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Joe Bonamassa: Blues Deluxe
Bonamassa Runs The Hard Edge Of The Blues
Like an old soul sifting through the silt and myth of the Mississippi Delta comes the meticulously shearing riffs and crunching chords that signal the reconstruction of blues. Joe Bonamassa reveres and reflects on the blues legend’s shoulders on which he stands, all the while looking towards a new horizon, to the new generation that he is delivering the blues to. While his is a sound steeped in the natural essence in which blues was created, it takes on a harder, more modern edge in its interpretation. Does Bonamassa believe that his innovations are perceived as tantamount to heresy in the eyes of the ‘blues purists’?
“Oh, absolutely! They don’t think that it should be called blues.” Bonamasso stated during a recent interview. “My analogy to that is, and I use it a lot, but it makes sense…my grandfather is eighty-one years old. He’s fifty years older then me. My grandfather does not drive the same car that he did in nineteen fifty. He’s drives a Saturn now. But, it’s the same concept as ‘the horseless carriage’: a vehicle to get you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. There’s a huge difference from the ‘horseless carriage’ of the Model T compared to the Bentley’s that they make now. It’s the same concept, but it evolved for modern times.”
He ended his analogy by saying, “That’s what we’re doing with the blues. It’s not like there is something wrong with what Robert Johnson did in 1929, but you have to entertain the folks of today as well as pay tribute to our heritage and our legacy.”
Bonamassa has paid tribute to the heritage and legacy of the blues since he was four years old when his father, a guitarist and guitar dealer, gave his young son a short scale Chiquita travel guitar. He graduated to a full-scale guitar by the age of seven and displayed an innate mastery of the instrument, reproducing Stevie Ray Vaughn’s signature style flawlessly. Twelve years of age saw Bonamasso standing next to B.B. King on stage. In later years, King would personally invite Bonamassa to open his landmark 80th birthday celebration tour.
During His teenage years, Bonamassa and Berry Oakley Jr. (son of the bassist from the Allman Brothers) formed a group called Bloodlines whiched featured Erin Davis (son of Miles Davis) and Waylon Krieger (son of Doors guitarist Robby Krieger). The group only released one album which spawned two chart singles. In 2000, Joe Bonamassa went into the studios to create his first solo album called A New Day Yesterday (named as an homage to the 1969 Jethro Tull hit). The album was produced by Tom Dowd, the legendary engineer who produced such acts as Ray Charles, Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Coltrane. Prior to becoming a musical engineer, Dowd was a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, which is the only bomb that he had a hand in producing. Bonamassa remember Dowd fondly.
“Just the fact that he did Cream’s Disraeli Gears and produced Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding and musicians like that is just incredible.” Bonamassa reflected. “He was one of the nicest guys and was like a father to me. He was probably one of the biggest influences in my whole life. I am really, really, really honored for being part of his legacy. I’m saddened, but happy, with the fact that my first solo album, A New Day Yesterday, was the last album he did.”
With eleven studio albums completed and a slew of live albums, Bonamassa has enjoyed the best of both worlds, as far as producers go. His latest producer, Kevin Shirley (aka The Caveman), has worked with such legendary groups as Rush, Led Zeppelin and Dream theater.
“It’s really an honor to be working with guys like Kevin (Shirley).” Bonamassa says. “He takes my vision, augments it and takes it further than I ever would have thought to.”
With his astounding collection of guitars, both vintage and rare, I wondered whether it was a difficult task to choose which combination of guitar and amp would produce the sound he intended for a particular sound or if he instantly knew which one to use.
“Yeah, I know what guitar I want to play and usually I use my Joe Bonamassa Signature Les Paul. It’s one of those things where I don’t want to sit around all day trying out two hundred guitars. I know the ones that work for me and the others look good on the wall or they serve a specific purpose.”Bonamassa revealed. He went on in more detail. “I mean, when you have a budget and a time frame…I mean, if it’s in tune and it sounds good to me, then let’s go! I’m not really fond of a studio setting. I like the live setting and I like the immediacy of it and the studio becomes a bit slow and dull and boring for me, so I’m really kind of impatient like, ‘Let’s go in and get this done.’”
“Well, if we don’t get a new generation of blues fans, we’re really in trouble: very serious trouble.” he said with a tinge of slight sorrow. “I mean that’s a real problem. I think it’s at a point where you have to modernize and make it appeal to kids.”