Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Joe Bonamassa: No Ordinary Joe

Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa is an over-rated guitar student who plays too many notes. Before his lawyers send me a writ, or his fans put a price on my head, please allow me to clarify just who described the man that way. Well, it was actually Joe B himself!

We are sat backstage at the Manchester Arena before his recent headline show on a sold out UK arena tour. He is sat on a leather sofa while intermittently picking at an unplugged Les Paul guitar. We discussed stacks of stuff, especially his impressive brand new DVD collection, “Tour de Force – Live In London.”

This 4 DVD set out now on Provogue, chronicles his most ambitious project yet; playing four consecutive nights with different sized band line-ups at four iconic London venues of differing sizes, symbolising his meteoric rise to stardom. All sold out gigs at The Borderline, Shepherds Bush Empire, Hammersmith Apollo and The Royal Albert Hall. These films capture over nine hours of live concert footage and more than four hours of exclusive bonus stuff.

But ask Joe if he enjoyed the experience and he has a shock reply: “It is something I think we pulled off very well and something I am proud of, but in all honesty; if I knew what I was getting myself into, I never would have agreed to it. If I knew how much work and how taxing it was gonna be overall, I probably would have said no. You have to deliver, and you only get one shot at it each night.”

He told me his entourage went from 20 odd to more than double that for the project, and nine days of rehearsals. They took up a whole hotel. “The only common denominator in any of this was unfortunately me. Man that’s a lot of songs to sing, a lot of songs to learn and a lot of pressure to deliver. I think we ended up doing around 55 songs, many of which I had not played for years.”

Joe tells me he enjoyed the Royal Albert Hall gig much better than the previous time he played there in 2009, when his career was just taking off. He said he was “petrified” last time. A guy who just a few years before that moment, was playing in pubs like the tiny Running Horse in Nottingham to 100 or so people. (I was invited to that gig in 2004, and didn’t go. Big mistake!)

“The RAH didn’t overwhelm me this time. In 2009, I was petrified and I knew that was the beginning of the beginning or the beginning of the end for my career. I had a real complex about it. But I felt more comfortable this time for sure.”

Bonamassa was raised in New York where his parents owned a guitar store. He received his first guitar from his father at the age of four, and by seven he was playing Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix tunes note for note. His dream back then was to earn enough money by playing guitar, to buy a Nintendo game. At 12, he was invited to open for BB King at a local show, and BB was so impressed he took him out to tour with him across the USA that summer. Joe got national TV exposure from that, and an EMI record deal. He was on his way.

Discussing his relatively fast rise to the top, 36-year-old Joe mockingly comes back at me with, “Yeah, I’m a 20 year overnight success!” Now regarded as the finest guitar player for several generations, by fans and his peers such as BB and Eric, labels are attached to him thick and fast. But whatever you do, do not let him hear you call him a “legend” or a “God,” or else! “Hate it, hate it, really hate it. I hate it all.”

So how does JB describe JB: “In 2005, I would have said; a guitar student who played too many notes. In 2013; an over-rated guitar student, who still plays too many notes. As a person; a guitar geek (he owns 105 guitars and plays every day for practice), and as an artist; ambitious."

Joe has recorded 16 albums in 13 years, and starts a new solo CD in January. His side projects keep him inspired, he says. They include the brilliant Rock Candy Funk Party, who start their second album next summer, two albums with sensational soul blues vocalist Beth Hart –they just recorded a live DVD in Amsterdam – and the now defunct Black Country Communion, with Brit' singer Glenn Hughes.

That went sour after a war of words between Joe and Glenn in the media. Mr B went into detail with me about what really happened, but that is for another time. The positive news for fans of that band is; when asked if there could ever be a re-union or another album, (they made 3), Joe says: “Never say never. I think Glen and I will eventually sort out our differences.”

Joe shares his life and Malibu home with girlfriend Sandi Thom, the Scottish singer-songwriter. His albums usually dent the top end of the UK album chart, unique for a blues artist; unless your name is Eric Clapton. His last CD, "Driving Towards The Daylight," got to number two, and he discovered he missed top spot by sales of just 80 copies. “Shit. I’d have gone out and bought them myself if I had known.”

So, life and career are just great; does he ever pinch himself? “Yeah, everyday. I am turning up to these arenas and they are mostly full. But I wish I had a nickel or a penny for every time someone said if you do blues, it is never gonna get any bigger than playing the small venues. I said I don’t buy that. My manager and I didn’t accept the concept that there isn’t a mass audience for blues based guitar music.”

To read more from this interview with Blues guitar hero Joe Bonamassa, click on the link below to buy your own B&S hardcopy or visit your local reputable magazine seller (inc WHSMITH and JOHN MENZES) to buy your copy today.

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