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Feature: Looking closer, Joe Bonamassa.

I often see people complaining about the lack of real, good music around these days. I often hear people complaining that they wish they’d been born back in the 60′s or 70′s, so they could have seen the arrival of the likes of Hendrix, The Beatles and Clapton… I often see a lot of people ignoring a wealth of fantastic music that they’re too lazy to find for themselves. How about a guy that opened shows for BB King (if you haven’t heard of BB King, then I suggest you jump onto google around now and do some research) when he was 12, and no, that’s not a typo. If that isn’t enough, he’s shared a stage with the likes of Eric Clapton, Paul Rodgers, Glenn Hughes, and jammed with Ted Nugent, who later said “This kid deserves to be in the same class with Stevie Ray f***ing Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck.” Are you interested yet? I think it’s time to talk a little bit about Joe Bonamassa.

To date, Joe Bonamassa has released 10 solo albums, four live albums and three live DVDs. This is as well as four albums with Black Country Communion, a collaboration with Beth Hart and an album with Bloodline. For a musician only in his mid-30′s, this is an astounding body of work, especially when you consider its depth and quality. Although mainstream success may have somewhat avoided the American blues sensation, he has totalled up 9 number one albums on Billboard’s Blues Album chart (BBAC) – a feat only equalled by Stevie Ray Vaughan since the chart began in 1995. If you’re a fan of blues or rock music of any sort, you should be able to find something amongst Bonamassa’s workload to suit your tastes; from Delta blues to blues-rock, he’s done a little bit of everything somewhere along the way.

Even before his recording career began in 1994, Bonamassa had already begun to make a reputation for himself amongst the Blues fraternity. A child prodigy, he began playing gigs at just 12 years old, and even opened shows for blues legend BB King. King said of the young guitarist “This kid’s potential is unbelievable. He hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. He’s one of a kind.” In 1994, Bloodline – a band made up of the children of famous musicians, with Bonamassa on guitar, released one self-titled album before splitting up. It wasn’t until six years later, in 2000, that Bonamassa’s solo career began.

In 2000, Bonamassa released his first solo album, A New Day Yesterday, with his second album, So, It’s Like That,  coming two years later, which was the first of many albums to hit number one on Billboard’s Blues Album Chart. Since then Bonamassa has pumped out an album pretty much every year, his reputation growing more and more along the way. In 2009, he was awarded the Breakthrough Artist of the Year Award at the UK’s Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards, and Classic Rock magazine wrote “They’re calling him the future of blues, but they’re wrong – Joe Bonamassa is the present; so fresh and of his time that he almost defines it.” In the same year, a lifelong dream was fulfilled when Bonamassa sold out the Royal Albert Hall in London, with his childhood icon Eric Clapton appearing alongside him to play Further on up the Road. Speaking about the experience, he said “For any guitarist, to play with the person who influenced you on a fundamental level is special. It was honestly a once in a lifetime experience.”

Slowly but surely, Bonamassa has gained a reputation all around the globe, while refusing to sell-out and compromise his creativity for mainstream success. Sticking stead-fast to his blues-rock roots, he has pumped out album after album full of soaring solos and unique, powerful vocals. Unlike many musicians today, Bonamassa’s voice isn’t patched up through computers, you hear the real man and real emotions in his words, and that voice carries over into his live performances. In 2010, he said “It’s a means to an end. The fact that you don’t compromise what you do actually brings you fans. We have a reputation of making albums that mean something to people… We don’t care about singles. We don’t care about the traditional ways of doing things. My manager and I have figured out a way to survive and now we’ve come out the other side.”

Alongside his yearly album output, Bonamassa fits in a punishing tour schedule, generally playing around 200 shows a year. Throughout the years, Bonamassa’s displays of electrifying blues riffs, powerful vocals and general stage presence have sold out larger and larger venues. One writer, speaking about Bonamassa’s live shows, wrote “Whether in a club or outdoors at a festival, something magnetic happens when Bonamassa steps to the front of the stage, leans his head back and simply lets loose.”

I had the fortune to see Bonamassa live in October 2010, the year he released Black Rock (His sixth number one on BBAC). I was captivated from the moment he walked on stage, the powerful riffs and soaring leads were, frankly, incredible. The power of Bonamassa’s live shows is breath-taking, from hard hitting blues-rock anthems such as The Ballad of John Henry, to slower paced songs such as Bird on a Wire. His guitar work wasn’t just on display though, his vocals were astounding live – sounding pretty much exactly as they did in the studio, something that is becoming rarer amongst musicians in this day and age. I think the highlight of the night, for me at least, was his rendition of Sloe Gin – one of my favourite songs. The leads were haunting, crisp and powerful, and he displayed his variety throughout. The guitar work alternated between hypnotically calculated and all out guitar wizardry, slow and gentle and an all-out blues attack.

So perhaps it may be time to start looking harder for the ‘real’ music, it is out there to be found. I don’t want to look back 20 years down the line and have to admit I ignored our era’s musical icons, and it is a distinct possibility that Bonamassa will go down as just that. I can safely say that I will be glad to say I was there to listen to him in his day, not look back on him in the distant future.

About The Author

A second year Journalism student at the University of the West of England, Bristol.

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