New Yorker Joe Bonamassa’s career began at the age of 12 when he opened for blues great BB King. Now in his mid-forties, the three-times Grammy-nominated guitarist and singer runs a record label, a management company, a charitable foundation and an all-star cruise.
He is, in short, a modern-day king of the blues.
Your new live album Tales Of Time was recorded and filmed at Colorado’s Red Rocks Ampitheatre. Does such an inspiring location make you up your game in any way?
Not really. Every artist who goes there knows it’s a special place in the world, and I had played Red Rocks before. I’m not sure how many of those live performances we will be filming, because they cost as much as a movie to make, and who’s got a DVD player any more?
In terms of record releases you used to be extremely prolific. Now it seems you’ve slowed down a little.
We don’t make records at the velocity we used to. A decade ago the music business was a whole different model. Now it’s almost like the fifties because it’s all about singles again. When I meet somebody now that has a major-label record deal I tell them: “Gee, I’m sorry for you.”
Some detractors claimed you were too prolific. Do you care one bit about the haters?
[He shrugs] Somebody likes what I do – I’ve sold nine million records. The detractors can say what they want. These days I’m a lot more comfortable with myself. We live in a free world. Anybody can grab a guitar and microphone, record some songs and make their own record. The playing field is so much more open then when I started.
On Tales Of Time you perform your current album Time Clocks in its entirety. What kind of a set will you be doing on tour?
We’ve been rehearsing the whole book [of my catalogue] – that’s sixty or seventy tunes. We’re changing three or four of them every night, which is great as it keeps the band from going on autopilot.
The press campaigns of just about every emerging blues artist of note seem to include a ‘Bonamassa-approved’ quote. Having been mentored by Danny Gatton from the age of 11, is it important for you to give a leg up for others?
I was mentored by Danny and BB [King], which makes me very fortunate. Because of that, after being so successful for the past twenty years, yeah, I do feel the need to take it forward. If anybody has a question about merch or touring, I’m happy to give you the entire playbook. Just ask… I’ll show you how we did it.
Your podcast Live From Nerdville is always worth a listen. Recent guests include Robin Trower, with whom you had a fascinating conversation about post-covid touring. Robin still hasn’t picked up the pieces, but you wasted no time at all.
We returned in May of 2021 via gigs with reduced audiences, which to be honest was nuts. From August of that year we picked up full capacity and have never looked back.
Tell us about some guests on the podcast.
The first was Paul Stanley, and there are now about seventy-five of them. I like to do ‘non-interviews’ – my guests and I get on Zoom and talk through five or six bullet points. I just wind them up and let them go. If you’re interviewing George Thorogood, all you need is two good questions – he does the rest.
On your travels have you met anybody capable of ‘out-geeking’ you on the subjects of guitars and music?
Oh, look… there are tons of people that make me look like a hobbyist. I’ll tell you the craziest anorak I’ve met, and it’s Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick. What he doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing.
Some people might not be aware that as an eighteen-year-old you came very close to joining UFO.
Yeah, I auditioned for them. I went to Pete Way’s house in Columbus, Ohio, and jammed with him – may he rest in peace – and the great Jerry Shirley [best known as the drummer with Humble Pie]. It was a fun experience. But Vinnie [Moore] was far better suited for UFO. It worked out best for everybody concerned that he got the gig instead of me.
What’s the latest with the new Black Country Communion album?
Yeah, we’re getting the band back together [chuckles]. We have no songs yet, but Glenn [Hughes] and I have a writing session booked for the week of April 10. Later on we aim to record over ten days in Los Angeles. Glenn also has a solo tour, with dates here in the UK in the autumn.
Is there a small window to accommodate a handful of BCC live dates?
Everybody is busy, but yeah, we’ve spoken about it and there will be a couple of shows. We owe it to ourselves for it to happen, because when that band works it’s unique.