Joe Bonamassa: Blues-Rock Wunderkind


wildwoman1313
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wildwoman1313
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06/22/2012 12:38 am


Joe Bonamassa: Blues-Rock Wunderkind


If anyone was born to the play the blues, it was Joe Bonamassa. He was finessing the riffs of the masters at an age when most kids are learning to color within the lines. His heroes weren't superhuman crime fighters, like Batman and Spider-Man, but super-talented axemen, like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. It was Joe's childhood dream to play like the guitarists he emulated.

Bonamassa, a fourth-generation musician, had sophisticated taste in music from a very early age. He also had innate ability. By the time his seventh birthday rolled around, Joe had "Voodoo Child" down, note for blazing note. Blues legend B.B. King was singing his praises when Joe was all of twelve. And Bonamassa had a recording deal before he had a driver's license. He's played with Clapton, Buddy Guy, Foreigner, Robert Cray, Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker, Gregg Allman, Steve Winwood, Paul Jones, Ted Nugent, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks, to name a few. Seven of his eleven studio albums have hit No. 1 on Billboard magazine's Blues Albums chart, and his jaw-dropping performances make you either want to practice harder or give up entirely, he's that good. But if you're not a blues enthusiast, chances are Joe Bonamassa is the best living guitarist you've never even heard of.

Call it providence, or perhaps fate, Bonamassa was born in Utica, New York, on May 8, 1977, on what would have been blues great Robert Johnson's 66th birthday. He first picked up the guitar at age four, starting on a short scale Chiquita his father had given him. By the time Joe was seven, he had graduated to a full-size guitar and was working out on Stevie Ray Vaughan songs. With a great-grandfather and grandfather who both played trumpet, and a father who played guitar and was a guitar dealer, Bonamassa seemed destined for a life in music. He credits his parents with fostering an appreciation of music in his life as early as he can remember. He recalls sitting with them on Saturdays when he was a young child and listening to their vast record collection—artists like Guitar Slim, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Bonnie Raitt, Jethro Tull and Eric Clapton. "I was especially drawn to the British blues guys," he says, "because it’s what my dad listened to. He would play records for me growing up and I always gravitated towards Clapton, Page, Beck, and Rory Gallagher (who is Irish). That’s just where I feel at home. It’s what gets me excited. The country blues came later."

Joe began playing gigs in upstate New York at the age of ten, when he was discovered by none other than B.B. King. Recognizing the young guitarist's talents, King remarked that "this kid's potential is unbelievable. He hasn't even begun to scratch the surface. He's one of a kind." By the time he was twelve, Bonamassa was touring with King, Buddy Guy, George Thorogood, and Robert Cray, among others. He was booked to open for Stevie Ray Vaughan in August 1990, but the Texas guitarist was killed in a helicopter crash two weeks prior to the engagement.

When he was fourteen, Joe was invited to attend a Fender Guitar event. It was during this trip to the West Coast that he met Waylon Krieger (son of Doors guitarist Robby Krieger), Erin Davis (son of the late jazz great Miles Davis), and Berry Oakley, Jr. (son of the late Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley), all of whom were four or five years older than Joe was. The four boys founded the group Bloodline and released one album which produced two chart singles — "Stone Cold Hearted" and "Dixie Peach." Bonamassa acknowledges that his profile was raised by playing in Bloodline. "It definitely helped a lot," he said. "EMI Records didn’t know what to do with me; I didn’t sing, didn’t write. Bloodline taught me what to do, and what not to do before [I began] my solo career."

Following high expectations and initial success, Bloodline split shortly after the release of their self-titled record, immediately following a tour opening for Tesla and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Joe, realizing that to have the kind of future in music he wanted he would need to do more than play the guitar, began studying with a vocal coach. He made his debut as a solo artist in 2000 with the release of the album A New Day Yesterday, named after the 1969 Jethro Tull classic, and has been performing as a solo artist ever since. For the past dozen years, Joe's been making music as a guitarist/singer-songwriter at a breakneck pace of an album nearly every year.

