts! And when I listen to his music I hear a guy doing it for the right reasons in the sense that he had no pretence. He just was a guitar player and a performer and he loved blues and he loved rock and he loved to entertain people and he did it for the purest reasons. There was no put-together show: it was just like he walked up there dressed like everybody else in the audience and just killed it and walked off and would have a beer with anybody and talk to anybody. Those are the things I could relate to – well, at fifteen, not having a beer – but in the sense that I grew up with people around me looking and acting like that so that's why I love Rory Gallagher."

Another British guitarist that Bonamassa admired was Free's Paul Kossoff.. "He was a huge influence on me," he acknowledges. "His playing was extraordinarily simple but unbelievably to the point. It was like a series of lightning bolts. It was pinpoint – he said exactly what he wanted to say which was great.

"I also really dug the playing of Martin Barre of Jethro Tull and even the early stuff of Tull with Mick Abrahams I really dug. All those bands that were English and blues-based I was into."

One American legend who did influence Bonamassa was BB King. "I've known him for eighteen years and he's definitely one of the most down-to-earth people I know," he asserts. "If he wasn't BB King he'd just be a cool guy to hang out with. I've noticed that the bigger the people are the more they're like that. There are exceptions but the ones who have the most confidence in what they're doing feel like, ‘I'm good at what I do and I know it so why do I have to be larger than life?' He comes over like a normal guy who just happens to be the best blues singer of all time."

Another legend with whom Bonamassa has played is John Lee Hooker. "That was really wild," he chuckles, "because I didn't know that John didn't play in any other key except for E, D and A – and I was ready to play in G and A minor, so I had to change my riffs pretty fast. So that was a pretty wild experience."

Inevitably Bonamassa has felt the ire of blues purists unsympathetic to his blues rock style. "It doesn't bother me," he insists. "It's like, my grandfather is 81 and he's been driving a car for sixty years and I guarantee you his car now does not look like the 1939 Plymouth that he drove then. The concept of the car is the same, it's the same horseless carriage, but the car does not look the same. It has evolved. And it's the same thing with the blues so I don't understand why people vehemently oppose letting blues evolve from where it was in 1929 to where it is now in 2008. That's eighty years of evolution. I still love traditional blues but I also understand that the music has to evolve in order to achieve something."

One early blues song that Bonamassa has recorded is Charlie Patton's High Water Everywhere. "I do these seminars arguing that blues is just as relevant today as it was eighty years ago," he explains, "so I needed something to prove that. So when we had that big hurricane up in New Orleans and the floods and everything that [song] proved my point that blues is just as relevant today as it was eighty years ago. That was my whole reason for recording it. Plus, it's a cool song!"

Bonamassa maintains a ferocious international touring schedule. "I'm used to working every day – but it's not getting any easier," he concedes. "But I'm very honoured that the music has spread out and I'm very honoured that the music has touched people in a certain way so that it's given me the opportunity to play, this year, in Mumbai in India, in Belfast, in Moscow, in Tokyo ... All my work has paid off because I have a fan base all over the world and I think that's really great."

Joe's web site.

Check Joe out at Amazon UK and Amazon US

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Comments (3)

 

  1. BiB webmaster says:

    Thanks, Al!

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