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Death & Mortality: Joe Bonamassa

Are you afraid of dying?

When your number’s up, your number’s up. There are things you can do to move the decimal point, so to speak, and those include trying not to abuse yourself, falling into the pitfalls that lead to a premature demise. But in the last decade I’ve probably gone through four full passports; I do a lot of travelling. My life is placed into somebody else’s hands. Just take care of my guitars when I’m gone.

You’re a nervous flyer?

Yeah. This whole thing that happened with the Malaysian plane is very disturbing. It’s my worst nightmare. I try to get over my fear of flying by educating myself about the physics that makes it possible; how they can bend the wings right the way back if it gets bumpy. But to vanish in the middle of the Indian Ocean isn’t my idea of a party. I feel so bad for those people and also for their relatives who know nothing of their loved ones’ fate.

Has there ever been an occasion in your life when you’ve been near to death?

There were two close brushes. As a kid in New York I was as green as you could possibly be. I didn’t know to get out of a cab in the City on the kerbside. Instead I opened the door and exited on the right, and another cab came screaming by and missed me by inches – I got a pretty good view of its front bumper. The other time that springs to mind came when I was on a flight from New York to Los Angeles and we hit what they call clear-air turbulence. The pilot lost control of the plane for a good minute. That was a very scary moment.

What was your first experience of death?

We lost my great, great grandmother when I was about five. We’re a New York-Italian family and she lived upstairs from us. I didn’t know what cancer was. One day she just wasn’t there any more. I was told she’d gone to a better place.My second was Danny Gatton when I was fourteen. He was my guitar teacher and mentor. I was in a guitar shop in Austin, Texas when I heard that he’d killed himself, and I just couldn’t believe it.

Have you ever used a ouija board or visited a medium?

No. I consider both of those pretty creepy. I do believe in spirits, because sometimes you can feel something when you visit old hotels, but I don’t get into summoning up the dead. I figure if they’ve got business with me – if I owe them money for a guitar deal gone bad – then they’ll be in touch.

If you were able to get in touch with just one person who is dead, who would it be?

I’d love to talk to [Free guitarist] Paul Kossoff to see where his head really was. Where did those musical ideas come from? He was influenced by the blues, but how did he put those chords together? Yeah, thirty minutes with Kossoff would do me a whole lot of good.

What would you like to be reincarnated as?

Actually, I think I’m good. If I can get a hundred years on the planet, that’ll do me just fine. It’s enough time to do some damage.

Talking of which, do you ever think about what your legacy will be after you’re gone?

Funnily enough it’s something that we’ve discussed in animated fashion on the bus from time to time. I believe that just a handful of people live long enough to deserve that bona fide ‘legend’ status – Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen and Robert Plant all spring to mind. Willie Nelson, too. And Johnny Cash. Most people don’t get to realise that, though the ‘legend’ word seems to be thrown around with abandon. History alone judges your legacy. We’re still talking about Buddy Holly and Otis Redding, aren’t we?

You must hope that people will remember you in fifty years’ time, though?

Oh yeah, of course. But you never know. The Ballad Of John Henry could be either forgotten or celebrated. At the end of the day, what do I care? I most probably won’t be around in fifty years’time.

If you had the choice, how would you like to go?

Preferably I’ll be sitting in a farmhouse somewhere in Virginia with an old bloodhound, a ’59 Les Paul on my lap, a cigar and a glass of Pappy Van Winkle’s bourbon, on a rainy night, on a rocking chair in my front porch. Now that’s a way to go.

And what will it say on your gravestone?

‘Here lies Joe Bonamassa. The bullshit has ended’.

Dave Ling
Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.