Although he's developed a cult following over the years here in his homeland, Bonamassa's is a bigger name in Europe and the rest of the world. His concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2009—where he seemed more like a starstruck kid than a talent in his own right performing "Further On Up the Road" with his idol, Eric Clapton—sold out 5800 seats in less than a week. But as a bluesman first and foremost, his act is a harder sell in America where, like country music, the blues remains on the fringes of mainstream music (pop, rock, hip-hop). The difference in units sold between the No. 1 album on the pop charts vs. the blues charts can be in the hundreds of thousands. Blues players also tend to be featured in guitar magazines that are full of technical jargon and equipment features, making them even more inaccessible.

Oh, and as far as mainstream music magazines go, well, they've pretty much ignored Bonamassa. In a 2011 American Blues Scene interview, when asked why he wasn’t featured on the Rolling Stone Top 100 Guitar Players of All-Time list, Joe replied, "Have you seen who’s on the cover this week? (It was Snooki.) Rolling Stone has about as much credibility as The National Enquirer." The only time Bonamassa was ever mentioned in a mainstream music magazine was in an issue of SPIN, when he took out a full page ad to promote his tour. "Guys like me won’t see that kind of media attention unless we have a radio hit that crosses over into that territory," he says.

But Bonamassa prefers flying low on the radar. He mainly plays small venues and cuts albums whose sole criterion is to produce his best work every time. Now 35, Joe's brilliant career has been defined by a tireless work ethic and the simple passion for making music in the most puritanical sense. He even grows his fan base the good old-fashioned way—word of mouth. “I have never traveled the avenues of the mainstream, nor do I ever plan on it,” he says.

Well, all that could change with Driving Towards the Daylight, Bonamassa's new album, which critics predict will likely make him a crossover star. Released on May 22, the record is a balanced back-to-basics effort that highlights Bonamassa’s signature style of fusing roots blues with a rock sensibility, while honoring the traditions of the original blues musicians like Robert Johnson ("Stones in My Passway") and Howlin' Wolf ("Who's Been Talkin?"). According to producer Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Rush, Led Zeppelin), “We’ve taken some really traditional old blues songs and we’ve tried to imagine how they would be done in a rock context. It’s a very exciting return to the blues in a very visceral way. It’s vibrant and it’s gutsy and it’s really, really rugged." Driving Towards the Daylight includes special guests Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), drummer Anton Fig and Carmine Rojas pulling bass duty.

"I think we’ve really expanded our sound on the last five or six albums," says Joe, "and if [Driving Towards the Daylight] ends up crossing over into a different genre or chart, then that’s wonderful. But I see what I am doing as what I would have done regardless. It’s not based on any end game to become more mainstream. It’s just the natural progression we’ve moved toward. It’s about making music you love and doing it in an honest way."

* * * * * * *


Joe Bonamassa will be making an appearance on former Deep Purple keyboardist Jon Lord’s new CD, Concerto for Group and Orchestra, which is set for a September drop. The album, which was originally released in 1969, has been re-recorded by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and includes a selection of special guests, among them, Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden) and Steve Morse (Deep Purple). Concerto will be accompanied by a specially filmed documentary.

Just months after the March release of Beacon Theatre - Live from New York comes word that Joe is gearing up to release another live DVD. He is set to film a show on July 3 at the Vienna State Opera House, where he’ll be performing an entirely acoustic set.

In addition to his solo work, Bonamassa is guitarist/vocalist for the supergroup Black Country Communion, which also includes lead vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple/Black Sabbath), drummer Jason Bonham (Foreigner/Led Zeppelin), and keyboardist Derek Sherinian (KISS/Dream Theater). The band is set to begin work on their third effort sometime this month, with a release planned late in the year.

Joe is also involved with Blues in the Schools (BITS), a program developed by The Blues Foundation to help perpetuate the heritage and legacy of blues music to new generation of music fans. The BITS lectures take teenage students on a journey, tracing the evolution of blues music, from its birth among the field workers of the Delta during the late 1800's up to the present day. The lectures include a live performance by Bonamassa.

Keep up with Joe by visiting his website at http://jbonamassa.com/.
# 1
compart1
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compart1
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06/22/2012 11:06 am
Great post Wildwomen.. Thanks
Glad to see it.. I just saw a show with Joe on the Palladia TV channel. If my CRS hasn't kicked in, I believe he was Jammin with Kieth Urban.
# 2
compart1
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compart1
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06/22/2012 11:13 am
Here's a little kicker to back up Wildwomens article..
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLB900atJFs&feature=related
# 3
wildwoman1313
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wildwoman1313
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06/22/2012 12:36 pm
Hey, compart1! Glad you like the article. I missed the show on Palladia and also Black Country Communion, who were recently on either Palladia or VH1 Classic. I hope to catch both the next time they're aired. Thanks much for the link. It's mesmerizing. What a talent!
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compart1
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compart1
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06/22/2012 1:33 pm
I'm back here to coreect Palladia show statement.. Blame the CRS syndrone..
Joe was "Live at Royal Albert Hall"..
John Mayer was with Kieth Urban, which was also an awesome show, were on CMT Crossroads..
# 5
LIMEY1
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LIMEY1
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06/23/2012 12:22 am
This is a beautifully timed and written article about one of the best Classical and blues guitarists i have seen in a very long while, i go back to when Clapton first started off and he was God back in the day along with Hendricks, and i am aware of all the artists named in this article, but Bonammassa is in a class of his own right now,thank you for bringing him to the fore front.
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rockrat
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rockrat
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06/24/2012 6:05 pm
Saw Joe last fall in Atlanta, Ga. FN awesome, ya gotta see him live!
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maggior
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maggior
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04/05/2013 1:23 pm
I just discovered this article from the Guitar Tricks News email.

I fully agree that Joe is probably the best living guitarist you never heard of. He blows my mind!!

I dicovered him on Netflix streaming where the video of his Royal Albert Hall performance is available. It's my favorite music video. Django, which he plays as he's walks on the stage, gives me goose bumps! It is such a cool riff and shows what feel and phrasing mean! His studio albums are good (Blues Deluxe and So It's Like That are my favs), but they are no match for his live perfomances.

Listening to him is so inspiring for me. When I watch the live video, I always find myself with my guitar in my hand by the end.

I'm gonna keep an eye out for when he comes to the area to play.

Driving Towards the Daylight didn't really do it for me though. He's still an amazing talent!!
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PsyDyn
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PsyDyn
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04/05/2013 3:01 pm
When I 2007 listened accidentally first time to Joe's characteristic phrasing, it was an electrical feeling immediately getting my forearm hairs to stand up — only comparable to "It's may own fault" 1969 from the genius Johnny Winter, "Voodoo child" by Jimi, e.g. "Crossfire" by SRV or the early Eric Clapton in his "Cream" times. None of the friends had heard of him ever. For me it was breath-taking how he supported and accompanied Beth Hart. Later I drove together with my family hundreds of kilometers to a concert, last month we heard him second time. Many musicians can impress, but Joe Bonamassa has really touched all of us deeply, even our teenage-daughter, with his unforgettable rich tone, his fair and humorous behaviour to his band colleagues, his honest musicianship and especially his clear, kind and absolutely unpretentious personality.

He can inspire children to learn music, giving the impression that it is important what you feel yourself (like B.B. King always told us), thus far away from demotivating others via one's brilliant playing. So he also encouraged me to start again my music amateur life. Thank you for showing respect to a great musical artist.
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maggior
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maggior
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04/05/2013 3:57 pm
Originally Posted by: PsyDyn his honest musicianship and especially his clear, kind and absolutely unpretentious personality.


That totally comes across in his concerts. I especially like when he plays with Eric Clapton in the Royal Albert hall concert video. He has a genuine sense of wonder when he says "that had to have been the coolest thing ever!". I also love when pays homage to his influences at the end playing Led Zep solos and stuff as he wonders across the entire stage.

I'm gonna have to watch it again this weekend.
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Haeberle
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Haeberle
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04/05/2013 4:08 pm
Saw him in concert recently in Freiburg, Germany. Absolutely brilliant event.

Have you seen the dvd from his accoustic concert at vienna opera house ?
(do a search on amazon)
Really worth to check it out !

Chris
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Phito11
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Phito11
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04/05/2013 6:44 pm
I got to see Joe at the Beacon Theater when it was being filmed for the DVD, what an amazing show. Also Great article, so glad to see you guys giving Joe some well deserved attention.

Now if you can only get some of his music featured in your song lessons, then all will be complete in my world. Thanks guys.
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suckerfish
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suckerfish
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04/08/2013 9:18 pm
saw Joe B in about '95 with Bloodline when he was about 17. We were all older and in bands but he blew our minds. We went and met him for a short while after the show and he was really cool. The chops he had then were amazing. I've been a fan ever since and have one of his CD's in my player right now.
# 13

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